Winterreise – Das Wirtshaus

It’s cold again, and it’s just  started snowing, so here’s some wintry music. I know that the recording of Winterreise by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears is by no means everyone’s favourite version, but I like it a lot. There’s the added bonus in this video of a glimpse of the art of Caspar David Friedrich.

P.S. Das Wirtshaus means “The Inn”, but in the poem by Müller that forms the lyric for this song, the inn is actually a graveyard…

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22 Responses to “Winterreise – Das Wirtshaus”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Wonderful. O what would Schubert have written given another 20 years?

    I believe that Britten-Pears were responsible for a Schubert revival in *Germany*, which speaks for itself.

    • telescoper Says:

      Some people I know really *hate* this version of Winterreise. I can’t understand why. I think it’s a very original and personal take on what is undoubtedly a masterpiece.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      It’s fine by me. What do they say they dislike about it?

      • telescoper Says:

        Usually the (alleged) fault is either with Pears’ diction or that Britten takes too many liberties with the piano parts.

  2. John Peacock Says:

    I find Peter Pears difficult at times because he can be too wobbly and uncontrolled: insufficient centre and clear pitch to the tone. But this is actually some of the best singing I’ve heard from him, and I wouldn’t say the above criticisms apply at all.

    That said, when it comes to Schubert Lieder, there’s Peter Schreier and the rest: for me, no-one else comes close to matching the tonal and emotional range Schreier brings to this repertoire (and with diction that would let you write down every word).

    By the way, I see the BBC did vote the Previn Rachmaninov 2 the best version, despite my fears that they would go for something fashionably modern.

    • telescoper Says:

      Agreed. I think Britten understood the limitations of Pears’ voice which is why most of Pears’ best output is music specifically written for him (e.g. his Peter Grimes). Perhaps the existence of poorer performances has prejudiced people against his voice? I think anyone who came to this free of baggage would think it was great.Also, Britten does some slightly strange (but I think very interesting) things with the accompaniment on some of the songs in this cycle, but not this one which is quite straightforward.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        We’d all love to know who was the quite prominent professor who made that comment. Do tell. Go on, do.

      • telescoper Says:

        I’m not going to name the individual in public, but I will make it clear that it’s nobody working at any institute that I’ve worked at myself.

      • There is a prominent professor (Nomen est omen? Thereby hangs a tail.) who is also a musician who sometimes comments here. Not from the true north, but even farther north. Just sayin’.

      • telescoper Says:

        If you’re insinuating what I think you’re insinuating then you’re very wide of the mark.

        In order to discourage further speculation I’ve removed the original comment. Now people will have to speculate about what was being speculated about.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip: Thereby hangs a tail? Unless you are thinking of the late lamented Columbo, I think you mean ‘tale’…

      • I suspected this insinuation was wrong (the remark would be rather out of character, at least in my remote judgement); you’ve now confirmed it. So, back to square 1.

        @Anton: the spelling was intentional. Think about it.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Being catty, you mean?

        Coincidentally enough I’m looking for a name for my cat, the one I’ve mentioned earlier on Columbo threads who is now officially mine following a minor veterinary emergency, for which I was happy to pay but which necessitated a chat (pun also intended) with the official owners. It wouldn’t have looked good if the vet had said it was serious and best to put him down, and I turned up on their doorstep and said Hi, I’ve just had your cat put down (thankfully he’s fine). He’s mainly black on top, white below, a powerful and athletic neutered tom, friendly. They called him Sooty but it’s obviously not his real name…

      • telescoper Says:

        My next door neighbour in Nottingham called every cat he ever came across “Monty”, including Columbo.

  3. That’s a bloody big owl, if it’s a full-size coffin.

    Apparently it was a critic called Lebrecht (whom I hadn’t heard of) who listed this as one of the worst recordings ever, of anything. No doubt there are people around who get their musical views from reading such things.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I like Norman Lebrecht’s writing, but believe he is wrong on this one.

      I expect that a German would notice some minor discrepancies in Pears’ diction, but the feel that he and Britten have for this wonderful song cycle is obvious.

  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    I do like that Pears-Britten performance, and Winterresise is a great piece of music, though a very depressing one. Pears’s high tenor voice with little vibrato has a pure tone, very impressive as a lieder singer in this particular clip.

    The sequence of images adds to the gloom. As does the snow outside my window.

    One thing fortunately broke the melancholy for me: Google showed just about the most inappropriate advert over the YouTube image: “Dating Chinese Lady: 10000 Beautiful Chinese Lady Here”!

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I don’t find Winterreise depressing. And it’s not clear to me that Schubert meant people to, despite the subject matter.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Perhaps I’ve been interpreting it too literally, but it has always seemed depressing to me.

      I chose to listen to the final few minutes of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony after listening to the Winterreise clip, to raise my spirits, or to blast away the gloom.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I’d call it austere rather than depressing.

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    Christina Rossetti also wrote a poem (‘Uphill’) about an inn which represented the afterlife. Was this a Romantic motif?

    • telescoper Says:

      This poem by Emily Dickinson uses a similar metaphor:

      What Inn is this
      Where for the night
      Peculiar Traveller comes?
      Who is the Landlord?
      Where the maids?
      Behold, what curious rooms!
      No ruddy fires on the hearth-
      No brimming Tankards flow-
      Necromancer! Landlord!
      Who are these below?

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