The Wanderer and the Linden Tree from Schubert’s Winterreise

The Wanderer character is associated with  images and themes of German Romantic poets. They sought to go beyond what is known. The new German culture at the eighteenth-century sought to eliminate boundaries. Poets sought to explore the infinite and escape mundane existence.

The journey of the Wanderer, as in Die Schöne Müllerin, is ideally suited to the form of the song cycle because the Wanderer seeks true love. The Romantic ideal of true love is found only in death, or peaceful repose. Schubert’s musical setting of Müller’s poetry takes us on a journey of musical themes, keys, and relationships. A song cycle is just as perfectly suited to telling the story of a character as an opera is suited. Many ideas and emotions, even ambiguous, are explored. The listener, as well, goes on an emotional journey and sympathizes, even empathizes with the Wanderer. Nature, even, is a character in this song cycle. (DSM) The brook, represented by the piano, talks to the Wanderer. The performance is ideally suited for the stage.

Der Lindenbaum, no. 5 from Winterreise by Schubert is in itself a masterpiece. It too represents nature as a character in a story, which goes through a range of emotions within the major and minor tonalities. The tree is home for the weary traveler. It represents good memories. The tree is his resting place. The pianistic triplets are the rustling of the leaves. The voice is stentorian and folk-like. The traveler pledges gratitude to the tree as to an old friend. The tonality is major when he thinks of good memories, and vice versa. There is also an actual rhythmic tree-motive, and it appears through out: the dotted eighth followed by two thirty-seconds and a dotted eighth is the sequence. The poem is strophic and the music follows the structure of the poem. The melody ascends on words associated with joy, which represents heightened emotion. When the traveler passes the tree at night, he closes his eyes in darkness. Here, Schubert is in minor and the triplets are perhaps a grotesque dance. The poetic meter is in itself musical: important words are melismatic and have longer note duration. If the mood of the poem changes, so does the music. The horn call-motive represents the wandering minstrel or musician; as made popular in German culture with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. On the words “hier findst du deine Ruh,” (here you find your peace) the melodic line descends into the Romantic ideal of death.


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