Multiple Grammy Award-winning baritone Gerald Finley has become one of the leading singers and dramatic interpreters of his generation with award-winning performances and recordings and performing at the world’s major opera and concert venues. Making his Shriver Hall Debut, Mr. Finley will be accompanied by the sensational pianist Julius Drake. Given four stars by The Guardian for their 2012 recording of works by Schumann, collaborators Gerald Finley and Julius Drake are a perfect duo.
About the sponsor
This concert was established in 2002 as a gift in honor of longtime Shriver Hall Concert Series Board member Dr. Helen Harrison from her sons Dr. Stephen Harrison and Dr. Richard Harrison and their families. Helen Harrison joined the Shriver Hall Concert Series Board of Directors in November 1973 at the behest of founding President Ernst Bueding. She in turn was responsible for bringing many new members to the Board including former Board President Jephta Drachman and retired Vice President Harriet Panitz. Dr. Harrison served as an active and influential member of the Board until 2001. As a scientist, Dr. Harrison shared the prestigious Howland Prize with her husband Dr. Harold Harrison for research done at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Grammy award-winning Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley began singing as a chorister in Ottawa before completing his musical studies at the Royal College of Music, King’s College, Cambridge, and the National Opera Studio. After initial appearances at Glyndebourne in all the Mozart baritone roles, he now appears in a variety of leading roles at the world’s opera houses including London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Salzburg, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Vienna. His ‘Don Giovanni’ has been seen in Salzburg, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Rome, New York, Paris, Tel Aviv, Budapest, and London. He has created the lead roles in major premières, including ‘Howard K. Stern’ in Anna Nicole at the Royal Opera House and ‘J. Robert Oppenheimer’ in Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera.
His expanding dramatic repertoire includes successes as ‘Hans Sachs’ in Die Meistersinger at Glyndebourne, ‘Iago’ with the London Symphony Orchestra, Rossini's ‘Guillaume Tell’ in Rome, and ‘Eugene Onegin’ at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Finley performs with all the major orchestras of the world in oratorio and symphonic repertoire, notably with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, London Symphony, Concertgebouw, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Finley’s discography includes work with Sir Simon Rattle, Antonio Pappano, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Kurt Masur, and Vladimir Jurowski. His CDs Schumann: Dichterliebe and other Heine Settings and Barber: Songs by Samuel Barber, both with Julius Drake, received Gramophone Awards. He has been twice nominated as Gramophone's Artist of the Year, in 2006 and 2009.
In 2012-2013, Finley returned to the BBC Proms as ‘Chou en Lai’ in Nixon in China, followed by a performance of Brahms’ Requiem with the Concertgebouw and the Toronto and London symphony orchestras. Further performances include recitals across Europe and Australia, Le nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera, Haydn’s Nelson Mass and Schönberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw with Andris Nelsons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg, Mahler’s Wunderhorn with the Czech Philharmonic, Handel’s Alexander’s Feast with Nikolaus Harnoncourt at Vienna’s Musikverein, Les espaces du sommeil with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Don Giovanni at the Bavarian State Opera, and Il Prigioniero with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Gerald Finley makes his Shriver Hall Concert Series debut today.
Pianist Julius Drake lives in London and specializes in the field of chamber music, working with many of the world’s leading artists, both in recital and for recordings. He appears at all the major music centers and festivals. Director of the Perth International Chamber Music Festival in Australia from 2000 to 2003, Drake was also Musical Director of Deborah Warner’s staging of Janáček’s Diary of One Who Vanished, touring to Munich, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, and New York. In 2009, he was appointed Artistic Director of the Machynlleth Festival in Wales. Drake is invited regularly to give master classes in Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg, Oxford, Paris, Vienna, and at the Schubert Institut, Baden bei Wien. In 2010, he was appointed Professor at Graz University for Music and the Performing Arts in Austria.
