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The music is in Schubert's best Singspiel manner; it is a merry and boastful little song with undertones of later developments in the story written into the music: in the second bar, under 'wohlbekannte', an F natural in the piano's left hand undermines the G major tonality in sly manner – we cannot trust this man. The slithering of rats is marvellously caught in the setting of the phrase 'Und wären's Ratten noch so viele' with double thirds in the piano's right hand to show that these creatures move in swarms. The phrase 'Und wären Wiesel mit im Spiele' scurries to a cadence which might suggest a vocal cadenza, and is of sinister charm. The accompaniment to the phrase 'säubr' ich' high in the voice is deliciously ornamented with crushed grace notes in the pianist's right hand which betoken the imperious sweep of a new broom in the first verse, and the twanging of lute strings in the second.
Perhaps this song would be better known if Hugo Wolf had not composed his masterpiece of 1889 in which the malice is positively diabolical and we hear rats at every turn in the accompaniment as King Rat in human form sings his honeyed serenade. Of course Schubert's song cannot compete with that. In its own terms, however, it is a success, and the composer included it in the second of his two Lieder albums for Goethe.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995
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