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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Winterreise, No. 12 - Einsamkeit (027)

Here it is! The halfway point for Winterreise. This is number 12 of the 24 songs in the Winterreise cycle. It also is a bit of an ending piece. The cycle was composed in two volumes, Part One and Part Two, with each of them having 12 songs in them. This piece, Einsamkeit, was the ending of the first part.


It flows very naturally from the previous piece, No. 11, Frühlingstraum. There, the Wanderer spent most of the wee hours of the night in a fitful sleep, dreaming and waking and dreaming and waking again. At its conclusion, he laments that the love from his dreams is no longer with him.

That brings us to Einsamkeit, which you could translate as "aloneness," or "lonliness." The rooster has crowed, the Wanderer is awake, and no one is with him.

It's also morning, so he leaves the charcoal-burner's hut and gets back on the road, sluggish feet and all.

The storm from the previous night seems to have passed by. Now there is only a single cloud left in the sky, and only a slight breeze. The solitary journey of the one cloud in the blue sky reminds him of his own Winter - reise. He, too, travels through a bright and happy life, but he is alone.

The poet Wilhelm Müller plays a bit with the word Luft. It's first incarnation is in plural form Lüfte, which generally means sky. A couple lines later, it shows up in diminutive form as Lüftchen, or a little breeze. Finally, we get Luft in the singular form, and that refers to the air around the Wanderer.

For music, Schubert gives it a slow, plodding tempo. When Sarah and I were rehearsing it, we settled on a feeling of morning grogginess, kind of like that moment when you finally take your first steps out of bed towards the shower on a church choir Sunday -- a feeling we both know really well.

The final stanza of text is another lament. The Wanderer claims (as he has done before) that he wasn't as miserable when there was a storm.

Schubert, naturally, takes a few bars here and there to have a storm rumbling in the accompaniment, but I think the word-painting here is a little too indulgent. There isn't a storm at present; there is only the memory of one. The text emphasizes the absence of the storm, not its presence. I think Schubert was a little short-sighted on this one.

For me, I think the height of the storm was back in No. 10, Rast. Then, it reminded the Wanderer of the condition of his heart, wild and bold.

We can go a little further back, too. There was a wind that was blowing in No. 5, Der Lindenbaum, as well. There, it was strong enough to blow the hat off his head. In a pivotal moment, the Wanderer chose to continue in the blustery present instead of turning back to remember the past.

Even in the second piece, Die Wetterfahne, there was the suggestion of the looming storm, present in the turning of the weathervane on top of his (former) love's house. Then, at the start of the journey, it merely reminded him of his love's unfaithfulness, but now we can look back and see it was a foretelling of the real storm coming later.

So the storm has been a recurring theme, and when it comes up, there is a pivotal moment at hand. At present, though, all is quiet. It's morning. It should be a bright and cheerful new beginning, but the Wanderer refuses to see it that way. Without other, familiar storm clouds around him, he wanders as a stranger.

We end this half of Winterreise with yet another resolve to remain gloomy, though I suppose our Wanderer's fate isn't certain yet. It's a bit of a cliffhanger. The storm is over, but the journey continues.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video below! There's a lot more to be talked about in this piece, so I hope some of you will chime in with some comments.

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