It is clear that Schubert has thought a great deal about this sumptuous setting. It is the only one of his male choruses in five parts: two tenor lines, and three bass. The key is E major and the first tenor line is quite demandingly high while the second bass line goes down to low Es. There is a certain contrapuntal inter-reaction between the tenors and basses particularly at 'Ach! der mich liebt und kennt' where the composer uses different parts of the chorus to illustrate the idea of two people separated by a chasm (in this case different clefs) attempting to communicate. The setting of 'Weite' (marked fortissimo with a diminuendo to piano) is taxing but highly effective. At 'Es schwindelt mir' there is a daring canonic effect of great modernity. Schubert recapitulates the first eight lines of the poem which once again emphasises the broad idea of gazing into the firmament. He then repeats 'Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt' no less than four times, each set differently with a different emotional inflection, rising to a high and anguished crescendo for the third time, and then dying with great pianissimo pathos at the final bars. This is a beautifully crafted piece of work but one is nevertheless aware that Schubert needed the possibilities of the lone individual voice pitting itself against the piano to work his most profound vocal magic.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995
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