'There are few notes' writes Capell of this song, 'but they are exquisitely disposed'. Indeed this is one of the young Schubert's most potent miniatures. We only know that the composer was not entirely happy with it as a setting of Goethe's text because he returned to it seven years later in a major key setting of completely different mood (D766). Einstein asserts that in this earlier version the river is conspicuous by its absence (it is true that the later version flows in more obvious fashion) but no-one seems to have noticed this song's similarity
to its near namesake Auf dem Flusse
, with a passage of dry accompanying notes in alternating hands reminiscent of that song's opening, the same powerful concision, and a bitter outburst quickly reined back to quiet desperation. In that song emotions are numbed by grief, and the river which has happily rippled in sunnier days, shares the narrator's fate and is benumbed by its own covering of ice. In this litde D minor song (when Schubert chooses this key he almost always has something to say about mankind attempting to summount his problems by strength and will) the river seems to flow in slow, sad fashion to match the mood of the singer; he commands it to take his songs away into oblivion, but it seems unwilling to do so without relishing the grief first. The river, pace
Einstein, is very much there throughout (particularly afer the words 'Ihr sanget'), but in a less 'watery' guise than usual.
Fischer-Dieskau finds the song reminiscent of Gretchen am Spinnrade from the previous year; it is true that it is in the same key, it has a similar Italianate turn of phrase in the vocal line, and a similar middle section modulation at the moment where songs of past love are evoked (in Gretchen's song, at the moment of her physical memories of the faithless Faust) into the relative major. The climax at 'meiner Treue Hohn' with the pause on the cadence also recalls Gretchen's 'ach, sein Kuss' with the same anguished, climactic high G.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990