The piano introduction encapsulates the conflict: two bars of the music of the mother's entreaties and a bar of the young man's hunting calls. Already there is the stark contrast of old-fashioned values (depicted by the mother's music which is tenderly staid and Salieri-like in its ornamented vocal line and simple harmonies) and the wild, impetuous desire of the youth to go hunting (a rough Beethovenian cast to the music). At the words 'Und der Knabe ging zu jagen' the harmonies wrench the lad free from his mother's control and set him on the chromatic rampage. The light-footed gazelle leaps in terror and its delicacy is combined in the accompaniment with the oafish insensitivity of the boy. From the poetic point of view it may be hard to accept the deus ex machina figure of the mountain spirit, but it gives the singer a marvellous chance to use a broad legato line to restore equilibrium and gravity to the scene. The music here is strong in reproof, but still tender. After characterising mother and son in the music of extremes it is Schubert's own voice which emerges to defend the weak; the spirit of the mountain is neither conservative nor rebellious but timelessly wise. We feel that the hunter has learned a valuable lesson, just as Wagner's Parsifal who kills a swan is reproved and instructed by Gurnemanz. Schiller may not have envisaged such a mystical metamorphosis but Schubert illustrates it in the music; the two bars of the postlude reflect a Damascus-like experience for the hunter and pure fool, the very transformation of his character. Capell dubs this song an out-and-out failure, but on the grounds of its humanity alone it is remarkable. We omit one verse in each of the two strophic sections.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988