The Winterreise Project
Authentic amateur performance
Revitalising Schubert song through authentic amateur performance
The Winter Journey
Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise – Winter Journey – is a hugely evocative group of songs for voice and piano exploring in detail a young man’s reaction to the pain of unrequited love. Across the one-hour cycle, which sets the 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller titled Die Winterreise, Schubert takes his singer and pianist on an extraordinary journey from the fragile tenderness of first love, through rejection, rage, hopelessness, and defiance, to his final transfiguration through his acceptance of his powerlessness against fate.
The Winter Journey of the title of the piece is both a literal and a symbolic journey. In the first song we learn that the young man has been rejected by his beloved. He believed he had real evidence of affection from her, and her mother had even talked of the promise of marriage, but for reasons unknown to him, the plan – if there ever was a plan – has changed. Standing outside her house on a winter night, he sings good night to her with a mixture of tenderness and torment before fleeing into the countryside with his face set against the lashing of the winter wind.
The remainder of the song cycle, which recounts the journey he makes on foot through the frozen countryside, starts as a simple act of escape from painful memories but soon evolves into an extended odyssey of inner experience. Battling against plunging temperatures, menacing animals, and the oppressive, uncontrollable waves of hope and despair, the young man forges onward through the snow toward the point of exhaustion. Death looms, and is contemplated and seriously considered, but the dormant natural world eventually stirs in its coldness and begins to speak back to the wanderer, who hears truth clarified in the rustling of trees, and in the blazing symbolism of a vision of phantom suns.
The wanderer is never released from heartbreak, but, as his inner suffering becomes increasingly abstract, he is gradually moved to understand, and eventually, to accept the cruelty of his fate. By the last song of the cycle, his transformation from innocence to knowledge through suffering is complete. Arriving in a distant town, his own singing is echoed darkly in the vision of an elderly hurdy-gurdy man, who stands barefoot cranking his instrument with frozen fingers in the empty streets.
‘Strange old man’, the young man asks, Will I come with you? Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?’
A reflective performance course for amateur singers and pianists, and for music-lovers.
Franz Schubert wrote the vast majority of his songs for voice and piano for amateur musicians, and it was amateurs singers and pianists – both men and women – who were the principal performers of his more than 400 songs during the composer’s lifetime and in the years following his death. Today, Schubert’s songs are performed in public almost exclusively by professionals, separating these works from the collaborative, informal – and often very convivial – amateur settings for which they were originally conceived.
Schubert’s 24-song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey) is one of his more extended works, and professional singers and pianists today typically perform the entire cycle in a single performance. In Schubert’s time, however, it was common for amateur musicians to perform only one, or at at the most a small group of the songs, in an evening salon gathering. It was not uncommon for one singer-pianist duo to sing one or two songs before another pair took over, or for singers and pianists to change scores – choosing their preferred keys from the available published options – in a single concert to suit their particular voice or ability at the piano.
The Winterreise Project reclaims Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise for the non-professional musician, while also offering amateur singers and pianists access to the sort of in-depth study of the songs normally reserved only for aspiring professionals. Singers, pianists, and auditor participants on our course will work together on small groups of the songs, just as they would have done during Schubert’s lifetime. Our project will finish with a presentation of the complete 24-song cycle in which each singer and pianist will contribute between one and three songs to the final joint concert.
Join us in admiring these extraordinary performances of Schubert’s haunting song cycle, Winterreise.
Please also visit the collection of videos we have compiled on the Winterreise Project YouTube channel – and add your own.
Final Student Concert
Contributing Partners – The Winterreise Project
We are very grateful to the following people, who were contributing donor partners in the Winterreise Project, 2015:
Ereca Hassell & The Baumann Centre of Pacific Opera Victoria
Stu & Emily Whitney
The Winterreise Collaborators
The Bild Family
Ted & Rae Rhodes
Tara & Marian Sahota
Our Many Anonymous Donors
Number of partners supporting the Winterreise Project