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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#3 - Gefrorne Tränen (009)

On our march through Winterreise, for this article we get to talk about number 3, "Gefrorne Tränen." If you need to catch up, here's the first two pieces, "Gute Nacht" and "Die Wetterfahne." Here's a few interesting bits for #3!

The title of the piece is "Gefrorne Tränen," which means "frozen tears."

The two words don't happen together, but those two words pretty much capture what is happening in the piece. So let's talk about the first word, gefrorne. It means "frozen," but in the piece we have frozen, hot, and everything in between. Every couple of lines has a temperature marking of some sort. We start with the frozen drops in the first verse, falling from his face. The Wanderer asks how he had not noticed them before. It seems to bother him that they are barely warm, that they freeze to ice so easily, like the cool morning dew. In the last stanza, we take a temperature reading of the heart, which is glowing hot, as if they wanted to melt all of the winter's ice.

Correspondingly, the piano part tries to mimic the current temperature, starting downright icy. Schubert uses a lonely fifth of the chord in the intro, marked with an accent, on the second beat, and nothing underneath it. To me, that seems as if the piece is so cold it hesitates to move forward. Most of the piece is like this, pretty sparse, with only enough notes in the chord to make sure we know what the tonality is. But as soon as the text moves onto the glowing hot heart, the texture gets much thicker. The melody is echoed in the piano part, too, instead of being separate and foreign from it.

The second word of the title (but not of the text) is tränen, meaning "tears," and similarly the text explores all the different forms of water. We have them as drops in the beginning, but it isn't long before we are talking about ice, morning dew, and then a full-on torrential flood. The piano plays along here, too. The staccatos are what describe the drops to me, especially at the beginning. You can almost hear them as they hit the ground. It's kind of a "plunk" instead of a "splash" (they are frozen, after all). Later on, when the waterworks warm up and really get going, we move from staccatos to full on legato. The piece ends on the words "des ganzen Winters Eis", and, correspondingly, we immediately seize up again, and get back to the staccato business that was in the intro.

A tiny word-swap happens in the last stanza. As before, Schubert likes to repeat the last few lines. The first time we encounter itis "Und dringt doch aus der Quelle der Brust" and so on. This translates to "and forces its way out from the wellspring of the heart." (I had to use both bing and my dictionary for that word "dringt", see my series on Writing in a Translation for more on that.) The second time, he swaps out the first word, saying "ihr dringt doch aus der Quelle der Brust." Und simply means "and", but ihr means "you." It could be a change just so that the grammar makes sense, but I like to think of the second line being a little more accusatory. Any time Schubert changes things in the text, it's worth investigating why he made that choice.

Finally, my wife points out that in the early Romantic culture, tears were a much bigger deal then they are today. It was a time of sentimentality, for both men and women, and not unusual for men to express themselves through unabashed tears. There's numerous journals and personal letters about men shedding tears for all sorts of occasions - joy, love, unrequited love, and so on. Being unable to cry meant that a man was not sensitive enough.

When we put that context together with the text, it tells us a bit about how to interpret the piece. When I read read it, it seems to me that the Wanderer is not so concerned with the existence of tears as much as he's concerned about why they are frozen. It seems to confuse him, and even make him a little angry. So when we sing it, a "sobbing" sort of voice should be used sparingly. a confused and impassioned voice work better for me.

After all, this is only the third piece in. I think we'll see later on in Winterreise that the Wanderer continues the journey, he'll cool off a bit, even on the inside.

See anything else in Gefrorne Tränen? Chime in below!

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