Klopstock wrote these verses for his future wife Elisabeth von Winthem in 1770, a good deal before the Napoleonic Wars. Just as the patriotic poetry of Körner (Leyer und Schwert particularly) was pressed into new service by supporters of Bismarck and the German Reich historical circumstances provided Klopstock's verses with a new lease of life some forty-five years after they were written. They were popular in their own time, however, and were set many times to music. Matthias Claudius made a riposte to these verses by inventing a male version of the words: 'Ich bin ein deutscher Jüngling! Mein Haar ist kraus, breit meine Brust' ('I am a German youth; my hair is curly, my chest is broad'). Schubart in his Deutsche Chronik published an up-market version of the words by one 'Charlotte von Y…' which were meant to parody Klopstock's verses on the pretext that his sentiments were fit for peasants but far too unrefined for the bourgeoisie. Even Klopstock later wrote a dialect version of his own poem. It is clear from this that nationalism was an issue among certain German (rather than Austrian) artists long before Napoleon placed it in the forefront of the popular political agenda. It was the Wars of Liberation, however, when Prussia and Austria were allies, which temporarily induced Schubert and his contemporaries to enthuse over the prospect of one united 'Fatherland'. The composer quickly lost interest in these sentiments when it became obvious that, in the interest of retaining the status quo of power, Metternich was prepared to do anything to repress free speech and expression, and all in the name of a type of bogus patriotism which did a great deal more to limit the cultural and intellectual influence of neighbouring countries than to encourage a free market of thought between the two halves of the German-speaking world.
The music is marked Etwas geschwind, mit Feuer and it is rather unusual to find a song written for a woman which is marked to be sung 'with fire'. The tune is in the composer's best Singspiel style in the 'open' ceremonial key of C major, and the piano doubles the voice part throughout. The staccato accompaniment bristles with activity and conveys an element of pomp. This is particularly evident in the piano's final bars where the music jumps and leaps with pride. The filled-out chords, played quickly and staccato, make this one of the composer's more tricky postludes for a song of such a simple kind. The touch of arrogance evident in this music has to be heard in historical perspective: it is a paean of joy three months after the Battle of Waterloo, a thumbing of the German nose at the thwarted world-ruling ambitions of the French.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994