Thursday, March 10, the Concerts with Commentary series performed Winterreise, a song cycle by Franz Schubert based off Wilhelm Müller’s poems. Kim Childs sang tenor while Stuart Deaver played the piano accompaniment. While the songs were in German, the language difference could not hide the overwrought emotion felt by the writer.
The song cycle is based off of 24 poems by Müller, which narrate a lover’s journey after discovering his beloved has found another. Each song flows into the next, showing the man’s journey from his beloved’s house through the cold and forbidding winter.
Overall, the narrative was immensely emotional, edging into overdramatic territory. The subjects of the song include the linden tree, which symbolizes his former love, a village, which reveals to him how separated he is from the rest of the world, and a graveyard, which is too full to accommodate him.
As the cycle progresses, the speaker becomes more desolate about his lost love. This slow change became almost unbearably over-dramatic at times. In “Der greise Kopf,” the lover mistakes the snow for graying hair, and then is disappointed when he realizes the truth. Gray hair would’ve taken him closer to death, and away from his heartbreak. “Das Wirtshaus” narrates his attempt to find a vacancy in the “inn,” a graveyard he passes by. But as all the rooms are full, he decides to go on his way.
The saving grace of these songs was the voice and piano behind them. When the subject matter grew increasingly dark, the tone of both followed. The piano added to the narrative by immersing listeners in the scene. In “Einsamkeit,” when the lover drifts like a cloud through the bright life, the piano was reminiscent of a storm, clashing and loud. In other parts, branches breaking beneath boots could be clearly heard.
Schubert’s pieces elevated the importance of the pianist in retelling the story. Deaver led the audience from one scene to the next smoothly, introducing the mood and setting of each piece before Childs sang.
Since the songs were sung in German, listeners were provided with a brief translation of each piece. While this translation did give non-German listeners insight into the particular subject of the piece, the nature of each was made clear through the work of Childs and Deaver.
During “Frulingstraum,” when the lover recounts his dreams of happiness, the bright vocals of Childs and frolicking, staccato piano of Deaver showed how much those fantasies meant to the lover. The change of tone from previous songs, which emphasized a more somber, depressing tone, showed something had broken through the lover’s despair. Suddenly, however, the piece slowed, and Child’s vocals lost the bright, loud nature they previously had.
It did, however, seem like some of the beauty of each piece was lost to any who couldn’t understand German. The translation seemed bare-bones, compared to what Childs sang, as the piece continued long past the length the translation suggested.
Whether the message was fully understood, Childs and Deaver showed one man’s journey through heartbreak. While the cycle became more melancholy as it progressed, the combination of strong vocals and the scene setting of the piano made the audience sympathetic to the speaker’s plight.