Schubert had an endless ability to invent different types of water music. In the first song (Das Wandern
) of his Schöne Müllerin
cycle he finds a motif which serves both to suggest the happily trudging miller lad and the water doing its work, driving the millstones. Inventing versatile accompaniments is the secret of writing a good strophic song. Der Fischer
is in the same key of B flat as Das Wandern
, and is also water music that serves more than one purpose, for this is a strophic song par excellence. Goethe thought it wrong that 'a false interest in detail' should be 'demanded and aroused' in song composition. This dogmatic statement makes durchkomponiert (through-composed) songs sound like musical pornography. But even Goethe (who ignored the compositions Schubert sent to him, this song among them) could not have objected to something as simple and direct as Der Fischer
. The tune is a sturdy one; the accompaniment stirs up a storm but with the help of a few mordants and emotive horn-call bass lines can suggest the blandishments of the Lorelei-type mermaid in the middle verses. The fisherman's disappearance at the end is as peremptory as the all-purpose postlude. There is a very German strength and sweetness in all this simplicity and Schubert faithfully matches Goethe in his folk-song vein. Although the composer often created discursive and experimental songs, he was also capable of writing concise, no-nonsense music.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988