Franz Schubert - Part 2. His musical language in some selected Lieder.

Aktualisiert: 6. Mai

o.Univ.-Prof. Manfred Wagner-Artzt

Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien


I have chosen six Lieder, five from „Die Winterreise“ and one from „Schwanengesang“ of which we have already heard „Ich unglücksel’ger Atlas“, and I’ll try to show some aspects which seem to me very important for understanding Schubert's language. First of all, in the first piece of the Winterreise, which is named „Goodnight“ – „as a stranger I arrived here, as a stranger, I am leaving again“ – we have already this idea of rambler. For Schubert, the whole life was a wandering from birth to death. And we don't have any choice, we have to go, if we want or not, we have to go. And so we have this permanent repeating accompaniments as for instance in this first Lied

And than in the third part of this Lied, we have already one of this main characteristics in Schubert’s music, that’s the changement from minor to major or major to minor without any preparation but a sudden changement of the mood. At this place the text says: „Will not disturb your dreams that would spoil your rest“. We have to imagine: He's terribly sad because his great love has left him. He stands before her house, and he's still so full of love that he says „I will not disturb your dreams“. But for me, the most exciting moment is at the end when Schubert repeats the last phrase twice. The first time „I have been thinking of you“ still in love, and than full of sadness.

- The second example comes already from the second Lied in the Winterreise which is called „The Weather vane“. Here we also can find something which is very characteristic in the music of Schubert, we will find this in each sonata of Schubert: a long unison phrase. And it’s not only the piano introduction unison

But even when the singing voice comes it’s still unison with the piano. But the most thrilling moment, at my opinion, is the second part when he feels full of pain. The situation is that the parents of his former sweetheart seem to ask him, how does he feel with his pains? And he says: „Why do you care of my sorrows? „Your child is a rich bride!“ And this „your child is a rich bride“ is expressed by an A major scale. So we have this ambivalence: He's furious, but on the other hand, the parents are happy. And this sounds like this.

Immediately afterwards again unison with a gruesome trill at the end. We now it from the B major sonata the last sonata. Very similar atmosphere.

- The third example I want to give you is number 14 of the Winterreise . The name is „The hoary head“, „Der greise Kopf“. The plot is „there was a white coat of frost, spread over my hair“, so he has this impression that he is already old. Why does he feel happy that he's old? Because he's closer to death and death will be the liberation of all the pains he suffers in this world. So we have a kind of recitativ

„There was a white coat of frost, spread over my hair, it made me think I was already old.“ But than „ But soon it thawed away and my hair is black again.“

„Now my youthfulness appeals me: how far still to the funeral bier!“ He is terrified, he is shocked that he is young again, and this shock is expressed in E flat major!

Now again unison „How far still to the funeral bier“ – Wie weit noch bis zur Bahre?

This word „Bahre“ = bier, what an eccentric rhythm, what a kind of expression!

- Number 20, „The Signpost“or „Der Wegweiser“ in German. We have already a very interesting introduction because it's not a four bar introduction, it's a five bar introduction, and we will find this irregularity in his piano music as well.

He could have done it in 4 bars but what a tension is in this fifth bar! Very impressive for me. And then again, we have this changement from minor to major. It's a somehow whining moment. The text is „I have done no wrong that I should shun mankind“

Weeping in music! And than „what senseless craving drives me into the wilderness?And again this unison, describing this wilderness, this loneliness