[Ger. dee vin-tuh-rahy-zuh]
Winterreise (Winter Journey) is a cycle of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, best known as the song cycle set for male voice and piano by Franz Schubert (D. 911, published as op. 89 in 1827). It is the second of Schubert's two great song cycles on Müller's poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795, op. 25, 1823). Both were originally written for tenor voice but are frequently transposed to suit other vocal ranges - the precedent being established by Schubert himself. These two works, in their scale, their dramatic coherence and power, their musical and literary unity, and their interpretative demands, stand in a league of their own within the song-cycle genre. Indeed, although Beethoven's cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved) had been published earlier, in 1816, Schubert's two cycles hold the foremost place in the history of the genre.

Authorship and composition

Winterreise was composed in two parts, each containing twelve songs, the first group being set in February 1827 and the second in October 1827. They were also published in two parts, by Tobias Haslinger, in January 1828 and in December of that year, after Schubert's death. Müller, a poet, soldier, and Imperial Librarian at Dessau, died in 1827 aged 33, and probably never heard the first cycle let alone the second. Die schöne Müllerin of 1823 had become central to the performing repertoire and partnership of Schubert with his friend, the baritone singer Johann Michael Vogl, who introduced Schubert and his songs into many musical households great and small in their tours through Austria during the mid-1820s.

Vogl, a literary and philosophical man accomplished in the classics and the English language, came to regard Schubert's songs as 'truly divine inspirations, the utterance of a musical clairvoyance.' Schubert found the first twelve poems under the title Die Winterreise in an almanack (Taschenbuch: Urania) published in Leipzig in 1823. It was after he had set these, in February 1827, that he discovered the full series of poems in Müller's book of 1824 entitled Poems from the posthumous papers of a travelling horn-player, dedicated to the composer Carl Maria von Weber (godfather of Müller's son F. Max Müller), 'as a pledge of his friendship and admiration'. Weber had died in 1826. On 4 March 1827, Schubert invited a group of friends to his lodgings intending to sing the first group of songs, but he was out when they arrived, and the event was postponed until later in the year, when the full performance was given.

Between the 1823 and 1824 editions Müller varied the texts slightly, but also (with the addition of the further 12 poems) altered the order in which they were presented. Owing to the two stages of composition, Schubert's order in the song-cycle preserves the integrity of the cycle of the first twelve poems published. In the complete book edition Müller's final running-order was as follows: Gute Nacht; Die Wetterfahne; Gefrorne Thränen; Erstarrung; Der Lindenbaum; Die Post; Wasserfluth; Auf dem Flusse; Rückblick; Der greise Kopf; Die Krähe; Letzte Hoffnung; Im Dorfe; Der stürmische Morgen; Täuschung; Der Wegweiser; Das Wirthshaus; Das Irrlicht; Rast; Die Nebensonnen; Frühlingstraum; Einsamkeit; Mut!; Der Leiermann. Thus Schubert's numbers would run 1-5, 13, 6-8, 14-21, 9-10, 23, 11-12, 22, 24, a sequence occasionally attempted by Hans Joachim Moser and Günther Baum.

Schubert's original group of settings therefore closed with the dramatic cadence of Das Irrlicht, Rast, Frühlingstraum and Einsamkeit, and his second sequence begins with Die Post. Dramatically the first half is the sequence from the leaving of the beloved's house, and the second half the torments of reawakening hope and the path to resignation.

In Winterreise Schubert raises the importance of the pianist to a role equal to that of the singer. In particular the piano's rhythms constantly express the moods of the poet, like the distinctive rhythm of Auf dem Flusse, the restless syncopated figures in Rückblick, the dramatic tremolos in Einsamkeit, the glimmering clusters of notes in Irrlicht, or the sharp accents in Der Stürmische Morgen. The piano supplies rich effects in the Nature imagery of the poems, the voices of the elements, the creatures and active objects, the rushing storm, the crying wind, the water under the ice, birds singing, ravens croaking, dogs baying, the rusty weathervane grating, the posthorn calling, and the drone and repeated melody of the hurdy-gurdy.

