It’s that period between Christmas and New Year and, in-keeping with the cold and the festive spirit, I really wanted to find a piece that would go with the season. This is where today’s piece, Winterreise (translated to Winter Journey in English), comes in. It’s a song cycle about a man who goes on a journey in the winter months, which sounds pretty much perfect.
While Schubert was responsible for the melodies of Winterreise the lyrics themselves are poems by German poet Wilhelm Müller. This is the second of two song cycles that Schubert wrote to the words of Müller’s poetry, the other one (Die schöne Müllerin) having been published four years earlier in 1823 and will be listened to at some point for the 1001 list.
Now, originally this part was written for a man’s tenor voice with a piano accompaniment. The vocals have been adapted for different ranges, Schubert having done this himself, but this tenor and piano arrangement is standard. I, however, did not know this and ended up listening to an interpretation featuring a female soprano being accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy.
This makes Winterreise the first entry on the list where I have listened to two very different versions. The second version I heard was more traditional and the specific one highlighted in the book – but I am still very glad that I heard both. Where the tenor-piano version keeps with the gloom and the existential crisis as in the original, the female version felt profoundly more mystical thanks to her higher register and the whirring of the hurdy-gurdy.
Both versions have their merits and have different ways of going about Winterreise. They also manage to get across that this song cycle is haunting, even if I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying.