The first version (D30, Volume 1) is a beautiful song of Mozartian grace; it is actually Schubert's first real song (as opposed to bailad) and a stunning achievement for a fifteen-year-old. Despite an effectively dramatic passage at 'wecken in dem tiefen Busen mir den schweren Kummer nur' there is perhaps too open a smile here fully to reflect Schiller's words. Nevertheless John Reed is not alone in preferring this version to the later attempts. The second version (D192, Volume 7) applies the minor tonality to a melody that is still based on the first version. It might be argued that this 'improvement' simply loses the freshness of the original inspiration without offering anything new in its place, apart from a somewhat darker mood.
This third version (a completely new setting) is Schubert's final attempt at solving the problem, and even this did not come easily. There were two attempts, the first of which (in D minor) has an accompaniment that changes character halfway through and introduces joyous sextuplets to enliven the accompaniment's texture. The composer then obviously decided that integration and unity (traditionally the highest ideals for a successful strophic song) were disturbed by this, and he chose to continue a moderate flow of semiquavers through each strophe. The resuit is the art that conceals art. This setting is tinged with just enough melancholy to reflect the poet's sadness, but has enough energy (a richly melismatic vocal line for example) to suggest the freshness of youth. The introduction is gently plaintive without aspiring to tragedy; dotted rhythms in the left hand, muted timpani, add an air of what might be termed gentle turbulence. With its chain of lovely long melodies it is little wonder that at one time this song was popular enough for Friedländer to include it in the second volume of the Peters Edition. Particularly haunting is the modulation at 'treiben in der Wellen Tanz' and the passage at the end of each strophe which paves the way for the return of the tonic.
There are times when Schubert can appear to be as obsessively concerned with serving his poet as Hugo Wolf was to be; in his treatment of this poem he shows himself to have a well-developed literary conscience. In regard to this lyric Einstein rightly praises the composer's "artistic sense of responsibility."
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993
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