Opinions of Schubert's intentions

In addition to his landlord Franz von Schober, Schubert's friends who often attended his 'Schubertiads' or musical sessions included Eduard von Bauernfeld, Joseph von Spaun, and the poet Johann Mayrhofer. Both Spaun and Mayrhofer describe the period of the composition of Winterreise as one in which Schubert was in a deeply melancholy frame of mind, as Mayrhofer puts it, because 'life had lost its rosiness and winter was upon him.' Spaun tells that Schubert was gloomy and depressed, and when asked the reason replied,
' "Come to Schober's today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs." He then, with a voice full of feeling, sang the entire Winterreise for us. We were altogether dumbfounded by the sombre mood of these songs, and Schober said that one song only, Der Lindenbaum, had pleased him. Thereupon Schubert leaped up and replied: "These songs please me more than all the rest, and in time they will please you as well." '.

It is argued that in the gloomy nature of the Winterreise, compared with the Schöne Müllerin, there is

a change of season, December for May, and a deeper core of pain, the difference between the heartbreak of a youth and a man. There is no need to seek in external vicissitudes an explanation of the pathos of the "Winterreise" music when the composer was this Schubert who had as a boy of seventeen had the imagination to fix Gretchen's cry in music once for all, and had so quivered year by year in response to every appeal, to Mignon's and the Harper's grief, to Mayrhofer's nostalgia. It is not surprising to hear of Schubert's haggard look in the "Winterreise" period; but not depression, rather a kind of sacred exhilaration... we see him practically gasping with fearful joy over his tragic "Winterreise" - at his luck in the subject, at the beauty of the chance which brought him his collaborator back, at the countless fresh images provoked by his poetry of fire and snow, of torrent and ice, of scalding and frozen tears. The composer of the "Winterreise" may have gone hungry to bed, but he was a happy artist.

Schubert's last task in life was the correction of the proofs for part 2 of Winterreise, and his thoughts while correcting those of the last song, Der Leiermann, when his last illness was only too evident, can only be imagined. However he had heard the whole cycle performed by Vogl (which received a much more enthusiastic reception), though he did not live to see the final publication, nor the opinion of the Vienna Theaterzeitung:

Müller is naive, sentimental, and sets against outward nature a parallel of some passionate soul-state which takes its colour and significance from the former. Schubert's music is as naive as the poet's expressions; the emotions contained in the poems are as deeply reflected in his own feelings, and these are so brought out in sound that no-one can sing or hear them without being touched to the heart.'
Elena Gerhardt said of the Winterreise, "You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it.

Nature of the work

In his introduction to the Peters Edition (with the critical revisions of Max Friedländer), Professor Max Müller, son of the poet, remarks that Schubert's two song-cycles have a dramatic effect not unlike that of a full-scale tragic opera, particularly when performed by great singers such as Jenny Lind (Die schöne Müllerin) or Julius Stockhausen (Winterreise). Like Die schöne Müllerin, Schubert's Winterreise is not merely a collection of songs upon a single theme (lost or unrequited love) but is in effect one single dramatic monologue, lasting up to an hour in performance. Although some individual songs are sometimes included separately in recitals (e.g. Gute Nacht, Der Lindenbaum and Der Leiermann), it is a work which should be performed and heard in its entirety. The intensity and the emotional inflexions of the poetry are carefully built up to express the sorrows of the lover, and are developed to an almost pathological degree from the first to the last note. It is claimed that it would be impossible to write this work without having experienced similar emotions in reality.

The songs represent the voice of the poet as the lover, and form a distinct narrative and dramatic sequence, though not in so pronounced a way as in Die schöne Müllerin. In the course of the cycle the poet, whose beloved now fancies someone else, leaves her house secretly at night, quits the town and follows the river and the steep ways to a village. Having longed for death, he is at last reconciled to his loneliness. The cold, darkness, and barren winter landscape mirror the feelings in his heart, and he encounters various people and things along the way which form the subject of the successive songs during his lonely journey. It is in fact an allegorical journey of the heart.

