On stylistic grounds alone there is certainly an argument for the piece to be dated earlier than 1817. Schubert’s music is far from the sophisticated norm of the majority of his works for the medium of male quartet, TTBB. The piano writing is in flowing semiquavers – this well enough conveys the ambling and relaxed nature of the text – but it rarely shows any independence from the vocal line, and there is no sign of the illustrative pianistic detail which enlivens and illuminates the later works in this vein. The smoothness of the bel canto writing is pleasing and euphonious, but nothing new: Schubert had achieved this sort of melodic ease with Italian texts as early as 1813. Rather more individual is the delightful vocal interplay, tennis lobs of musical counterpoint, between the voices (the first tenor and first bass) at ‘cantando in libertà’, and the moment of freedom enjoyed by the lead tenor, like a tiny cadenza, with the flourish of the final ‘libertà’. Otherwise everything is straightforward about this piece, including its unexceptional ABA form. The middle section (beginning ‘Se l’innocente amore gradisce il suo pastore’) contains an echo (or perhaps a prophecy, depending on the dates): the tiny little decorative figure of two demisemiquavers on ‘amore’ and ‘pastore’, the culmination of a line of repeated notes in the vocal line, is a link with Der Wanderer (at the line ‘Die Sonne dünkt mich’). The threefold repetition of ‘contenta ognor sarà’, a phrase which is initially decorated with dotted rhythms, and then with excursions to high Gs for the first tenor, passes muster as a convincing operatic cliché. The conventional modulation from dominant to tonic, soupily achieved by the sliding chromatic movement of the first bass, similarly relishes an Italianate commonplace which borders on knowing parody. It is the composer’s smile behind this music which reinforces the theory that this work does indeed date from 1817; there is little here of the adolescent earnestness which we find in the composition exercises of 1813.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000
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