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Roman Trekel & Oliver Pohl Franz Schubert: Winterreise D911 op. 89 OC 810 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 810
Release date01/04/2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Schubert, Franz

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      Description hide

      Roman Trekel baritone
      Oliver Pohl piano

      “A cycle of eerie songs”: Wilhelm Müller, Franz Schubert and the Winterreise

      At the end, the hurdy-gurdy man… Over yonder… Outside the village… Excluded… Barefoot… Tirelessly grinding his hurdy-gurdy in the cold... Dogs snarling at him... Only one person stops and listens: the wanderer. It is just this wanderer who solitarily and restlessly travels across the land in Franz Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise D 911, his setting of poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794–1827). The wanderer must in fact traverse a valley of quiet tears before he meets the old man with the hurdy-gurdy.

      One year after completing the song cycle, the very ill Schubert died at the age of 31. The work was published posthumously. Schubert set the first twelve poems of Müller’s Winterreise in February 1827. When Schubert found out that Müller had written twelve further poems, he set these in fall of the same year; he did not, however, reorganize the cycle as Müller had. Schubert introduced the cycle to his circle of friends, announcing them as a “cycle of eerie songs”.

      The first listeners were at a loss to understand the work’s deathly gloomy and pessimistic perspective – nothing that went to such logical extremes had ever been heard before. One must simultaneously probe the significance of Müller’s poems, as Erika von Borries did in her 2007 biography of Müller. “In that Müller melded biographical elements, literary tendencies of the time and the dark, depressive mood that followed the exaltations of the revolutionary age and Napoleonic wars, he created a work of art whose world- and life-negating tenor is unequalled in romantic literature, and which still affects today’s readers in particular.”

      Müller’s Winterreise characterizes the “basic feeling of the modern, the feeling of being a vagabond in a cold world,” continues Borries. Although the literary device of projecting one’s own moods onto nature is no longer original since Goethe’s Werther, “the natural images that Müller found to express his wanderer’s emotional state are a complete novelty in their naïve vividness and expressivity”. Aided by the emotional landscape, Müller succeeds in penetrating unknown regions of the psyche which had been unknown until then. This is also why Heinrich Heine held him in great esteem, and why Thomas Mann immortalized the song Lindenbaum from Winterreise in his work Zauberberg (Magic Mountain).

      In addition, Müller’s poems were also set by Carl Loewe, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Johannes Brahms as well as Reiner Bredemeyer. And Schubert? With his musical setting of Winterreise, Schubert brought the romantic song – the genre he virtually created – to perfection, and not only because of the uncompromising emancipation of the piano from its subordinate role of accompanist. Here, in fact, the piano is often the carrier of the message. Even in the first song, the lyrical narrator leaves with a wanderer rhythm that shows him to be just as much a stranger as when he came – his love unrequited and “the path covered by snow”.

      Gefror’ne Tränen, Rast and Einsamkeit are also characterized by this “wanderer rhythm”. In addition, Schubert sharpens the contradictions between the dream world and memories on the one hand, and the here-and-now on the other with major-minor contrasts (as in Gute Nacht, Der Lindenbaum, Rückblick or Frühlingstraum). In contrast, sighing motives are heard throughout the first, tenth, twelfth or sixteenth songs. A macabre funeral procession unmasks the Wirtshaus as a graveyard; musicologist Thrasybulos Georgiades hears the Kyrie of the Gregorian Requiem in this piece as well.

      When death is finally verbalized with the last word of the song Irrlicht (grave), Schubert represents this with falling fourths and fifths. Long before Schubert’s use of them, these intervals frequently symbolized death and transcendence. Such semantics can be seen until the present day, especially in Russian and German music; in general, Schubert’s song cycle points far in the future. The shimmering accompaniment to Letzte Hoffnung, which features descending staccato thirds with no stable tonal center, already reveals impressionist color. Finally, the last five songs are so reduced that one might almost suspect one were hearing something from the 20th century. This austerity culminates in the final Leiermann, which together with the Doppelgänger from Schubert’s Schwanengesang D 957, are the composer’s “emptiest” music of all.

      Fifths introduced by sighing appoggiaturas dominate; the dynamics are monotone and the expression highly subdued. Nothing moves here anymore; everything sounds hollow and empty. Major and minor dissolve into fifths – thus simultaneously dissolving the differentiation between dream and reality which has been dramatically so important until now. For in the face of death, everything else is lost: in Schubert’s setting, the hurdygurdy man is none other than Death. “Strange old man, shall I go with you?” asks the wanderer. “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” The sprechgesang breaks off on the higher tone of the fifth – the question reverberates in nothingness.

      Marco Frei
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
        Winterreise d 911 op. 89
        • 1.Gute Nacht04:50
        • 2.Die Wetterfahne01:41
        • 3.Gefrorne Tränen02:35
        • 4.Erstarrung02:38
        • 5.Der Lindenbaum04:23
        • 6.Wasserflut03:35
        • 7.Auf dem Flusse03:05
        • 8.Rückblick02:06
        • 9.Irrlicht02:40
        • 10.Rast02:54
        • 11.Frühlingstraum03:53
        • 12.Einsamkeit02:22
        • 13.Die Post02:18
        • 14.Der greise Kopf02:48
        • 15.Die Krähe01:30
        • 16.Letzte Hoffnung01:54
        • 17.Im Dorfe02:33
        • 18.Der stürmische Morgen00:51
        • 19.Täuschung01:13
        • 20.Der Wegweiser03:40
        • 21.Das Wirtshaus03:47
        • 22.Mut01:19
        • 23.Die Nebensonnen02:32
        • 24.Der Leiermann03:40
      • Total:01:04:47