The tempo marking is ‘Schnell’ (Fast), which is relatively unusual for Schubert. The piece achieves a piano-generated thundering impetus rare in the Lieder, but it simply does not suit this composer’s style. The song begins on a melodramatic ‘high’, and in consequence it has almost nowhere to go – although it is fun while it lasts, and the repeat of the opening D minor music for ‘Der Damm zerschmilzt’ is noteworthy: this time it is transposed to E minor in an attempt to heighten tension. There is a highly-strung hysterical flavour about the piece which does not preclude comedy. There is something very funny about Johanna (whom Goethe also calls ‘Schön Suschen’) worrying about her goat! It is all good German stuff: a strong and beautiful Amazon, respectful to the older generation and kind to animals, a veritable example of the purity of country life for the instruction of the jaded city-dweller. The poem goes on to describe how Johanna, having successfully saved her mother, returns to save the neighbours and perishes in the attempt. Although the incident actually happened there is an air of unreality about the story, and Schubert no doubt abandoned the piece because not a jot of sympathy is engendered on behalf of the heroine; she fails to live as a character, at least in the way the composer has chosen to set the music here. The last thing we hear of Johanna in this song is an outburst of heroic intent: ‘Sie sollen und müssen gerettet sein!’ We are almost in the world of Brünnhilde with this, and it is here that Schubert breaks off, prudently I think. Goethe’s final lines, which point a moral in folk-like manner, would have made an embarrassing end to a song with these dramatic aspirations. Reinhard Van Hoorickx has completed the nine bars of music derived from the earlier accompaniment which bring the piece to a stormy, but inevitably peremptory, close.
Johann Reichardt also composed an accomplished and exciting version of this poem.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997
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