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This is Schubert's second (and first complete) attempt at setting this Mignon poem. It has been obscured by the success of Op 62 No 3 (D877) written five years later, and incidentally also in the key of B major. Some of the commentators have felt that this setting is the better of Schubert's two evocations of the delicate spirit of the waif Mignon, but I disagree. The earlier setting may be simpler, but there is something sublimely shy and other-worldly about the hesitant metre (in triple time) of D877 which makes teghe more square, alla breve, progress of D727 sound relatively earthbound. D877, in an uncanny evocation of pale complexion and translucent garb, floats and wafts on a spaced-out 6-4 pedal. It could scarcely be bettered (Hugo Wolf's So lasst mich scheinen apart) as a picture of Mignon, although D727, with an ominous variant of the death motif for an introduction, has in its favour passion, pathos and a generously sweeping vocal line which melts to the major in just the right place at the secof nd verse; the same modulation is less effective with regard to the words the second time around.
Like Der König in Thule, the text has as many interpretations as it has composers and interpreters. Goethe's characters, as even punctilious connoisseurs of literature like Wolf knew in casting his version of Mignon's Kennst du das Land? as an overwhelming dramatic utterance, live well outside their strict literary contexts, and become archetypes of the human condition. Thus the dying Mignon has life in her yet as a mezzo apart from her more familiar soubrette incarnation.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991
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