My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding a place of comfort: Winterreise's "Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree)"

The fifth song in Schubert's Winterreise is for me, a fantastic example of what makes this cycle brilliant and captivating. On the heels of the fiery song, "Erstarrung (Numbness)," the composer takes the same fast-moving triplet figure that helps to drive the fourth song, and deflates the tension, leaving us with a feeling of a gentle breeze blowing through the Linden tree and the whisper of the tree's comforting, but sometimes sorrowful voice. Here is the introduction with the tree's whispers:

At the tail end of the introduction, Schubert brings in another symbolic sound, one that is very familiar to our main character - the call of french horns with its own echo in the distance. I can't imagine a sound more comforting than this. When I see or hear a piano, I can feel my nerves returning to normal, my breathing slow down, and my heart resting on the simple glory of music. Perhaps this is what the composer intends for anyone listening to or performing this song.

There are four verses in Müller's poem and Schubert basically uses the same melody for the first, second, and fourth verses. Schubert's genius comes into play, however, with how he treats the accompaniment part. I've created, hopefully, a little interactive exercise to help folks feel what it's like to sing this song's vocal line with the different accompaniments underneath. First, here's the music for the vocal line and how it sounds:

And here is the piano part for verse one. If you're feeling brave, try singing the vocal line at the same time.

Very simple, almost like a horn choir accompanying the voice.

Now the second verse has a little twist. At first, the material from the first verse is altered so that it is in a minor key. After the first two phrases, he then switches back into the major key. Here is the music for that in case you want to follow along:

Now here is the piano part that supports this verse with a slight introduction:

In this verse there is more movement again, and definitely a bit more sorrow at first, as the poem mentions "darkness," "depths of night," and "closed eyes." But then the horn choir returns with the switch to major and our travelling horn player finds comfort in the linden tree's song of peace.

The third verse is quite a contrast to the first two. We get tossed into an abrupt, cold, windstorm that causes our protagonist's hat to fly off his head. The fast-moving triplet figure returns, but with a sound that is somewhat reminiscent of the previous song and representative of the whirling, almost-violent wind.

Aha! The horn call yet again, with its echo...comfort again. Which brings us to the fourth verse with the main vocal line and yet another piano accompaniment. Feel free to sing along again so that you can feel how this accompaniment can make the melody feel different. The clip starts with the horn call from the end of the previous verse.

By the end of the postlude, I get the impression that all is well with our musician-friend. Nature and music (are they different?) have steered us back onto the road before us. Only question is, what's next?

After all that hard work, here is a youtube video of the bass, Josef Greindl performing with pianist Hertha Klust.  Enjoy.

Click here to see a translation of this song.

Other posts in this Winterreise series:
Psychology through music: Winterreise's "Erstarrung (Numbness)"
Images of snow and ice, images of a frozen heart: "Wasserflut (Floodwater)" and "Auf dem Flusse (On the River)"
"Sturm und Drang" encapsulated in song:  Winterreise's "Rückblick (Backward Glance)"
No rest for the weary: "Irrlicht (Will-o'-the-wisp)" and "Rast (Rest)"
Experiencing a lucid dream through music: Winterreise's "Frühlingstraum (Dream of Spring)"
On the edge of a dream: "Einsamkeit (Loneliness)"
Lifted above despair: Winterreise's "Die Post (The Post)"
Choosing a different path: "Der greise Kopf (The Grey Head)" and "Die Krähe (The Crow)"
An unsuccessful attempt at resisting sleep: "Im Dorfe (In the Village)"
Nearing the end of one man's journey: "Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning)" & "Täuschung (Illusion)"
An intimate view of facing one's fate: "Der Wegweiser (The Signpost)"
Waiting for Death: "Das Wirtshaus (The Inn)"
Seizing control of life & death: "Mut (Courage)"
One final breath: "Die Nebensonnen (The Mock Suns)"


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful work.

    1. You're very welcome. I'm so glad you like it!


  2. Thanks for the insight!