Die Winterreise (The Winter’s Journey) is my most ambitious electroacoustic undertaking to date. Written as a suite of miniatures, this electroacoustic music drama is made up of the 24 poems by the same name written by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827). They are spoken here by the Montréal actor of German origin, Erwin Potitt. To Müller’s texts I have added a 25th and final miniature, Coda, which concludes my interpretation of the electroacoustic music drama that is Die Winterreise.
Die Winterreise was realized from 1995 to 1997 at the composer’s studio and in the studio of the Secteur électroacoustique of the Faculty of Music of the Université de Montréal.
The drama begins with the first poem, in which the wandering poet leaves the town where he thought he had found love. With irony and affection he writes “Good night” on his lost love’s door.
The winter wind plays with the weather vane on the roof of his loved one’s house, just as it has played with the false hearts of those living inside.
The poet’s burning pain gushes out in tears that turn to ice.
The forsaken lover returns to where he had been happy during the summer to search for the footprints of his lost love in the snow.
In the blackness of the night, as the traveler passes by a lime tree in whose shade he had often dreamed, he is troubled by a rustling that calls him to rest. He flees without turning around, gripped by an icy terror.
It seems to the unhappy lover that his tears are mixing with the snow and will form, once the fine weather returns, a stream that will flow past his loved one’s house.
Seeing his reflection in a frozen river, the poet wonders whether its ice covers a torrent that is surging like the one in his heart.
In his flight, our traveler thinks of happier days. He would like to go back, but this is impossible.
As a river finds the sea or sorrow its tomb, a will-o’-the -wisp entices the traveler into a deep chasm.
The poet finds shelter in a hut, but is so tired that he cannot rest. In spite of the quiet that surrounds him, his pain is great.
The poet dreams of spring and of love. He closes his eyes so as not to lose the vision.
The traveler continues along his solitary road. He misses the tempests that had the power to stir his icy heart. He resumes his journey, even if it holds no promise of comfort.
The sound of the post horn makes the heart leap. Even if traveler knows that no letter awaits him, hope is not yet dead.
The poet notices that his hair has turned gray, but it is only frost, not age. He shudders at the thought of how long he must continue on this long road before reaching the grave.
The crow, a symbol of death, has been shadowing the traveler on his journey. But even this bird will not remain faithful until death.
In the trees the poet sees a few leaves that have turned color, and he ties his fate to one of them. But the winter wind makes it fall, and his hopes fall with it.
The dogs bark at the poet as he passes, but the sleeping villagers dream of happiness. But our traveler is done with dreaming, and asks the dogs to keep him awake.
The storm howls, and the poet’s voice blends with it. He finally sees his own image in the savage world.
In a moment’s illusion, a will-o’-the-wisp fools the poet into believing that nearby there is a bright, warm house with a welcoming soul within.
Standing at a crossroads our traveler reads a signpost that points to a road along which no one has ever returned. Solitude and a dread of meeting anyone drive him on to oblivion and peace.
While passing through a cemetery the traveler finds that a tomb is calling him to his final rest. But even if he is fatally wounded his time has not yet come, and he must continue his journey, in despair.
Our traveler begins singing a joyous song in order to give himself courage, but to no avail. He is closed to his heart’s lament and, forlorn, tries to believe himself a god.
The traveler will soon come to the end of his journey. He has an illusion that the sky has three suns, two of which represent the eyes of his lost love. When the third disappears, death’s shadow will bring him the peace for which he has been longing.
A hurdy-gurdy man doggedly plays his melancholy melody, ignored by everyone but our traveler. “Should I go with you? Would you play my songs on your hurdy-gurdy?”
Now that all of the poems have been recited, the poet crosses, as in a film by Jean Cocteau, from the world of the living to the world of the dead by going through a mirror. He cannot be followed. The sound of the receding motorbike is another echo of Cocteau, this time of his depiction of the angels of death. (Thanks to Ned Bouhalassa for his recording of the mirror breaking.)