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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Winterreise No. 10 - Rast (019)

In No. 8, Rückblick we were in a dead run. In No. 9, Irrlicht, we were delusional from the exertion. Here in No. 10, Rast, we finally realize that we are weary.

It seems that the little flames were not ghosts, but just a spark from the charcoal-burner's house. As it comes into view, the Wanderer decides now would be a good time to rest, and thus we get the title of the piece, "Rast."
Ironically, the only time the word itself appears in the text is in the middle of the first verse: "Die Füße frugen nicht nach Rast," which translates to "My feet did not ask for rest." In fact, that entire stanza tries to claim that the Wanderer's body was prepared to just keep going - he felt he couldn't stand still because of the cold and there was a storm wind pushing him ever onward.

His feet didn't ask for rest, but, of course, he really does need it. So he breaks into the little hut so that he can take a nap. He quickly finds out that that's problematic because of how worn out his legs are. They're burning from the exertion (and probably a few blisters).

Not one to let a simile get away, the Wanderer compares the restlessness of his legs to the restlessness in (where else?) his heart. There, too, while it was out in the storm, it was wild and bold, but now that that he's far away from it, in the quiet he can feel the burning again.

Schubert's musical adaptation is kind of like a cross between the previous two pieces, in terms of the accompaniment, at least. Here, the accompaniment is very regular, a very even eighth note pulse, just like Rückblick. But it is slow, more like the weariness in Irrlicht. So we can put the two concepts together - he is depicting the slow, weary walking that the Wanderer describes mostly in his first lines of text, but also that his body just refuses to stop going forward. Just like in Rückblick, there's really only two times that the eighth note pulse stops, and that's at a fermata just before each verse.

Notably, there's almost no vocal doubling in this one. It seems like the piano is doing its thing - plodding forward - and the vocal line apart from it. If I had to pick, I'd say that the piano is the legs that can't stop moving, and the vocal line is the hot, restlessness within. Half of the vocal line in each verse is simple, always returning to the same pitch, perhaps suggesting the stillness of being at-rest, but the other half is wriggling all over the place.

Schubert's depiction of wriggling brings up probably my favorite bits in the text: the stirring dragon. Here's the last two lines:
   Fülst in der Still erst deinen Wurm
    Feel in the quiet first your worm
   mit heißen Stich sich regen
    with hot sting itself stir (that's a word-for-word translation, and a bad one)

The fun word here, of course, is Wurm. The easy, Google Translate version of this word would be "worm", like an earthworm. If one wants to be poetic about it, however, I'd translate it as "dragon." In English literature, we will sometimes use the word "wyrm" for dragon, after all, so I can't be that far off. For that matter, it's not just any dragon, a fire-breathing dragon with a stinger! Not many worms can do that.

Translating it this way also makes the text more menacing. For dramatic purposes, any time there's something on the line, it works better as theater. If there's no conflict, there's no story. Find the conflict, and you can tell a story that can captivate an audience.

And from now on, after I go for my morning run and I feel my legs burning, I'm going to blame it on waking up the dragons.

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