This immortal lyric has fascinated composers since it was written. Challier lists 58 settings, and that is apart from the famous versions by Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt (two versions) and Wolf. Even Tchaikovsky wrote a setting. The plight of the waif Mignon who longs to return to her native land of Italy whence she was kidnapped long ago, touched a side of the German spirit which itself longed for the liberating sunshine of Italy as an antidote to the rigours of an over- organised and inhibited life-style. Goethe's own travels in Italy marked an important stage of his development, an essential part of his growth from German artist to the world figure who was able, in later years, to defy and mock the rigidities of those of his countrymen who needed a humanising dose of Italian tolerance and laissez-faire. Although it is more or less acknowledged that Hugo Wolf's is the setting which transfers this poem to a canvas of vast human significance and poignancy, Schubert's song is faithful to the idea of a young, vulnerable girl of Italian origin, excitable and passionate. It is a modified strophic construction, with perhaps rather an obvious turn to the minor key for the dramatic third verse. The 'Dahin' refrain takes wing, rather like the take-off of an Alitalia jet, although, on the whole, Schubert's means of mind travelling is quicker and more efficient. In the novel Wilhelm Meister
from which this poem, and the character of Mignon, comes, the song is supposedly sung in the girl's home language of Italian. It is Wilhelm, a young man of good birth and means, whom Mignon addresses as lover, protector, and father, although their relationship is innocent and idealistic.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989