Recorded on 08/19/2008, uploaded on 01/15/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Winterreise (The Winter Journey), alongside the
earlier Die schöne Müllerin, is one of Schubert's great settings of
Wilhem Müller's poem cycles. Schubert set the twenty-four poems of Müller's
cycle during February and October 1827, a little less than a year before his
early death. In this sense, Winterreise forms a poignant parallel to
Schubert's own life. Surely, in setting Müller's poems, Schubert was aware that
his own life was passing into winter and he was resigning himself to that final
journey. In fact, his friends noticed Schubert's deep melancholy during the
composition of these songs. Schubert, himself, described them as "terrifying"
and Joseph von Spaun remarked that he and the others present "were dumbfounded
by [their] sombre mood" when Schubert performed them.
Müller's cycle tells the story of the poet in love. The
poet, however, secretly leaves his lover's house at night when he discovers
that her love has wandered to someone else. He leaves the town and follows the
river to another village. During his journey, he longs for death but ultimately
comes to terms with his loneliness as he wonders through the barren winter
landscape. The successive poems of the cycle describe the various people and objects
the poet encounters during his journey.
In the opening song of Winterreise, "Gute Nacht"
("Good Night"), the poet leaves the house of his beloved as he had once
arrived—as a stranger. The poem recalls a growing love between the poet and the
maiden with the encouragement of her mother. Yet, her love has now wandered to
someone new. The poet resigns himself to leave quietly by night, leaving
nothing but a simple "Gute Nacht" on his beloved's door.
Schubert's setting is simple, yet intensely emotional. The
accompaniment of repeated chords that permeates the song, quite remarkably,
captures the fatalism of the poem that underlies the sorrowful vocal melody. A
shift is made to the tonic major at the beginning of the penultimate stanza
when the poet finally speaks of his departure. However, on the reiteration of
the last line, "an dich hab' ich gedacht" ("that I thought of you"), the music
returns to the minor key and a short coda concludes the song. Joseph
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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