Child mortality was a constant part of life in households of the early nineteenth century, and Schubert himself was no stranger to graveside contemplation when it came to the burials of dead brothers and sisters. As late as 1817 the composer lost a half-brother named Theodor who was only seven months old. The key is G minor, and John Reed revealingly writes that this tonality ‘often expresses the fortitude of those whose lot is a battle against fate or the supernatural’. In this way the father who rides through the night in an attempt to save his sick child (Erlkönig in G minor) has something in common with the parents who have lost their child (Lied from de la Motte Fouqé’s Undine, also in G minor) as well as the bereft mourners in this little song. As befits its subject matter the music is modest yet deeply felt. Most of the vocal line is doubled by the piano which contributes to a mood of nursery simplicity. There is a gentle tenderness here well suited to paint the unforgettable and haunting ‘holdes Bild’ of the child. The only trace of semiquaver decoration in a vocal line of crotchets and quavers occurs on a tiny gruppetto on the word ‘fallen’, a turn of phrase that in its gentle flourish was to become something of a Schubertian signature. The composer marks the song ‘Etwas geschwind’ and alla breve so any sense of lugubrious tragedy is avoided by the interpreters. Schubert was to write his best-known elegy for a dead child, Am Grabe Anselmos, in November 1816. His patient and forbearing relationship with Faust, little son of the Pachler family in Graz, shows us what an affectionate father the composer might have been.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
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