About this work
Johann Mayrhofer's poem "Philoktet" (Philoctetes) is taken from a tragedy by Sophocles based on an episode in the Iliad: the Greek soldier Philoctetes has been wounded and left stranded on an island, his bow taken from him by Odysseus because it was said to be the key to winning the Trojan War. Mayrhofer's 10-line poem renders Philoctetes' angry yet impotent lament at his fate. Schubert set the poem in March 1817 as a modified strophic song (D. 540) with a return of the music for the opening two lines used as the music for the final two lines. The song itself is in furious B minor with a harsh modulation in the central verse to dark E flat minor, with a vocal melody as violently angry as anything Schubert ever composed. Except for brief depictions of the prey Philoctetes can no longer shoot, Schubert's music dwells obsessively on the soldier's dreadful fate.