The friend of Schubert’s winter traveler

Sometimes I think that my blog could have a single topic — the circulation and uses of this musical landmark which resonates across Western culture: 

Since Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” is a collaborative pianist, the question of the instrument in this lied remains particularly important to me.  The Leier of Schubert’s Leiermann is not a bardic lyre but a vulgar hurdy-gurdy.  How, then, to give voice/character to a mechanized instrument that requires little skill to play?  Also, how to vary a melody accompanied by an unvarying bass? 

Interpretive suggestions keep multiplying.  The lied has been performed with different piano accompaniments (such as F minor, A minor and G minor), with an Austrian hurdy-gurdy,

with organ and cello,

and has also been thoroughly recomposed.

The most recent (2021) approach that has come to my attention uses an 1830 fortepiano’s bassoon pedal, inserting leather-covered strips of brass into contact with bass strings and giving the drone a haunting sense.

Interpretations like these seek to capture the opening two chords, when, at the very end of the song cycle, the pianist becomes a second protagonist and we realize that the musician may be the protagonist’s best friend, and he may have been there all along. 

I have written about listening to a song like this as an ascesis in self-formation. Now I want to add that making music with a friend is also such an ascesis.

1 March 2022

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