German for winter journey.

Title of a cycle of 24 songs with piano accompaniment (D 911) by Franz Schubert to poems by Wilhelm Müller (who used the title with definite article, Die Winterreise).

Highly recommended hearing for anybody who likes lieder or romantic period music in general.

It was written in 1827, one year before the composer's death, and it has been speculated that his health may have already been declining when the last 12 parts were added. The songs are much darker in mood than those in his previous cycles (for example, Die Schöne Müllerin, also to poems by Müller), and are considered by many to be among his finest.

The common theme is a man who, after a passionate episode of unhappy love, flees into the wintry countryside and wanders about. The poems do not, however, tell a coherent story in any way. Rather, they paint images of moods that a traveler might encounter in this backdrop. The music brilliantly conveys the occasionally erratic emotions of the hapless wanderer, with sometimes eerie intensity: they range from denial to defiance, rage and pain, restlessness, disillusion, bitterness, and ultimately despair and utter desolation.

Before the first performance in front his friends, sung by himself, Schubert remarked (as related by his friend Josef von Spaun in notes for the early Schubert researcher Ferdinand Luib):

[...] ich werde euch einen Kranz schauerlicher Lieder vorsingen. Ich bin begierig zu sehen, was ihr dazu sagt. Sie haben mich mehr angegriffen, als dies je bei anderen Liedern der Fall war.
([...] I will sing you a cycle of eerie songs. I am avid to see what you will have to say about them. They have affected me more than it was ever the case with other songs.)

Spaun went on to remark that the listeners were perplexed by the gloomy spirit of the songs; one stated that he only liked one of the songs, Der Lindenbaum. Schubert replied:

Mir gefallen diese Lieder mehr als alle, und sie werden euch auch noch gefallen.
(I like these songs more than all the rest, and you too will like them some day.)

The songs that comprise the cycle are (English translations in brackets):

  1. Gute Nacht (Good Night)
  2. Die Wetterfahne (The Weather Vane)
  3. Gefrorne Tränen (Frozen Tears)
  4. Erstarrung (Congelation)
  5. Der Lindenbaum (The Lime Tree)
  6. Wasserflut (Flood)
  7. Auf dem Flusse (On the River)
  8. Rückblick (Retrospection)
  9. Irrlicht (Friar's Lantern)
  10. Rast (Rest)
  11. Frühlingstraum (Dream of Spring)
  12. Einsamkeit (Solitude)
  13. Die Post (The Mail)
  14. Der greise Kopf (The Gray Head)
  15. Die Krähe (The Crow)
  16. Letzte Hoffnung (Last Hope)
  17. Im Dorfe (In the Village)
  18. Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning)
  19. Täuschung (Delusion)
  20. Der Wegweiser (The Sign Post)
  21. Das Wirtshaus (The Inn)
  22. Mut (Courage)
  23. Die Nebensonnen (The Additional Suns)
  24. Der Leiermann (The Hurdy Gurdy Man)

Müller initially published the first 12 poems, which Schubert discovered and set to music. Later, the complete cycle was assembled by inclusion of 12 poems from two previously published collections and some reordering. When Schubert found out about it, he wrote the remaining songs. Müller's and Schubert's ordering of the poems differ, which is in part due to the fact that the first half was left in the order they were originally composed.


Famous recordings include those by Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who performed for no less than 10 (excluding live ones) over the course of over 40 years with various pianists. Particularly acclaimed are the 1962 reading with Gerald Moore and the 1965 one with Jörg Demus.

Hans Hotter has done a magnificent, but particularly bleak and unrelenting version in 1954 (in mono), one of my personal favourites. Although the recording is dated, the singer's voice has a splendid presence.

Another classic is the 1963 interpretation of tenor Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten (a couple at the time). It seems to be somewhat polarizing, both because of some idiosyncrasies of the reading, and because tenor versions of the piece are not to everyone's taste, but it's intensity makes it definitely worth a listen for everybody. Another personal favourite.

Even further up the vocal registers, there is a famous mezzo-soprano rendition from 1988 with Brigitte Fassbaender, Aribert Reimann accompanying, which seems to be about the first recording by a woman that won general praise. Again, a matter of taste because of the unusual register.