Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


1 Comment

Haiku Wednesday: Schubert, Snow, and Gray Hair

Stick figure with gray snowflakes falling on his head

Snow fell on my hair
Making it a shiny white.
I thought I’d turned gray.

And I was happy
To be close to journey’s end;
But it did not last,

For soon the snow thawed.
My black hair made me despair.
How far must I go?

From night until dawn
Many a head will turn gray,
But, sadly, not mine.

The above haiku is a paraphrase of Wilhelm Müller’s poem Der Greise Kopf, set to music by Franz Schubert.  It is part of Schubert’s epic song cycle Winterreise.  The song immediately precedes The Crow, previously described here.  The wanderer, having left his lover and the comforts of home, wanders through an inhospitable winter landscape. Here he seems to find the coating of snow making his hair gray ironic; he wishes he were old, and that his journey, that is, his wandering and his life, were closer to an end.  For him, bitterly, it is not to be.

Here is Der Greise Kopf performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Murray Perahia.

_____

Image attribution: Stick figure in snow by C. Gallant, 2017.


1 Comment

Haiku Wednesday: Schubert’s “The Crow” from Winterreise

Crow

Driven out of town,
A lone crow travels with me
On my long journey.

It flies o’er my head,
Follows me from tree to tree,
Faithful companion.

Crow, wondrous creature,
Will you never forsake me,
Always by my side?

Or, Crow, is it that
I am to be your next meal
Soon as I am dead?

It won’t be long now;
Wand’ring with my walking stick
Will soon reach its end.

So, Crow, let me see
One who’s faithful to the grave;
That I’ve never seen.

The above haiku is a recasting of Wilhelm Müller’s poem Die Krähe [The Crow] that Franz Schubert set to music in his 1827 song cycle Winterreise.

Winterreise is a masterpiece among song cycles, one in which pianist and singer play equal roles, painting pictures with words and notes, creating a universe filled with fiery emotions and frosty, unforgiving landscapes.

Winterreise’s 24 songs chronicle the despair and descent of a man who has left his love, and who travels out into the bleak winter landscape, never to return.  In this song, the crow, which at first seems friendly, is transformed into a malevolent shadow, constantly following, ready to prey upon the wanderer.

Singer Elena Gerhardt said, “You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it.”1  It is certainly one of those pieces of music that, once heard, is not easily forgotten.  Here is an account of the first time Winterreise was played and sung, by Schubert himself, before a stunned audience:

“Come to Schober’s today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs.” He then, with a voice full of feeling, sang the entire Winterreise for us. We were altogether dumbfounded by the sombre mood of these songs, and Schober said that one song only, “Der Lindenbaum”, had pleased him. Thereupon Schubert leaped up and replied: “These songs please me more than all the rest, and in time they will please you as well.”2

There are many wonderful performances of Winterreise.  One singer whose name is perennially associated with this song cycle is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who performs Die Krähe in this video with pianist Murray Perahia.

Favorites of mine include the recording of Winterreise by Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis and Ian Bostridge’s intense video performance of Winterreise with Julius Drake.  Your favorite streaming service will have dozens of recordings to choose from, from the deep baritone Thomas Quasthoff to the mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig, and the unforgettable idiosyncratic performance of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten.  I have enjoyed all of them; I hope in time they will please you as well.

References

  1. Schubert Winterreise, Sleeve notes HMV ALPS 1298/9 (Gramophone Co. Ltd 1955).
  2. Haywood, Ernest. “Terrifying Songs,” Radio Times, 20 January 1939.
  3. Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of An Obsession. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
  4. Youens, Susan, Retracing a Winter’s Journey: Schubert’s Winterreise.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

_____

Image attribution:  Crow, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvus#/media/File:Corvus-brachyrhynchos-001.jpg.


2 Comments

Musical Time Travel: Where Would You Go?

Recursive clocks in a snail-shell pattern. Photo Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11

Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11

If you could travel in time and visit any musical moment, where would you go?

Would you go to the contentious premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring?

Or sit quietly in a salon while Chopin played nocturnes?

Would you sip wine in a Paris café with Les Six?

Or listen to the fiery playing of Paganini?

Perhaps you’d prefer the soulful notes of Marin Marais.

Or maybe you would sit quietly in a chapel while Bach played improvisations now lost to time.

Where (when) would you go?  I invite all of you to tell us your choice in the comments section.

While there are any number of places I can think of, unmissable moments in music, there is only one I could not resist.

Vienna.  The night Schubert played and sang Winterreise to a stunned group of friends.

“Come to Schober’s today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs.” He then, with a voice full of feeling, sang the entire Winterreise for us. We were altogether dumbfounded by the sombre mood of these songs, and Schober said that one song only, “Der Lindenbaum”, had pleased him. Thereupon Schubert leaped up and replied: “These songs please me more than all the rest, and in time they will please you as well.”1

Indeed, they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs.  I have listened to many performances.  While I have my personal favorite, I have always wondered who comes closest to Schubert’s intent.  To whom would Schubert say, “Genauso” [just like that].

Until we work out that time travel issue, we will never know.  In the meantime, I will present the last in that cycle of terrifying songs.  Here is Ian Bostridge’s unblinking performance of Der Leiermann.  Julius Drake is the pianist.

So where would you go?

References

  1. Haywood, Ernest. “Terrifying Songs,” Radio Times 20 January 1939.
  2. Franz Schubert Winterreise. Directed by David Alden. Performed by Ian Bostridge, tenor, and Julius Drake, pianist.  Kultur, NVC Arts, 1997. DVD.
  3. Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of An Obsession. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
  4. Youens, Susan, Retracing a Winter’s Journey: Schubert’s Winterreise.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

_____

Image attribution: Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5. Photo by CityGypsy11 (Flickr.com/Creative Commons [CC BY-NC 2.0]) https://www.flickr.com/photos/25477528@N00/5181143856/in/photolist-8TQHyu-hzjSsg-rnkinA-phbtD3-omuB6T-5nu51g-nAyCSs-D3F8Aw-ehGYAB-5MaEoD-7CLMwW-twrMR-9i2NH2-5sLQsK-Em3Ezy-4b2uGW-o3RkA5-qpfnRs-a6Woxh-fdnVtx-qvBRUA-d3ckfN-8NXsDq-a4ZqqF-g8aN2n-bpJg2C-6muSk3-6FyvTe-aFaciq-4BWGJX-fMfuAx-8vFqzY-8Mnujs-2kDgvu-fUX9xG-9CPXwY-qC4G4o-dtoDRV-9CM3bg-7k8Cct-7kcvW7-7k8Cqp-9K9Nae-dQQ2dN-dbLfZe-dofPjp-98XpL3-eZeLcs-pEQzsw-8vzJUx


2 Comments

Why Catapulting into Classical?

I realized I forgot to tell you how the website got its name.  Let’s fix that.

I was talking with someone about music, and they said, “You know, it seemed like you were only casually interested, and bam! suddenly Schubert.  It’s like you catapulted into classical music.”

I liked the image, it fit me.  It’s not uncharacteristic for me to become interested in something and become rather absorbed in it.  My approach is enthusiastic, but not always systematic.  There can be a slightly-out-of-control element to it, just like a catapult.  And while I have an idea of where I want to go, I’m never quite sure which path I’ll take, or where I’ll end up.  Ah, but getting there is wonderful!  Which leads me to my Throwback Thursday Quote of the Week, up next.

Oh, and the music over the careening stick figure is the first vocal line from Schubert’s Winterreise.