The overture is like the adagio opening of a string quartet. The song is about an old master and, as elsewhere in this recital, the influence of old masters is apparent—in this case the Haydn and Mozart who bent the knee to Handel. The searchingly chromatic introduction is repeated an octave lower and supports the entrance of the voice to create a regal polyphony. When human life enters the picture the time signature changes to alla breve; the slow but deliberate steps of the aged minstrel lead him to the woods. This has all been a gigantic upbeat to his harp-accompanied nocturne of farewell, which is an expansive melody worthy of the expectations aroused by the introduction. 'Sway trees of life, to the music of the harps' rings out Schubert's Klopstock setting Dem Unendlichen
and there is very similar music here, sung with a seer's mighty utterance. The music of swept harp and swansong ceases and is imperceptibly replaced by the piano's tiny rhythmical motif, as unchanging as an inexorable law of nature. In counterpoint to this, flora and fauna seem to chant the bard's requiem on all sides. (Mayrhofer has here been influenced by the Abendr”the poems of Friedrich von Schlegel.) After this Liebestod there is no need for the master's burial; the grass covers his resting place and he is taken back into the earth's bosom. We hear this in the music: the workings of nature's cycle of death and renewal are reflected in an extraordinary chain of sequences and modulations which seem inevitable and unarguable. At the end of songs like Auf der Donau
we are left with thoughts of decay and doom; but here the music dissolves and dematerialises, leaving an aura of primordial peace.
Franz Xaver von Schlechta was one of a handful of Schubert's schoolfriends who remained in Vienna as members of the Schubert circle until the composer's death. What he lacked in talent as a poet (he was a dilettante who was always revising his verses to no great effect) he made up for in loyal friendship. He held high office in the finance ministry. He is the poet of eight Schubert songs, most of which are successes. Liebeslauschen is the longest setting, but in some ways the least demanding (with the possible exception of Fischerweise).
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989