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Friday, December 16, 2016

#7 - Auf dem Flusse (014)

After having ourselves a good cry in No.6 Wasserflut, our Wanderer takes another look at the (actual) river flowing into town. It's presently covered with ice, so he steps onto it. "Auf dem Flusse" is No. 7 in the Winterreise cycle, and it means "On the river."

Apparently, no one ever told our Wanderer that walking on thin ice with moving water underneath is a dangerous thing to do (or maybe he just doesn't care). Schubert, however, seems to know the peril, and in his intro, he has some slow, staccato eighth notes and eighth rests, literally trying to encapsulate the sound of "walking on thin ice." The music is very quiet here; we don't want to fall in. The vocal melody line to me represents the river in this case, and the piano is the Wanderer's steps.

Our Wanderer addresses the river (Fluß), asking it directly why it is so quiet now. Unlike the linden tree, the river doesn't even offer any words of farewell to the Wanderer. He notes that it is iced over, and, being the serial graffiti artist that he is, he starts carving into the river's covering.

This time around, it's his lover's name, but he seems a little obsessed with writing down dates this time, too. He carves out both the day they met and the day he left, kind of like an epitaph. He encircles the name and dates with a broken ring - another hint that our Wanderer may have been engaged (or thought of himself as engaged).

Through this passage, the music mixes the "steps" motive with a new one, one that was only hinted at early. It's a series of chords in sixteenth notes. This, to me is the ice cracking underfoot. We had short, two beat moments of it earlier, but now that we've stepped out onto the ice (and start chipping at it with a rock), it's cracking and making a ruckus every other step. As he adds one date after another, the cracking goes from regular sixteenths to triplet sixteenths, a notable increase in the peril underfoot.

The last bit of text (extensively repeated, as is Schubert's wont) flips things around. Now the river theme moves to the left hand of the piano. The right hand adds a new element, a tremolo "heartbeat.", as the Wanderer compares his frozen-over heart (another reference to No. 3 "Gefrorne Tränen" and No. 4 "Erstarrung") to the frozen over river. The heartbeat reminds us that there's still some passion in there, as does the forte dynamic.

I think Schubert had a ton of fun with the word-painting on this one. I'll admit to having fun with it, too, but of course, I don't have the exclusive, authoritative interpretation of the piece. If you'd like to read some other interpretations, I can recommend Susan Youen's book, "Retracing a Winter's Journey: Franz Schubert's "Winterreise"" and Ian Bostridge's "Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession." You'll find links to these and some other resources on the Winterreise tab above. And I'd love to add more, so send me your suggestions!

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