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Monday, November 6, 2017

No. 18, Der stürmische Morgen (054)

In the last couple episodes of the Singerreise Video Podcast, I've been talking a lot about what Singerreise has been doing over the last year and what is coming in the next few weeks. If you haven't seen those episodes, number 52 and 53, make sure to check them out.

But today, we're looking at another song from Winterreise. This Episode is about number 18 in the cycle. Today is the official ¾ mark on Winterreise. And after today, there's only 6 more remaining.

You could also say that number 18 is the halfway point for the second set of songs. You might remember that Winterreise was published in two volumes, each with twelve songs. (If you don't remember, that's okay, that overview episode was over a year ago!)

The first sequence of 12 songs starts off with the Wanderer's exit from his beloved's house. He explores the world around him, always finding some analogy between his environment and the fiery pain he feels.

The second volume starts with number 13, Die Post. It's an upbeat song, but the Wanderer chastises his heart for having hope. After that, 14, 15, 16, and 17 have been outright downers.

So lately, the Wanderer has been in a downward spiral of hopeless. He's feeling more and more distant from "normal" people. The ardor that he felt in the first half has given way to coldness and resignation.

And that brings us to number 18, which Schubert titled Der stürmische Morgen. It's name means simply "The stormy morning."

All of a sudden, we are thrust from melancholy into a fast, stormy, impassioned song. There's essentially no transition. It was sleepy and gloomy, now it's like we're back in the first section again.

This song feels out of place, so much so that I tried digging a little deeper. I wanted to find out if there was some discrepancy between the original sequence of poems by Müller, and the sequence that Schubert used.

I found that while there is a discrepancy elsewhere in the song cycle, it isn't true here. In every version, this piece is always in the exact same place in the sequence.

So I had to look elsewhere to explain why this song just pops up. I came up with two theories.

First, it's simply a nice change of pace for the listener. We've had a few slow and gloomy songs in a row, and there's more slow and gloomy to come. Too much of that all at once, and the audience would lose interest.

Second, though, there are some textual connections to be found. Most obviously, the previous piece, Im Dorfe, had left all of the townspeople asleep. In this piece, it's morning.

It's not a peaceful morning. A passing storm left dark clouds in the sky, torn into shreds by some residual wind. Then, a wintry dawn arises, mixing red with the grey.

For the Wanderer, the violence of the morning is satisfying. Personally, I think the Wanderer is cranky because the hounds in Im Dorfe kept him up all night.

The image of this morning sky feels familiar to the Wanderer. This is the part where the text falls a little more in line with the rest of the second half.

Back in the first half of Winterreise, whenever the heart came up, the Wanderer would feel heat and passion. Here, though, when the Wanderer looks into the sky, he sees the fire of dawn, but it feels cold. Wild, but cold. There's a lot of action and drama, but it's an empty gesture.

As for the music, this piece is simply fun. The piano introduction has a silent movie, train-robber motive, which I find hilarious. The rest of the intro, and most of the piece for that matter, is unison octaves. Singer and both hands of the piano are all on the same melody.

The octave doubling seems to occur most when referring to the grey remaining in the sky. There are some notable interruptions. When the fire of dawn occurs, the melody and accompaniment fill out briefly. I might call it a quasi-friendly, albeit violent, moment.

The other notable exception is under the text "Es ist nichts als der Winter," meaning "It's nothing but the Winter." There's a flurry of a diminished chord, and a flurry of a V7 chord right after when the text repeats itself.

All I can make of this moment is that that this is the brief second where the Wanderer sees the cold nothingness behind the storm and fire. It also provides a climatic, musical dominant so that we can have a fully conclusive V-I cadence.

The song ends with a bang. And before we have a chance to fully understand what just happened, the song's over. That whole song takes place in only 45 seconds, and yet somehow I've managed to talk about it for several minutes.

It's one of my special talents.


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