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Winterlied, D401

First line:
Keine Blumen blühn
first published 1895
author of text

This is one of the songs from rather a remarkable day, 13 May 1816. Even if May weather had helped Schubert to compose some songs, he now had to travel in his imagination to colder parts of the year. Winterlied seems typical of a type of A minor style in Schubert's song writing in 1816. It shares its tonality with Ins stille Land (March 1816) the Salis-Seewis setting which was to eventually lead in 1826 to the final version of Mignon's Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. The song is also related to the D minor version of Mignon's song which dates from 1816. If the prevailing colour of Frühlingslied is green, the composer manages to suggest here tones of grey and white. The tune has all the economy and plainness of a denuded branch of a tree; the accompaniment is easy enough to be played by stiff, frozen fingers. A tiny detail which is typical of Schubert's mastery is the means by which he manages to set the enjambment of the second and third lines of the poem's first verse: instead of placing the word 'blickt' on the strong first beat of the bar, it is put on the second beat of the preceding bar (thus connecting it to 'grün') with a tie across the bar line which makes the declamation sound utterly natural. The long note on the beginning of 'aufgeblüht' followed by a flow of quavers suggests blossoming after a period of waiting. As always, some of these effects are much better suited to some verses of a strophic song than others. The work as a whole has a tone of gentle nostalgia and melancholy which makes the last verse difficult to bring off; the mood of the words changes here to joy in the cosy life indoors with the beloved—let cold January reign forever! This is similar to the mood of Kerner's poem Lust der Sturmnacht, set by Schumann in 1840. Schubert might have engineered for this verse one of his miraculous changes from A minor to A major, but he preferred to preserve the minimalistic severity of a strophic song.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993


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