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Friday, January 6, 2017

Witnerreise, No. 9 - Irrlicht (018)

Ready for a good ol' fashioned ghost story? No, I'm not confused about which holiday it is. We're talking about Irrlicht, number nine in the Winterreise cycle.

Up to this point in the Winterreise saga, we've looked at the town and all its features - the river, the trees, the houses, snow in the street, and so on.
When we got to Rückblick, our Wanderer took off at a run, putting the town far behind him. I think he have overdone the running a bit, though, because directly after Rückblick, he starts talking about seeing an Irrlicht.

Irrlicht is the German word for Will-o'-the-wisp. Wikipedia has a great article about Will-o'-the-wisps, except that it doesn't talk about the German tradition. Whatever that may be, in this case, the Irrlicht is a ghostly bit of light or a flame that leads the Wanderer off the path, and down into some ravines and dried up creek beds.

Presently, he doesn't mind following wherever the Will-o'-the-wisp is going. He adopts a bit of an "all roads lead to Rome" approach, except in this case he's talking about how everything leads eventually to his death. That includes things like joys and sorrows - just playthings to the Will-o'-the-wisp - as well as every deep river leading out to the sea.

Schubert's main depiction in here is the slow, aimless, wandering plodding that the Wanderer is doing (now that he's stopped running). The vocal line is a bit of a wail, though to me it sounds a little like a singer-and-guitar ballad format. Whereas Rückblick hardly took any breaks, here, there is space in-between the notes and lots of freedom.

There's a few good word painting moments that are easy to pick up on. We reach some of the lowest notes in all of Winterreise near the opening. The line is "In die tiefsten Felsengründ," and "tiefsten" literally means "deepest." My first anthology of Schubert was the "sehr tiefe Stimme" (very low voice) edition, so "tief" has been a word I've known for a while now!

A few other words through me for a loop. "Felsengründe" was one of them. The best I could come up with was "rocky crags". Another was the pair of words "Bergstrom" and "Strom." Berg is easy - that's a mountain, but it seems that Strom is yet another word for "river." We'll add it to the list of words we can use for river, which there seem to be many. In this case, Strom is more like a water current, and Rinnen is more like the channel that the river has cut into the rock. The water itself, however, is not really present - it is "trockne," all dried up. That probably makes wandering around down there easier.

I interpret the piece with a good deal of freedom. The rhythm issue that came up in Wasserflut comes up here as well, where you have a dotted rhythm against a tripletized rhythm. I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out which dotted-sixteenth, thirty-seconds should really be interpreted as triplet eight-and-sixteenths (so many flags and bars!).

In the end though, I don't think it matters as much in this piece. The tempo is very slow, and added on top of that is the heavy rubato that suits this piece more than some of the others. The important thing is that one note is kinda long, and the other note isn't as long. Ratios are not as important here.

Also, the piano part and the vocal part are not meant to be at odds with each other. One compliments the other, so they should be aligned, not at forced, slightly different times. So even the dotted rhythms that are kept intact, I think I want to dull them a bit. Err on the side of a weary triplet, rather than on the side of getting the rhythm too sharp.

That's my take on Irrlicht, anyway. Others' takes welcome!


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