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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

#6 - Wasserflut (013)

Number 6 in Winterreise is "Wasserflut," meaning "Flood Water." There's yet again a lot more tears and snow and ice and melting going on. Less freezing, this time, so that's kind of nice!

Here's the summary:
After having some bone chilling episodes in the previous songs where his tears got frozen and/or bottled up inside, we took a brief gander at a linden tree. It seems the tree was the trigger for the well-spring mentioned in #3 "Gefrorne Tränen". Now, our Wanderer seems to stop and really just let things go, and the "Wasserflut," the "flood waters" are released.

The first line of the text starts Manche Trän' , or "many tears." Tears are a pretty big player in this one, and that word comes up in nearly every stanza. The tears get soaked up into the snow. The Wanderer's mind drifts, imagining what it'll be like in the springtime, when the snow starts to melt. He addresses the snow itself, asking where it intends to go. If they go the same direction as his tears, they'll wind up making a little brook. That little brook will wander back into town, in and out of the streets and eventually wind up back at his lover's house. He tells the snow that it'll know when it arrives because the snow will feel his tears burning.

For my taste, the text is a little indulgent, a little too fat with hyperbole and forced imagery. The part I found interesting is that Schnee (snow) is given personhood in this one. In "Der Lindenbaum" we had the tree speaking; now the Wanderer is trying to have a conversation with snow. The word itself shows up in three of the four stanzas of text, and most of the song seems to be talking about it in one shape or another.

There's the "cold flakes" in the first stanza and its softness in the second. In the third, the Wanderer asks it a question directly, and he seems to expect an answer. As we go on, it's even further personified. The Wanderer is asking where it intends to go, as if it was making choices. Finally, in the last stanza, the Wanderer says the snow will "feel" his burning tears. So, Schnee and Tränen are the heroes in this one.

The musical setting evoked a couple images for me. One was that of a dirge - there's a very slow, dotted rhythm throughout the accompaniment. I imagined the tears slowly walking through the streets of the town, as if in a funeral procession. The triplets in the vocal line felt a little bit like an accompanying wail.



It also reminded me of another piece that Schubert wrote: his "Serenade" from Schwanengesang, which also uses triplets extensively. An odd comparison, I suppose, but if the serenade was addressed to the snow, instead of coaxing a woman at a window, he could be trying to coax the snow to carry his tears back into town. It kind of works.

Then I got a minor bombshell dropped on my interpretation... My wife, being the well-learnéd pianist that she is, remarked that the dotted rhythm in the accompaniment was a Schubert shorthand for a quarter note - eighth note triplet figure. Apparently, it was very common in the baroque period when they were still figuring out some of the details of music notation, but Schubert (here in the early romantic era) seems to have picked up the habit.

You can't tell just by looking at our modern scores, but if you listen to well-informed performance practices you'll hear it. You can also see it in the auto-graph: the sure-fire way to know his intention is when he has three-eighth note triplets in one place and directly above or below it is the dotted eighth-sixteenth. If he lines up the sixteenth with the triplet eighth above it, then they are meant to be played at the same time!



As a singer, I was blissfully unaware of this practice. In fact, thinking of other composers from time periods not so far off (like Fauré), I thought it was an intentional thing. This change, however, completely throws out my idea of a funeral procession and dirge. Instead, I think he's keeping the accompaniment simple and empathetic. It's more about quiet, prolific sobbing than anything else. And at the end of each of the two verses, the forte repetition is the wail I was looking for earlier.

So yet again, the interpretation is informed by historical context. Don't you just love when that happens?

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