Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession

Knopf. Jan. 2015. 544p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780307961631. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307961648. MUSIC
OrangeReviewStarWorld-renowned British tenor Bostridge offers here his take on Franz Schubert's famed Winterreise (Winter's Journey), a cycle of 24 songs composed near the end of the composer's tragically brief life (1797–1828)and set to poems of Wilhelm Müller. The format is a kind of "primer" that presents each song, including the original German and the English translation, on facing pages. As the Oxford-educated author explains, the songs, which tend toward the dark and brooding, roughly chronicle the wanderings and moods of an apparently rejected lover, a popular 19th-century theme, with titles like "Backwards Glance" and "Deception." Though somewhat technical musical commentary is included here and there, this enchanting book is much more than just a treatise on the songs. Bostridge ranges widely and with great ease over cultural and historical terrain to provide a context for the songs, or Lieder, teasing out the undercurrents that run through them so that "We are drawn in by an obsessively confessional soul, apparently an emotional exhibitionist, who won't give us the facts; but this allows us to supply the facts of our own lives, and make him our mirror."
VERDICT Highly recommended for lovers of both fine music and European cultural history.
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