Haydn, via the poetry of Gleim, and with his usual humour, meant the piece to be taken as an autobiographical description. This is exactly how Schubert, not yet a teenager, may have imagined the venerable composer, too frail to venture often outdoors, but celebrated for his benign attitude to life. Haydn found the text for this song, as well as the poems for his other quartets for voice and piano, in a celebrated anthology by Karl Wilhelm Ramler (1725–1798) entitled Lyrische Blumenlese
(Leipzig, 1774–1778). The intentionally doddery setting of the words ‘Alt … und schwach … bin ich’ soon gives way to music that has the depth and sublimity of some of the finest string quartets. It is little wonder that the master of this medium was able to write equally well for four voices—what seems simple on the page achieves a rare radiance, a smile to greet the dying of the light. In fact Haydn planned that this music should be part of his String Quartet in D minor, Op 103, his farewell to music. As a coup de grâce, the composer, with typical irony and humour, arranged for the opening words of the song to be engraved on his visiting card in 1806.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006