Death in Winterreise
Musico-Poetic Associations in Schubert's Song Cycle
Publication Year: 2013
Lauri Suurpää brings together two rigorous methodologies, Greimassian semiotics and Schenkerian analysis, to provide a unique perspective on the expressive power of Franz Schubert's song cycle. Focusing on the final songs, Suurpää deftly combines textual and tonal analysis to reveal death as a symbolic presence if not actual character in the musical narrative. Suurpää demonstrates the incongruities between semantic content and musical representation as it surfaces throughout the final songs. This close reading of the winter songs, coupled with creative applications of theory and a thorough history of the poetic and musical genesis of this work, brings new insights to the study of text-music relationships and the song cycle.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Franz Schubert’s Winterreise provides a wealth of material for examining interactions between words and music. Indeed, the song cycle’s deep, many-sided, and often unpredictable quality has produced a wide-ranging body of literature on its text-music relations. Yet the existing literature has far from exhausted...
This study has been greatly influenced by many people, including colleagues who have commented on various drafts and analyses, as well as scholars whose ideas have influenced my way of thinking. It is not possible to mention all of the individuals who have, either directly or indirectly, molded my musical views generally or my approach to Winterreise in particular. Yet there are several people...
Note on the Translations of the Poems
Part 1. Background
1. Genesis and Narrative of Winterreise
The genesis of both the poems and the music of Winterreise is complex and took place in several stages.1 The poet Wilhelm Müller published the verses used in the cycle in three separate collections (table 1.1). The first twelve poems initially appeared in Urania: Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823. Susan Youens (1991, 22)...
2. Winterreise in Context
The moment when the Lied was born has sometimes been pinpointed precisely: October 19, 1814, the day Schubert composed “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” his first great Goethe setting.1 The early history of the genre is, of course, more complex than this. Lieder had been composed before 1814, and the genre had been discussed in literature. Yet the claim is not without foundation. Schubert’s...
3. Text-Music Relationships: Five Propositions
I examined the mainly historical context of Schubert’s Winterreise in the first two chapters. I now turn to the analytical issues and identify in this chapter some essential questions concerning text-music relationships. If one argues that words and music are related in songs, as one obviously should, then one must also define the nature of this relationship. This in turn raises two questions: Can music...
4. Musico-Poetic Associations: Principles of Analysis
This chapter charts methodological issues of musico-poetic analysis, and I will begin by briefly explaining some basic ideas of Greimassian semiotics that I will use later in examining the poetic structure. A. J. Greimas (1917–92) was the leading figure of the so-called Paris School of semiotics. His work is characterized by an attempt to describe textual structure on a purely functional level....
Part 2. Songs
5. The Emergence of Death as a Positive Option: “Der greise Kopf”
“Der greise Kopf” is the second song of part 2 in Winterreise. It is slow, contemplative, and in a minor key, thus contrasting sharply with part 2’s opening song, “Die Post,” which is fast and in major. “Der greise Kopf” is in a ternary form, framed by an introduction (mm. 1–4) and a brief coda (mm. 43–44). The A1 section (mm. 5–16) closes on a tonicized major-mode dominant, while the ...
6. Death Contemplated: “Die Krähe”
“Die Krähe” is in C minor, the key of the immediately preceding song, “Der greise Kopf,” which creates a direct association between the two. Indeed, I will argue that the songs form a pair, connected by common motivic material, voice-leading procedures, and textual associations, in addition to the shared key....
7. From Hope for the Past to Hope for the Future: “Letzte Hoffnung”
“Letzte Hoffnung” is one of the most complex and perplexing songs in all of Winterreise. Its emotional range is enormous: it includes unsettled and restless features, stemming from harmony, key areas, and meter, for instance, as well as calm serenity.1 Example 7.1 is an overview of this through-composed work:...
8. Reflecting Lost Hope: “Im Dorfe,” “Der stürmische Morgen,” and “Täuschung”
In the next three songs, “Im Dorfe,” “Der stürmische Morgen,” and “Täuschung,” the protagonist reflects on the situation he faced at the end of “Letzte Hoffnung.” As he considers abandoning the hope for happiness and embracing the possibility of death, the wanderer goes through a range of emotions, from nostalgia to...
9. Choosing Death: “Der Wegweiser”
“Der Wegweiser” is one of the most important songs in the dramatic trajectory of Winterreise. Its deep intensity culminates in highly chromatic music toward the end of the song, a more extreme departure from a firm tonal framework than anything else in the cycle. “Der Wegweiser” is in ternary form, preceded by an introduction and followed by the chromatic coda (example 9.1). Most...
10. Death Eludes the Wanderer: “Das Wirtshaus”
With “Das Wirtshaus,” the gloominess of “Der Wegweiser” (especially its concluding coda) gives way to solemn and religious-sounding music. This slow, through-composed song divides into three sections, preceded by an introduction (mm. 1–5) and followed by a coda (mm. 29–31) (example 10.1). The tonally closed first section (mm. 6–15) draws on the chorale-like texture established in the...
11. Reflecting on the Inability to Find Death: “Mut,” “Die Nebensonnen,” and “Der Leiermann”
The last three songs of Winterreise show the protagonist reflecting on the situation in “Das Wirtshaus,” where death, consciously chosen in “Der Wegweiser,” eluded him. This final analytical chapter traces the various forms taken by the protagonist’s frustration in these closing songs....
Part 3. Cycle
12. The Song Cycle as a Genre: Some Recent Views
This chapter examines recent views of the song cycle, describing various perspectives on the issue of unity (or the lack thereof) suggested in the literature. My aim is to provide a general context for my interpretation of Winterreise as a cycle.
In section 2.1 I examined early nineteenth-century views of the emerging genre of the song cycle and demonstrated that the writers of the time almost...
13. Winterreise as a Cycle
I will now relate the second part of Winterreise to the four perspectives on the large-scale organization of song cycles outlined in the last chapter: textual unity (13.1), large-scale harmonic organization (13.2), musical cross-references (13.3), and whether song cycles should be understood as unified wholes at all (13.4). I...
14. Epilogue: The Meaning of Death in Winterreise
Now that we have analyzed in detail songs 14–24 as well as the cyclic aspects of part 2 of Winterreise, we can return to the questions left unanswered in chapter 2 at the beginning of our journey: How should we understand the notion of death in Winterreise, and how can we justify this specific view historically? As discussed in section 2.2, death (and suicide in particular) was a common theme in...
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