Last night I dreamed of a song cycle, Schubert’s Winterreisse, with its haunting story of a lover who leaves the home of his beloved — she loves someone else — to wander a winter landscape, and when I woke, I had an immediate desire to hear this beautiful cycle. Luckily I have a recording of it, sung by the English tenor Ian Bostridge, accompanied (though in truth the piano supports and provides so much to the cycle that it’s hardly an accompanying instrument) by Leif Ove Andsnes; I’m listening to the two make winter magic in my quiet house. (It’s cold out and I have to take my garden apart for some repairs to the drain field and all I want to do is stay by the fire and think of spring.)
The cycle takes as its text a series of poems by Wilhelm Müller. This is the opening…
My heart is as good as frozen;
within it her image gazes coldly.
If ever my heart thaws again,
her image too will met away.
And then we are treated to 24 songs so beautiful and textured — the piano summons weather, ravens, dogs, horns, the hurdy-gurdy, the creaking of ice and the chilly sound of water beneath it; and what Bostridge does to bring the texts to a full emotional rendering is astonishing — that the listener is advised to keep both tissues and a warm drink at hand.
Sometimes dreams are nonsense, sometimes they are prophetic. How did my unconscious know that I needed this music today, the journey of the lover across a frozen landscape?
I reckon this a morning
to match my frame of mind!
My heart sees in the sky
its own painted portrait…