The key is G major and the time signature 6/8. The opening prelude is a lovely inspiration; the gently falling sequences of the little four-note cell are perfectly descriptive of summer memories shot through with autumn melancholy. The shape of the piano-writing on the page, bracketed in two-bar phrases, suggest the sheltering effect of fading tree branches in an arbour, gently swaying in the wind and fast losing their leaves. There is also just enough movement in these semiquavers to suggest the movement of a young girl skipping into the poet’s vision. Everything here is of the utmost delicacy and understatement. When the girl begins to speak there is a long D pedal (beginning on ‘Die stillen Lauben sind entlaubt’) which lasts seven bars. Autumn mist is built into this music which floats, remaining suspended in the dominant, and resisting a return to the tonic. Even when it eventually does so (at ‘der Herbst will gar nichts taugen’) it is coloured by the wistfulness of F natural, the flattened seventh in G major. This seems to promise a plagal shift to C major, but there is a surprise in store: the setting of the word ‘Ach’ on a high G is supported instead by A7, also in first inversion. Even with a switch of mood and a change of time signature to 2/4 (a change of speed is not marked, but is definitely implied) the harmony remains fixed on this inversion of A7 for ‘Ach, du bist ein schönes Ding’. The music only now seems to describe the skipping (hüpfen) mentioned in the first verse. The lively dotted rhythm in each bar of the left-hand accompaniment suggests a movement both skittish and delicate. In terms of harmony the music veers between A7 (still in first inversion), the second inversion of G major, G7 and C major. Throughout the song the effect of this continued distancing from the tonic is tantalising, the perfect means to describe a search for something that has been lost, irretrievable except through memory. In this respect, and in terms of the alternation between fast and slow tempi, the song is prophetic of another G major song about spring’s past happiness – Frühlingstraum from Winterreise. The only real cadence into an uncomplicated G major is on the very last word ‘Frühling’, but this is part of the Hoorickx completion. We have no idea what different and new ideas Schubert had up his sleeve had he bothered to finish the song. It is hard to guess why he never completed it.
The second verse actually refutes the evidence of the first. Spring is not the most beautiful thing of all – May can stay away. It is love that colours everything. Thus it may be rather simplistic to aver that Schubert would have been satisfied with a strophic solution using the same music. Here, indeed, may lie the reason for the song’s abandonment. Fitting the underlay of Mayrhofer’s second verse to the music of the first is no problem (apart from the need to adopt the ‘Ach’ from the first verse that does not occur in the second) but it is always possible that Schubert had something completely different in mind for the new mood. Nevertheless it works well enough as recorded here, and the music of the first strophe does good service for some of the new imagery of the second – the delicate weave of lilies and roses, for example, seem aptly pictured by the tendrils of those falling piano sequences. Not least because of these, Über allen Zauber Liebe remains a real trouvaille, a tiny piece of lazily drifting Schubertian enchantment unlike any other, and yet achingly and convincingly authentic.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000