Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder. Oil painting, 1875, after a watercolor painting by Rieder of 1825.

Winterreise (Winter Journey) is a song cycle for voice and piano by Franz Schubert (D. 911, published as Op. 89 in 1828), a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller. It is the second of Schubert's two great song cycles on Müller's poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795, Op. 25, 1823). Both were originally written for tenor voice but are frequently transposed to suit other vocal ranges – the precedent being established by Schubert himself. These two works have posed interpretative demands on listeners and performers due to their scale and structural coherence. Although Ludwig van Beethoven's cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) had been published earlier, in 1816, Schubert's two cycles hold the foremost place in the history of the genre.

Authorship and composition

Winterreise was composed in two parts, each containing twelve songs, the first part in February 1827 and the second in October 1827.[1] The two parts were also published separately, by Tobias Haslinger, the first on 14 January 1828, and the second (the proofs of which Schubert was still correcting days before his death on 19 November) on 30 December 1828.[2] Müller, a poet, soldier, and Imperial Librarian at Dessau in Prussia (present-day east-central Germany), died in 1827 aged 33, and probably never heard the first setting of his poems in Die schöne Müllerin (1823), let alone Winterreise. Die schöne Müllerin had become central to the performing repertoire and partnership of Schubert with his friend, the baritone singer Johann Michael Vogl, who introduced Schubert and his songs into many musical households great and small in their tours through Austria during the mid-1820s.

Wilhelm Müller

Vogl, a literary and philosophical man accomplished in the classics and the English language, came to regard Schubert's songs as 'truly divine inspirations, the utterance of a musical clairvoyance.' Schubert found the first twelve poems under the title Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller. Die Winterreise. In 12 Liedern in an almanack (Urania. Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823) published in Leipzig in 1823.[3] It was after he had set these, in February 1827, that he discovered the full series of poems in Müller's book of 1824 entitled Poems from the posthumous papers of a travelling horn-player, dedicated to the composer Carl Maria von Weber (godfather of Müller's son F. Max Müller), 'as a pledge of his friendship and admiration'. Weber had died in 1826. On 4 March 1827, Schubert invited a group of friends to his lodgings intending to sing the first group of songs, but he was out when they arrived, and the event was postponed until later in the year, when the full performance was given.[4]

Between the 1823 and 1824 editions Müller varied the texts slightly, but also (with the addition of the further 12 poems) altered the order in which they were presented. Owing to the two stages of composition, Schubert's order in the song-cycle preserves the integrity of the cycle of the first twelve poems published and appends the twelve new poems as a Fortsetzung (Continuation), following Müller's order (if one excludes the poems already set) with the one exception of switching "Die Nebensonnen" and "Mut!".[5] In the complete book edition Müller's final running-order was as follows: "Gute Nacht"; "Die Wetterfahne"; "Gefror'ne Thränen"; "Erstarrung"; "Der Lindenbaum"; "Die Post"; "Wasserfluth"; "Auf dem Flusse"; "Rückblick"; "Der greise Kopf"; "Die Krähe"; "Letzte Hoffnung"; "Im Dorfe"; "Der stürmische Morgen"; "Täuschung"; "Der Wegweiser"; "Das Wirtshaus"; "[Das] Irrlicht"; "Rast"; "Die Nebensonnen"; "Frühlingstraum"; "Einsamkeit"; "Mut!"; "Der Leiermann".[6] Thus Schubert's numbers would run 1–5, 13, 6–8, 14–21, 9–10, 23, 11–12, 22, 24, a sequence occasionally attempted by Hans Joachim Moser and Günther Baum.

Schubert's original group of settings therefore closed with the dramatic cadence of "Irrlicht", "Rast", "Frühlingstraum" and "Einsamkeit", and his second sequence begins with "Die Post". Dramatically the first half is the sequence from the leaving of the beloved's house, and the second half the torments of reawakening hope and the path to resignation.