The two Schubert cycles (primarily for male voice), of which Winterreise is the more mature, are absolute fundamentals of the German classical vocal repertoire, and have strongly influenced not only the style but also the vocal method and technique in German classical music as a whole. The resources of intellect and interpretative power required to deliver them, in the chamber or concert hall, challenges the greatest singers.


Early on the wanderer sings about his beloved. As the song cycle develops he starts to sing more about the problems of being a beggar, dogs barking at him etc.

1. Gute Nacht (Good Night)
By moonlight in winter, the poet leaves the house as he came to it, a stranger. The daughter has allowed their love to grow, and the mother has encouraged the pair to think of marriage: but the daughter's love has wandered to some new sweetheart. So he quietly and secretly steals away while they are sleeping, writing 'Good night' on her door, and leaving the path of his footsteps in the snow.
2. Die Wetterfahne (The Weather-vane)
As he goes he notices the winds blowing the weather-vane around on the house, and they blow him away from there as well. If he had taken notice of that fickle sign when he first came, he would not have expected to find a constant woman within. Indoors, their hearts beat like the vane, but not so loud - what do they care for his suffering, when their daughter will be a wealthy bride?.
3. Gefror'ne Tränen (Frozen Tears)
Frozen tears fall from his cheeks as he walks away, but the breast from which they arise is so burning hot with feelings that they should melt the winter ice completely.
4. Erstarrung (Numbness)
He looks in vain for her footprints in the snow, where they formerly walked together arm in arm among the flowers and green grass. He wants to kiss the ground and weep on it, until he can dissolve the ice and see where they trod. But the flowers are all dead, and he can take no remembrance of her away from there. His heart is lifeless with her image frozen within; but if it thaws, her beautiful image fades.
5. Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree)
He comes to the linden tree, with its pale flowers and heart-shaped leaves. that stands at the gate; in the shade of this tree he has dreamt many beautiful dreams, and in the bark he has carved words of love. It was his favourite place. Now he passes it with his eyes shut, even though it is deepest night, but the branches rustle to him, 'Come here old comrade, find your rest here'. A gust of wind blows his hat off, and many hours afterwards he remembers the tree, and it seems to say 'You should have found your rest here.' It is a tacit invitation to suicide. (In Die Schöne Müllerin by the same author the rejected lover actually drowns himself and finds rest in the friendly brook where he dies.)
6. Wasserfluth (Torrent)
He weeps copiously and his tears fall in the snow. When the Spring comes the snow will melt and flow into the river, and will carry his tears to the house of his beloved.
7. Auf dem Flusse (On the Stream)
The river, usually busy and bubbling, is locked in frozen darkness and lies drearily spread out under the ice. He will write her name, and the date of their first meeting, in the ice with a sharp stone. The river is a likeness of his heart: it beats and swells under the hard frozen surface.
8. Rückblick (Retrospect)
His feet are freezing as the soles of his boots are out: but he is eager to leave the town, and he stumbles over every stone. The crows knock the snow off the eaves onto his hat from every house he passes. But when he first came to that inconstant town, larks and nightingales sang at the windows, the lime-trees blossomed, the streams ran clear, and a pair of maiden's eyes shone on him and stole his heart away. When he thinks of that happy day, he longs to walk back along the road to the house where she lives.
9. Irrlicht (Will o' the wisp)
