This marvellous song has had something of a 'bad press' from all the commentators because it contains contradictory messages - the joy in nature of the first section and the pessimism of the last can seem ill-reconciled by the music. There is learned talk of the composer's flagging inspiration. Making the whole cohere into a single entity is the singer's task and it depends on how convincingly the excitable and quixotic character of the fugitive is depicted. The poem dates from the same epoch as Schiller's play Die Räuber
, and, as Reed says, 'reflects a sympathy for the outcast fashionable in the Sturm und Drang period'. The song opens with music as bracing as a morning walk. As the poet salutes the song of the larks, the piano bursts into carolling triplets which also serve to illustrate the glowing colours of the sun. A hymn of praise to Light follows (the contrast of light and shade is a feature of this poem) and the playful caresses between voice and piano at 'in säuselnder Kühle' are pre-echoes of Suleika's song to the east wind. After this comes a scherzo movement which looks playful on paper but it is in fact the music of pursuit - the sounds of civilisation are threatening ones and the eagle and falcon are predatory birds. This is the interpretative key to making the much disparaged closing section believable. The concluding apostrophe to morning is something of a musical recapitulation but much modified in colour and mood: the poem is now shot through with images of sunset, death and sleep. Once again it is the singer's task to register and convey the difference. An exquisite final cadence ('meinen langen Schlummer nur') is followed by a miniature postlude of mourning music in which the muffled drum of the death march is heard in the bass.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988