Schubert’s Winterreise is a song cycle for piano and male voice of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller set to music by Franz Schubert.  These are some of the last pieces that Schubert created.  Müller was apparently an anglophile, and he was heavily influenced by Byron, especially Byron’s  poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage).  Also see ( Wikipedia Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage ).The Byron poem is an example of the Byronic hero, which is something that Müller tried to emulate in his poetry.  I am going to go out on a limb and say that while Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was a best-seller across Europe, Müller’s poems were not.  And the reason for that is that Müller was not an exceptional poet and Byron was.  Schubert had a tendency to set mediocre poetry to beautiful music, and I’m afraid that these poems are no exception.  So, why is this one of the most famous song cycles that Schubert ever wrote?  He has taken the chaff and made it into gold.  The combination of the music and the poetry is much more that the poetry alone.

What is Winterreise about?

This is actually not an easy question to answer.  Let’s start with the name of the song cycle – Winterreise.  First, there is no definite article in the German.  This is unusual.  The title should be Die Winterreise, or the Winter’s Journey.  The title itself is somewhat stark and bleak without the definite article.  Second, a story that runs through the 24 poems can be pieced together.  A young man arrives in a town in May.  There, he befriends a family and is invited to live with them.  He falls in love with the daughter, and his love is returned, or so he is led to believe.  However, the daughter rejects him to marry a wealthy man with the approval of her parents.  It is now winter, and the hero leaves his adopted home in the dead of night after writing a farewell message to his beloved.  As he leaves the town, crows shower him with snow from the roofs, and he begins a painful journey, constantly tortured by memories of his past happiness.  On his journey, he is joined by a raven.  Eventually, he arrives at another town, where it seems that he stays for some time as he writes of the post arriving there.  The song cycle ends with a particularly bleak image.  An organ grinder has a place near the town, where he plies his trade, ignored by the townspeople and harassed by dogs.  It is ironic that in this final poem, the poet asks if the organ grinder will set the poet’s songs to music, which is something that Schubert eventually did.

What the cycle really is about is running away from strong emotions and utter desolation. It is also about the unwillingness to act on strong emotions.  Even if the poems are not necessarily congruent, this theme runs through all of them and unites the song cycle.  The imagery used tends to unite the poems; that is, images of frozen water, of glaciers, of tears piercing snow and ice, etc.

Some things of note:

  • The fifth song in this cycle (Der Lindenbaum) is considered by many to be Schubert’s most popular, if not his greatest, song
  • I am only posting 12 of the 24 songs at first because this is a lot to take in
  • The songs are sung by Lotte Lehmann, one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century.  By the time that these songs were recorded (1941), her voice is certainly not what it was in 1920, but she brings a remarkable expressive quality to these works.  In fact, I think that these songs are sung better by her than by any man whom I have heard
  • The rest of the song cycle will be posted at a later date

Gute Nacht

Fremd bin ich eingezogen
Fremd zieh wieder aus.
Der Mai war mir gewogen
Mit manchem Blumenstrauß.
Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe,
Die Mutter gar von Eh‘-
Nun ist die Welt so trübe
Der Weg gehüllt in Schnee.

Was soll ich länger weilen,
Daß man mich trieb‘ hinaus?
Laß irre Hunde Heulen
Vor ihres Herren Haus!
Die Liebe liebt das Wandern, –
Gott hat sie so gemacht –
Von einem zu dem andern,
Fein Liebchen, Gute Nacht!

Will dich im Traum nicht stören,
Wär‘ schad‘ um deine Ruh‘,
Sollst meinen Tritt nicht hören –
Sacht, sacht die Türe zu!
Schreib‘ im Vorübergehen
An’s Tor dir gute Nacht,
Damit du mögest sehen,
An dich hab’ich gedacht.

Good night

I came as a stranger
I depart as a stranger.
May was good to me
With many a garland of flowers.
The girl, she talked of love,
The mother even of marriage –
Now the world is so gloomy.
The way is shrouded in snow.

Why should I stay any longer,
Waiting for someone to throw me out?
Let stray dogs howl
front of their master’s house!
Love loves to wander –
God made it that way –
From one to another
Sweetest love, good night!