In Winterreise Schubert raises the importance of the pianist to a role equal to that of the singer. In particular the piano's rhythms constantly express the moods of the poet, like the distinctive rhythm of "Auf dem Flusse", the restless syncopated figures in "Rückblick", the dramatic tremolos in "Einsamkeit", the glimmering clusters of notes in "Irrlicht", or the sharp accents in "Der stürmische Morgen". The piano supplies rich effects in the nature imagery of the poems, the voices of the elements, the creatures and active objects, the rushing storm, the crying wind, the water under the ice, birds singing, ravens croaking, dogs baying, the rusty weathervane grating, the posthorn calling, and the drone and repeated melody of the hurdy-gurdy.[7]

Opinions of Schubert's intentions

What might have forced the composer to confront and create the somber Winterreise? A possible explanation is documented in a book by Elizabeth Norman McKay, Schubert: The Piano and Dark Keys: "Towards the end of 1822 ... Schubert was very sick, having contracted the syphilis that inevitably was to affect the remainder of his life: his physical and mental health, and the music he was to compose." As detailed below, he worked on Winterreise as he was dying of syphilis.[8]

In addition to his friend Franz von Schober, Schubert's friends who often attended his Schubertiaden or musical sessions included Eduard von Bauernfeld, Joseph von Spaun, and the poet Johann Mayrhofer. Both Spaun and Mayrhofer describe the period of the composition of Winterreise as one in which Schubert was in a deeply melancholic frame of mind, as Mayrhofer puts it, because 'life had lost its rosiness and winter was upon him.' Spaun tells that Schubert was gloomy and depressed, and when asked the reason replied,

' "Come to Schober's today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs." He then, with a voice full of feeling, sang the entire Winterreise for us. We were altogether dumbfounded by the sombre mood of these songs, and Schober said that one song only, "Der Lindenbaum", had pleased him. Thereupon Schubert leaped up and replied: "These songs please me more than all the rest, and in time they will please you as well." '.[9]

It is argued that in the gloomy nature of the Winterreise, compared with Die schöne Müllerin, there is

a change of season, December for May, and a deeper core of pain, the difference between the heartbreak of a youth and a man. There is no need to seek in external vicissitudes an explanation of the pathos of the Winterreise music when the composer was this Schubert who, as a boy of seventeen, had the imagination to fix Gretchen's cry in music once for all, and had so quivered year by year in response to every appeal, to Mignon's and the Harper's grief, to Mayrhofer's nostalgia. It is not surprising to hear of Schubert's haggard look in the Winterreise period; but not depression, rather a kind of sacred exhilaration... we see him practically gasping with fearful joy over his tragic Winterreise – at his luck in the subject, at the beauty of the chance which brought him his collaborator back, at the countless fresh images provoked by his poetry of fire and snow, of torrent and ice, of scalding and frozen tears. The composer of the Winterreise may have gone hungry to bed, but he was a happy artist."[10]

Schubert's last task in life was the correction of the proofs for part 2 of Winterreise, and his thoughts while correcting those of the last song, "Der Leiermann", when his last illness was only too evident, can only be imagined. However, he had heard the whole cycle performed by Vogl (which received a much more enthusiastic reception),[11] though he did not live to see the final publication, nor the opinion of the Wiener Theaterzeitung:

Müller is naive, sentimental, and sets against outward nature a parallel of some passionate soul-state which takes its colour and significance from the former. Schubert's music is as naive as the poet's expressions; the emotions contained in the poems are as deeply reflected in his own feelings, and these are so brought out in sound that no-one can sing or hear them without being touched to the heart.[12]

Elena Gerhardt said of the Winterreise, "You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it."[11]

Nature of the work

In his introduction to the Peters Edition (with the critical revisions of Max Friedlaender), Professor Max Müller, son of the poet Wilhelm Müller, remarks that Schubert's two song-cycles have a dramatic effect not unlike that of a full-scale tragic opera, particularly when performed by great singers such as Jenny Lind (Die schöne Müllerin) or Julius Stockhausen (Winterreise). Like Die schöne Müllerin, Schubert's Winterreise is not merely a collection of songs upon a single theme (lost or unrequited love) but is in effect one single dramatic monologue, lasting over an hour in performance. Although some individual songs are sometimes included separately in recitals (e.g. "Gute Nacht", "Der Lindenbaum" and "Der Leiermann"), it is a work which is usually presented in its entirety. The intensity and the emotional inflexions of the poetry are carefully built up to express the sorrows of the lover, and are developed to an almost pathological degree from the first to the last note, something explored (along with the cultural context of the work) by the tenor Ian Bostridge in Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (London: Faber & Faber, 2014).

