Thus is explained the only limitation of this song: a length which would lead to monotony if it were not for the composer's genius. Nevertheless this is the purest of Schubert, and he has lavished music on this lullaby which glows with innocence and unalloyed delight. The idea of delicacy and smallness are apparent in the very first bar: the first figuration, four quavers ascending through both staves in the key of A flat, seems as perfectly formed as fingers on a baby's hand; the fact that each one works perfectly is the kind of miracle that no parent can quite believe. The pianist must cultivate a mother's touch, both gentle and sensuous. The A flat arpeggio is repeated in the second half of the bar before the music shifts into the second inversion of the subdominant with the least amount of effort. The little finger of the pianist's left hand remains curled reassuringly around the bass A flat, and the fingers of the right have to shift only a semitone upwards. This is like 'first steps at the keyboard', but if it is baby language it is the kind that is spoken to a child by a besotted adult; Seidl's poem is of course precisely this, its short lines attempting to mirror the sort of simplicity which a child could grasp. The move to the dominant seventh at the beginning of the third bar continues the interplay of simple chords; this weaves a cat's cradle of an accompaniment which is mostly lovingly legato, here and there enlivened by a tripping staccato glint. The fourth bar introduces a cross-rhythm which is the gentlest of teases, a sudden smile flickering across the baby's face, perhaps, which causes the maternal heart to miss a beat in its pleasure. A parent's love is as basic and unquestioning as this, all sophistication reduced to the fundamentals of a loving response, and only Schubert can get away with mirroring this in music, without toppling into sentimentality. He uses Seidl's strophes in pairs (the second is indented on the page in the manner of a chorus) to make one musical verse. There is a change of mood and a move to the relative minor at 'Schliesse sie einst so'; the trickle of murmured quavers in the vocal line is replaced by a broader cantilena of minims and crotchets. A felicitous contrast of harmony underlines the difference between 'drinnen' and 'aussen'. The second musical verse (the fourth verse of Seidl's poem) moves to F major rather than F minor, and we realize that although small details of word-setting are carefully changed in each strophe, these must not disturb the hypnotic nature of the music. These tiny modifications are as subtle and private as the exchange of love between mother and child: each moment of interaction brings a new emotional inflection invisible to outsiders. The third musical verse is sometimes omitted, particularly by German singers, who find mention of garlands of laurel hopelessly outdated. But the song goes on unimpeded by embarrassment, or concern at its length. We are drawn into another world and we stay there, under Schubert's spell, until the child falls asleep and he allows us to leave the room.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996
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