Welcome to the official Singerreise webpage! Join in the discussion as we talk about the life of an opera singer, and as we learn about Schubert's masterpiece Winterreise.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

#1 - Gute Nacht (004)

Here we go! Today's video is the first in the Winterreise song cycle: #1 Gute Nacht. Before we get into the performance itself, I'll highlight just a few things.

Of course, I'm not a scholar. Here, at the start of the Singerreise project, I can't give you a full analysis, line-by-line of the significance of every dot and wiggle on the page. You probably wouldn't want to read that, either. If you did, you'd buy a book on the subject on Amazon. Instead, you're here for my biased, unfiltered opinions, and the opinions of anyone who leaves comments. I'm hoping that those will be far more interesting, and it that you might get more out of the experience that way.

Now that I've sufficiently lowered your expectations, here's a few thoughts on Gute Nacht:

It's the beginning of the song cycle, and yet the song is actually more of an ending. The Wanderer's journey starts at the end of a relationship. We only get snippets throughout Winterreise to know what actually happened to the poor fellow before he began his journey. It's actually a pretty neat effect -- it's like we're just dropping into a conversation already in progress.

The text in "Gute Nacht" gives us the best idea of what actually happened. In the first verse, the Wanderer says "Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe, die Mutter gar von Eh'". It's a bit of a funny line, saying "The maiden speaks of love, and the mother of marriage." My wife points out that it sounds like the maiden's mother is a bit like Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. For me, however, it puts a little bit of reality and history into the story -- it seems very possible that the Wanderer and the maiden had something very real going on, so that real they might've even been engaged. They were in pretty deep.

Of course, that's over now, and the only reasonable thing to do is to leave in the middle of the night, in the winter, try not to wake anyone up, and wander around in the cold until you fall over and die. Quite reasonable! My wife notes that suicide rates were higher in the time period that this sort of stuff was being written.

The catch is, here and throughout the rest of Winterreise, is that the veil between what actually happened and what is just in our Wanderer's mind is very thin. The only account that we have is from the Wanderer's first-hand perspective. To him, of course, it is all very real. These are real emotions, even if the wound is a little exaggerated. We're looking through his eyes for this misadventure.

Another bit of text that grabs me has less to do with the poet Müller, as it does with Schubert. In the poetry it reads like this:

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern,
Gott hatt sie so gemacht
von einem zu dem andern,
fein Liebchen, gute nacht!

Roughly, that translates to:

Love loves the Wanderer,
God made it so.
from one to another,
dear Love, good night!

Up to this point, Schubert's been going through the text pretty straightforward. There's a bit of repetition of a couple lines at the end of the first and second verse, but here in the third verse, he mixes it up.

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern,
Gott hatt sie so gemacht!
von Einem zu dem Andern,
Gott hatt sie so gemacht!

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern,
fein Liebchen, gute nacht!
von Einem zu dem Andern,
fein Liebchen, gute nacht!

It brings out a few things. The two lines "Love loves to wander, from one to another" is key to the whole cycle. This whole thing is getting started because our hero has been rejected for another. He's the "Einem," and the new guy is the "Andern". (How "real" that "other" is is besides the point.) By repeating the "God made it so", Schubert is making it a fatalistic Fact, as if saying, "This is a fact," to both the inconstancy of a maiden's love, and also to the transfer itself.

It's also the first time the words "Gute Nacht" appear, the title for the piece. The second time it shows up is near the end, where, in a bit of a graffiti moment, the Wanderer writes the words on the door before he leaves. So the first time, he says it, the second time he writes it.

While we were recording it, my wife pointed out a couple more of her favorite spots. She loved the image of the moon-shadow in the first verse ("ein Mondenschatten"). Being a pianist, however, she also noted that the repeated eight note pulse throughout the piece was "walking music." It's the start of their journey, and the Wanderer is walking out the door.

Thus begins our journey, too! Have you ever sung or heard this piece before? What stood out to you in this piece? Thanks to those who contribute to the discussion.

Check out the next piece in the Winterreise series here: http://www.singerreise.com/2016/11/2-die-wetterfahne-005.html

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