This is one of three Goethe Lieder that Zelter wrote in April 1812—the others were Neue Liebe, neues Leben
(‘Zwischen Weizen und Korn’). Beethoven had published his setting of the former poem in 1810. Zelter writes to his friend that he had not dared previously to set these poems, and that he has perhaps come too late to them to do them justice. How should I expect at my time of life, Zelter asks, to find restless love, new love, new life? In another letter (May 1813) the composer wonders whether a man of fifty-four is able to depict a ‘rastlose Liebe’. In terms of fire and energy he need not have worried—the song is even more restless than that of the eighteen-year-old Schubert. The prelude, interludes and postludes of Zelter’s setting still carry listeners away with their virtuosic energy. In this moto perpetuo we hear prefigured the music of his pupil Mendelssohn whose famously tricky accompaniments for songs like Hexenlied
are typical of the Berlin lieder school. The song is in four sections, ABCA where the ‘A’ section is propelled forward by stormy triplets. The metre changes from 2/4 to 6/8 and back again in the middle sections. This awkwardness is counterbalanced, as often in Zelter, by an ardent impulse whereby the composer’s better judgement seems overruled by the heat of the musical moment; in the context of the restraint of many of Zelter’s song-writing contemporaries this is an attractive quality.
comparative Schubert listening:
Rastlose Liebe D138. 19 May 1815
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006