Something about this text and its prosodic and emotional challenges haunted the composer overnight, and he returned to it with renewed vigour the next day. It seems that he had decided that his first attempt had been a trifle too austere. The first version of the song had been in triple time, and here is a textbook example of how a poem like this can also be set in duple time, with the resulting subtle changes of word emphasis between the two versions. It remains an extremely difficult vocal challenge even if the 'Langsam' direction is modified by the alla breve two-in-the-bar of the time signature. Although the poem is a sad one, Schubert manages to suggest that in the humble acceptance of mortality there is also a corresponding ecstasy, the quiet confidence in heaven on crossing the bar. The two setting are similar in many ways, but the second version is in fact a complete reworking of the song. This gives the lie to those who imagine that the composer wrote in a trance-like state, unaware of what he was doing, and incapable of discriminative judgements about his own music.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990