When Schubert makes a recitative out of Matthisson's Trost. An Elisa, few would bemoan the fact that stilted classical metre has been swept aside in favour of 'staging' the poem effectively. But when the lively, breathless, culminative impact of Goethe's anapaestic rhythm for Sehnsucht is vitiated by Schubert's stop-go alternation between recitative, aria and piano interlude, there is valid cause for complaint. This is a text which Beethoven surely got right in his setting of 1810, and Schubert seems to have gone to great lengths to try something different. It may be that Schubert simply found the internal rhythm of the poem too relentless for comfortable musical expression, and was doing his best to take some of the wind out of its sails; it has a type of passionate bluster which is more of a Beethovenian than a Schubertian phenomenon. It also cannot be denied that some of Schubert's pictures and episodes within the song are charmingly done: the swift flight of the ravens in verse 2, and the corresponding music for the flowing brook in the second half of Verse 4 give some intimation of how the song may have been set as an enchanting moto perpetuo. The interlude for the singing bird (Verse 3) is in some ways admirable (the poem after all mentions lingering and listening, and we are made to do both), but its music-box effect adds an arch touch of eighteenth-century bergerette to what is in fact a tempestuously romantic poem. The interlude for the setting sun (an image more charmingly and economically handled in Adelaide) kills stone dead any culminative rhythmic impetus the piece may have had, yet the poet's shining star is made to reverberate in empty space with the simplest and most telling of musical means. Also excellent is the depiction of astonishment in the last verse—it is a fragment of a slow waltz, and the gradual return to the rumbustious tempo which closes the piece with the poet throwing himself at his beloved's feet in a precipitous downward scale. But there is just too much lavish musical detail throughout the song to enable Goethe's poem to achieve the inevitable onrushing sweep which its metre demands.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991
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