Winterreise: Thoughts, Recommended Recording, English Text & Complete Playlist

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 19 January 2013 | 7:40:00 pm


"Come to Schober's today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs" Schubert


Earlier this week, as the snow began to fall here, I returned to Robert Macfarlane's meditation on the land's ancient pathways and the journey - and mind -  of the lone traveler  "The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot".

There are all sorts of reasons that this fine work, the weather and a lone walk through the winter countryside, might remind one of Schubert's  song cycle. Note for example the literal;  as the following taken from early in each work may indicate:

 "At first sight the field seemed flawless; floe country. Then I set out across it and started to see the signs. The snow was densely printed with the tracks of birds and animals – archives of the hundreds of journeys made since the snow had stopped. There were neat deer slots, partridge prints like arrowheads pointing the way, and the pads of rabbits. Lines of tracks curved away from me across the field, disappearing into shadow or hedge. The moonlight, falling at a slant, deepened the dark in the nearer tracks so that they appeared full as inkwells. To all these marks I added my own." Robert Macfarlane: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot"


"I cannot choose the time
Of my departure;
I must find my own way
In this darkness.

With a shadow cast by the moonlight
As my traveling companion
I'll search for animal tracks 

On the white fields." 
Winterreise "Gute Nacht"


Macfarlane's book also deals with  central themes found in Winterreise: the journey of the lone traveler, inevitable change, and loss (although in no way as melancholic a manner). Macfarlane, in conclusion, is interested in the changes (and the tracks they leave and that fade) that occur in  societies and cultures - despite a continued "battle" with nature:

"The wild prefaced us, and it will outlive us. Human cultures will pass, given time, of which there is sufficiency. The ivy will snake and unrig our flats and terraces, as it scattered the Roman villas. The sand will drift into our business parks, as it drifted into the brochs of the iron age. Our roads will lapse into the land." Robert Macfarlane: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot"


Winterreise also, of course, addresses the journey and mind (and decay?) of the lone traveler  while also exploring inevitable change. In this case that of relationships, the psyche and the individual..

"A crow was with me
From out of the town,
Even up to this moment
It circles above my head. Crow, strange creature,
Will you not forsake me?
Do you intend, very soon, To take my corpse as food?
Well, it is not much farther 
That I wander with my staff in hand. 
Crow, let me see at last 
A fidelity that lasts to the grave!"
  Winterreise "Die Krähe"


But, as with all great art, such summaries do not provide either works any justice or indeed even scratch the surface of their contents. And so, I can only recommend that you might consider reading: "The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot". and listen to a recording of Winterreise.

But which recording? It is without doubt that this work has been well served on record: from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Olaf Bär, Ian Bostridge, and of course Hans Hotter's account with Gerald Moore (found below) among many others. And while I have had many favorites I must admit that when 2011 saw the release of Florian Boesch & Malcolm Martineau's extraordinary interpretation it replaced all of those. It is easy to find "5 star" reviews on this release and so I will not bore here. Instead I suggest that you might, should you have access and I hope you do, go to either Spotify or listening to samples,  at the very least, at Amazon. It is included as the first "album" below in a spotify playlist that includes Hans Hotter's recording (how could I not include it at the site) along with Ian Bostridge, just one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's many  and Olaf Bär's recordings - plus one or two more.


Below, is a  translation - alongside the original German - by Celia Sgroi. It can be downloaded, along with her translations of  the rest of the cycle by clicking here or read online here

TW