Drake’s passionate interest in song has led to invitations to devise song series for Wigmore Hall, the BBC, and the Concertgebouw. A series of song recitals–‘Julius Drake and Friends’—in London has featured recitals with Ian Bostridge, Angelika Kirchschlager, Sergei Leiferkus, Felicity Lott, Simon Keenlyside, Christopher Maltman, and Mark Padmore. Drake’s instrumental duo with Nicholas Daniel has been described in The Independent as “one of the most satisfying in British chamber music: vital, thoughtful and confirmed in musical integrity of the highest order.”
Recordings include releases of Sibelius and Grieg songs with Katarina Karneus, French sonatas with Nicholas Daniel, Spanish songs with Joyce DiDonato, Mahler and Tchaikovsky songs with Christianne Stotijn, and Schumann Lieder with Alice Coote. Live recordings of recitals at Wigmore Hall have included concerts with Lorraine Hunt Liebersen, Joyce DiDonato, Christopher Maltman, Gerald Finley, and Matthew Polenzani. He has made an award-winning series of recordings with Ian Bostridge of Schumann, Schubert, Henze, and Britten. Drake’s recent recordings of Ives, Barber, Schumann, Ravel, and Britten with Gerald Finley have been widely acclaimed; Barber: Songs by Samuel Barber and then Schumann: Dichterliebe and other Heine Settings won both the 2008 and 2009 Gramophone Awards, and the Britten songs won the 2011 Gramophone Award.
Julius Drake last appeared on the Series on April 5, 2009, with tenor Ian Bostridge.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Winterreise, Op. 89, D. 911
poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827)
- 1. Gute Nacht
- 2. Die Wetterfahne
- 3. Gefror’ne Träne
- 4. Erstarrung
- 5. Der Lindenbaum
- 6. Wasserflut
- 7. Auf dem Flusse
- 8. Rückblick
- 9. Irrlicht
- 10. Rast
- 11. Frühlingstraum
- 12. Einsamkeit
- 13. Die Post
- 14. Der greise Kopf
- 15. Die Krähe
- 16. Letzte Hoffnung
- 17. Im Dorfe
- 18. Der stürmische Morgen
- 19. Täuschung
- 20. Der Wegweiser
- 21. Das Wirtshaus
- 22. Mut!
- 23. Die Nebensonnen
- 24. Der Leiermann
“We who were near and dear to him knew how much the creatures of his mind took out of him, and in what anguish they were born. No one who ever saw him at his morning’s work, glowing, and with his eyes aflame … and positively with a changed speech … will ever forget it. … I hold it beyond question that the excitement in which he composed his finest songs, in particular the ‘Winterreise,’ brought about his untimely death.”
Schubert’s close friend Josef von Spaun, who wrote these poignant words, remembered in his memoirs the astonished reaction of a small group of the composer’s companions when they first heard his Winterreise (“Winter Journey”) sung and played by Schubert himself in 1827. He had urgently invited them to hear this cycle: “Come to Schober’s today. I will sing you a cycle of awe-inspiring songs. I am anxious to know what you will say about them. They have affected me more than has been the case with any other songs.” After listening to Schubert sing these 24 songs “in a voice wrought with emotion,” the friends were “dumbfounded” by the songs’ darkness and unrelenting tragedy. Franz von Schober, the host of this private concert, said he only liked the beautiful fifth song, “Der Lindenbaum,” to which Schubert responded: “I like these songs more than all the others; and you will get to like them too.”
Today Winterreise is generally regarded as the greatest achievement in the song literature: an Everest of a piece that requires a supreme effort from the singer who performs it and a corresponding emotional commitment from those who take the journey with him. Setting two series of poems by Schubert’s contemporary Wilhelm Müller (1794–1827) – who was also the poet of Schubert’s other great song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin (1823), about a lover shattered by the loss of his sweetheart to a rival – Winterreise is a work that achieves an extraordinarily universal depth and meaning. The protagonist’s journey and his suffering become an existential drama moving far beyond grief over a failed love affair. Schubert scholar John Reed explains this perfectly: “His quarrel is not with individual wrongs, but with fate itself. This gives [him] a stature as a Romantic hero, as the artist figure at war with society and with fate.” Maurice J.E. Brown goes even further: “One of [Schubert’s] glories is that he lifted inferior verse and sentiment to the heights of his genius, and gave to mild thoughts mildly expressed a universality and power that the poet never dreamed of. Winterreise is the supreme example. … The unhappy lover assumes the tragic aspect of man himself; the wanderings become man’s bewildered progress through life, tossed by winds of emotion, frozen by grief.”