I won’t disturb you in your dream,
It would be a shame to disturb your rest,
You oughtn’t hear my footstep –
Softly, softly the door closes!
I’ll write on the gate
As I go by it – good night –
So that you can see
That I’ve thought of you.

Die Wetterfahne

Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne
auf meines schönen Liebchens Haus.
Da dacht ich schon in meinem Wahne,
sie pfiff den armen Flüchtling aus.

Er hätt’ es ehr bemerken sollen,
des Hauses aufgestecktes Schild,
so hätt’ er nimmer suchen wollen
im Haus ein treues Frauenbild.

Der Wind spielt drinnen mit den Herzen
wie auf dem Dach, nur nicht so laut.
Was fragen sie nach meinen Schmerzen?
Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut.

The Weathervane

The wind plays with the weathervane
On my beautiful sweetheart’s house.
I thought already in my madness
It’s piping out the poor fugitive.

He ought to have noticed before
The sign of the house, stuck up there,
Then he’d never have wanted to look
In that house for the faithful image of a woman.

The wind plays inside with hearts
Just as it does on the roof, only not so loud.
Why do they ask about my sorrows?
Their child is a rich bride.

Gefror’ne Tränen

Gefrorne Tropfen fallen
Von meinen Wangen ab;
Ob es mir denn entgangen
Daß ich geweinet hab’?

Ei Tränen, meine Tränen,
Und seid ihr gar so lau
Daß ihr erstarrt zu Eise,
Wie kühler Morgentau.

Und dringt doch aus der Quelle
Der Brust so glühend heiß,
Als wolltet ihr zerschmelzen
Des ganzen Winters Eis.

Frozen Tears

Frozen drops fall
From my cheeks.
Has it escaped me, then,
That I have cried?

Oh tears, my tears,
And are you so lukewarm
That you turn to ice
Like the cool morning dew?

And yet you burst out of the source,
My breast, so glowing hot,
As if you would melt
All of winter’s ice.

Erstarrung

Ich such’ im Schnee vergebens
Nach ihrer Tritte Spur,
Wo sie an meinem Arme
Durchstrich die grüne Flur.

Ich will den Boden küssen
Durchdringen Eis und Schnee
Mit meinen heißen Tränen,
Bis ich die Erde seh’.

Wo find’ ich eine Blüte,
Wo find’ ich grünes Gras?
Die Blumen sind erstorben,
Der Rasen sieht so blaß.

Soll denn kein Angedenken
Ich nehmen mit von hier?
Wenn meine Schmerzen schweigen,
Wer sagt mir dann von ihr?

Mein Herz ist wie erfroren,
Kalt starrt ihr Bild darin:
Schmilzt je das Herz mir wieder,
Fließt auch ihr Bild dahin.

Numbness

I search the snow in vain,
for the traces of her steps,
where she walked on my arm
through the green meadows.

I will kiss the ground
and pierce ice and snow
with my burning tears,
until I see the earth.

Where shall I find a blossom?
Where shall I find green grass?
The flowers have died,
the grass looks so pale.

Shall I no
memento from here take with me?
When my sorrows are quieted,
who will then speak to me of her?

My heart is as dead,
her image frozen cold within;
if ever my heart melts again
her image, too, will flow away.

Der Lindenbaum

Am Brunnen vor dem Tore
Da steht ein Lindenbaum:
Ich träumt’ in seinem Schatten
So manchen süßen Traum.

Ich schnitt in seine Rinde
So manches liebe Wort;
Es zog in Freud’ und Leide
Zu ihm mich immer fort.

Ich mußt’ auch heute wandern
Vorbei in tiefer Nacht,
Da hab’ ich noch im Dunkel
Die Augen zugemacht.

Und seine Zweige rauschten,
Als riefen sie mir zu:
Komm’ her zu mir, Geselle,
Hier findst du deine Ruh’!

Die kalten Winde bliesen
Mir grad’ ins Angesicht,
Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe,
Ich wendete mich nicht.

Nun bin ich manche Stunde
Entfernt von jenem Ort,
Und immer hör’ ich’s rauschen:
Du fändest Ruhe dort!

