Traveler's Aid

By Judith Green

Four Moravian faculty members celebrated a winter’s day with the most wintry of musical compositions, enhanced by a suite of wintry paintings.

Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (“Winter Journey”) was written near the end of his short life (1797-1828). Its 24 songs about the close of a love affair use the bleak winter landscape into which the protagonist disappears as a continuing metaphor for his despair. It’s quite clear, for instance, that snow described as gefror’ne Tränen (“frozen tears”) is both snow and the tears of the rejected lover as he struggles through a storm.

Linda Ganus, Eduardo Azzati, Martha Schrempel, and Hilde Binford thought that making the songs visible would make them more meaningful for an audience. On February 28, Azzati sang the cycle with Schrempel accompanying at the piano, surrounded by 24 pencil and wash drawings by Ganus. All three are artist-lecturers in Moravian’s Music Department. Linda Ganus is by profession a flutist, by avocation a painter.

Binford, assistant professor of music, produced the concert prologue in Hearst Hall, giving a lecture illustrated with excerpts of Winterreise on video. Ganus described her approach to selected songs; Azzati and Schrempel provided musical illustrations.

It is often said that Schubert’s other song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin (“The Maid of the Mill”), another story of a broken love affair, is the more pictorial of the two. It has woodland scenery and a lively brook and the mill with its huge majestic wheel. But the elegant black and white drawings, the perfect alignment of melody and the sparse piano accompaniments, and the restrained suffering of Wilhelm Müller’s poetic song-texts turned Winterreise into a visual work as well as a musical one.

Ganus’s paintings went from Hearst Hall to a New York gallery.

The songs of Winterreise illustrated by the paintings: top, Gute Nacht” (song 1, “Good Night”). Top left, “Gefror’ne Tränen” (song 3, “Frozen Tears”); above middle, “Die Wetterfahne” (song 2, “The Weathervane”); middle, “Rast” (song 10, “Rest”); bottom, “Der Wegweiser” (song 20, “The Signpost”).