The two Claudius songs about bereavement from 1816 (the other is Am Grabe Anselmos
) are similar in certain ways: that song is in E flat minor, this in E flat major, and they are both in a classical style which seems to place the mourner, and thus the listener, at one remove from a real sense of loss. Both are family occasions: in Am Grabe Anselmos
Claudius writes of the death of a child, here it is his father. It is not as if the music is lacking in invention (indeed the setting is elaborate almost to a fault) but real
feeling as we understand it in Schubert's songs (and not just those of his maturity) seems to be curiously absent. Reed detects in it the influence of Beethoven who sometimes wrote his song in arioso style. Here and there melodic wafts of Die Zauberflöte
seem discernible, and an accompanying figure that recalls some of the Mozart songs; there is also perhaps even a touch of Gluck and Orpheus's lament for Eurydice. These are honourable models and, despite certain problems of stress in the declamation (where tune takes precedence over prosody) which add to the work's slightly stilted character, the song is accomplished and relatively popular. Especially fine is the phrase 'und ich kann's ihm nicht vergelten' where voice and piano dovetail in courtly imitation at the distance of the bar. There is a similar sense of imitation between the hands at the postlude which seems conceived for string quartet, and which suddenly strikes a more romantic note. Perhaps the exercise in the old-fashioned style was because Schubert was imagining the type of music that people of his father's generation might have liked to hear at their graveside. We know from his diary that in 1816 the composer was thinking back to the death of his mother. The overall impression is that the song is worthy rather than deeply inspired. It is not impossible that the composer was having so much trouble with his father in 1816 (he was just about to leave home when the song was written) that he was unable to react to this text with much involvement. It has all the traces of being written as a condolence gift for someone else—perhaps a friend had lost a father and Schubert wrote this song to mark the occasion. It is interesting to compare this song with the wild personal involvement of Eine Leichenphantasie
where a father buries a son, and the restrained yet moving Grablied für die Mütter
We are not certain which edition of Claudius poems Schubert used. It is possible that he saw the illustration to the poem printed in many German editions which is of a deliberately artificial classical severity. Is this perhaps how he found a musical style to match the words?
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995