Goethe thanked Zelter for the song on 8 March, but he clearly had no means of judging it until he had heard it performed. He returned to the subject on 19 March: ‘You have been a great benefactor to me lately, for Um Mitternacht has been sung to me properly and sympathetically … you have right loyally and well set a seal on your love and regard for me. My son who is not easily moved was beside himself, and I fear out of gratitude he will ask you to stand godfather … such quantities and qualities of tone, such variety of movement, of pauses, and drawings of breath! Ever equal, ever changing.’ This last observation is perceptive: the song is both strophic and through-composed—the accompaniment and thus the harmony, remain constant for every strophe, but the vocal line for each of the verses is significantly different in terms of melody and rhythm; most unusually, this is notated in three different staves printed above the piano part. The poet’s exultant reaction to this gravely beautiful song makes us imagine what Goethe might have written had he had the chance to hear, for example, the Wandrers Nachtlieder of Franz Schubert. Um Mitternacht was published in Zelter’s Neue Liedersammlung of 1821—the year that Schubert first published songs of his own.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006
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