The music is typical of Schubert’s elegies of the period – Kosegarten’s Schwangesang (and also originally in F minor) comes to mind. There are the usual sensitive touches one can all too easily take for granted: the word ‘süssen’ elicits a tender and lingering appoggiatura, and mention of the ‘Befreiungsschlacht’ – the War of Liberation – prompts a note of rueful regret rather than self-satisfied jingoism. The semi-staccato chords in the accompaniment under ‘wir graben ihm’ (meant to suggest the sound of a shovel doing its grim work, iron against earth, at a burial) help classify Grablied as one of the composer’s gravedigger songs. The implication is that the singer is not only present at the funeral but actually doing the spade work – often the sad lot of a fellow soldier in the field. In such a manner does the composer take himself to the scene of battle on a magic carpet of sound. The tomb-like depth of the piano in the little postlude as well as the ominous basses in octaves are prophetic of the greatest of all burial songs, written a decade later and without mention of war, Totengräbers Heimweh in F minor. Schubert’s feeling for key does not change over the years; in 1815 F minor was already his key for graveyard ritual.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
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