The Linden Tree

At the well outside the gate
There stands a linden tree;
I dreamed in its shade
So many sweet dreams.

I cut into its bark
So many words of love;
In happiness and sadness it drew
Me back to it constantly

Today also I had to wander
Past it in the depths of night,
Even in the dark
I had to close my eyes.

And its branches rustled
As if they were calling out to me:
Come here to me, my companion,
Here you will find your peace.

The cold winds blew
Straight in my face;
My hat flew from my head,
I did not turn around.

Now I am many hours
Away from that place,
And I ever hear that rustling:
It says, you would find peace there.

Wasserflut

Manche Trän’ aus meinen Augen
Ist gefallen in den Schnee;
Seine kalten Flocken saugen
Durstig ein das heiße Weh.

Wenn die Gräser sprossen wollen,
Weht daher ein lauer Wind,
Und das Eis zerspringt in Schollen,
Und der weiche Schnee zerrinnt.

Schnee, du weißt von meinem Sehnen:
Sag’, wohin doch geht dein Lauf?
Folge nach nur meinen Tränen,
Nimmt dich bald das Bächlein auf.

Wirst mit ihm die Stadt durchziehen,
Muntre Straßen ein und aus:
Fühlst du meine Tränen glühen,
Da ist meiner Liebsten Haus.

Flood

Many tears from my eyes
Have fallen in the snow;
Its cold flakes suck in
Thirstily the hot grief.

When the grass is about to sprout,
A mild wind blows around,
And the ice breaks into pieces
And the soft snow melts away.

Snow, you know my longing:
Say, where does your path lead?
Only follow my tears
And the stream will soon swallow you up.

You’ll go through the town with it,
In and out of the lively streets;
When you feel my tears are glowing hot,
There’s where my beloved’s house is.

Auf dem Flusse

Der du so lustig rauschtest,
Du heller, wilder Fluß,
Wie still bist du geworden,
Gibst keinen Scheidegruß.

Mit harter, starrer Rinde
Hast du dich überdeckt,
Liegst kalt und unbeweglich
Im Sande ausgestreckt.

In deine Decke grab’ ich
Mit einem spitzen Stein
Den Namen meiner Liebsten
Und Stund’ und Tag hinein:

Den Tag des ersten Grußes,
Den Tag, an dem ich ging,
Um Nam’ und Zahlen windet
Sich ein zerbrochner Ring.

Mein Herz, in diesem Bache
Erkennst du nun dein Bild?
Ob’s unter seiner Rinde,
Wohl auch so reißend schwillt?

On the River

You who rushed along so merrily,
You gleaming, wild river,
How still you’ve become,
You don’t say goodbye.

With a hard, stiff crust
You have covered yourself,
You lie cold and unmoving
Stretched out in the sand.

Into your surface I engrave
With a sharp stone
The name of my beloved,
The hour and the day.

The day of our first greeting,
The day on which I left,
Around name and numbers
Winds a broken ring.

My heart, in this river
Do you now recognize your image?
Under its crust does it
Swell to bursting in the same way?

Rückblick

Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen,
Tret’ ich auch schon auf Eis und Schnee.
Ich möcht’ nicht wieder Atem holen,
Bis ich nicht mehr die Türme seh’.

Hab’ mich an jeden Stein gestoßen,
So eilt’ ich zu der Stadt hinaus;
Die Krähen warfen Bäll’ und Schloßen
Auf meinen Hut von jedem Haus.

Wie anders hast du mich empfangen,
Du Stadt der Unbeständigkeit!
An deinen blanken Fenstern sangen
Die Lerch’ und Nachtigall im Streit.

Die runden Lindenbäume blühten,
Die klaren Rinnen rauschten hell,
Und ach, zwei Mädchenaugen glühten!
Da war’s geschehn um dich, Gesell!

Kömmt mir der Tag in die Gedanken,
Möcht’ ich noch einmal rückwärts sehn,
Möcht’ ich zurücke wieder wanken,
Vor ihrem Hause stille stehn.