Winterreise was written in two installments of twelve songs each in February and October 1827, the penultimate year of Schubert’s life. In February, he came across the first set of Müller poems published in the Leipzig almanac Urania in Schober’s library and set them immediately. That summer or fall, he found a new enlarged version of Die Winterreise (Schubert dropped the article from his title) with 24 poems in the oddly-titled Seventy-seven Poems from the Posthumous Papers of a Traveling Horn-player. Müller had interspersed the new poems among the older ones, but Schubert chose to simply add them as the second half of his cycle. It is reported that the last task Schubert undertook on his deathbed in November 1828 was the correction of the publisher’s proofs of the final twelve songs.
One of Schubert’s closest friends, the poet Johann Baptist Mayrhofer (the composer also used Mayrhofer’s verse for many songs) saw Schubert’s own drama of death drew ever closer as an important element of Winterreise’s dark power. “He had been long and seriously ill, had gone through shattering experiences, and life for him had shed its rosy color; winter had come for him. The poet’s irony, rooted in despair, appealed to him; he expressed it in cutting tones. I was painfully moved.”
Listening to Winterreise
Because of Winterreise’s length, this commentary will focus on ten selected songs that are among the cycle’s most significant.
#1 “Gute Nacht” (“Good Night”): The opening words of the first song – “A stranger I came and a stranger I depart” – set the tone for the entire cycle with their connotation of existential alienation. The pulse is a moderate 2/4; in the song’s original manuscript, Schubert labeled this “in gehender Bewegung” (“in going motion”), and this tempo and pulse will recur throughout the cycle to indicate the protagonist’s progress across the landscape. The piano’s steady tread — note the sudden stresses that capture the wanderer’s pain and grim determination — underpins a vocal line in the style of a simple strophic folk song. Schubert was perhaps the greatest master of the subtle color and mood contrasts between the major and minor modes, and they fill this music with continually shifting light and shadow. The final stanza moves to the major as the wanderer tenderly addresses his sweetheart, not wanting to disturb her as he leaves. But his last phrase shifts poignantly back to the minor, and the brief postlude remains there.
#2 “Die Wetterfahne” (“The Weather Vane”): The piano paints an extraordinarily vivid portrait of the winter winds that buffet the wanderer and set the weather vane on his lover’s house spinning crazily. In his bitterness, the wanderer sees the weathervane as an emblem of the inconstancy that reigns within that house: “The wind plays inside with hearts as it does on the roof, only not so loud.” Though the song is in the minor, it shifts to major as the wanderer observes that everyone is happy there because the daughter has found a rich match. This is the first instance of what John Reed calls the use of “the ironic major” throughout the cycle: the wanderer’s sarcastic lashing out in bursts of black humor.
#5 “Der Lindenbaum” (“The Lime Tree”): The song that pleased Schubert’s first audience, “Der Lindenbaum” is the loveliest of the cycle. In the major and a gently undulating 3/4 time, it is a dream of past happiness, but with a dark undercurrent. The piano exquisitely mimics the rustling breezes in the lime tree’s branches; but in the third verse, Schubert is able to transform this into fierce winter winds in a minor mode. The tree’s remembered beauty exercises a seductive power over the wanderer: here he could find rest – the peace of suicide – among its branches. The pull of death will become stronger and stronger as the cycle progresses.
#7 “Auf dem Flusse” (“By the Stream”): The walking gait returns for “Auf dem Flusse,” one of the cycle’s most famous songs. At first, the wanderer plods on stoically, but his attention is caught by the silent, frozen state of the familiar stream. Schubert reveals the emotional tug in a wonderfully unexpected harmony at the beginning of the third phrase on the word “still.” The song breaks open at the beginning of the last stanza when the wanderer compares the ice-covered brook with the frozen shell of his heart under which torrents of emotion still flow. The piano takes over the theme while the singer’s part disintegrates into fragmented, anguished recitative leading to the most impassioned expression of suffering thus far in the cycle.
