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There is nothing exceptional about the music for this four-part song which is in Schubert’s most conventional male-chorus manner. The left hand of the piano doubles the bass line, and there is little attempt to mirror the textual idea of going deep down into the mines apart from the plunging phrase, first for the basses and later for the tenors, on ‘Es ist ein Gott’. The composer seems to have little idea about what miners of the early nineteenth century actually had to go through in terms of terror and danger, and why they had to call on God to protect them. Indeed, the various gravediggers in Schubert’s solo songs burrow deeper under the music’s surface than these miners. Unfortunately we do not know who the author is, or even if the poem was originally German or a translation from another language. We do know however that this quartet shared a manuscript with a song written on the same day, Der Weiberfreund D271. The text for this was a translation of an English poem by Abraham Cowley. It is an idle but tantalizing thought to speculate that both sides of the manuscript paper may contain settings of works of British origin. On that day the composer may have been looking at a book with a group of translations drawn from the English. Certainly this miners’ song is unlike anything else in Schubert’s output which otherwise avoided contact with the stressful occupations of the Industrial Revolution. It would certainly resonate more convincingly in the Welsh valleys than at a Viennese Schubertiad.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
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