About this work
This song opens with a very simple, slow accompaniment, suggesting someone moving very slowly. As the vocal line begins, the tempo quickens, at first very slightly, as the text describes an old man walking towards the woods. As the old man himself picks up his harp and starts to sing, the music becomes quicker and more melodious, with a flowing accompaniment that suggests the music of his harp. As the old man welcomes his approaching death, and the trees, grasses, and birds all speak to him of his coming rest, the music is serene and tranquil, though still with deep emotion and a lyrical tenderness.
There is a fascinating overall effect to this song. As the text and music both first focus on the overall scene and then move in to focus on the old man and his thoughts, it almost seems as though it were a camera zooming in on the scene -- or, to use a simile more appropriate to Schubert's time, the effect is rather like that experienced when looking at a painting and gradually coming to focus on an individual character in that painting.