Like Fahrt zum Hades
this is a relentless D minor journey to the abyss, but the river of life is more turbulent than the viscous depths of the Styx. For sheer harmonic audacity there is no water music like this in all Schubert; it unleashes itself with the power of a tightly coiled spring. A glance at the poem is sufficient to see why the composer's predisposition towards modulation is here given unbridled licence. The words 'krausen Wogen' were obviously Schubert's starting point: the curling waves lash against the climbing and plunging vocal line with unruly abandon. There is a moment of comparative respite at the beginning of the second verse as repeated As in the vocal line burrow their way through a valley flanked by a bank of semiquavers. The third verse with its dizzy modulations recalls a similar passage in the Schiller setting Der Pilgrim
—the fruitless search for the answer to life is common to both songs. On hearing the piano introduction with an innocent ear, Schubert is not the first composer to come to mind; this stormy movement suggests rather the romantic fantasy of Schumann or even Brahms. It is interesting that Brahms owned a manuscript of this song and put it forward for publication in 1876. In terms of its modernity it could easily have been written in that year. (By coincidence, at about that time appeared another song from a very different song tradition which nevertheless resembles Der Strom
in the compression and density of its harmony, and ceaseless semiquaver movement: Faure's Nell
.) The authorship of the poem is a puzzle. Schubert wrote the song as a token of friendship for Albert Stadler, a friend from his schooldays who moved to Steyr in 1817. Stadler (who occasionally turned his hand to poetry) is thought of as a possible author, as is another poet from the circle, Anton Ottenwalt. The text has the quality of a diary entry, which brings to mind the great Schulze settings of 1825-1826.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988