Gute Nacht

"As a stranger I arrived. As a stranger again I leave." - Wilhelm Müller, Gute Nacht.

The irony of documenting one's musings on these poems whilst in the throes of an Australian summer is certainly not lost on me! However, these writings certainly have me thinking about Europe, Winter and my family there, and also what it means to live in the Southern Hemisphere.

The words of the great German lyric poet Wilhelm Müller live on in Schubert's great music. Romantic and ambiguous as the most tormented relationships, these strophes are eternal. Apart from it's great popularity during the 19th century, there is no doubt in my mind why Schubert was drawn to this content given his tragic life, and with the words quoted above, Müller's Winter Journery begins.

From the outset of this cycle, we understand that we have a protagonist in deep distress. Betrayal comes to mind, but it is equally possible that this person has done something wrong. There is not really much of a hint of what this might be, but Schubert's tempo of Mässig implies movement or even a certain hurry. Müller's second verse seems to indicate a predestined fate. Perhaps this is death, but there are also nomadic/animalistic undertones that this soul is condemned to roam as a wild heart.

Surely the most interesting line of the poem for me comes with the text "Die Liebe liebt das Wandern - Gott hat sie so gemacht", or in English: "Love loves to wander - God has made her so". Is this a justification of infidelity as the natural order, or does this harken back to animal impulse? Whatever, the case, the last stanza is set by Schubert in the major key of happier times, before reverting again to the relative minor. This un-prepared shift seems almost un-repentant, even cold.

Back in the 21st century, the opening line of the cycle has me contemplating just how large and complex the world has become, and yet also how small. In many ways, we are more connected. In others, more alone than ever. Kindness so often is a disposable commodity. We (certainly in Australia) turn the needy away. We travel widely in search of a place to belong. All of this is perhaps why this poetry still speaks to us.

The question arises at this point how much "interpreting" need be done by a performer, when Schubert has already commented so poignantly on these texts, but that is likely to be the content of another entry!

Read the full text and translation of Gute Nacht here.