This is one of Schubert's work-songs, a relative of Fischerweise
(also to a Salis-Seewis text) and so on. Like many of the more rustic Shakespearean characters, such stout-hearted salts of the earth are given to a touch of amateur philosophising with the general theme of 'all men are equal because they all end up in the same place - the grave.' In songs of this type, the inevitability of death features high on the list of German ruminations (even when drink is not on the agenda) and this song is no exception; the coolness of the earth mentioned at the end of the poem is a refuge from a life of hard labour and a staging post for the good in heart who await resurrection. Schubert has a way of musically suggesting a slightly slower thought process as well as bigger feet and a heavier tread; he laughs at the amiable rustic at the same time as loving and admiring him. Shakespeare handles some of his working-class characters in a similar manner. The musical textures of these songs are all no-nonsense and simple, the strong bass line of crotchets cuts a furrow through the song's texture. A task like ploughing is essentially repetitive and we hear this in the song's four-square structure and its solid sequences. The man here is a less mercurial, and certainly less ambitious German cousin of Britten's ploughboy (although no doubt also flaxen-headed) and we hear his whistle in the little piano interlude in the seventh and eighth bars. This figure descends into the piano's left hand as if it is being ploughed into the song. Towards the end of each verse there is a definite feeling that a musical descent deep into the earth will fertilize and enrich the song; the sung phrase 'unser Saaten Grab' is echoed twice in the postlude, first in the right hand, and then in the left in double thirds.
This is one of the seventeen songs which formed part of the Lieder album for Therese Grob which the composer put together in November 1816 for the baker's daughter with whom he was in love. It was probably intended as a birthday gift.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995