Ian Bostridge: Musical Wanderer
For decades, Ian Bostridge has been enraptured by Franz Schubert’s Winterreise. The British tenor has found the song cycle to be as effervescent and relevant now as it was when it was first composed two centuries ago.
(snow storm blizzard sound)
- [Off screen voice] '' With a heart
filled with endless love for those who scorned me,
I wandered far away.
For many and many a year, I sang songs.
Whenever I tried to sing of love, it turned to pain.
And again, when I tried to sing of pain,
it turned to love.''
♪ (no English word spoken)
Today, 193 years after it was composed,
Franz Schubert's '' Winterreise'' or '' A Winter Journey,''
remains one of the most performed song cycles.
This collection of poem set to music unfolds in 24 parts
and tells the story of a mysterious man
wandering through the woods, mourning his lost love,
searching for connection, enlightenment and healing.
And though the 75 minute piece
is known for being melancholy,
the wanderer does not only wallow,
he also has a sense of humor.
- And he is never really gloomy
because the scene as the voice in the poems
becomes aware that he's being gloomy,
he starts to.
- Shake out of it.
- Shake out of it, and well, starts to question himself
and starts to think, well, why am I being like this?
He is examining himself
and there's something incredibly modern about it
in that way, it's a mixture of the sort of gallows humor
and quirkiness and sort of deep existential anxiety.
- The celebrated British Tenor and scholar, Ian Bostridge,
has been singing and contemplating '' Winterreise,''
since he was 20 years old.
In 1994, when he was 30, he started in a film version of it.
26 years later, the piece remains as captivating
and as mysterious to him as ever.
♪(no English word being spoken) ♪
- And they are only possibilities
because it is such an open-ended work,
which is one of its powers and one of its strengths
but I think it's also a work
in which you can hang all sorts of possibilities
- [Jim] Bostridge documents his lifelong fascination
with '' Winterreise'' in his 2014 book,
'' Schubert's Winter Journey, Anatomy Of An obsession.''
And as the tenor draws parallels between the modern world
and Schubert's experiences in the 18 hundreds,
then as now, greed and materialism was rank,
a fact Schubert's wanderer laments
while making his way through a quiet town,
full of ordinary selfish people.
- '' Im Dorfe'', which is the 17th song, which is about,
it starts with a sort of rumbling noise and the piano,
and he's approaching a village
and he can hear the chains rattling, the dogs barking
and then he imagines, I suppose,
that the people in their beds are snoring
and the piano is imitating all these noises
by this sort of rumbling that it's doing.
And then he talks about all the dreams
that they've had while they're asleep
and how, when they wake up,
they hope to find all these dreams,
on the things that they've had in these dreams
on their pillows and it's a sort of,
somebody outside this bush or existence
is imagining these people dreaming about having stuff.
And I suppose it's a criticism of consumerist society,
the desire to possess stuff.
And that for me, connects to how we are now
and how we just want, you know,
the economy is geared around the desire to have stuff,
and we have to want to have stuff and get more stuff
because otherwise everything seizes up
and it's all a bit of a dream.
- [Jim] Among the activities of Schubert
and his cohort of rebellious artist friends,
they shared music at Schubertiads,
intimate concerts hosted in the private homes
of Schubert's friends and peers.
One of them being Ignaz Von Sonnleithner,
the Founder of the '' Society of Music Friends
of the Austrian Imperial State,''
but in 1820, the Austrian government,
caught wind of their revolutionary activities
and arrested Schubert and four of his friends,
one of them, the poet, Johann Senn,
was jailed then exiled from Vienna.
The others, including Schubert were simply reprimanded
for using hostile language against officials,
but this didn't cow Franz Schubert for the rest of his life,
which would last a mere eight years.
The composer used his art
to express his yearning for freedom,
from the oppression of a conservative status quo
but Schubert was also a flawed man,
during the summer of 1818, he worked as a music tutor,
for the teenage daughter of the Hungary Count,
Johann Karl Esterhazy
and developed a strong unrequited affection
for the youngest Countess, Caroline,
eight years his junior.
Legend has it,
that Schubert rode many a complicated piano duet,
just so his hands could intertwine with hers.
After she rejected him, he quit the job
in the '' Anatomy of an Obsession,''
Bostridge cites this infatuation as a deeply felt connection
between Schubert and his wanderer,
they were both men in exile, nursing broken hearts.
- So for example, in the first song, I'd know,
it did occasionally worried me to think about
why is this young man leaving the house late at night
in the 1820s?
It seems a bit odd that this guy is in this house
and that he's fallen in love with a girl and who is he?
And I, it became clear to me researching it
and thinking about it,
that he's one of the great experiences of sort of, I dunno,
young, well educated man in that period
was working as a house tutor
and all the great philosophers and poets of the period,
they all worked as private house tutors in families
and quite often it got a bit messy.
- [Jim] Schubert died, age 31 in 1828,
only a year after '' Winterreise'' was published.
Nearly 200 years on, the work continues to resonate,
hanks to the universally human story it tells
under those like Ian Bostridge,
who continue to squeeze new meaning from it,
with each fresh listening, each new performance.
- And I suppose,
when I'm doing something like '' Winterreise,''
what I'd say is that it's a collision
between the work, me and the audience
and I it's like, it sort of feels like sleepwalking, really,
you start the piece and you go into it,
you don't quite know where you're going to end up
because in the course of singing the piece,
all sorts of things may you come across, new ideas,
new light that's cast on the personality of the wanderer
in the cycle and your own personality
and it's different every time.
There's a song called ''Das Wirtshaus,''
which really means ''The Pub'',
towards the end of the cycle,
which is where the wanderer reaches the graveyard
and he thinks that it as a pub and he wants to lie down
and go to sleep, not get up again
but the, he sort of pretends there's an innkeeper there
and the innkeeper won't let him get in and he goes off.
And there was just one particular occasion
when I suddenly thought that all live members,
it was a very macabre thought,
but I thought of all the members of the audience
being like gravestones in a graveyard,
so, and that carried a particular sort of threat
and was an interesting way of looking at it.
♪(no English is being spoken)
- [Jim] Franz Schubert's '' Winterreise''
begins with an ending.
The first song in the cycle is a farewell
that forces him to greet the unknown,
to find out what's next.
- ''Gute Natcht,''
good night is very often the end of the tale, isn't it?
It's what we say to children
when the bedtime story is finished,
it has something gentle about it
and this is a gentle song,
a song, which in rehearsal or in performance,
I always experience as both an ending to something,
and also a prelude to the cycle proper.
Marked down in dynamic and hushed pretty much throughout,
as the wanderer creeps away from the household
in which he has loved and somehow lost.
♪(no English is being spoken)
- [Announcer] ''Articulate,'' with Jim Cotter,
is made possible with generous funding
from the Neubauer Family Foundation.