Schubert’s superiority lies not only in the simplicity of the accompaniment; he had a gift for melody and memorable turn of phrase with which the older man could not compete. Whereas Zumsteeg’s setting benefits from the changes in harmony from strophe to strophe, Schubert’s evokes an entire world of nocturnal majesty which seems to make the musical repeats as inevitable as the turning of the globe. The first half of the song has that marvellous combination of stillness and enormity of scale which is a Schubertian speciality; one is reminded that the composer had written both versions of Meeres stille four months earlier; the opening of Wehmuth, a much later song, also comes to mind. At ‘Braune Schleier hüllen Wald und Feld’ the melody lifts like a pervasive mist into A flat major only to turn around on itself and slip, secretive and veiled, in response to the words, into G minor. The middle section of the song (from ‘Trüb’ und matt und müde’) drags its feet in appropriately tortuous chromaticism for two bars before the ‘namenloser Friede’ of night smooths the harmony back into nocturnal diatonicism. All in all this is a remarkable achievement; as Capell writes, ‘the Schubert of Wanderers Nachtlied is announced’.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
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