Selectec Songs, vol. ii*

Schubert: Selected Songs, ii: Winterreise op. 89, ed. Walter Dürr; Bärenreiter/Henle/Novello


For reasons that seemed strong to them, though strange to me, the Neue Schubert Ausgabe song editors rejected overall chronology in favour of publication order during Schubert's lifetime and Deutsch order thereafter. Then came a further swerve from that dubious direction into a 17-volume selection, additional to the main series but based on the same dividing line, which now looks even more pointless. This is only their third volume to appear in two years, so they still have time to cut their losses, which look all too likely. Winterreise seems an apt cue for a cool and serious survey of progress and prospects; and I foresee a process of going downhill based on that cycle itself. After its initial strange departure, this venture could easily lose its way in pursuit of a chimera and finish up as an unsuccessful commercial axe-grinder pathetically holding out an empty plate. The talented Neue Ausgabe team surely deserve state subsidies to complete their long­awaited collected song edition. Instead, here they are in the limp-cover trade, at un­competitive prices, and still in my view selling Schubert short. It's a sad business, especially as the results here seem to be a double failure, attaining neither deep scholarship nor wide popularity. Those two contentions can be illustrated by reference to the so-called “high” (i.e. original-key) edition and its transposed companion volume respectively.

    Winterreise presents daunting textual problems. In a closely reasoned and documented article (MQ, Jan 1974) Julian Armitage-Smith made a strong case for several musical amend­ments to the standard editions. Not one is in­cluded in this version, which is notable not only for carefulness but also for caution. It is therefore not strikingly different from other cheaper editions, nor, except for its instructions on performance, especially helpful. Many chances for significant improvement have been missed, in my view. For example, the word sung at bars 82-3 and 92-3 of Erstarrung should be “erfroren”, not “erstorben”, and that at bar 42 of Der Wegweiser should be “Strassen”, not “Wegen”. The poet's meaning demands the former correction and his rhyme the latter. Both the wrong words occur earlier in the song concerned, and they were no doubt still echoing in Schubert's mind; hence his mistranscriptions, which he would cer­tainly have wished to rectify had he been aware of them. The way to achieve this is boldly to print the right words in the sung text; their numb relegation to a footnote, as here, is a signpost pointing to another 150 years of error.

    I should like to challenge some of the musical text, too. For example the note on “ach” in bar 25 of Einsamkeit should, on the evidence of the manuscript, read A and not C sharp. This, like all the other amendments so far mentioned, admittedly relies in part on the contention that Schubert was in no condition to correct the proofs of Winterreise as meticulously as he would have wished. But there is strong evidence, both internal and external, for that proposition; and it burdens the editor with an unusually heavy responsibility, not wholly discharged here, for positive decision-making.

    All these points apply equally to the transposed edition, which is also labelled “Urtext”, presumably to inspire confidence among customers. Scholarship and salesmanship soon come into more serious conflict. The editor feels, understandably enough, that only Schubert should be allowed to transpose single songs within the cycle; the rest of us should respect the published key-structure. So each successive song is uniformly taken a tone down, for what is called (despite for example the high G flats in Erstarrung and Die Post) “mittlere Stimme”. The results traverse some unexpected tonalities, as when Gefror'ne Tränen in E flat minor is twice heard melting, at “zerschmelzen”, into F flat major. So those three songs and four others (X, XIV, XV, XVI) are all taken a further semitone down and given more familiar keys. But then they are accommodated in an Annexe. Performers are thus required to pay extra for texts they don't use, and forced to dodge back and forth among the pages for those they do. This makes no sense, whether commercial, practical, scholarly or other. Will the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe please leave these well-worn tracks to others more familiar with them and return without further delay or detour to the lofty if lonely heights where it belongs?


The Musical Times, Feb. 1980 (p. 112) © the estate of eric sams