The will-o'-the-wisp has led him astray from the road in the darkness: but he is always going off the road, for our joy and sorrow alike are merely sports to delude us. He follows a track down the crag side: all roads lead to their goal, every spring flows to the sea, and every sorrow leads to the grave.
10. Rast (Rest)
He reaches a charcoal-burner's hut and, worn out by his long trek through the snowstorm with a heavy backpack, he lies down to rest. In the quiet his cuts and bruises sting sorely.
11. Frühlingstraum (Dream of Springtime)
He dreams he is wandering through meadows full of flowers and bird-song in May: he heard the cock's crow and opened his eyes, but it was a raven calling in the cheerless darkness. Who could draw the flowers of ice he can see on the windows? He dreams again, of love, and a maiden's kiss, and the joy and bliss of love, but again the crowing wakes him and he sits up alone. He tries to sleep again: when will the leaves at the window be green - when will she hold him in her arms again?
12. Einsamkeit (Loneliness/Solitude)
He wanders along the busy road ungreeted. Why is the sky so calm and the world so bright? Even in the tempest he was not so lonely as this.
13. Die Post (The Post)
His heart leaps up as the post-horn sounds: they are not bringing him a letter, but it has come from the town, and he will ask if there is news of the beloved.
14. Der greise Kopf (The Grey Head)
The frost in his hair made him think he was going grey, but now it has thawed and his hair is still black. He has heard that some people go grey overnight with sorrow, but though he has felt that sorrow, it has not happened to him.
15. Die Krähe (The Crow)
A crow has followed him all along the way from the town. Is it waiting for him to die, so that it can eat him? It won't be long, let it keep him company to the end.
16. Letzte Hoffnung (Last Hope)
He wanders among the trees and fixes his gaze on one leaf, which seems to hold his fate. It is a token: if it should fall from the branch, his hope will fall. His heart sinks, and his soul weeps the loss of everything.
17. Im Dorfe (In the Village)
People are asleep in the village and the dogs are barking. They dream of many things and have their rest. Let the dogs drive him away so that he does not rest with them - he is finished with all dreaming.
18. Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning)
The tempest has driven the clouds about the sky, and the fiery sun darts between them. It is like his heart, a cold, wild winter.
19. Täuschung (Deception)
A light on the dark and icy road at night, might be a warm place to stay, or the deception of a beautiful face.
20. Der Wegweiser (The Signpost)
Straying restlessly away from the roads, he still seeks rest. There is always a signpost in front of him, pointing to the road from which no wanderer returns.
21. Das Wirtshaus (The Inn) The 'wayside inn' is a lonely graveyard where he hopes to find rest at last. The wreaths are the tavern sign, inviting him in. But no - all the rooms are taken, and he must carry on, as he tells his faithful walking staff.
22. Mut (Courage)
As the wind blows snow in his face, he sings loudly to silence his thoughts of sorrow, so that he cannot hear or feel them. With his trusty staff and cheerful song he'll just keep going on.
23. Die Nebensonnen (The Phantom Suns)
He used to see three suns, but two of them (the eyes of his beloved) have turned away to shine upon another, and now he sees only one, and he wishes that would pass away and leave him to the darkness.
24. Der Leiermann (The Organ Grinder)
At the end of the village he finds the old barefoot hurdy-gurdy man, winding away his tunes, but no one has given him a penny, or listens, and even the dogs growl at him. But he just carries on playing, and the poet thinks he will cast in his lot with him. The parallel with the singer singing his sad songs in the ice and the slow, unresolved melody of the hurdy-gurdy concludes the cycle with an eerily unfinished feel perfectly in character with the lonely wandering of the singer.