The songs represent the voice of the poet as the lover, and form a distinct narrative and dramatic sequence, though not in so pronounced a way as in Die schöne Müllerin. In the course of the cycle the poet, whose beloved now fancies someone else, leaves his beloved's house secretly at night, quits the town and follows the river and the steep ways to a village. Having longed for death, he is at last reconciled to his loneliness. The cold, darkness, and barren winter landscape mirror the feelings in his heart, and he encounters various people and things along the way which form the subject of the successive songs during his lonely journey. It is in fact an allegorical journey of the heart.

The two Schubert cycles (primarily for male voice), of which Winterreise is the more mature, are absolute fundamentals of the German Lied, and have strongly influenced not only the style but also the vocal method and technique in German classical music as a whole. The resources of intellect and interpretative power required to deliver them, in the chamber or concert hall, challenge the greatest singers.


1. Gute Nacht (Good Night) “A stranger I arrived; a stranger I depart.” In May he won the love of a girl and hoped to marry her. But now the world is dreary, and he must leave, in winter, in the dead of night, finding his own way in the trackless snow. “Love loves to wander—from one person to the next.” He writes “Good Night” on her gate as he passes to show he thought of her.

2. Die Wetterfahne (The Weathervane) The weathervane on her house creaks in the shifting winds, mocking him and showing the inconstant hearts inside. “What do they care about my suffering? Their child is a wealthy bride!”

3. Gefrorne Tränen (Frozen Tears) He notices he has been crying and chides his tears for being only lukewarm so that they freeze. They come out of his heart hot enough to melt all the winter’s ice!

4. Erstarrung (Frozen) He looks in vain for her footprints beneath the snow where she once walked with him through the green meadow; he wants to melt away the snow and ice with his tears. He has nothing to remember her by except his pain,. She is frozen in his heart; if it thaws, her image will flow away.

5. Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) The tree, a reminder of happier days, seems to call him, promising rest. But he turns away, into the cold wind. And now, miles away, he still hears it calling him: “Here you would find peace.”

6. Wasserflut (Flood) The cold snow thirstily sucks up his tears; when the warm winds blow, the snow and ice will melt, and the brook will carry them through the town to where his sweetheart lives.

7. Auf dem Flusse (On the Stream) The gaily rushing stream lies silent under a hard crust. In the ice he carves a memorial to their love. The river is an image of his heart swelling up powerfully beneath the frozen surface.

8. Rückblick (Backwards Glance) He recounts his headlong flight from the town and recalls his springtime arrival in the “city of inconstancy,” and two girlish eyes which captivated him. When he thinks of that time, he would like to go back and stand silently in front of her house.

9. Irrlicht (Will o’ the Wisp) The false light of the will-o’-the-wisp has led him astray, but he’s used to that. Every path leads to the same goal. Our joys and sorrows are but a trick of the light. Every stream reaches the sea, every sorrow its grave,

10. Rast (Rest) Only now that he has stopped to rest does he realize how tired & sore he is. And in the quiet he feels for the first time the “worm” which stings him inwardly.

11. Frühlingstraum (Dreams of Spring) He dreams of springtime and love, but wakes to cold and darkness and the shrieking of ravens. He sees frost leaves painted on the window. When will they turn green? when will he again embrace his beloved?

12. Einsamkeit (Loneliness) He wanders, like a sad and lonely cloud, through the bright and happy Life around him. “Even when the storms were raging. I was not so miserable,”

13. Die Post (The Post) He hears a post horn. “Why does my heart leap up so?. There’s no letter for you! But maybe there’s some news of her?”

14. Der greise Kopf (The Gray Head) Frost has turned his hair gray and he rejoices at being an old man. But when it thaws, he is horrified to be a youth again: “how far it is still to the grave.”

15. Die Krähe (The Crow) A crow has been following him. It has never left him, expecting to take his body as its prey. “It won’t be much longer now. Crow, show me constancy unto death!”

16. Letzte Hoffnung (Last Hope) He gambles on a leaf quivering in the wind. If it falls from the tree, all his hopes are dashed. He falls to the ground himself and weeps over the “grave” of his hopes.

17. Im Dorfe (In the Village) Dogs bark, and all the people are asleep, dreaming of success and failure, finding on their pillows what eluded them in life. ”I am done with all dreaming. Why should I linger among the sleepers?”

18. Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning) The storm is an image of his heart, wild and cold like the winter.

