This lilting, waltz-like setting has such a delightful melody that it was once a great favourite with audiences. This much is proved by the fact that Max Friedländer selected it to be in the first volume of the Peters Edition, a series which more or less published Schubert's output in the order of its popularity, the songs becoming more recherché with each successive volume. It is interesting that of all the songs in this volume, Lob der Tränen
is now perhaps the least performed, its Italianate prettiness less tempting to the performer of today who prefers the composer in a less generalised word-setting mood. The song as a whole is rather a mis-match between the weight of the poetic content and the ingratiating tune, the shape of which was suggested by the poet's double rhymes. The fact that it is also an unmodified strophic song shows that the composer has no wish to take on board that the poem's message deepens with each strophe. By the time we hear of Prometheus's painful creation of mankind in these lilting tones we can only smile at the incongruity. Perhaps this conflict of tears and smiles in poetic and musical imagery was intentional, in which case the composer was showing a most sophisticated irony in deliberately going against, rather than with, the poet's drift. It is more likely that Schubert had not yet got the measure of the achievement of the brothers Schlegel. He was soon to do so in his settings of August's translations of Petrarch at the end of the year, and in the settings from Friedrich's Abendröthe
in 1819 and 1820. This encounter with the Schlegel circle was to lead his musical language away from the carefree aria style into bold new realms of formal and harmonic exploration. Despite the fact that the song teeters on the edge of sentimentality, it has numerous touches of mastery: the ambivalence between G minor and D major of the introduction; the eruption into dancing triplets at 'Reihetanz'; the glorious way in which the final (repeated) line of each strophe takes rapturous flight. We adore melodic writing as natural and graceful as this, despite the fact that the music seems ideally fashioned only for the first two strophes.
For the dating of this song we rely on something written in haste by Schubert at the bottom of the manuscript: 'Spaun! Don't forget Gahy and Rondo'. This refers to a piano duet written in January 1818. As the composer was away in Zseliz for the summer months, it is likely that this song was composed sometime early in the year. It is sometimes ascribed to 1821 because that is when Schubert made a fair copy for the publisher. When the song was published in 1822 it was dedicated to Spaun who it seems had liked the piece so much that the composer let him keep the manuscript.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994