It was Josef von Spaun and Franz von Schober between them who engineered the meeting between Schubert and the singer Johann Michael Vogl. According to Spaun's memoirs the famous baritone was little interested in the prospect of meeting a mere song composer … 'he took up the nearest sheet of music, containing Mayrhofer's poem Augenlied
, a pretty, tuneful, but not very significant song. Vogl hummed rather than sang, and then said coldly "Not bad!"' This verdict of 'nicht übel' would have been insufferably condescending even if Vogl had then known the riches that were in store for him in the real masterpieces. By the standards of Schubert's songwriting contemporaries, Augenlied is a little jewel. Maybe Schubert had left this particular song at the top of the pile precisely because it does seem a little old-fashioned in something of a Mozartian manner—a not too demanding song baptism for Vogl. The starlit music at the change of tempo in Verse 3 has something of the mood and movement of the 'tausend schwebende Sterne' section of Goethe's Auf dem See
. The style is all na‹ve simplicity; the only ominous touch is mention of Acheron, river of hell—Mayrhofer could never resist a chance to make a classical allusion. The last two lines of music dematerialise, the rocking quaver lullaby yields to a stillness which seems to fade away gently with the life of the beloved, as if there were no motivation to live outside her gaze. There are two versions of this song, and we have preferred to perform the first. The slightly clumsy piano introduction and more ornamented accompaniment of the second (published by Diabelli in 1850) suggest to me a revising hand, and not necessarily that of the composer. It is true that Schubert affixed his signature to a copy of this second version, but then the good-natured fellow also allowed Vogl to ornament his vocal lines without really approving of the so-called improvements. Perhaps Vogl thought that this song needed his hand to improve it; after all it was only 'not bad'. Bit by bit he was to become a devoted admirer of Schubert's art.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989