Thoughts about WINTERREISE
Personal comments of the artists
Franz Schubert‘s two major song cycles based on texts by Wilhelm Müller (1794–1830) were milestones in music history. Whoever dares to “reproduce them in performance” is treading in the footsteps of giants. As Markus Schäfer puts it: “through previous interpretations by distinguished artists, these cycles have not only become extremely popular; they have acquired an almost untouchable aura”.
In conversation, Markus Schäfer and Tobias Koch remind us that these songs’ status was not as monolithic as it has become. “Due to their audacity and sheer energy, the effect was initially almost frightening in Schubert’s closest circle of friends”, Schäfer explains. “It comes as no surprise that Franz von Schober, for one, did not like any of them except Der Lindenbaum.”
Although Schubert/Müller’s “Winterreise” seems to stand out in music history a monument – the very birth of art song – Schäfer and Koch do not regard this cycle’s content as straightforward or definitive. “The questions the cycle leaves open are more numerous than the direct answers it provides. Winterreise is thus a work of our time”, Koch affirms. “At any rate, my personal approach as a performer is to ask questions, leaving the answers up to the listeners. Perhaps that is why so much in this recording seems to be unusually alert: in motion, in flux. ...
We diverge from what is familiar, as well as from the ‘Urtext’, in a multitude or striking musical details: we introduce other notes, different embellishments, interpolated recitatives, additions, rests, transitions, unexpected turning points. In Schubert’s sketches for Winterreise we found certain relations he had originally foreseen among keys, and we apply that knowledge in this recording.
Music lovers of our time would find early 19th-century performance customs quite strange; modern-day concert hall recitals are purportedly designed to reflect ‘objective’, ‘functional’ criteria. We, as historically informed performers, call the current approach into question. We plead in favour of the listening habits of Schubert’s day: more spontaneity, more individuality, an emphasis on the unique role each musical moment can play for interpreters and for the audience.
We have allowed ourselves to insert our own musical comments: plenty of improvisation, and generally a more free-handed approach to the historical material to which we have access. As performers, this puts us in a state of blissful suspension. (excerpts from the booklet)
To trace the essence of sound with the joy of discovery and open-minded versatility – that is the musical credo of Tobias Koch, one of the most fascinating current performers in the area of historical keyboard instruments. Koch never ceases to surprise his audiences with a series of exceptional projects, featuring an extensive variety of repertoire and a pronounced curiosity for discovering rare historical instruments and unknown musical gems.
A comprehensive musical career as soloist, chamber musician, and vocal accompanist has led him to tour throughout Europe. He appears as a guest artist in leading festivals such as Schleswig-Holstein, Ludwigsburg, Verbier, and the Warsaw Chopin Festival.
Important musical partners include Andreas Staier, Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis, Concerto Köln, Collegium 1704 Prag, Hofkapelle München, Frieder Bernius with Hofkapelle Stuttgart, the choirs of the broadcasting entities WDR (Cologne) and BR (Munich), and singers such as Dorothee Mields, Jan Kobow, Thomas E. Bauer, and Markus Schäfer, with whom he has been collaborating for many years. Tobias Koch works in tandem with instrument makers and restorers, as well as with some of the most important musical instrument museums;
He is on the faculty of the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf and imparts masterclasses on an international level. A wide range of publications and a great number of broadcast productions for radio and television round out his work in the field of music, along with over 40 CD releases of works ranging from Mozart to Brahms.