The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle always feels deep and new, says UW pianist Martha Fischer. Hear it live next Tuesday night. Part 2 of 2.

December 17, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

It seems to The Ear to be a perfectly conceived classical music event in the timing, the music, the musicians and the setting and the “good cause” it benefits.

There is just under one week of autumn left and then, despite the blizzard last week, and then we start winter.

Next Tuesday is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year, the turning of the year, if you will.

If you can take time out from work, home and holiday shopping, I urge you to attend this event. I expect to feel a closely bonded audience in a live performance – exactly what the best music does.

Appropriately, the First Unitarian Society will offer distinguished UW baritone Paul Rowe, a former touring professional singer, in a Winter Solstice performance of Franz Schubert’s complete song cycle, “Winterreise” (Winter Journey).

The recital will be held in the new Atrium Auditorium, with it glass, wood and fine acoustics, of First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, next Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Joining Paul Rowe will be UW faculty member, collaborative pianist Martha Fischer.

“Winterreise,” is perhaps the greatest song cycle ever written.  The 24 songs, set to poems by Wilhelm Müller, are a heart-rending portrayal of a winter journey filled with sadness. The songs showcase Schubert’s genius in joining tune and text into a remarkable synthesis.

Rowe and Fischer have collaborated on a number of projects including performances and recordings of Schubert’s “Winterreise” and “Die Schone Mullerin.”

A free-will donation will be collected to benefit the Second Harvest Foodbank. For more information, call 608 233-9774 or visit the FUS website:

Yesterday’s posting features an –email interview with singer Paul Rowe. Today’s posting features a similar interview with pianist Martha Fischer (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot):

How do you place “Die Winterreise” among Schubert song cycles and among arts songs in general?

It feels like the work of someone who understands life and death and love and loss – the entire spectrum of human experience. The music is sublime in every way with so many layers of depth and meaning that to encounter it over and over throughout one’s life always feels like a new experience.

The other great cycle, “Die Schöne Müllerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) is a bit shorter and is also exquisitely satisfying and deeply challenging – but somehow it is not quite as monumental an undertaking.

What makes it special for you and the public and why has it become an icon or benchmark of great lieder singing?

Any chance to collaborate in a work like this is special and something that pianists like me (who love art song as much as any musical medium) long to do.

I love playing for Paul Rowe, who gives his audience and musical partners so much of himself in performance.  His knowledge of the poetry, the language and Schubert’s work in general and his love of the German Lied infuses every word and note he sings.  I hope to do the same at the keyboard

What would you like the public to pay attention or to hear in the cycle or in certain songs?

Perhaps this will only repeat what Paul has said, but I do hope that people will be willing to stop and listen.  We are so bombarded with images and sound and hyperactivity, especially at this time of year, that to take the opportunity to listen to a great work of art and one that encompasses so much of the human experience could be a tremendous gift to oneself.

Is there anything special in your approach?

Each encounter with this work is new and special and different.  I have yet to know what this one will be, but performing it in Winter on the Solstice is something that I am really looking forward to.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I have in the past likened the experience of performing “Winterreise” to that of going down a long, dark tunnel.  We begin the journey with the protagonist and end it with him as well.

The journey is both worldly and other-worldly, physical and metaphysical, emotional and spiritual.

I hope that we can take the listeners’ hands and guide them along the path with us.

Posted in Classical music

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