Tag Archives: Music energizes and jostles the mind.

“Winterreise” on a December afternoon



I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall this afternoon of Schubert’s Winterreise (D. 911) performed by Joyce Didonato (mezzo soprano) and Yannick Nézet-Séguin (piano).

Nézet-Séguin, who is Canadian, is not only a pianist. He is the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal.

Regarding Ms. Didonato’s performance, which was outstanding, The New York Times noted in an article published last week that Winterreise is ” a work not usually sung by a female voice, but one that profits from it.”



The song cycle was, as I have already noted, performed brilliantly. It goes without saying that the piano is equal to the voice in this musical setting. Winterreise (Winter’s Journey, 1828) is a setting by Schubert of 24 poems by the poet Wilhelm Müller.

“A power duo of Joyce DiDonato (one the world’s greatest singers) and Yannick Nézet-Séguin (a thrilling conductor-pianist) perform one of music’s greatest song cycles: Schubert’s harrowing and compellingly tragic Winterreise. The two dozen songs in this cycle chart a journey through an icy winter landscape, telling tales of alienation and loneliness. Schubert’s gift for what Liszt described as ‘dramatizing lyrical inspirations to the highest degree’ comes to life in this riveting performance.” (Carnegie Hall website)

Indeed, emotion — particularized human emotion — comes through so strongly in Schubert’s lieder. It is the music of a composer and also a poet in his medium (music).

Schubert, I realized and felt, knew and understood humanity. Human longings and sorrows.



Music energizes and jostles the mind.

About two thirds into the concert, something in the music or lyrics of Winterreise took me elsewhere in time. Perhaps it was the thoughts in the lyrics of the inevitability of death:

Weiser stehen auf den Strassen,
weisen auf die Städte zu,
und ich wand’re sonder Maßen
ohne Ruh’ und suche Ruh’.
Einen Weiser seh’ ich stehen
unverrückt vor meinem Blick;
eine Straße muß ich gehen,
die noch keiner ging zurück.

Signposts stand on the roads,
point towards towns.
Yet I wander on and on,
unresting, in search of rest.
One signpost I see stand there,
steadfast before my gaze.
One road I must travel
by which no-one ever came back.

— “Der Wegweiser” (The Signpost)

I was transported in my mind (my thoughts wandering) back to my home and family sixty-five years ago. My father and mother. My siblings. A bittersweet sadness came over me. Comprised of happy, glad memories. The joy my parents took in their children. The appreciation they had and showed for them. Realizing that my parents are no longer living, were deceased long ago.  I remember them so keenly. They were so alive then and aren’t now. Realizing that I will cease to exist and become only a memory.



Schubert makes the particular, the lived and keenly experienced moment, take on Blakean eternity:

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!

I only notice now how tired I am,
as I lie down to rest.
Walking kept my spirits up
along an inhospitable road.
My feet did not ask for rest–
it was too cold to stand still;
my back felt no burden,
the storm helped to blow me along.
In a charcoal-burner’s tiny hut
I have found shelter.
But my limbs will not take their ease,
their wounds are burning so.
You too, my heart, in struggle and storm
so wild and so untamed,
now in the stillness feel the serpent within
rear up with its searing sting.

— “Rast” (Rest)

To “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour” (William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”).


— Roger W. Smith

  December 15, 2019