19. Täuschung (Deception) A dancing light wants to lead him astray, and he is glad to go along. “Behind ice and night and horror” it shows him a warm, bright house and a loving wife within. Illusion is all he has to go on.

20. Der Wegweiser (The Signpost) “Why do I take secret ways and avoid the other travelers? I’ve committed no crime. What foolish desire drives me to seek the wastelands?” He journeys endlessly, seeking peace and finding none. A signpost points the way: “I must travel a road where no one has ever yet returned.”

21. Das Wirtshaus (The Inn) He comes to a graveyard and wants to enter. But all the rooms in this “inn” are taken; he resolves to go on his way with his faithful walking-stick.

22. Mut! (Have Courage!) He shakes the snow from his face and sings cheerfully to silence his heart’s stirrings, striding into the world, against wind and weather: “If there’s no God on earth, then we ourselves are gods!”

23. Die Nebensonnen (The Mock Suns) He sees three suns staring at him in the sky. “You are not my suns! Once I too had three, but the best two have now set. If only the third would follow, I’ll be happier in the darkness.”

24. Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) Back of the village stands a hurdy-gurdy man, cranking his instrument with frozen fingers. His begging bowl is always empty; no one listens, and the dogs growl at him. But his playing never stops. “Strange old man. Shall I come with you? Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to accompany my songs?”

Full texts of the songs with a good translation by Celia Sgroi can be downloaded in pdf format at

Reworkings by others


Besides re-ordering Müller's songs, Schubert made a few changes to the words: verse 4 of "Erstarrung" in Müller's version read [Schubert's text bracketed]: "Mein Herz ist wie erfroren [erstorben]" ("frozen" instead of "dead"); "Irrlicht" verse 2 read "...unsre Freuden, unsre Wehen [Leiden]" ("pains" instead of "sorrows") and "Der Wegweiser" verse 3 read "Weiser stehen auf den Strassen [Wegen]" ("roads" instead of "paths"). These have all been restored in Mandyczewski's edition (the widely available Dover score) and are offered as alternative readings in Fischer-Dieskau's revision of Max Friedländer's edition for Peters. A few of the songs differ in the autograph and a copy with Schubert's corrections. "Wasserflut" was transposed by Schubert from f to e without alteration; "Rast" moved from d to c and "Einsamkeit" from d to b, both with changes to the vocal line; "Mut" was transposed from a to g; "Der Leiermann" was transposed from b to a. The most recent scholarly edition of Winterreise is the one included as part of the Bärenreiter New Schubert Edition, edited by Walther Dürr, Volume 3, which offers the songs in versions for high, medium and low voices. In this edition the key relationships are preserved: only one transposition is applied to the whole cycle.

The following table names the keys used in different editions. Major keys are shown with upper case letters, and minor keys with lower case letters.

Published transpositions
Song Autograph & copy Peters Edition of Friedländler (1884) Schirmer
Autograph Tieferer Stimme Tiefer Alt oder Baß Low
1. Gute Nacht d b a c
2. Die Wetterfahne a f d f
3. Gefror'ne Thränen f d b d
4. Erstarrung c g g a
5. Der Lindenbaum E D C E
6. Wasserflut f, changed to e c b c
7. Auf dem Flusse e c a c
8. Rückblick g e d e
9. Irrlicht b g f g
10. Rast d, changed to c a g a
11. Frühlingstraum A F F G
12. Einsamkeit d, changed to b a g b
13. Die Post E B G B
14. Der greise Kopf c a a c
15. Die Krähe c a g b
16. Letzte Hoffnung E C B D
17. Im Dorfe D C B D
18. Der stürmische Morgen d c b d
19. Täuschung A G G A
20. Der Wegweiser g e d e
21. Das Wirtshaus F E D F
22. Mut a, changed to g f d f
23. Die Nebensonnen A F F A
24. Der Leiermann b, changed to a f f g

Enduring influence

Schubert's Winterreise has had a marked influence on several key works, including Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen[25] and Benjamin Britten's Night-piece.[26] In 1991, Maury Yeston composed December Songs, a song cycle influenced by Winterreise, on commission from Carnegie Hall for its Centennial celebration.[27]


There are numerous recordings.

