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.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Experiencing a lucid dream through music: Winterreise's "Frühlingstraum (Dream of Spring)"

Before sitting down to write this post, I decided to listen and view Ian Bostridge's video of this eleventh song of Winterreise. In learning it at the piano these past few days I have sensed an overwhelmingly eerie spirit about the music and after seeing this particular interpretation, that feeling is now even stronger. Perhaps it is because this song strikes me as being even more introspective than the previous songs in the cycle. Yes, we do hear our travelling friend's battling of emotions in the songs leading up to this one, but for me, those emotions remain in the protagonist's consciousness. In "Frühlingstraum (Dream of spring)," however, we begin to see in the character's sub-consiousness as well. We are taken along with him on the journey he takes in his mind as he experiences a lucid dream; a dream that snakes back and forth between reality and dream. What I find so moving is that both Franz Schubert and the poet, Wilhelm Müller, were able to translate such an intangible concept into something tangible.

Müller sets up the poem perfectly to make this all happen. There are six verses which seem to follow a pattern. The first verse tells of the dream, the second of being woken up thanks to rooster and raven calls, and the third seems to linger somewhere in between.

I dreamt of bright flowers,
that blossom in May.
I dreamt of green meadows,
and merry birdcalls.

And when the roosters crowed,
my eyes awoke,
it was cold and dark,
and the ravens crowed from the roof.

But there on the windowpanes,
who had painted leaves?
Are you laughing at the dreamer,
who saw flowers in the winter?

From here we cycle back to the dream and through those other states of consciousness:

I dreamt of mutual love,
of a lovely maiden,
of hugging and kissing,
of joy and rapture.

And when the roosters crowed,
my heart awoke,
now I sit here alone
and reflect on my dream.

My eyes I close again,
still beats my heart so warmly.
When will the leaves on the window be great again?
When will I hold my love in my arms?

Schubert preserves the structure of this poem by composing very distinct musical sections. He starts out in a lilting, gentle meter, I think to reflect that dreamlike state we have all experienced. I find it interesting to note that this is one of the only songs thus far, with the exception of "Die Wetterfahne (The Weathervane)" to use this meter. And that second song has more of a driving force behind it so I find Schubert's contrasting use of it in this song extremely effective. The voice part rides above the piano accompaniment, with a simple, almost folksong-like melody.

For the second verse we have an abrupt shift to a faster section in a minor key, the piano part's dissonant interjections giving an aural picture of the roosters' and ravens' unwelcome disruptions.

Now another complete change of atmosphere to mark the more lucid side of the dream. Schubert shifts the meter so that it no longer has the same sense of motion, be it gentle or forceful as in the first two verses. Now time is virtually suspended, as is the piano accompaniment in the right hand. This particular spot required the pianist to use two different brains in order to do separate musical things in both hands - the left hand plays a rich, sonorous melody somewhat reminiscent of a brass choir (there goes that allusion to our french-horn player again) while the right hand must sustain a static, expressionless character.  The music also subtly weaves between the keys of G major and G minor, leaving us to wonder whether or not our friend is awake or asleep.

We are back to the beginning again to start the sequence again. But how does it end? Take a listen. I think the ending speaks for itself.


Back to reality, in one rolled chord.

I have nothing else to say but that I encourage you to watch Ian Bostridge's video below of him and pianist Julius Drake.

Other posts in this Winterreise series:

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