Dactylic rhythm was always a favourite with Schubert, and this predilection probably goes back to his love of the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. There are energetic works by Schubert which use the rhythm (the fifth of the Moments Musicaux
, Op 94) but, like the Beethoven movement, the energy of Die Sterne
is not about bluster and Sturm und Drang; it is the sublime, hidden motor of the universe, ticking away in 'heilsame Pflicht', a steady musical hum, like the big Top, linking the centuries together, hums ancient and modern, as it were. The song is pure delight; we hear the delight of the stargazer of course, but also the delight of the stars whose simple undending task it is to send out pulses of dancing light—'divine choreography' Capell calls it. The key changes suggest the stars in a moving axis, a cycle of thirds from the home key of E flat to C, then C flat to G, and then back to the starting point; all this seems a pre-ordained journey, as surprising in its variety and unexpected beauty as a voyage into space might be, but in the safe hands of a guiding force. The controlled rhythm (a little rubato is allowed here and there at the turning of astral corners, like an extra turn of the globe at leap-year) suggests divine order, and the happiness and goodness of that ordering. It is a song that manages to be touching in a personal way (for it is after all a prospective lover who sings it) but its greatness is in the link it suggests between heaven and earth, not a conventionally religious one, but one which the composer knew to be true. In this bright little song we catch a glimpse of the wisdom (innate as well as hard won) which was the sustaining force of Schubert's last years.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990