Ian Bostridge, one of the leading Schubert tenors of his generation, has just published a book on the composer’s Winterreise song cycle. Winter Journey: The Anatomy of an Obsession is an insightful and deeply personal exploration of what the he calls “an indispensable work of art that should be as much a part of our common experience as the poetry of Shakespeare and Dante, the paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso, the novels of the Brontë sisters or Marcel Proust.”
Bostridge has recorded Schubert’s three great song cycles, Die Schöne Müllerin, Winterreise and Schwanengesang (with pianists Mitsuko Uchida, Leif Ove Andsnes and Antonio Pappano respectively). These recordings are now gathered together in a 3CD set, along with a bonus DVD of Bostridge’s filmed dramatisation of the complete Winterreise (with pianist Julius Drake), complete with studio sets, actors, costumes and props. Bostridge writes,
Winterreise can seem a little intimidating. Its 24 gloomy songs are to be taken in one, extended, 70-minute dose. It shouldn’t be like that. The music of the cycle is varied and engagingly weird – Schubert’s friends were shocked when they first heard it. It is full of energy, despair, passion, sensuality and gallows humour.
It is a drama, too, a piece of theatre, with its own rhythm, and a crucial role for the confrontation between singer and audience. Not to forget the piano, which turns sonic imagery – rustling leaves, posthorns, a falling leaf – into a psychological landscape. Singer as ego, piano as id.
By placing the piece in as broad a context as possible – exploring its roots in the 1820s, its resonances now, its personal meaning for Schubert and for others, listeners and performers – I hope I’ve provided a way in to one of the great creations of the western musical tradition.