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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On the edge of a dream: "Einsamkeit (Loneliness)"


What does loneliness sound like?

I am beginning to understand that Schubert had an uncanny ability to capture every shade of emotion possible and this twelfth song in Winterreise is no exception. But I sense that this song, titled "Einsamkeit" or "Loneliness" evokes a lot more than just loneliness. For me it is an extension of the previous song, "Frühlingstraum (Dream of Spring.)" We witness and feel what it is like to come out of a dream that has enchanted, a dream that has bewildered, a dream in which all that we desire has slipped through our hands upon waking. When I listen to the ending of Frühlingstraum I hear the thread that pulls our protagonist on to this next song.

That is the sound of loneliness.

I love how Schubert has put our travelling musician back on the road. Life begins again at dawn and so it is here. It is time for him to resume his journey and we hear this in the piano part's alternating, plodding chords. And we hear what is now becoming somewhat of a trademark, accents in the piano that seem to make our friend's feet even heavier. I am beginning to latch on to these accents because I am sensing that they hold a key to Schubert's intention. What would the song sound like without so many accents? I have recorded a small excerpt from the end of verse one, beginning of verse two, first without the accents and then with the accents as written.

With the accents, I can feel pain and heaviness of heart as the singer sings of being alone, greeted by no one.

In the third verse, there is a complete change of mood as the piano rumbles and roars like thunder and sharp accents pierce the air like lightning:

The words to this part of the text are:

Alas! That the air is so calm.
Alas! That the world is so bright!
When the storms still raged...

And then the clouds open up just a bit and we hear:

I was not so wretched then.
In this music we hear the power behind the storms that pales in comparison to the agonizing situation in which he now finds himself. He would rather be battling fierce storms than running away from all that he has lost.

Phew.  This is how the first half of this incredible song cycle ends.  Not very hopeful. But it does leave me wanting to hear the rest of the story.  I am beginning to understand that this is part of the magic of Schubert's writing.  Just as a great author pulls us into a great story, this master of song also pulls us in.  But because the medium being used is music, the story has a way of working deeper into our soul.  Certain keys and chords pull at our heartstrings with little effort, accents send shooting pains straight into our heart, and musical gestures can make us jump out of our seats.  As someone once said, "Music is what feelings sound like."

That is what Winterreise is all about.

Here is a recording of Ian Bostridge singing "Einsamkeit" with Julius Drake at the piano.

For the text of Winterreise, please click here.

Other posts in this Winterreise series:
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)"
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 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)"

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