Articulate

S6 E10 | CLIP

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.

AIRED: January 22, 2021 | 0:10:17
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TRANSCRIPT

(ethereal music)

(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.

(orchestral music)

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.

(birds chirping)

- [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.

Yeah.

♪(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)

(upbeat music)

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] ''Articulate,'' with Jim Cotter,

is made possible with generous funding

from the Neubauer Family Foundation.

(upbeat music)

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