Only a few weeks (perhaps even less) after the composition of Der Jüngling und der Tod
which was, as we have seen, an exploration of pantheistic longings, we have here a song which is fit for use in a church. In actual fact it is the only one of Schubert's songs which was heard (with specially written new verses by Schober, and arranged with wind instrument accompaniment) at the composer's funeral on 21 November 1828. How could it be that such fervent religiosity could live side by side with the religious scepticism of other works? We have no evidence that Schober was religious (indeed his hedonism seems to have shown a total disregard for the concept of sin) and the only real evidence of Schubert's religious feelings is the quality of his church music. But here I would like to put forward the notion that the composer's empathy, his sensitivity towards the feelings of others, and his ability as a supreme actor-in-music, were what made him able to feel at one with the true believer. However inexperienced he was, for example, as a connoisseur of women in the flesh, he was a master at entering into their spirits whether they were passionate, tearful or playful. He was also able to become an athletic hunter, a powerful king, a monk in his cell, indeed all the things he was not. The famous Ave Maria
tells us more of the piety of the highland girl Ellen than of Schubert's own faith. He was not a particularly pious Christian, but could nevertheless write Pax vobiscum
without any hypocrisy. Schober's words prompt from Schubert a chorale in the North German manner, granite-like in its conviction, but shot through with touches of tenderness in the vocal line. Here was the conventional and accepted way of facing the horrors of death. Church music and its particular range of colour and emotion was an everyday fact of Schubert's life. He lived joyously in the world as it surrounded him, reflecting gladly not only what he saw and felt, but what others saw and felt too.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989