The commentators vie with each other to praise this song, and rightly so. For Capell it is 'luxurious in its expression of grief', and for Einstein it contains 'the whole greatness and unaffected simplicity of Schubert in a nutshell'. The work is only a page long but it has the stature and grandeur of a much longer song, so much is packed into its tiny span. The key to it all is the ambiguity between 'wohl' and 'weh', between major and minor, the transient joy which brings tears. Spring was always a poignant season for Schubert (one has only to think of his Im Frühling
for illustrations of the happiness tinged with melancholy—never self-pity—which is so characteristic of him). The drama and poignancy of the world's re-birth (and to what purpose?—it will all soon die again) is amply foreshadowed by the piano's two bars of weighty introduction; the voice enters over a repeat of these same harmonies. The tug of the unquiet heart, both happy and sad, pervades the song until the ravishing modulation into F sharp major on the word `Sch”nheit' floods the picture with the glow of the irresistible beauties of the here-and-now. The spread chords played by the open hand suggest to me both the impulse of wanting to embrace physically these meadows, and the inability to do so. The music then begins to shiver in muted tremolando, inspired obviously enough by the wind in the poem, but on another level, deeper than tremor or earthquake: what is really happening is a sea-change of perception. As ever, Schubert is the master of unleashing a tempestuous middle section (time after time in slow movements of sonatas we find this technique used to devastating effect) which leaves the reprise subtly yet irrevocably altered by what has been learned in the storm. What starts out as a repeat of the opening musical idea is suddenly different at the second time the word 'entschwindet' appears (the fall of the bass line is but part of the magic musical formula which somehow conveys acceptance and humility before the forces of nature). This is followed by the wide-open spaces of the inexorable concluding semibreves. The hushed void of Meeres Stille
(Volume 1) comes to mind, and the same feeling of mankind adrift within a boundless destiny beyond his control. The change from major to minor underneath the first appearance of the word 'vergeht' takes all the colour from life, and drains the memory of nature's beauty. The second 'vergeht', and the bleak jump of a downward fifth, returns mankind to the arms of nescience.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989