This piece (composed on the same day as the astonishingly more complex Die erste Liebe
) is designated as a ‘song with chorus’ by Witteczek, the famous contemporary collector of Schubert autographs. Because its vocal line remains firmly in the middle of the stave (and is thus suitable for tenors, baritones and basses in a common-denominator tessitura) each of the singers takes a turn as soloist. This chimes well with Witteczek’s description of the work as a ‘Rundgesang’, or roundelay. Two singers are thus introduced in preview – Jamie McDougall and Simon Keenlyside in the second and third verses respectively. As is usual in German drinking songs, the Grim Reaper makes an appearance in the last strophe. The tune is attractive and instantly memorable – just the thing for a gathering of men with more serious things on their minds (imbibing chief among them) than the mastering of musical complexities. The accompaniment of the verses consists of robust chords to support the refrains and quavers which flow as freely as the refreshment on tap. The number of notes in the accompaniment presupposes a pianist who is prepared to drink much less than his confrères. In the absence of the automobile one might argue that the pianist on these occasions was the ‘designated driver’ of the epoch – forced to sit and watch the pleasures of others, although always on hand to transport them to another realm. Such it seems was Schubert’s selflessness on these occasions. At the end the poet prefers to stay on earth rather than go to heaven, which is reminiscent of the sentiments at the end of the celebrated song Seligkeit
Like Kalchberg, Alois Zettler was a contemporary of Schubert’s whose life was spent in the service of the Austrian civil service. He was born to poor parents in Bohemia but by dint of his hard work achieved distinction in Vienna and eventually achieved high office in the Imperial Censor’s office where the poet Mayrhofer also worked. His works were published in various Viennese periodicals between 1811 and 1816 and Schubert discovered this poem in the same 1814 edition of the almanac Selam in which he also found the poems of Die Sternenwelten and Die Macht der Liebe. In the absence of other settings by the composer, Zettler’s greatest claim to fame is that he died only twelve days before Schubert in November 1828, and of the same complaint (‘Nervenfieber’) as that which appears on the composer’s death certificate. A medical historian would be tempted to ask if it could have been the same disease (part of an epidemic perhaps) which carried off both poet and composer within days of each other. The poet Christoph Kuffner (whom Schubert also set only once – the song Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe D955) published a volume of Zettler’s verse in 1836.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994