The second verse is another matter; in fact each strophe in this four-verse song has a different atmosphere appropriate to the words. Without warning A flat major yields to E major on 'Nur du, o sturmbewegte Seele' and there is a stentorian, even haranguing tone which seems to look the listener accusingly in the eye as if the accusation of his barrenness was being made in court. Such disparities among the moods of the four sections probably explain why most of the commentators find a certain lack of conviction in this setting, although Einstein, who was an expert on the Italian madrigal, considers the contrast between the unselfconscious awakening of nature in the first verse and the private tragedy of the individual of the second to be 'in the manner of Petrarch.' He is reminded of Monteverdi's setting of that poet in the five-part madrigal Zefiro torna which 'paints the same contrast'. John Reed points out that the declamatory nature of the Schober setting Todesmusik here comes to mind. In complete contrast to the comfortable setting of 'Blüten bilden rote Frucht' which we heard a few moments earlier, and where singer and pianist are happily entwined, the voice on 'du bist blütenlos' sits perilous and lonely, high on the stave, while the piano plays sulky triplets far away in a deeper register.
The third verse is in the manner of Der Unglückliche (cf the passage in that song beginning 'Versenken dich in deines Kummers Tiefen'), a work in which a wall of persistently repeated triplets also make their point with finger-jabbing urgency, as if they represent an edict of fate which the outcast finds impossible to reverse or avoid. Another song in which this same triplet motif is to be heard is the celebrated Der Wanderer which was composed six months earlier at the most. The 'rohe Kraft' (raw strength) of the philistine prompts sforzato chords – one of the very rare occasions, it seems to be me, when Schubert actually wants a harsh or ugly sound from the piano. The poet is trapped in a living hell (in this one verse, the atmosphere is claustrophobic as if the voice is unable to find a way out of the chromatic maze) and one is reminded of similar bursts of rough sound in Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, a song also from 1817.
For the fourth verse an exit is found as unexpected as it is unheralded and unannounced. After flying frantically in every direction to find its way out of a building, it is as if the bird suddenly finds a chink through which it flies free into the aether. This is the effect of a sudden change to G major at the double bar; on one side of this lies prison, on the other, freedom. What is extraordinary is the way in which Schubert somehow makes it clear that this is not really happening, but sheer fantasy, a projection of the soul allowing only the imagination to fly with the cranes. The vocal line suddenly finds itself in smooth flight and is suddenly re-united with its piano mate which joins it in ecstatic convoy, shadowing it in lovingly chiming thirds and sixths. The three bars of postlude are as pithy a picture as we could possibly have of the lark (or the crane) ascending. Dissatisfaction with politics alone seldom produce words of such heartache. This is one of those poems in which it is hard not to imagine that the poet is making a veiled statement about the loneliness and lack of flowering in his own sexuality. The question remains open as to whether Schubert himself is solely empathetic to, and fascinated by, a friend's viewpoint or also speaking for his own feelings.
There is a fascinating sketch for this song printed in the Neue Schubert Ausgabe (Vol 1B p290). This shows the composer's way of working on a song of this sort and makes clear that the vocal line was composed before any of the accompaniment's details. Two bars of right-hand introduction (later discarded) use a figuration that is similar to Der Schäfer und der Reiter. The accompaniment as we know it is a result of later thought and was obviously only written once the vocal line had been completed.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
Other albums featuring this work