Modern versions

Hans Zender orchestrated a version of the cycle, altering the music in the process.


Besides re-ordering Müller's songs, Schubert made a few changes to the words: verse 4 of Erstarrung in Müller's version read "Mein Herz ist wie erfroren" (instead of "erstorben"); Irrlicht 's verse 2 read "...unsre Freuden, unsre Wehen" (instead of "Leiden") and Der Wegweiser 's 3rd verse "Weiser stehen auf den Strassen" (instead of "Wegen"). These have all been restored in Mandyczewski's edition (the widely available Dover score) and are offered as alternative readings in Fischer-Dieskau's revision of Max Friedländer's edition for Peters. A few of the songs differ in the autograph and a copy with Schubert's corrections. Wasserfluth was transposed by Schubert from f sharp to e without alteration; Rast moved from c to d and Einsamkeit from d to b, both with changes to the vocal line; Der Leiermann was transposed from b to a. The most recent scholarly edition of Winterreise is the one included as part of the Bärenreiter "New Schubert Edition", edited by Walther Dürr, Volume 3, which offers the songs in versions for high, medium and low voices.

An online digital edition from Schubertline presents the songs in original keys, but also offers the option of printing them transposed to any key. The following table names the keys used in different editions. Major keys are shown with upper case letters, and minor keys with lower case letters.

Published transpositions
Song Autograph & copy Peters Edition of Friedländler (1884) Schirmer
Autograph Tieferer Stimme Tief Alt oder Baß Low
1. Gute Nacht d b flat a c
2. Die Wetterfahne a f d f
3. Gefror'ne Thränen f d d
4. Erstarrung c g g a
5. Der Lindenbaum E D C E
6. Wasserfluth f sharp, changed to e c c sharp
7. Auf dem Flusse e c c
8. Rückblick g e flat e
9. Irrlicht b flat g g
10. Rast d, changed to c a a
11. Frühlingstraum A F G
12. Einsamkeit d* a b
13. Die Post E flat B B flat
14. Der greise Kopf c a c
15. Die Krähe c a b flat
16. Letzte Hoffnung E C D
17. Im Dorfe D C D
18. Der stürmische Morgen d c d
19. Täuschung A G A
20. Der Wegweiser g e flat e
21. Das Wirthshaus F E flat F
22. Mut a f d f
23. Die Nebensonnen A F A
24. Der Leierman b flat, changed to a f g


There are numerous recordings. Before 1936 are the complete 1928 version of Hans Duhan with Ferdinand Foll and Lene Orthmann, the incomplete Richard Tauber version with Mischa Spolianski, and, lastingly famous, the version of Gerhard Hüsch with Hanns Udo Müller (1933, for which an HMV limited edition subscription society was created). The Hans Hotter account with Gerald Moore (issued May 1955) is very celebrated. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, among the most famous of exponents, is represented in two versions with Gerald Moore (issued November 1955 , and 1963, following Die schöne Müllerin issued in 1953 and 1962), and in another with pianist Jörg Demus in c. 1960. These, and the discs of Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten (issued 1965), have all long been considered outstanding. Highly recommended versions from the modern era include those of Thomas Quasthoff with Charles Spencer (1998, RCA), and Wolfgang Holzmair with Imogen Cooper (1996, Philips).



  • Blom, Eric, Schubert's "Winterreise", Foreword and analytical notes, (The "Winterreise" Society, Gramophone Company, Ltd, London 1933), 32 pp.
  • Capell, Richard, Schubert's songs (Ernest Benn, London 1928).
  • Deutsch, Otto, Schubert: Die Erinnerungen seiner Freunde (Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel 1957).
  • Deutsch, Otto, Franz Schubert: Zeugnisse seiner Zeitgenossen (Fischer-Verlag, Frankfort 1964).
  • (E.M.G.), The Art of Record Buying (EMG, London 1960).
  • Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich, Schubert's Songs (Knopf, New York 1977).
  • Haywood, Ernest, 'Terrifying Songs', Radio Times 20 January 1939.
  • Mann, William, Schubert Winterreise, Sleevenote HMV ASD 552 (Gramophone Co. Ltd 1955).
  • Moore, Gerald, The Schubert Song Cycles - with thoughts on performance (Hamish Hamilton, London 1975).
  • Müller, Wilhelm, Aus dem hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten, II: Lieder des Lebens und der Liebe.
  • Osborne, Charles, Schubert Winterreise, Sleevenote HMV ALPS (Gramophone Co. Ltd 1955).
  • Reed, John, The Schubert Song Companion (Manchester University Press 1997).
  • Rehberg, Walter and Paula, Schubert: Sein Leben und Werk (Artemis-Verlag, Zurich 1946).
  • Robertson, Alec, Schubert, Winterreise, Brochure accompanying Decca SET 270-271 (Decca Records, London 1965).
  • Schubert, Franz, Sammlung der Lieder kritisch revidirt von Max Friedländer, Band I, Preface by Max Müller (Peters, Leipzig).

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