The first version of the song was written in G minor, but Schubert later re-cast it in B flat minor—not a common tonality in his work, and shared by the anguish of Gretchen in her prayer to the Mater dolorosa and by Ihr Bild from Schwanengesang. Gretchen has lost her innocence and Heine his beloved; Schulze his peace of mind. The texture of the music is more bottom-heavy than is usual with this composer, the forest paths muddy with unclear thoughts and emotions. Susan Youens has pointed out that there is much in Im Walde which is related to the triplet-accompanied passages in Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, but she makes the point, as do all the other commentators, that in terms of its shape and constant triplet Bewegung, Im Walde is most strongly related to another anguished song of search, Erstarrung from Winterreise. Note how the left hand of the pianist in that masterpiece plays an eloquent heartfelt melody in single notes in the undergrowth of the score as it tries to search for traces of the beloved with delicate and supple fingers, however frostbitten. In Im Walde the search is less specific, the triplets are in the left hand instead of the right, and the right hand melody is robbed of digital finesse by being doubled in blustering double octaves. Nevertheless it seems clear that there is more than a coincidental similarity between the two songs and that Im Walde was something of a study for Erstarrung. This is clearer still when one compares the structure of the two works in each of which the first and fourth of the strophes are related, as are the second and fifth. This interleaving of material strengthens and buttresses the structure; there is a strong impression of repetition and recapitulation but in a slightly unpredictable way; we have the feeling both protagonists are wandering in a wide and erratic manner. The touching, lyrical episodes in each song (the traveller's 'Wo find ich eine Blüte', Schulze's Wohl blühn viel Blumen auf der Flur') are very similar in atmosphere. However, the remarkable thing is how tailored to their poets the two songs remain. The sensibilities of the two protagonists emerge quite differently—Müller's hero more refined and aware, dealing with an emotional crisis in which a real relationship has foundered, and Schulze whose self-pity and self-delusion (the vocal line is somehow suffused with both) make us regard his plight less sympathetically than that of the winter traveller.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993
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