Highly recommended versions from the modern era include those of:


  1. Reed, John (1985). The Schubert Song Companion. New York: Universe Books. ISBN 0-87663-477-3. p. 441
  2. Giarusso, Richard (2008). "Beyond the Leiermann". In Reul, Barbara M., and Lorraine Byrne Bodley. The Unknown Schubert. Ashgate. p.26
  3. Youens, 1991, p.21
  4. A. Robertson. Schubert – Winterreise (1965).
  5. Youens, 1991, p.22
  6. Max Friedlaender, in Franz Schubert – Sammlung, 'Textrevision zu Franz Schubert's Liedern', following page 260.
  7. W. Rehberg, Franz Schubert, 338–39.
  8. Service, Tom (28 April 2010). "Schubert's syphilitic sonata". The Guardian. London.
  9. Haywood 1939.
  10. R. Capell, chapter on Winterreise.
  11. 1 2 C. Osborne, 1955.
  12. Cited by William Mann, 1965.
  13. IMSLP: Versions of Works by Others (Liszt, Franz)
  14. Publisher's Note pp. ix–x in Franz Liszt: The Schubert Song Transcriptions for Solo Piano: Series II: The Complete Winterreise and Seven other Great Songs, 1996, Mineola, N.Y.,Dover Publications inc.
  15. Classics Online
  16. "Schubert: Winterreise / Christian Elsner, Henschel Quartet". 2002. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  17. "Bekannte Tour durch eine neue Klangwelt" (in German). Sächsische Zeitung. 21 June 2004. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  18. biography of John Neumeier on Hamburg Ballet website
  19. "Transit Cellophane". muziekweb. Retrieved 2014-12-03.
  20. Pentaèdre (Danièle Bourget, Martin Charpentier, Normand Forget, Louis-Philippe Marsolais, Mathieu Lussier). ATMA ACD2 2546
  21. "Illusion" by Franz Schubert and Wilhelm Müller on stage by Horst Dittrich (Austrian Sign Language), Rupert Bergmann (bass-baritone) and Gert Hecher (piano)
  22. "Schubert: Winterreise Nataša Mirković-De Ro (tenor) Matthias Loibner (hurdy-gurdy)". Nov 2010. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
  23. "Die Winterreise, by William Schimmel and Corn Mo". William Schimmel and Corn Mo. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  24. Schroeder, David P. Our Schubert: his enduring legacy The Scarecrow Press, 2009: p. 174
  25. Keller, Hans. Film music and beyond: writing on music and the screen, 1946–59. Ed. Christopher Wintle. Plumbago Books, 2006: p. 96
  26. "About Maury Yeston". About Maury Yeston's website. Retrieved 1 July 22013. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  27. German HMV, 24 sides, ER 270-272, 274-276, ES 383-386, 392-393: see Darrell 1936, p. 414. CD: Prestige Recordings, HT S004.
  28. Polydor-Odeon, only songs 1,5,6,8,11,13,15,18,20,21,22,24); cf. Darrell 1936, p. 414.
  29. Blom, 1933. Reissued from HMV DA 1344-1346 (10") and DB 2039-2044 (12"), World Records SH 651-652 transfer by Keith Hardwick for EMI 1980.
  30. See Joseph Horowitz review in NYT
  31. Columbia CXS 1222, CX 1223, reissued as Seraphim IC-6051 with Schwanengesang, etc.
  32. James Jolly (30 November 1999). "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Schubert's Winterreise. How Gramophone followed this winter's journey". Gramophone. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  33. HMV ALP 1298/9, recorded 13–14 January 1955, issued November 1955; following Die schöne Müllerin issued 1953
  34. HMV ALP 2001/2, ASD 551/2, recorded 16–17 November 1962, sleeve notes by William Mann; following Die schöne Müllerin issued 1962: Reissued in A Schubert Anthology, EMI/HMV SLS 840 box set, BOX 84001-84003.
  35. DGG LP 2720 059, CD 437 237-2, recorded August 1971
  36. DGG LP 39201/2, recorded May 1965
  37. DGG LP 2707 118, CD 439 432-2, recorded 1979
  38. Philips CD 411 463-2, recorded July 1985
  39. Sony Classical CD SK48237, recorded July 1990
  40. Decca Stereo, SET 270-271.
  41. Lebrecht, Norman. The Life and Death of Classical Music. New York: Anchor Books, 2007, p. 289.
  42. "Ian Bostridge (tenor) Julius Drake (piano)". Retrieved 14 July 2012.


Further reading

External links

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