I have read and heard that before people die, they often experience a sudden burst of energy. Well, that is where we are in Winterreise. In "Mut (Courage)," our protagonist seems to jump up, trying to seize control of both life and death, all in one fell swoop. Here are the words to this short, but not necessarily sweet song. (The translation is going to be mine again to avoid copyright issues so please bear with me!)
The snow flies in my face,
I shake it off.
When my heart in my chest speaks,
I sing loudly and merrily.
I do not hear what it tells me,
I have no ears.
I do not feel what it laments,
lamenting is for fools.
Cheerfully into the world I go,
against the wind and storms.
If there is no God on earth,
then we ourselves are Gods!
Well, that just about says it all! Combined with Schubert's fiery music, it is all about courage, at least for this brief moment. Phrases are all a regular length, giving the piece stability; both the voice and piano part are full of sweeping, energetic gestures up and down scales and arpeggios; accents litter the page once again, and dotted rhythms lend an air of momentary triumph or determination. I can't help but get caught up in the energy.
Perhaps there are some people out there that don't interpret Winterreise in the way I do - that the protagonist in this story is a man who is facing his imminent death. But in all honesty, by this point in the song cycle, I can't see it any other way. Maybe it's because I just watched my own family walk with my grandfather to the end of his life and I witnessed, through my parents, the various stages one goes through. Maybe it's because I have always had a tremendous fear and reluctance to think about my own eventual death. Or maybe it's because I know that Schubert knew that he too was dying yet felt very proud and energized by this epic poetic and musical journey. Whatever the reason or reasons, I am now at a point where I feel like I'm one step closer to understanding death in a very tangible way, if that's possible. Forget seances, forget reading about near-death experiences, I will just sit and experience Winterreise.
Amazing. And some folks say classical music isn't relevant.
Here is Ian Bostridge's fiery video of "Mut." He is joined by pianist Julius Drake. It's fantastic and full of the spirit that I imagine Schubert would have appreciated.
Other posts in this Winterreise series: