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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Winterreise, No. 15, Die Krähe (049)

In the next episode of the Podcast, we are continuing our journey through Schubert's masterpiece, Winterreise. We'll be taking a look at number 15 in the cycle, Die Krähe.

Previously in Winterreise, our hero, the Wanderer, has been wandering a day or two, getting a little ways out from the town. By now, much of the fire from the first half of the cycle has subsided, and the Wanderer has no more storms to egg him on.

In Die Krähe, as before, he observes the wintry world around him, talks to it, and finds a comparison to some perceived misfortune.

The subject this time is a crow, or Krähe. It actually isn't the first time we've seen this crow. We previously saw him in Number 8, Rückblick. In that piece, the Wanderer had been running out of town, and crows were throwing snowballs at him from the trees. It's actually a kind of funny image…

Anyway, one of those crows followed him from the town. It has been circling overhead since then.
The Wanderer addresses the crow, just as he addressed his heart in the previous piece. He asks if the crow intends to leave. In a bit of macabre, he also asks the crow if it is following just so that it can plunder his dead carcass soon.

After all, the Wanderer does not anticipate that he will be on this journey much longer. For this line, the Wanderer uses the word Wanderstabe, which most literally translates to "walking staff." It is used in that sense later on in Winterrreise, in number 21, Das Wirthaus.

Wanderstabe is a word that gets my attention, perhaps only because I tend to play a lot of characters that carry big sticks. Seeing the word here, though, changes my mental picture of our Wanderer. Instead of being merely an impulsive runaway, now he's got something in his hands, a little more of an intentional traveler.

In this line, however, it seems that the phrase "an dem Wanderstabe" - with the "e" on the end of it - more accurately means on a walking path. In both cases, the Wanderstab, or Wanderstabe, comes up in the context of loyalty.

So, getting back to the crow, whatever its reasons, the Wanderer does not seem to mind having the crow around. He bids that the crow continue following him. That kind of loyally, all the way to the grave, was the kind he did not get from his Liebchen.

Musically, I love this piece. For some reason it reminds me of the beginning of Disney's (first) Beauty and the Beast. To me, the piece has a gentle, magically sound to it.

Schubert, however, was probably trying to capture the gliding flight of the crow. The circling of the crow is represented by triplets, which never stop. They weave in and out of both hands - posing a challenge for pianist. It requires some sensitivity to make sure that the melody is heard well.

The melody also has a sort of circular nature to it, starting off several of the lines with by hovering around tonic.

In fact, even though the tonal center of the piece shifts around, every line in the piece starts exactly in the same place, on an "A" (in the baritone key).

The last line, in particular, is almost entirely sung on the one pitch - in a couple different octaves, sure, but all of it A.

It's like Schubert is acknowledging that wherever the journey goes, it will always end in the same place. We may try to escape our fate, but it will always circle back.

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