October 21, 2017

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern – fein Liebchen, gute Nacht…

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern – fein Liebchen, gute Nacht…
– Wilhelm Müller

So begins Schubert’s epic Winterreise. I recently set out to discover the voice of Schubert’s Winterreise and encountered great difficulty. Having learned cycles such as Die Schöne Müllerin and Dichterliebe that presented sequential narratives and clear transitions, I was challenged by Winterreise’s lack of such a narrative. However, in contemplating the rhythmic motion of Winterreise’s first song, Gute Nacht, I discovered another underlying motion that unifies the psychological and poetic journey of Winterreise as powerfully as a sequential narrative; this is the motion of Wandern.

Practiced by Goethe, Heine, Müller, Schubert and many other Romantic contemporaries, Wandern is an activity for which English has no precise word, but in its most historical sense, is the activity of walking through a landscape such as lower Saxony, traversing the wooded hills of the Harz that Goethe and Heine once walked while engaged in thought and perception. It is in this activity that one first finds the protagonist of Winterreise in Gute Nacht, and it is this motion that begins the opening pianistic gestures of Schubert’s Winterreise masterpiece.

How earily similar it is now when I make my Wanderung through the streets of New York City immersed in thoughts and perceptions as thousands of unnamed souls pass by also consumed with their own singular rhythmic motion. Do they also notice the Leiermann with his empty plate in the vacant alley?

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