This poem written in the summer of 1796 was published as the second item of a Schiller-Goethe collaboration, the Musenalmanach
for 1797. The collection opened with Alexis und Dora
, a long poem which was to become celebrated as one of the purest products of Goethe's classical phase. The Schiller miniature which follows it is no less pure and radiates the calm of his neo-classical style. Schubert uses all six verses and groups them in pairs to make a thrice-repeated strophic song of gentle sweetness. The time signature is 6/8, traditional for pastoral songs of this type. Mention of a valley and shepherds in the first sentence is enough to inspire the composer to a softly undulating rhythm, a dance typical of the pastoral genre; the fifths in the bass represent the drone of shepherds' pipes and is part of an on-going tradition in this type of music that extends to Hugo Wolf's Die Spröde
. Not long after composing Das Mädchen aus der Fremde
Schubert wrote music of the same character for Schäfers Klagelied
(Volume 1). This is an incomparably greater song because the Goethe poem, also written within the pastoral convention, is touching and real, right down to the mention of the shepherd's faithful dog. Das Mädchen aus der Fremde
on the other hand is a more cerebral and stylised creation; the mysterious girl is obviously Flora, spring personified, but she never comes to life. Like a German Mélisande, she holds the public at arm's length. An interesting detail illustrating the difficulties of strophic song composition is the piano music underneath 'die ersten Lerchen schwirrten' which is deliciously evocative of birdsong in the first verse. This pianistic decoration sounds much less convincing under the words 'Der Jüngling und der Greis am Stabe' in the fifth verse.
This was the last song Schubert wrote before he crossed over, three days later, into song immortality with Gretchen am Spinnrade on 19 October 1814. For all its tuneful felicities there is nothing in Das Mädchen aus der Fremde to suggest the storm of musical emotion which was to break a few days later with the immortal monologue from Goethe's Faust. But sympathetic listening to Schiller's setting reveals an Innigkeit — a feeling of tenderness, mystery and empathetic concern — which demonstrates clearly that the composer of this music already has understanding and depth in plenty, and is simply waiting to be galvanised into a new dimension of musical expression. There is no doubt that Schiller was a more exciting dramatist than Goethe when it came to writing stage works, but many of his poems, almost certainly deliberately in this particular case, refrain from the sort of dramatic expression that can help a Lieder composer breathe life into his subjects. Schubert was to attempt another setting in 1815 (D252) where the music has a somewhat racier tone in Zauberflöte style.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993