Der Lindenbaum

In the last article we dealt with the large form of the “Lindenbaum”. Today we go one step further and take a closer look at the song.

“Der Lindenbaum” is part of the song cycle “Die Winterreise”, the soul drama of a lonely wanderer. If you look closely at the text, you will notice that it is divided into four parts. The first two verses evoke an idyll: “I dream in his shadow …” and remind us of our common past: “It moved in joy and sorrow …”. Verse three and four tell of current experiences. “I must wander today, too…” About the longing that the tree triggers to find a resting point in the restless life of the wanderer: “Here you will find your rest”. Suddenly the wind blows in his face and knocks the hat off his head. But the wanderer remains defiant and does not turn away, but continues on his way. In the sixth verse the longing comes out again. The wanderer is now far from his beloved tree and is pining away for the peace he might find there. But does he really long for it? Is it not rather the desire to wander always in longing?   How did Schubert translate this into his composition?
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In the piano prelude (0:00 – 0:25) he lets the idyllic mood of the beginning of the poem emerge. Quiet, wave-like ascending and descending triplets represent the soft murmuring of the wind in the leaves of the lime tree. At 0:18 and 0:23 one thinks one hears hunting horns in the distance (horn fifths in the piano).   In the first verse (0:26 – 1:21) the wanderer dreams himself back to the place of his longing. To the place where he has spent so much time in “joy and suffering. Schubert composes here with the simplest of means. Probably also to make it clear that the protagonist was younger and “simpler” at the time. In the singing voice he uses mainly notes of the corresponding triads and the rhythm takes a calm, slightly elated course. In addition, the melody remains almost the same and changes only in a few places. The piano also provides for this calm, relaxed mood by subordinating itself to the singing and playing around the singing voice in a sparse way.   In the first interlude (1:22 – 1:32) the mood changes. Although it is very similar to the Prelude, again triplets with the same ending: dotted eighths, sixteenths, fourths. But to increase the tension, the section is reduced to half the number of measures. The harmony becomes cloudy, from major to minor.   A short note on the tone genders. Tones can sound in unison, for example as a melody, or together as a sound or chord. We know this from pop music, where the guitar plays main chords. Of all possible harmonies, two “genders”, major and minor, have established themselves with the beginning of the baroque. We perceive major as bright and cheerful. It is mostly used for lively pieces of music. In pop music, too, one usually hears songs in major. Minor appears dark and melancholic. In today’s music it is often used for ballads or sad songs.   We have seen that the music of “Lindenbaum” has changed from major to minor in the interlude. At the beginning of the second verse this still resonates, because the new harmony runs through the part from “I must also today …” to ” … closed my eyes” (1:32 – 1:59). One can see very well on the recording how Fischer-Dieskau expresses the new mood. How he lowers his head and apparently falls into mourning. Schubert’s music is very much based on the text and the mood of the “deep night” and the “dark”. In the accompaniment we hear how the “wandering” is represented by a rolling movement. In my opinion, there is a deeper level at this point. In the triplet the desire to wander, in the dotted eighth the faltering, the hesitation as to whether one should stop after all. And then the decision to go on again. With “And its branches …” one returns to the idyll. The harmony changes to major again. The piano accompaniment reinforces this by enriching the sound by supporting the voice in thirds.   At 2:30 a Sforzato accent, like a thunderclap, tears the tuning apart. The soft murmur of the wind has turned into a storm. The triplet chains become wilder through changes of position and further spacing of the notes, intensified by sforzati (sudden emphasis) on individual chords. The singing is reduced to shreds of motives and tone repetitions. Here the singing is no longer beautiful, but rather recitation and speech. Perhaps Schubert wanted to express that it is impossible to sing a song in a storm.   In the interlude (from 2:49) the storm ebbs away and everything calms down again. We return to the mood of the beginning and hear the horn signal already familiar to us.   In the fourth verse (3:05 – 4:19) the wanderer is different than before. The singing melody is the same as in the first verse, but the accompaniment is reminiscent of what he has experienced. Schubert composes here on two levels. On the one hand the wanderer in the “here and now”, on the other hand his dreaming and longing for “before and there”. He illustrates this musically, with the singing repeating the melody of the first linden tree verse, while the piano takes up the accompaniment of the second verse, the Wanderer, which is only modified in a few places. A remarkable trick!
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The postlude is the literal repetition of the prelude, but without horn signals. Through the repetition the song is balanced and ends in the same basic mood in which it began. But only the music ends in the same way. The wanderer, and in the best case also the listener, has changed and hears this passage differently than before. One sees what is hidden under the apparent simplicity of the song for a wealth of musical processes, drama and development. And how wonderfully Schubert composed it.
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