There is not that much to choose between the two settings of Der Zufriedene; neither is among their composers’ masterpieces. Both are exuberant and cheeky, but Schubert wins on grounds of melodic memorability. Beethoven stays in his chosen key throughout the strophe; Schubert is rather more subtle. After the first two lines of poetry the piano’s interlude modulates briefly into E as if the achievement of coming up in the world requires a lift to the dominant – an apt illustration of ‘reich’ and ‘gross’. At ‘allein bin ich zufrieden’ the vocal line slides down into G major as if contented to sink back into a more humble tonal position in life. The ambitions of the E major digression and the diffidence of the G major retreat are then both eschewed in favour of a quick return to the middle path of A major for the rest of the verse. Like Wolf’s Gebet the song is about ‘holdes Bescheiden’, blessed moderation. Tiny details these, but they are telling enough to show how Schubert saw dramatic possibilities in lyrics which had seemed uneventful to older musicians’ eyes. More than any composer before him (and possibly since), Schubert found subtle musical analogues for the poetry he chose to set. These are often so deeply woven into the music’s fabric that it often takes a practised ear to hear the ingenuity at work and identify exactly what it has that has made the composer respond to the text in a certain way. Thanks to Schubert, the art of song-writing had come on in leaps and bounds between 1810 when Beethoven’s Op 75 was written, and 1815.
Schubert set only this one poem by Christian Reissig, an Austrian who like another poet on this disc, Theodor Körner, took part in the Napoleonic Wars. Reissig fought in the Spanish campaign and was badly wounded in 1809. He was apparently a particularly implacable opponent of the French Emperor. Like many occasional poets and writers of the time, he was published in periodicals and almanacs rather than in book form. His words found favour with a number of composers resident in Vienna, none more so than with Beethoven who made seven settings of Reissig’s poems between 1809 and 1816.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994