This chapter is about the project The Great European Song Book that holds 55 Kunstlieder (arranged by mathias rüegg) interpreted by myself as songs leading to three albums A Winter’s Journey, The Schumann Song Book and The Brahms Song Book. To point to the connection of the crossover dimension of the Kunstlieder by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms the project is called The Great European Song Book as a reference to The Great American Song Book that is filled with songs by composers like George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter and is a main source of songs for jazz musicians.
When I first started working on the lieder/songs*, I had no idea of the impact this would have on me. Although I had played Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven as a child on both piano and flute, classical music was a universe I did not feel I really belonged to. I crossed over into a very different practice, approaching Schubert’s song cycle as I would approach jazz songs, pushing my limits as a jazz interpreter as I made Schubert’s Winterreise my own. I sat there in front of these signs and symbols on paper, in front of words and notes somebody left behind, and that were waiting to be repeated and discovered; signs that told me a story and at the same time waited for me to tell a story with and through them. I started by humming the melody, playing it melody on the piano while humming and singing along, and after repeating and repeating each phrase over and over again I slowly started the translation process, one word, one phrase at a time.
It was necessary for me to translate the poems for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, in general it helped to gain distance and escape the maybe immediate comparison to the ‘original’. Secondly because every language carries its own rhythmic patterns, which especially becomes audible in poetry. The piano accompaniment is tailor-made for the poem, the German words and their accentuations. So if the rhythmic approach of the arrangement changes, it impacts the poem. And to me the different rhythmic approaches between classical music and jazz has been the most significant difference in my process of approaching Lieder as songs. For example, the so-called Swing Feel is a specific way of phrasing based on a ternary subdivision of a quarter note, which is a core element in jazz music but it is not in classical music. When singing the arranged version of the song in German, it felt like two different conceptions of rhythm are meeting and I could understand why Mackie Messer* had to become Mack the Knife before it found its way into The Great American Song Book. And thirdly, every translation is already an interpretation and gave me, as the interpreter, the chance to dive even deeper into the process of interpreting. I had the chance to interpret the meaning of the poems and share this interpretation through the translation. My translation had to fit the arrangement.
This process gave me the opportunity to connect with the words and lyrics in a different way and in ways I hadn’t done and experienced before. It helped me to learn, repeat and study every bar on different levels - the poetry, the sound of the words in German, the sound of the words in English, the sound of the words combined with the sound of the melody. With translating, I was already practicing and getting to know the arranged version of the song.The more I think about my process, the more it becomes clear that every step of the way I was enwrapped in repetition, constantly asking myself, how? How should I repeat this word, this musical thought, how should I not only translate the language but translate one style of interpretation to another, one key to another key...and so forth. This turned out to be one of the most important steps in the whole process of finding my way through these songs and finding my interpretation within different sound ideals, and practices.
My own work with Schubert's lieder begun in 2011. Einsamkeit, Wegweiser und Lindenbaum were the first three Lieder that I started to work on. They belong to the Lied-cycle Die Winterreise. The cycle is based on a cycle of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller written in Winter 1822/23, mostly in the classic form of "Volksliedstrophe". Franz Schubert set Müller's poems to music between February 1827 and October 1827. It is said that Wilhelm Müller never heard or even knew about Schubert's compositions of his poems. The poems of the Winterreise are rooted in the tradition of the Romantic Wanderlied. The title is said to be inspired by Johan Georg Jacobis travel journal called Winterreise from 1769 und Ludwig Uhland's eighth Wanderlied Winterreise from 1813. Müller describes the walk of a wanderer through winter landscapes, that leads more and more into solitude and alienation of the protagonist from society. Dissapointed, heart-broken the wanderer sets out into a winter's night (Gute Nacht) leaving the house (Die Wetterfahne), the village's fountain (Der Lindenbaum) and the town (Rückblick) behind, passes a village where barking dogs drive him out (Im Dorfe), gets lost and finds himself exhausted on a graveyard (Das Wirtshaus), finds rest at a charcoal burner‘s house (Rast) and at last meets the Leiermann.
The whole cycle ends with a question, with two questions to be exact, asked by the wanderer to the strange, old man:
Soll ich mit dir geh'n?
Willst zu meinen Liedern
Deine Leier dreh'n?
Should I walk with you?
Will you grind your organ
To my songs too?