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Hyperion Records

CKD371 - Schubert: Winterreise

Recording details: February 2009
St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: November 2010
Total duration: 74 minutes 28 seconds


Baritone Peter Harvey delivers a unique recording of Schubert's popular song-cycle Winterreise which, alongside Die schöne Müllerin, provides one of the greatest challenges in the lieder repertoire. This recording demonstrates why he can frequently be heard on radio broadcasts and in concert halls across the world.

Peter leads the listener on an intense, dramatic journey; his expressive baritone perfectly captures the bleak emotions of the wanderer in this beautiful work. Harvey's historically informed interpretation is further enhanced by Gary Cooper who performs on an early 19th-century fortepiano. This collaborative attention to authenticity creates the atmospheric and distinctive sound world that Schubert intended.

Peter feels a personal connection to this work and his absolute understanding of the work really helps draw the listener in. Peter has written an introduction to the work himself.

For fans of lieder this recording is surely not to be missed.

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Introduction  EnglishPerformance note
Winterreise, D911, represents one of Franz Schubert’s towering achievements as a composer. It was with this particular work, alongside his other song cycles, Die schöne Müllerin, D795, and Schwanengesang, D957, that he single-handedly redefined the Lieder genre. Indeed, the three cycles arguably form the greatest accomplishment of the entire tradition, and the comparatively young age at which Schubert wrote these works of intense musical maturity makes the attainment all the more impressive. The earliest of the three cycles, Die schöne Müllerin, was composed in just his twenty-seventh year, while the latter two cycles were composed at the ages of thirty and thirty-one—which were, sadly, to be the final two years of his life.

For a composer whose life was cut so tragically short, Schubert was nothing less than hugely prolific. Along with the three song cycles mentioned above, he wrote some 600 Lieder—a body of work whose importance and value is difficult to overestimate—as well as making vital contributions to a number of other genres in the form of chamber and instrumental music, symphonies, operas and religious works. The variety of his output reflects the range of circles in which Schubert had been present from the earliest days of his musical training. Born and brought up in a reasonably affluent part of Vienna his musical talent became evident at an early age and was nurtured by his father, an amateur musician. However, it was through the church that Schubert gained the bulk of his musical education and, after coming to the attention of Antonio Salieri, he was awarded a choral scholarship in 1808 to attend the Imperial Seminary in Vienna, known as the Stadtkonvikt, where the choristers of the Court Chapel were schooled.

Through his time in the seminary, where he remained until 1813, he was to become exposed to the gamut of secular as well as sacred music, and it was here that he first encountered works by the Viennese masters of the day, and in particular opera and song. Following an unsatisfactory period of three years training to be a teacher and then working at his father’s school, Schubert turned to composition full time, only teaching when necessary to fund his activities as a composer. His musical maturity came early, arguably from the age of around twenty but, despite this, recognition of his music was lean throughout his lifetime, and not often heard in public concerts. Few of his works were published during his lifetime and he had only short periods of prosperity, often living a meagre existence, close to poverty. The majority of his work became more widely known through a regular series of Schubertiade—informal evenings that took place mainly in private houses, where Schubert performed much of his own music, and in particular his song cycles.

Of the many theories surrounding the cause of Schubert’s premature death, one of the most commonly held beliefs is that he had been suffering from syphilis for some years by the time of his death, although that was not the official verdict that was reached. One thing that is certain is that his health was beginning to fail as he approached his late twenties and his thoughts of death and what was to follow, influenced some of his greatest works, and particularly his final two song cycles.

The penultimate of these cycles, Winterreise ('Winter Journey'), is an extensive setting of texts that are a descriptive and narrative monologue of a spurned lover who sets out in the dead of night on a journey of sorrow, leaving his intended behind. It was Schubert’s second cycle that set texts by the poet Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), the first being his earliest song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin, the story of a young man who falls in love with a woman who is considered to be above his station. While Schubert had only limited renown during his own lifetime, this first and second of his cycles gained some recognition, both becoming mainstays of his regular Schubertiade from the time of their composition.

The twenty-four songs of Winterreise were composed in two clear sections: the first twelve were completed in February of 1827 with the remaining twelve penned in October of the same year. This process of composition reflects how the poems themselves first appeared; Müller published the initial twelve in a periodical during 1823 and later published the collection again in 1824 with a further twelve poems interspersed between the original twelve. Schubert first encountered the initial collection in the periodical, and when he came to compose the cycle some years later he was to set the first twelve poems in their original order of 1823. It’s unclear when Schubert actually encountered the remainder of the poems from 1824 and, as a result, it has been suggested that he may have first considered Winterreise as a song cycle consisting only of the first dozen poems, and as a much shorter work. It would appear that Schubert formed a second part to the cycle in place of Müller’s revised sequence for the poems, using his own preferred order for the later twelve poems.

Adam Binks © 2010

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