The song is in two strophes with the same music serving as introduction and postlude. At first hearing one thinks of this as more or less a strophic song, but the modifciations, though tiny, are numerous. The main melody is built around an arpeggio in the home key. At the start of each verse we hear more or less the same music, except for a typically Schubertian inflection which changes major to minor the second time round. For Fischer-Dieskau these switches of key express `the paradoxical nature of all experience'. So much for the first two lines of each verse. The next two lines move from A major into C major for the first verse (at 'Wohl stürmisch war es') and into F major for the second (at 'und endlich da die raschen Flügel'). This last modulation allows the bass line to slip a semitone down and achieve the most magical change of key in the piece: as F falls to E in the left hand, a perfectly placed second inversion of the home key slips in at 'in süsser Ruh …'
Apart from these felicities the effect of the song is unpretentiously simple, too simple perhaps. It is easy perhaps to see why it has not received a particularly good press from the commentators; it seems under-energised and not quite at home with the poem. There seems to be a mis-match between the sweeping scale of what the poet is describing and the modest scale of the song. It would be some years before Schubert would write another barcarolle (Das Fischermädchen from Schwanengesang) with a similar introduction which seems at first to be similarly unadventurous, rooted as it is in the tonic key, and with a melody which suggests folksong. This Heine setting (where the composer used many of the same melodic and harmonic tools as in Der Flug der Zeit) has enchanted thousands of listeners. Eleven years' experience and a greater poem made all the difference in the world.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994