This poem, written by Goethe for Charlotte von Stein who in turn wrote a version of it which affected its final published version, is rightly considered a high point of German literature. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's recent autobiography Nachklang
takes its title and inspiration from the poem's third verse. By the time the not yet eighteen-year-old Schubert set the text, he was already a Goethe veteran: this is the twenty-eighth of that master's poems which he set to music. Composers like Goethe's friends Kayser and Zelter had already attempted it, as well as Reichardt. Challier's Lieder catalogue lists thirty-two other settings before 1885, and one must not forget Pfitzner's magnificent song of 1906. Capell outlined the main problem, as he saw it, facing Schubert : "to catch the various shades of the poet's feelings, in which exalted serenity exists side by side with wild regret, was a hopeless task". Well, not quite hopeless. Given that a strophic song has certain limitations (and often these are the limitations of the imagination, daring and subtlety of the performing artists) this song is capable of encompassing many moods—rapture, regret, résignation, and the rueful smile in the major key which is more eloquent and suggestive of deep emotion than many a more obvious tear-jerking gesture. Because each verse of music uses up two strophes of poetry, only eight of the poem's nine verses can be sung (here Goethe's fifth verse is omitted). The extended and more durchkomponiert structure of the second setting, D296 (Volume 1), does not have this limitation, and indeed the profundity and richness of this expansive and daring song could encourage people to overlook the first version, performed here. The undulating little tune (and it need not be 'jaunty', which is the fault Reed finds with it) has a simplicity and an inevitability that can either be heard as perfection or dullness, depending on the tuning and sympathy of the ear. Once learnt, it haunts the listener, like a gleam of moonlight lighting a corner of the unconscious.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990