It seems likely that Schubert was dissatisfied with his first attempt at this song (if something so ravishing could be labelled an attempt) because he made no effort to differentiate between the different moods and impulses of Schiller's strophes. Perhaps his conscience had been pricked by getting to know Zumsteeg's setting which had appeared in Volume 6 of the Kleine Balladen und Lieder in 1803. This is one of Zumsteeg's most ambitious and complex works. It follows the contours of Schiller's poem to such an extent that there are no fewer than twenty-two changes of tempo in its nine pages. It uses seven verses (as opposed to Schubert's four) of an earlier version of the poem. Zumsteeg changes at whim between aria and recitative; at one point, when the metre defies musical setting, he even uses melodrama — spoken word with musical accompaniment; the word 'Schäferstunde' in Verse 2 prompts a delightful Pastorale in a bucolic 6/8.
The composer returns to the drawing-board seemingly determined to write a more 'important' song than his setting of the year before, and it starts promisingly. There is nothing in ail Schubert quite like this introduction. It seems that the lover is riding to heavenly realms on Pegasus; in the accompaniment the composer captures the idea of a steed winging his way through the ethereal skies — no earthbound galloping horse in the manner of Erlkönig this; we somehow know that the hooves, all in the imagination anyway, make no contact whatever with the earth. The elated singer's vocal line soars above the galoping piano in the manner of Frank Bridge's Love went a-riding. The second half of the verse ('Ätherlüfte träum' ich') changes character suddenly. The idea is ingenious; mention of a mirror image in the last two lines of the verse prompts the use of a gently teasing canonie device between voice and piano. The unison dotted rhythms in A minor (in the original key) seem prophetic of the A minor Piano Sonata (Op 143, D784) from 1823. Harps and lyres at the beginning of Schiller's second verse bring forth a rather more conventional and euphonious arpeggio figure (in A fiat in the original) with only two complete extant phrases, attractive without being revelatory. It is at this point that the manuscript breaks off.
The second fragment begins with the concluding two bars of this last section, stili in A fiat. This is a firm indication that Schubert meant Verse 2 to be all in the same vein and key, and Reinhard Van Hoorickx has followed suit in his completion of this middle section.
When we return to authentic Schubert we hear a modification of the 'Pegasus' motif, this time in D fiat. Instead of a winged steed we have winged cherubs, with the music suddenly taking on an eighteenth-century flavour to depict cheeky little putti. This is Schiller in his mode of wishing to 'return' to the world of classical antiquity, not to mention Mediterranean vegetation and climate. Mention of Orpheus prompts a change to B fiat, and the 'Wirbeltanz' whirls into G major just as suddenly; the whole of this section is in tempestuous dance rhythm, driven into a frenzy of 6/8 after the rococo elegance of the cupids' 4/4. For the opening of Verse 4 the key changes to E major for a recitative … but the dancer is already exhausted and Schubert has tired of the piecemeal approach. This is, we must remember, a composer who has written Ganymed five months before. His instincts are leading him more and more away from the prolix ways of a Zumsteeg towards facing the challenge of unifying long poems with the golden thread of his own musical imagination. We do not know whether Schubert had it in mind to set more than four verses of the poem in line with Zumsteeg, or whether or not it was his intention to wind up this song with a recapitulation of the music for the second verse. Reinhard Van Hoorickx chooses to do just this; his perlorming version wisely draws on Schubert's own music wherever possible.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993