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, September 14, 2010

Lifted above despair: Winterreise's "Die Post (The Post)"

We have now arrived at the halfway point of Schubert's epic song cycle and with that, we have arrived at a crucial psychological point in our protagonist's journey. Is this man going to dwell in the pain of resentment and loss or is he going to choose another path?

"Die Post (The Post)" is one of my favorite songs and is one of the few that I feel can really stand on its own. The moment the piano begins its introduction we are given a breath of fresh air, a break from the general austereness of the previous songs and I can easily picture our travelling musician's immediate reaction to hearing the call of the posthorn. It is amazing to me how visceral a piece of music, or the sound of a particular instrument, can have on my spirit. I think most folks can think of music that when heard in the context of everyday life, can quickly pull us out of the moment and lift us out of ourselves. Since our protagonist happens to be a horn player, what better music to use than the call of a posthorn? Perhaps our friend was once a postman himself, accustomed to riding from village to village, blowing his horn to signal his arrival. That connection with the posthorn's call seems to help dilute the present situation's drama and his hope that he might once again hear from his beloved.

The music itself is a great example, in my mind, of Schubert's mastery of simplicity. In the first and third verses we hear the posthorn's call and the galloping of the postman's horse in the piano part. At the end of those verses the horse comes to a startling stop and our attention shifts to a similar, but less active rhythm in the piano part which for me, brings to mind the steady heartbeat of the protagonist. There is a hint of the despair at the beginning of the second and fourth verses, as the piano starts out in a minor key but this doesn't last long. The excitement of the postman's arrival pulls our friend away walking down that path and leads him towards a more ambivalent state of mind. In the end, mission accomplished, the horse and rider depart the town, moving on to the next part of their journey.

Where does that leave us? Which path will our friend take now? Will he ride off with the postman, heart released from despair? Or will he sink back into himself again?

Here is, yes again, tenor Ian Bostridge performing the song, with his pianist, Julian Drake. I want to note that this video, in particular, makes me smile. I don't really know why, but I find it very refreshing and I find that it mirrors my interpretation of both the music and the text.

For the text of Winterreise, please click here.

Other posts in this Winterreise series:

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