The words of Sanft weh’n im Hauch der Abendluft
come from the eighteenth-century poet Friedrich von Matthisson, whose poems were praised by Schiller for their melancholy sweetness and tender descriptions of Nature. Schubert set this poem to music in 1815 under the poet’s own title Totenkranz für ein Kind
(‘Funeral Garland for a Child’), and Mendelssohn’s setting followed seven years later in December 1822. Hearing this song, we remember that infant mortality in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was at rates we can barely comprehend nowadays; the mind shudders away from the statistics. Towards the end of this sensitive, extended setting, we hear the influence of Baroque music when the grief-stricken parents sing of wandering without relief through the world’s chaos; here, the vocal line is like a chorale cantus firmus beneath which the piano sinks by degrees to a hymn-like ending.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2010