In writing the 'Trout' Quintet Schubert used a popular song as the basis of a piece of instrumental music. In writing this song, it is probable that he used what must have been a popular piece of dance music for piano (the third of the Deutsche
D972) as an accompaniment for a song. If this is so, this is a unique instance of music preceding word in Schubert's song output, although I have suggested that this may also have been the case in Die Macht der Liebe
. Of course it is possible that the song came first and that its piano part was popular enough to find an echo on the dance floor, but it seems more likely that the poem by Kind has been made to fit the music as a type of obligato (the vocal line uncharacteristically sounds
like one) which makes this song an instance of the tail wagging the dog, or in this case the wing flapping the bird. It is true that the runs of the accompaniment are written in semiquavers (rather than the quavers we find in the dance) but the first six bars of the melody of this delightful little waltz are the same in both versions. This puts us in mind of the Liebeslieder
Waltzes of Brahms which were written as piano duets with an added vocal obligato. Kind's poem is one of the most mindless that Schubert ever set (or in this case, grafted) but the repetitive nature of both the words and vocal line seem ideally suited to birdsong with its short-spanned repetitions of a small group of notes. The excursion into B flat major for the fourth and fifth lines of the poem is a winsome touch (providing relief from the insistent A major of the home key) that we do not find in the dance.
There is something dangerously near to kitsch about the sheer cosiness and sweetness of this song, with its arch inference that life in the nest mirrors the best family values of the Biedermeier period. The same may be said for Brahms's Das Mädchen spricht (also in A major) which explores more or less the same theme with swallows as opposed to linnets. There is a good deal of genre painting of the period which has the same over-prettified quality. One could not have denied Schubert the chance to aim for popularity from time to time, however, and his placing of this song as the third of the Op 20 group (the others were the much more serious Sei mir gegrüsst and Frühlingsglaube) seems a judicious piece of public relations. This was the first of the composer's song-sets to be published by the house of Sauer and Leidesdorf and they no doubt wanted a hit. And the poet was, after all, the famous librettist of Weber's Der Freischütz.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994