Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 18 – Peter Schreier
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As is appropriate to a graveside hymn, the song is in a simple strophic form. In each of the three verses (which are made up of two rhyming quatrains) the first six lines makes up the minore section, and the final two lines move into the major key and are repeated (with slight variations) to make a symmetrical musical structure. Once again the effect of this strophic symmetry is to give the impression of the morbid and compulsive revisiting of old burial grounds, and all to no avail. Ceaseless and meaningless repetition of words and actions is a sign of mental illness in itself. Because there are six lines of words to cover in E minor (versus only two with the same amount of music in the major), life's tumult in a torrent of words makes a vivid contrast with the peace of the grave. In the opening, accents on the third beat betoken jagged nerves, the detached quavers of the accompaniment are short gasps; if legato phrasing is an analogue for persuasive coherence, the use of short detached notes achieves the opposite effect here. There is an eerie effect of wind over graveyards at 'Und wenn die Wind' auch schaurig sausen': right-hand octaves (looking for all the world like level tombstones separated by the decency of a patch of rest on the printed page) stay on repeated B's on the off beat, leaving the left hand to shift beneath with changing harmonies. This effect was to reappear in Winterreise: in the song Rückblick a bank of repeated off-beat As is underpinned by a left hand, on all the strong beats, floundering in harmonic quicksand at 'kömmt mir der Tag in die Gedanken, möcht ich noch einmal rückwärts sehn.' Capell (and subsequently Fischer-Dieskau) have already remarked on the similarity between 'du Stadt der Unbeständigkeit!' in this same song and the setting of the words 'in der unbeständ'gen Welt' in Tiefes Leid. The whole of this major-key section is remarkable for a vocal line that lies in the middle of the song's texture, with the piano singing an obbligato line above it. This has the effect of the solemn wind and brass music to accompany burial known as Blaskapelle and is also to be found in Das Wirtshaus in Winterreise where the pianist's little finger sings a descant over the verse beginning with the words 'Ihr grünen Totenkränze könnt wohl die Zeichen sein.' There are also similarities between Tiefes Leid and another E minor song of 1826, Mignon's Heiss mich nicht reden which also deals with a burden which is carried to the grave.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993