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Friday, December 9, 2016

#5 - Der Lindenbaum (012)

So here we have "Der Lindenbaum." It is one of the most famous of the Winterreise cycle. It is so popular in Germanic culture that it has become a folk song of sorts.
(Some think that it was a folk song that Schubert "arranged," but it's the other way around. He composed it, then it became a folk song.) I remember the first time I encountered the piece outside of a classical context, in a folk song anthology. It was just the melody and the words, of course, but there it was.

The tune is very simplistic and intentionally folksy, as is the text - that's what draws most people to it, I suppose. It's not too difficult vocally, either, not too high and not too low, and the content is pretty easy to grasp, so it's a good draw for beginner voice students, too.

I remember working on this piece in my early college years. I got a Peter's edition version of Schubert's songs in the "sehr tiefe" key - that's the "very low" key for those following along. I had a blast grumbling away at low Gs, and only had to get up to the occasional C. Perfect for a young bass.

There were, of course, all those words. German wasn't my first language. Nor is it my second or third… I'd put it at a distant fourth, but even that makes it sound better than it is. Needless to say, my German was even worse then. I had a lot of trouble swapping bits of verses with their counterparts in other verses. Even in performance -- either a NATS competition or a jury -- I'm sure that I didn't get it right.

I think it's part of the nature of the piece, that it draws us down memory lane. In it, the Wanderer, himself, is having a nostalgic moment. A "Lindenbaum", of course, is a Linden tree, and leading up to the poem's writing, the Linden tree had a long reputation as being a most benevolent nature icon in literature and popular culture. It represented a haven for lovers, and a place of safety and rest for travelers. For the Wanderer, he remembers being under it and dreaming pleasant dreams. He also remembered carving words of love into it. (Like I said, he has an issue with graffiti…).

It doesn't turn out as well for him. He feels like the tree is calling him back. "Hier find'st du deine Ruh'!", or "Here you will find your peace!" it seems to say. In this case, though, the existence of the Winter is real.

There's six stanzas, roughly enough text to do three verses of a strophic song. Up to this point, Schubert has done a pretty strict strophic setting, with two nearly identical verses, melody-wise. The only major difference is that one is in major, and the other is minor (and there's a different accompaniment - someone else should talk more about that). Now, Schubert borrows half a verse of text to do a wintery "riff", indulging in some word-painting. There's this triplet pattern that shows up in the introduction and between verses, a direct reference to the turbulence in Erstarrung, just moments before. In this "reality-check" moment, though, the turbulence doesn't subside, and the wind blows so hard it knocks Wanderer's hat off his head. At its end, though, the Wanderer says, "Ich wendete mich nicht," or "I did not turn back." He's committed to continuing his journey.

We finish the piece a little more melancholy than we began. The tree is still calling, but the Wanderer keeps going. Because his indulgence earlier, Schubert stretches the last two lines of text over the entire verse of music. The piano finishes it out with a redux of the introduction, leaving us relatively peaceful and full of nostalgia and memories.

Have you ever sung this piece before? What are some of your memories?

(P.S. Check out the video for some editing hijinks. :) )

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