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Monday, February 5, 2018

Winterreise, No. 20, Der Wegweiser (060)

Today I have very little to mention in terms of announcements. The only thing I should say is that I'm still working out some difficulties with the new video camera. It doesn't have the same quality in sound as my previous camera, so I'm having to be creative. Bear with me as I figure all this stuff out!

In this Episode, I'll be covering No. 20 in the Winterreise cycle, Der Wegweiser, or the Road Sign. Things have taken a turn for the worse for our Wanderer since his encounter with the illusory light of Täuschung.

At the beginning of Der Wegweiser, we find the Wanderer avoiding the main roads. Instead, he prefers to wander through the snow up and over the mountains. He is trying to find another, less-used path, and isn't having much success.

That's the first of four verses in this song. With its simple introduction, thirds harmonizing the melody, an easy bass line, and a predictable and familiar harmonic structure, it looks as though this is going to be another quasi-folk song, like No. 5, Der Lindenbaum.

There's not much in this first verse to say otherwise. There's a nice ascending figure when we reach the high, rocky places. There's also a cunning little gust of wind in the bass line, where the Wanderer is trying to look for his path in the snow.

Otherwise, the first verse establishes a good base-line that we, the listeners can expect to be repeated. (That's base with an "e", by the way.)

The second verse looks it'll continue that folk song feel. It switches to major - a common device in Schubert's folk-style songs - but it's essentially the same tune. But we only get two lines in before Schubert changes course.

In those two lines of text, the Wanderer is lamenting that he is not a criminal. There really isn't a reason that he should be hiding from others and staying off the main road. The remainder of the verse latches on to the lament. The Wanderer asks himself why he has this compulsion to seek out wastelands like these. Schubert represents this conflict by completely departing from the melody established in the first verse, and going in a completely different direction.

That pattern, of starting off going down the main tune, and then wandering off in a different direction, is a pattern that Schubert repeats for the third verse. The third verse starts just like the other two, this time again in minor. There's two lines of text that are purely observational, not personal, as the Wanderer notes that the main roads have signposts on them, pointing to the cities.

Once the text becomes personal, yet again, Schubert breaks away from the main path. The Wanderer wanders away from the masses, "ohne Ruh' und suche Ruh'," without rest and seeking rest.

That last line really gets into some foreign territory, musically. In my low voice edition, we go from a mere 6 flats to having double flats. The melody is even more angular than before, leaping around, trying to find tonic again.

Sidenote: Schubert adds another gust of wind in the bass line here, too. It's the Wanderer's "searching" figure.

Sidenote 2: Also, a shout out to my buddy the Neapolitan 6 chord - used in this song with aplomb. Neapolitan 6 was my second favorite chord in college. My favorite was the root-position Neapolitan.

All exhausted, the final verse seems to have all of the music stripped away from it. Instead of returning to the melody, it seems the Wanderer has wandered so far off path that there is now no melody. Everything has been reduced to a single note.

The key word in the text here is "Eine." It mostly means "an," but I think Schubert focuses on its meaning of "One." At first, there is this One signpost that stands in front of the Wanderer, his eyes staring at it. Then there is but One road that he must travel.

There have been hints of the road all along. It's been a figure sprinkled in here and there as four repeated notes in the piano part.

Here, when everything else is taken away, we understand that that figure is the One inevitable, inescapable road. That One road - from which none have ever returned.

We all know which road he means, right? Death? Yep, another happy ending - not. Still, this is another one of those songs that I can only imagine Schubert feeling very personally.

We're nearing ever closer to the end of Winterreise. By this point in the composition, Schubert, himself, knew he had only a little while left to live. He was putting the final touches on Winterreise only a few days before losing his battle with syphilis, a struggle that had lasted for years. The inevitability was all too real for him.

On that cheery note, I hope you enjoy this performance of Der Wegweiser! Thanks to my patrons for your support, and thanks to everyone for reading and watching!

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