A Tonal Schema

Transposition of Lieder is widely acknowledged and executed in many recitals for practical purposes. This second blog post will focus on the intended tonal schema for Winterreise and, as well as the keys Andrea and I have decided upon, I'm including a list of Schubert's originals for comparison. We have largely taken the Peters edition as the basis of our performance, with some modifications.

At the end, I offer a short commentary on some of the considerations at hand, as well as some of the compromises made. In considering the key-relationships between individual songs, we have always had a sense of mood and direction foremost in our minds. And lastly, any purists should note that Schubert himself produced some transpositions for various songs of the cycle.

Some brief notes and/or explanations as follows:

  1. In comparison to the Peters edition for low voice, we begin the cycle with the first three songs down a minor third (instead of the first two only down a major third).

  2. Also departing from Schubert's own tonal map, we argue that perhaps there is a more satisfactory transition from Erstarrung in G minor to the Lindenbaum in D major (the more relaxed dominant of the former key). There is one practical consideration, as follows.

  3. It would have been ideal to preserve the major/minor relationship between Lindenbaum and Wasserflut, but Lindenbaum becomes extremely low on the piano otherwise.

  4. Our scheme above has Irrlicht a perfect fourth away from Rückblick, but this serves to preserve the semitone difference between Irrlicht and Rast.

  5. For our purposes, Die Post has gone up from the key of B major in the Peters low voice edition, to C major. The flow of the cycle is much more satisfactory in this way.

  6. With the exception of the initial warmth (and subsequent heroism) provided by E-flat major for the Wirtshaus, the last five songs of our scheme centre around the tonal centre of F. It's largely all over by then anyway!

I can hardly agree more with the British tenor Ian Bostridge when he writes in A Singer's Notebook: "Such decisions are a mixture of the pragmatic...and the aesthetic." The transpositions outlined above allow the piece to sit much more within the compass of a single voice-type (Schubert wrote his original songs for a very wide range indeed), but the audience must feel at ease with the transition from one movement to the next. We hope we will have been able to execute the latter in a satisfactory fashion!