After two bars of introduction, the gently jaunty tune begins, built over sequences of rising progressions which suggest the excitement of awaiting the beloved. In each strophe the accompaniment starts in quavers and overflows into semiquavers. It all seems gently suitable for the meaning of the poem without providing particularly illuminating insights; it was the vivid concision of Goethe which was soon to bring the best out of Schubert in this respect. For the treatment of the fifth verse, a welcome change to recitative, Schubert draws on what he has learned earlier on the Matthisson factory floor, and what did not occur to Zumsteeg: the stroke of midnight inevitably summons a reminiscence of Der Geistertanz (he has learned that a chiming bell can be suggested without extending the illustration to a literal count of twelve) and the promise of reunion in the afterlife goes straight back to the visionary tone of Trost. An Elisa. The problem of how to return convincingly to the main melody after this is not entirely satisfactorily solved—the conclusion seems somewhat sudden and contrived. One has to say that much of the blame for this lies at Matthisson's door; his lyrics are generally attractive but they seem written to a classically-inspired formula which was already old-fashioned by 1814—they offer little in the way of internal development and lack the realism and romantic vitality which was needed to arouse Schubert's most inspired response to words.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991