#11 “Frühlingstraum” (“Dream of Spring”): This remarkable song expresses the conflict between dream and reality with three profoundly different types of music. First we hear lilting, idyllic music in the major: an innocent, untroubled dream of blossoming spring. This is interrupted by the harsh crowing of cocks and ravens, awakening the wanderer to the reality of winter’s cold and darkness; the music is now much faster and in the minor, broken into jagged, brittle phrases. In the song’s third stage, the tempo slows and a gentle, lullaby-like rocking in the piano provides consolation for the wanderer, who longs for spring’s return and his sweetheart in his arms again. That dream, too, is illusory, says the minor-mode conclusion.
#14 “Der greise Kopf” (“The Gray Head”): After the second half of the cycle opens brightly and energetically with “Der Post,” the next two songs return the mood to tragedy, now deeper than before and less connected to lost love. With its stark accompaniment, the utter desolation of this song is something new in the cycle. The wanderer’s weariness is captured in the prelude by the piano’s reluctance to leave its second beat, stretched out by a double-dotted rhythm. The singer’s spacious opening phrase soon breaks down into fragments as he laments his youth and strength; the pull towards death becomes ever stronger.
#15 “Die Krähe” (“The Crow”): The piano artfully traces the circling flight of a crow overhead, accompanying the wanderer. In John Reed’s words, “It is the first living creature other than the protagonist to play a role in the drama, the first to show any interest in his misfortunes.” But this crow may also be a portent of death, for the wanderer fears he only follows in hopes of feasting on his body after he succumbs.
#16 “Letzte Hoffnung” (“Last Hope”): One of the cycle’s most extraordinary songs, “Letzte Hoffnung” is so radical and forward-looking in its approach to tonality, as well as so pulseless in its rhythms, that it initially sounds like something Arnold Schoenberg might have written. The almost atonal piano part not only depicts the random flight of the leaves falling from the tree, but also on a cosmic level suggests the chaotic, arbitrary forces that buffet humankind. The music only stabilizes when the poem returns to the wayfarer’s own psychological state, and the singer’s choppy phrases finally lengthen into an outpouring of pain and despair.
#21 “Das Wirthaus” (“The Inn”): This song is the turning point in the wanderer’s physical and spiritual journey, which has been drawing him ever closer to death. He has reached a graveyard and sees it as an inn, a final resting place for his suffering mind and body. But there is no room for him at this inn, and so he must continue his journey – he must choose life. The song is in the style of a hymn or funeral march, with a stately succession of block chords in the piano and an earnest melody in predominantly stepwise motion for the singer. Despite its somberness, it is in the major mode, as this “inn” was a welcome destination for the wayfarer; only when its hospitality is denied him does the tonality swerve to minor. Nevertheless, he picks up his walking staff to go on in a resolute major. The next song, “Mut” (“Courage”), shows a renewed energy and determination.
#24 “Der Leiermann” (“the Hurdy-Gurdy Man”): This uncanny, utterly unforgettable song has a starkness of means and expression that leaps far forward in time from 1827. The wanderer encounters the only other human being on his journey, but he is a poor, old organ grinder: half-mad and even more forsaken than the wanderer. We hear his hurdy-gurdy song in the drone in the pianist’s left hand and the “pathetic little scrap of melody” (Brian Newbould) in his right. The singer’s spare lines are expressionless, bleached of feeling. The poem ends with a question: shall the wanderer cast in his lot with this crazy old man? And, it leaves us with unresolved questions at the end of the cycle: Is this moment the beginning of the wanderer’s healing and his reconnection to life and his fellow humans? Or is it a final descent into madness and despair? As with all the greatest works of art, Winterreise poses questions about life’s meaning without providing easy answers.
Note by Janet E. Bedell, copyright 2013