Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition
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The Zelter setting of Trost in Tränen is in E minor throughout, apart from a consoling G sharp in the final cadence. This last minute lift to the major key was to be adopted by Schubert, as well as Zelter's 6/8 rhythm. Reichardt's song seems to have influenced Schubert even more: he adopts Reichardt's key of F major (which also falls into F minor for the woebegone replies) and the shape of Schubert's melodic line also stems from this setting. It all seems to be a type of homage to the past: instead of being taken up by the next table at a beer hall, the song is taken up and subtly modified by succeeding generations. When he came to write his song, Brahms had relatively recently been welcomed by Schumann into the fold of sacred torch-bearers. He elaborates the end of each verse, as earlier generations had declined to do, with a touching piano postlude, but there are a number of self-conscious bows to the past. Brahms's setting is in 6/8 of course, in the major key for the exhortations and in the minor for the replies. When a wan smile shines through the tears, the song melts back into the major, although not surprisingly it is Schubert who achieves this effect best of all. It was after all Schubert who was ideally placed in history to write successful strophic songs. Those by his antecedents can all too easily sound dull and timid, those by his successors deliberately archaic and hopelessly nostalgic for the simplicity of former times. Schubert's own simplicity was a natural part of his temperament, and this along with his patience (like the young teacher he was, repeating the same thing a number of times so that it may enter and stay in the heads of his pupils) equipped him to make time stand still in the writing of his best strophic songs.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991