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, October 1, 2010

What remains: "Der Leiermann (The Organ-grinder)"

Eugène Atget, via Wikipedia
I realize after writing my previous post, that many folks might disagree with me about my interpretation of "Die Nebensonnen," that I see that song as being our protagonist's final breath.  That's OK with me.  I set off on this blogging project because I wanted to give myself a reason to really immerse myself in this song-cycle.  I wanted to take the time needed to be able to have my own movie running in my head while performing the cycle.  And along the way, if even just one person reading these posts decided to sit down and listen through the entire cycle sometime, I will feel like it was all worth it.  So I am content with being stubborn.  

So with all that said, and bearing in mind that I believe our dear friend is no longer with us, what is the last song of Winterreise, "Der Leiermann (The Organ-grinder), all about? What is its purpose?

In my interpretation, this song is all about the continuity of life. Many folks see the organ-grinder as representing death. Well, stubborn me, I see him representing life instead. In spite of all that is around him, the snow and the ice, the fact nobody acknowledges his existence, he plays his music and never ceases. And what if our friend has died? Is this song a lament for his death? I don't personally get that sense. It seems that he was completely alone when he died, except for us, that is.  To me this song is a reminder that life goes on and it's our choice to pick up our things and move on, as our friend did himself, or to walk down some other path that so many others seem to choose.

So what's it going to be?

I want to close this post and this series with a most touching version of "Der Leiermann." I discovered it last week as I was looking around on youtube. It is a perfect example of how this song has touched other people's lives.

And here is Sting, performing his own interpretation in a live performance.  The song is right at the beginning of the clip and then goes onto something else:

Finally, here is Ian Bostridge and Julius to close out the cycle. Again, stunning.

That it is all I have to say.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
It has been an honor.

And if any of you have any thoughts, stories, recordings, or videos to share, I would love to hear about them.


Added later: National Public Radio had a series that explored peoples' favorite winter songs and Der Leiermann was on the list.  Listen to this interview with dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones to hear this moving, chilling story.

Other posts in this Winterreise series:
One final breath: "Die Nebensonnen (The Mock Suns)"


  1. Thank you for these lovely thoughts on Winterreise, always interesting to see from another musician's perspective.

    1. Dear Erica,
      I found your interpretation interesting - and original. I am pleased also that you acknowledge the view that der Leiermann is death. This view is frequently rubbished in the Anglo-Saxon world, whereas Germans - who see symbolism everywhere - generally endorse it. The German view is powerfully supported by the evidence. We are told three things about the of man: he stands barefoot on the ice; no one looks at him; he never stops. Each of these 'clues' points to death, particularly the first: human beings cannot stand barefoot on ice a substantial period; they get gangrene necessitating amputation.
      All that said, I acknowledge that the musical setting is ambiguous.
      best wishes