Welcome to the official Singerreise webpage! Join in the discussion as we talk about the life of an opera singer, and as we learn about Schubert's masterpiece Winterreise.

Entertain, Educate, Encourage

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Winterreise at-a-glance

Today we're going to do a quick overview of Winterreise.

Straight off, let's get the basics down. Winterreise is a song cycle in German, composed in 1827 by Franz Schubert, who used a text by the poet Wilhelm Müller. Got all that? No? Okay let's try that again.


Winterreise is the title of the whole group of songs. Loosely, the title mean's "Winter Journey". It has 24 songs in it, and each song is numbered and has a title of its own. Collectively, though, it's called Winterreise. I should also mention that it is Opus Number 89 (that means Schubert called it his 89th "work"), and musicologists give it a "Deutsch" number of 911, because they like to catalogue things.

It's a song cycle. That means that the songs have a connection to each other. There's common themes going from song to song to song, and there's even a sort of narrative that happens when you do the whole thing. Schubert composed two of these. A few years before Winterreise, he put together Die Schöne Mullerin, and it was such a big hit he did Winterreise. Another term that's out there is a "song set", which is a group of songs that are published together, but aren't necessarily connected by a narrative. A song cycle is a type of song set, but not the other way around.

Sidebar - there's another group of Schubert songs out there called Schwanengesang. That title simply means "Swan Song", and is a generic title for departure kinds of pieces. In this case, it is loosely a "song set", because even though they were published together, they don't tell any kind of story. And in this case, Schwanengesang was put together after Schubert's death, by his publisher, who probably just wanted to make an extra buck because the composer died too early.

Winterreise is in German. Art songs (that's a generic term that basically mean classical, composed songs, usually for voice and piano) that are in German are known as Lieder. One German Art song is a Lied, lots of them are Lieder, and you always capitalize the L. And don't confuse it with Leid, which means bad luck, or liebe or lieber, which means dear or beloved.

It was composed in 1827. Schubert actually published it in two chunks, twelve songs each. The first chunk was published in February 1827 and the second chunk October 1827. That time period is called the Romantic Era, but the word "Romantic" doesn't really have anything to do with love. I could talk a lot about that, but Wikipedia would serve you better. I'll just point out that Winterreise has all the markers for a typical Romantic Era piece. It's one of those genre-defining pieces.

Okay, Franz Schubert. There's lots that can be said here, too, so I'll try to pick just the most relevant bits. He lived from 1797 to 1828, and if you do the math on that, it means he died at 31. Syphilis got him. Even so, he wrote hundreds of Lieder, and when he wasn't doing that, he was churning out pieces for piano, choirs, orchestras, chamber ensembles, you name it.

Finally, the text. Schubert went back to a poet he was very familiar with, Wilhelm Müller. Müller was the same poet behind Schubert's other song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin. In the case of Winterreise, the text was a series of poems published in 1823 and 1824, just a few years prior to Winterreise itself.

So that's Winterreise at a glance. I hope it helps! If you've got some other insights or anecdotes or favorite facts about Winterreise, share them below. See you again soon!

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