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It is easy to see why this poem appealed to the young Schubert. The second verse in particular casts a spell which is reminiscent of some of the composer's early ballads with their ghostly encounters, black-hearted villains and maidens in distress. But because the poem was by Goethe it seems that the composer was inhibited by it and lacked the confidence to treat it in a more openly narrative manner. The restraint he displayed in setting Der Gott und die Bajadere had some point, but here we require more magic, particularly at the moment when a money-grabbing life is changed into one of spiritual enlightenment. Of course it is fine as far as it goes; Schubert finds an effective bass voice tessitura for the character, and the minor-key melody is a good one. There are nice decorative touches like the trills in the postlude to each verse. It is just that the rippling quaver accompaniment seems rather sedate and the simple change to the major key predictable and tame at the appearance of the Grail-like light and the angelic boy. In Loewe's setting of twenty years later the treasure-seeker's world in A minor is suddenly dislocated and transformed by a succession of exquisitely daring G sharps. This is one of the few Goethe settings which did not make its way into either of the two volumes that Schubert prepared for the poet in 1816. It seems fair to say therefore that the composer himself did not count it a success.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995
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