Backward Glance

It burns under both the soles of my feet,
Even though I walk on ice and snow,
I don’t want to draw breath again,
Until I can no longer see the towers.

I have stumbled on every stone
In my hurry to leave town;
The crows threw snowballs and hailstones
At my hat from every house.

How differently you welcomed me,
You town of inconstancy!
At your gleaming windows sang
The lark and nightingale in contest.

The round linden trees blossomed,
The clear fountains splashed sparkling,
And, oh, a girl’s two eyes glowed!
Then you were done for, my companion.

If I think of that day,
I would like to look back again
I would like to stagger back again,
Stand still in front of her house.

Irrlicht

In die tiefsten Felsengründe
Lockte mich ein Irrlicht hin:
Wie ich einen Ausgang finde,
Liegt nicht schwer mir in dem Sinn.

Bin gewohnt das Irregehen,
’S führt ja jeder Weg zum Ziel:
Unsre Freuden, Unsre Leiden,
Alles eines Irrlichts Spiel!

Durch des Bergstroms trockne Rinnen
Wind’ ich ruhig mich hinab—
Jeder Strom wird’s Meer gewinnen,
Jedes Leiden auch sein Grab.

Will o’ the Wisp

Into the deepest rocky ravines
A will-o’-the-wisp lured me:
How I’ll find my way out,
Doesn’t lie heavily on my mind.

I’m used to losing my way,
Every path leads to the goal:
Our joys, our woes:
They’re all a will-o’-the-wisp’s game.

Along the mountain stream’s dry bed
I wander peacefully down—
Every stream will reach the sea,
So every suffering will find its grave.

Rast

Nun merk’ ich erst wie müd’ ich bin,
Da ich zur Ruh’ mich lege;
Das Wandern hielt mich munter hin
Auf unwirtbarem Wege.

Die Füße frugen nicht nach Rast,
Es war zu kalt zum Stehen;
Der Rücken fühlte keine Last,
Der Sturm half fort mich wehen.

In eines Köhlers engem Haus
Hab’ Obdach ich gefunden.
Doch meine Glieder ruh’n nicht aus:
So brennen ihre Wunden.

Auch du, mein Herz, in Kampf und Sturm
So wild und so verwegen,
Fühlst in der Still’ erst deinen Wurm
Mit heißem Stich sich regen !

Rest

Now I first notice how tired I am
As I lay myself down to rest
Wandering kept me cheerful
On the inhospitable path.

My feet didn’t ask for a rest,
It was too cold to stand still;
My back felt no burden
The storm helped to blow me on.

In a cramped house of a charcoal burner
I found shelter.
But my limbs won’t rest,
Their wounds burn so much

You too, my heart, in battle and storm
So wild and so daring,
You feel in the stillness for the first time your worm
Stirring with hot pang.

Frülingstraum

Ich träumte von bunten Blumen,
So wie sie wohl blühen im Mai,
Ich träumte von grünen Wiesen,
Von lustigem Vogelgeschrei.

Und als die Hähne krähten,
Da ward mein Auge wach;
Da war es kalt und finster,
Es schrieen die Raben vom Dach.

Doch an den Fensterscheiben
Wer malte die Blätter da?
Ihr lacht wohl über den Träumer,
Der Blumen im Winter sah?

Ich träumte von Lieb’ um Liebe,
Von einer schönen Maid,
Von Herzen und von Küssen,
Von Wonne und Seligkeit.

Und als die Hähne krähten,
Da ward mein Herze wach;
Nun sitz’ ich hier alleine,
Und denke dem Traume nach.

Die Augen schließ’ ich wieder,
Noch schlägt das Herz so warm.
Wann grünt ihr Blätter am Fenster?
Wann halt’ ich mein Liebchen im Arm?

Dream of Spring

I dreamed of colorful flowers
That blossom in May,
I dreamed of green meadows,
Of joyful bird calls.

And when the cocks crowed,
My eyes woke up;
It was cold and dark,
The ravens shrieked from the roof.

But there on the windowpane
Who painted those leaves?
You’re surely laughing at the dreamer
Who saw flowers in winter?

I dreamed of love reciprocated,
Of a beautiful maiden,
Of cuddles and kisses,
Of joy and bliss.

