The setting recorded here is also simple (actually, rather simpler than D393). It is also more serious in tone, though far from earnest. It is clear that the poet rejoices in his solitary life and is happy to remain on his own; but the overall feeling is rather more contemplative and subdued than a chipper declaration of independence might suggest. The first setting is in a clear and sparkling A major, but here there is an ambivalence of tonality: the opening bar of music (‘Es rieselt, klar und’) is in A minor and we reach the home key of C major only at the second full bar, on ‘wehend’. The whole song is written for a string quartet texture where the first violin takes the vocal line, the second the piano’s right hand, and the cello the left-hand bass. At the heart of the music, buried within the crotchets and quavers of melody and harmony, there is a line, in gentle and sinuous semiquavers, which might have been written for a viola. This is the gentle stream which signifies more than water music; here we have the purling flow of the inner life, and the happy contentment which results from an existence given over to nature. If this song is a distant relative of Das Wandern, the opening of Die schöne Müllerin (the same 2/4 key signature, the same strophic simplicity, the same idealisation of beauties of the countryside) it is one where the vigour of youth has given way to a more mature taste for homespun philosophy, far from the stress of the big city and urban life.
A fetching and unusual feature of the oscillating vocal line is to be heard at ‘Mir dienet zur Kapelle’ where two flattened sixths (D flats within the key of F major, the subdominant of the home key of C) replace the Ds which would have been the unexceptional notes expected in this context. This touch of flattened harmony is heard again at ‘Zu meiner Klausnerzelle’. The peace of the wide, open countryside is depicted in a much later work in similar terms, this time complicated by irony, bitterness and anger, but still stemming from the same perception of rural peace as a type of lassitude: in Einsamkeit, the twelfth song of Winterreise, we hear these eloquent flattened sixths again, this time on ‘Ach, dass die Luft so ruhig’. These blue notes, like a disabling sirocco, sap purpose and energy in Winterreise, to the distress of the traveller; but the hermit of Die Einsiedelei enjoys their calming, and slightly soporific, nature. The postlude with a right-hand upper melody which is rather more marked than the rest of the song, is also delightful, although the tessitura, the muted middle of the keyboard, is hardly one which encourages celebration. Here we find the same low-key cheerfulness, the result of a soul at peace with itself, which characterises the rest of the song. Like a number of the songs of 1816/17, and like so much else in Schubert’s life and music, the unspoken theme seems to be ‘moderation in all things’.
It is curious that the first setting of this text (D337 for unaccompanied male-voice quartet) should have a connection with Atys. Indeed the choral work begins with two-and-a-half bars of music which are identical to the introduction to Atys. Whether Schubert meant to quote Die Einsiedelei in beginning Atys is open to question. It may have been that the mood of longing for peace and a retreat from life’s pain in both poems prompted a similar musical response with some unintentional borrowing.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000