Schubert set this poem twice and each is a masterpiece in is own right. Although the first, strophic, version of 1815 is blessed with an enchanting melody Schubert probably felt the need four years later (this second version is undated but recent paper studies have revealed that it is most likely a work from 1819) to create something more complex to mirror the shifting moods of the poem. This is melancholy music, yet sweetly tender, and by some musical alchemy suffused with the silvery glow of moonlight. Schubert is almost always fond of strong bass lines which support and buoy up the vocal line, but here he changes his rules: the voice part floats free, unanchored, aspiring upwards, seldom touching the tonic. The piano's right hand doubles the voice, normally an unwise practice, but here it aids beautifully the communing of the poet below with the moon above. He then addresses the stream—it is probable that Goethe wrote the poem after a friend's suicide in the Ilm near his own house in Weimar. The water, like time, flows inexorably, changing or destroying all in its path, and in this setting (unlike the first) we hear this water journey in turbulent modulations. Only a true friend, the poet says, can understand his mingled emotions. The final stanza of the song depicts this longed-for intimacy in a miraculous way. The moon continues to shine in the piano part while the singer buries his head in the lap of the music and the vocal line delves beneath the surface. The ineffable distance between lunar serenity and the dark labyrinthine torments of the heart is measured in a vocal span of nearly two octaves.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988