And when the cocks crowed
My heart woke up;
Now I sit here alone
And think about my dream.

I close my eyes again,
My heart still beats so warmly.
When will you turn green, leaves on the window?
When shall I hold my beloved in my arms?

Einsamkeit

Wie eine trübe Wolke
Durch heitre Lüfte geht,
Wenn in der Tanne Wipfel
Ein mattes Lüftchen weht:

So zieh’ ich meine Straße
Dahin mit trägem Fuß,
Durch helles, frohes Leben,
Einsam und ohne Gruß.

Ach, daß die Luft so ruhig!
Ach, daß die Welt so licht!
Als noch die Stürme tobten,
War ich so elend nicht.

Solitude

As a dreary cloud
Moves through the clear sky,
When in the crown of the fir tree
A faint breeze blows,

So I travel my road
Onward with sluggish feet,
Through bright, happy life,
Lonely and unrecognized.

Oh, that the air should be so still !
Oh, that the world should be so light !
When the storms still raged,
I was not so miserable.

Lotte Lehmann

Charlotte “Lotte” Lehmann (February 27, 1888 – August 26, 1976) was a German soprano who was especially associated with German repertory. She gave memorable performances in the operas of Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Ludwig van Beethoven, Puccini, Mozart, and Massenet. The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Sieglinde in Die Walküre and the title role in Fidelio are considered her greatest roles. During her long career, Lehmann also made more than five hundred recordings. Her performances in the world of Lieder are considered among the best ever recorded.

Lehmann was born in Perleberg, Province of Brandenburg. In 1926 she married Otto Krause, who died in 1939.  After studying in Berlin , she made her debut at the Hamburg Opera in 1910 as a page in Wagner’s Lohengrin. In 1914, she gave her debut as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Vienna Court Opera – the later Vienna State Opera –, which she joined in 1916.   In her 21 years with the company, Lehmann sang more than fifty different roles at the Vienna State Opera, many of them premier roles. She made her debut in London in 1914, and from 1924 to 1935 she performed regularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She appeared regularly at the Salzburg Festival from 1926 to 1937, performing with Arturo Toscanini, among other conductors. She also gave recitals there accompanied at the piano by the conductor Bruno Walter.

In 1930, Lehmann made her American debut in Chicago as Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. She returned to the United States every season and also performed several times in South America. Before Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Lehmann emigrated to the United States (because of her interactions with Göring , and because her stepchildren had a Jewish mother). The controversy over her tale of with Goering has been thoroughly analyzed by Dr. Kater in his Lehmann biography, Never Sang for Hitler: The Life and Times of Lotte Lehmann. Lehmann’s version was self-serving though colorful. Please see the article in the link for more information,   Lotte Lehmann and Nazi Germany . She continued to sing at the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera until 1945.

It gives me great pause to read about Lehmann’s intrigues during the Third Reich as I had never known about them before.  I suppose that the only thing that I can say to this is that were others that did as she did during the war, and that eventually, she was thrown out of Germany, for a variety of reasons.  So, I will file this information in the back of my mind and listen to her as an artist.

Lehmann was a renowned singer of lieder, giving frequent recitals throughout her career. She recorded and toured with pianist Ernő Balogh in the 1930s. Beginning with her first recital tour to Australia in 1937, she worked closely with the accompanist Paul Ulanowsky. He remained her primary accompanist for concerts and master classes.

After her retirement from the recital stage in 1951, Lehmann taught master classes at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, which she helped found in 1947. She also gave master classes in New York City’s Town Hall (for the Manhattan School of Music), Chicago, London, Vienna, and other cities.

Lehmann died in 1976 at the age of 88 in Santa Barbara, California. She is interred in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna.

Personal life

In 1926 Lehmann married Otto Krause, a former officer in the Austrian army and later an insurance executive. They had no children. Krause, who died of tuberculosis in 1939, had four children from a previous marriage. Lehmann never remarried. After Krause’s death until her own death in 1976 Lehmann shared a home with Frances Holden (1899–1996), a psychologist who specialized in the study of genius, particularly that of classical musicians.