The manuscript for Goethe’s ‘Wandrers Nachtlied I’, or Der du von dem Himmel bist
, records that it was conceived ‘On the Ettersberg hillside. 12 February 1776’. The poem begins with a series of subordinate clauses, an acclamation that takes time to reach the heart of the matter: the persona’s plea to be done with Faustian striving and find peace. The linguistic solecism whereby ‘pain and joy’ are bound together by a masculine article, despite the feminine gender of the second noun, affirms that pleasure and pain are opposite poles of the same thing—the human condition? Liszt, who knew what it was to pray for the soul’s peace, created four settings of this poem between 1842 and 1870 (the fourth version is incomplete); typically, the first version is the longest, beginning with a brooding introduction in the piano before the singer enters with a quiet prayer. Thereafter, we alternate between invocations of ‘sweet peace’ and tonal convulsions of anguish (‘I am weary of this restlessness!’) in which the persona repeats the words of this brief poem over and over. The urgency of this plea cannot be doubted.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2012