It is not to Richard Capell's credit that he refers in his commentary on this song to 'the tiresome Schlegel', but then it has always been the English tendency to make light of the German predilection for solemn introspection, as if our omniscient dilettantism could better manage the mysteries of life by glossing over them, in any event, 'preserving a sense of proportion'. The ruminative length of this song offends Capell's sense of proportion, particularly as we hear the tune many times and, unlike a number of Schubert's strophic songs, its tripartite form makes it impossible to leave out some of the verses. We in England have always been second to none in our appreciation of Schubert's music itself, but (for all too obvious reasons of linguistic ignorance) if a poem is by less than a universally acknowledged master like Goethe, it is all too easy to write it off as getting in the way of the music. The poem however has almost always to be acknowledged as the composer's primary source of inspiration. 'There is nothing in his evening meditation to interest us' writes Capell of Schlegel's poem. It is clear however that it interested Schubert a great deal; indeed it might be one of the tiny handful of songs in his output which have an autobiographical significance. Like Trost im Liede
(Volume 3) in the same key and pulse, it is a personal credo, a meditation on how hope enables us to live without love (the Distant Beloved to whom it is addressed could well be an imaginary figure, perhaps even the chaste virgin of Schubert's dream) and come to terms with loneliness. The exquisite third verse of Schlegel's poem makes clear the power of dreams and fantasy as a means not only of making life bearable, but of enriching the artistic imagination. This third verse moves into the minor key and the whole song, like many others, seems poised between major and minor; the pastoral gait conveys a feeling of total acceptance of what life has to offer—there is no overt joy here, but neither is there sadness and disappointment. The song is of hypnotic length, for poet and composer seem to be involved in a self-hypnosis, as in self-renouncing yoga, or chanted mantra. If Schubert, with all his troubles and frustrations, achieved the equanimity of the poem's final lines (and by 1825 there is much to suggest that he had) we have only to wonder at the heroic inner struggles which led him to this resignation without bitterness, this inner peace.
The music takes its clue from the opening lines of the fourth verse, for the tonality and rhythm are as steadfast and constant as the heart and its pulse. A digression into another key, a feeling of `yes, but on the other hand', would have been inappropriate to this single-minded evening hymn. There is a beautiful harmonic sequence in the fifth line of each verse which irresistibly reminds us of the vulnerable questions in the lines 'Verdriesst dich denn mein Herz so schwer? verst”rt dich denn mein Blick so sehr?' from Morgengruss in Die schöne Müllerin.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990