Walchensee am Winter - L. Corinth
Walchensee am Winter - L. Corinth

A couple of weeks ago a reader commented about a lied that it was one of his favorite pieces of music and every time he listened to a new version, he discovered new nuances. A few days ago, I watched the documentary Conducting Mahler (highly recommended to Mahlerians) where Claudio Abbado said referring to a symphony: "if you love this piece, you’ll find and learn new things every time you listen to it." Abbado used the key word: love. We fall in love with a piece of work and, in sort of return to our love, it teaches us something new each time we listen to it. Of course, that won't happen all the time; sometimes, we like some pieces very much and we take great pleasure in listening to them (which is no mean feat!) but still, they contribute nothing new. Could this be a definition of a masterpiece? A work that, whenever is approached, feels like new, allows as many readings as readers and is as valid as when it was created. Is that so?

I can see the skepticism on some readers' faces: can we get so much from a piece of music? You might like to think of a book, a film or a painting that you especially like to reread or occasionally watch again. Would you say that you discover details you didn't appreciate the first time? Do you understand some sentences in a different way? There is, however, an important difference between literature and music: when we read a text, we're alone, without intermediaries; between the score and us there are musicians who present their own interpretation. In the documentary Conducting Mahler, Riccardo Muti said that all conductors assert they are faithful to the score and that's true, but, in fact, this doesn't mean anything because "behind the notes is the infinite."

This year has been a Winterreise year for me; in my last post about this cycle, I told you that  I had been listening to some recordings and since then, I've attended three Winterreise live: Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch in March, Matthias Goerne and Alexander Schmalcz in August and Simon Keenkyside and Emmanuel Ax in October. Between recordings and recitals, there are as many paths as performers. Winterreise is a journey through pain but, as I often say, it's not a straight way but an erratic wandering towards we don't know exactly where, every performance opens to new possibilities. I like to be removed from the comfort of a known version, to be shaken up by  an unexpected twist, there are so many ways to get there... The wanderer is suffering (I don't think I'm open-minded enough to accept a non-suffering wanderer and I can't even imagine how that might be possible)  but ... does he feel resentful? Is he angry with himself? Or with the woman who left him? With the world? Does he refuse to get in touch with people? Or is he trying to get in touch? Is he desperate? Does he have the strength to fight? If,  how long for? Is he open about his feelings? Or does he hold them back? What will he find at the end of his journey? Death? A fellow traveler as lost as he is? Madness?

All these issues arise from the singer and the pianist during their performance; we can find new nuances at every song. Let me show you a first example, Der Lindenbaum, one Lied we listened in a previous post. What exactly does the linden tree offer to the wanderer? A shelter? Or death? Why does he flee? Is it because he wants to run away from his memories or because he's scared? And when he says that he’s still thinking about the linden tree, does he mean that he still longs for that happy time? Or does he regret not having stayed? Or not having killed himself? That's only the fifth song and there are already so many questions to answer.

The second example is today’s song, Gute Nacht, the first song of the cycle in which the wanderer leaves home. Accordingly, the performers, here Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, give us the first clues about their interpretation. One of the keys of the song could be the sentence "Die Liebe liebt das Wandern, Gott hat sie so gemacht" (Love loves to wander, God has made it so) Can you hear resignation? Bitterness? Irony? Desperation? Calmness? Now, couple it with the last stanza, the farewell. Is there tenderness? Sadness? Disappointment? Is there any change in the repetition of the last verses? With these details, we begin to understand how the journey might be.

Gute Nacht

Fremd bin ich eingezogen,
Fremd zieh’ ich 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.

Ich kann zu meiner Reisen
Nicht wählen mit der Zeit:
Muß selbst den Weg mir weisen
In dieser Dunkelheit.
Es zieht ein Mondenschatten
Als mein Gefährte mit,
Und auf den weißen Matten
Such’ ich des Wildes Tritt.

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.

(If you need an English translation please visit this link)

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