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The tune starts in a very familiar manner, the exploration of an arpeggio, often the first reconnaissance expedition sent out by Schubert when he is deciding how to conquer a lyric. It is then that we notice something familiar about the tune for the words 'Der Mond ist aufgegangen'; it is modelled (whether consciously or not is impossible to say) on a figure given to the clarinets and bassoons in the Larghetto of Beethoven's Second Symphony (from bar 32 onwards). The accompanying figurations are discreet except for occasional flashes of temperament—the staccato left hand which comments on the words 'hell and klar', and the hidden tune in the right hand postlude, also underpinned by staccato quavers in the bass. The sound of a bassoon in a wind ensemble is so vividly suggested here that perhaps Schubert did have Beethoven's orchestration in mind. Appropriately for the deep, dark woods described in the fourth and fifth lines of the poem, there is a mysterious legato counter-melody in the pianist's left hand. The separation of the rather high vocal line from the low-lying murmuring accompaniment, and the cupola of a night sky that separates the singing and playing protagonists, brings another, rather more profound nocturne to mind, Nacht und Träume.
This lyric was praised by Herder as an ideal model of German folksong of its kind. It was set by a number of composers, including C P E Bach and J A P Schulz (1747–1800) who alongside Reichardt and Zelter was one of the founders of the Second Berlin school. Schulz's simple but beautiful song, still well-known in Germany, is in the manner of a chorale; Schubert almost certainly knew it and deliberately attempted to find a different way of setting these famous words.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993
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