Whitman wrote of the cradle endlessly rocking, and in this song we hear it, for the composer is unafraid of repeated motifs (as in Geheimes
for example) which in lesser hands would be tedious. There is something about the world of childhood which makes the ritual of this repeated movement appropriate and touching. The song was originally cast in 12/8, which would have given more of an obviously rocking motion to the piece, but in 2/2 this tiny two-note motif, punctuated by a quaver's rest, conjures up smallness and delicacy (like the four tiny notes in the gruppetti which pervade Wolf's Auch kleine Dinge
) as well as child-like wordless entreaty. The piano part yearningly clings to the warm security of the more assured voice. As always when the accompaniment is halting or fragmentary, the composer requires an exemplary line from the singer to flow above it, and it is difficult not to believe that the child in Schubert projected into these loving vocal curves all his frustrated needs to be at one with his own father. A short but impassioned middle section in B flat suggests that the child's mother has died, in childbirth perhaps. It is interesting that the song is in D major with a family key relationship to the B minor of Vor meiner Wiege
, and that a feature of both songs is the echoing imitation of the piano of phrases proposed by the voice, a musical analogue for the fact that the child is the image of the father, and a follower in his footsteps. It could also be seen and heard as the subliminal teaching of all infantile behaviour, and of the mother tongue, by imitation and repetition.
Eduard von Bauernfeld was the translator of the version of Shakespeare's 'Who is Sylvia?' which Schubert set to music in 1826 (Was ist Silvia?, D891). Apart from this immortal collaboration, Der Vater mit dem Kind is the only surviving setting that Schubert made of the poetry of this friend who was introduced into the Schubert circle by Moritz von Schwind in 1825. Capell's description of him could not be bettered: 'a lively, scatterbrained youth, one imagines—a Murgeresque bohemian, who later wrote successful light comedies in the French vein … He could talk, joke, play the piano, and drink … Bauernfeld gave us a doubtfully accurate picture of the three (Schubert, Schwind and Bauernfeld himself) sharing one another's lodgings, clothes, and purses—which often meant Schubert's purse—of unflagging activities and spirits, of talk and of merry-makings to all hours of the night'. Bauernfeld provided Schubert with the libretto of his last opera (never completed, alas) Der Graf von Gleichen. He left his post in the Lottery Office to devote himself to full-time writing, and he also edited Shakespeare. It is almost certain that Schubert set Der Vater mit dem Kind from the poet's manuscript, and it seems possible that Bauernfeld provided the composer with a poem that he knew full well would engage his friend's emotions. It seems that Schubert was close enough to the poet to have shared all his hopes, frustrations and dreams with him.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990