Benjamin Appl, baritone and James Baillieu, piano

Longy's Pickman Hall

Due to the current surge of the Covid-19 omicron variant in the Boston area, Celebrity Series will not be welcoming audiences in person for the Benjamin Appl, baritone and James Baillieu, piano performance. It will proceed as previously scheduled livestreamed digital performances, with an on-demand viewing period of seven days.

In order to keep everyone safe as we welcome you back to performances, we are asking our patrons to provide proof of vaccination and to wear a mask to our performances. Learn more at celebrityseries.org/safety.

This performance also has a streaming option January 26-February 1, 2022. 

Witness the highly anticipated Celebrity Series debut of Benjamin Appl, a German baritone rightfully called ”the most promising of today’s up-and-coming song recitalists” (Financial Times). With an exquisite voice that “belongs to the last of the old great masters of song” (Süddeutsche Zeitung), Appl brings to life a varied and demanding repertoire that highlights not only his power, but also his sensitivity and ability to transcend language in his musical storytelling. Having recently made his American recital debut in 2019, Appl’s stateside star is still rapidly rising, which makes this is a prime opportunity to experience the young sensation in the intimacy of Longy’s Pickman Hall.

Seating for this performance is limited. This performance is not eligible for group discounts.

Program and Notes

Songs of Life and Love: A Winter’s Journey
by Benjamin Appl

 ‘I turned my steps and with a heart full of infinite love for those who despised it, I wandered into distant lands. For years, I felt that the greatest pain and greatest love was tearing me apart… Then I heard of my mother’s death. […] Tears escaped from my eyes. […]

From then on, I stayed home again. Once more my father took me to his favorite garden. He asked me if I liked it. But the garden was very unpleasant to me and I didn’t dare to say anything. Then he asked me a second time: Do I like the garden? I shook my head whilst trembling… My father hit me and I escaped.

And for the second time I turned my steps, and with a heart full of infinite love for those who despised it, I wandered again into distant lands. I sang songs for many long years from then on. If I wanted to sing about love, it became pain for me. And if I just wanted to sing about pain again, it became love to me. So I was torn apart by love and pain.’

Excerpts from Franz Schubert’s essay, “My Dream,”
July 3, 1822


Winterreise is not an autobiographical work by Schubert. Nevertheless, the parallels are clear: the early death of the mother, the rejection of the father, the aimless wandering along paths to find oneself and the eternal singing of painful love songs.

In his notes, Joseph von Spaun remarked that his friend Schubert was more tormented while composing these songs ‘than was ever the case with other songs.’ After Schubert himself performed some of the songs for friends in 1827, not even those closest to him understood the meaning and ingenuity of these ‘gruesome songs,’ as he himself called them. It was a new kind of ruthless and radical music—something that was not seeking out beauty. However, Schubert’s statement, ‘I like these songs more than all of the others I have composed before, and you will like them too,’ shows the steadfast genius, and makes clear that he was the only one aware just how momentous this work.

Since beginning work on Winterreise, I have found the topic of ‘a dream’ (a place of refuge from reality, typically found in romanticism) to be a series of leitmotifs: Starting with the dreaming girl and the dreamy memories under the lime tree through the stirring spring dreams and the dreams of the villagers, who have ‘sleep-walked’ through their entire life without being fully present. In this work, reality and dreams, wishes, fantasies, and delusions merge and interweave.

So, how are the 19th-century disillusioned poet Wilhelm Müller—who was politically engaged and who indulged in visions and dreams—and a lonely, daydreaming composer, Franz Schubert, relevant to us today in the 21st century? Their thoughts portrayed in the music and text often sound strange to us: talking about snow and ice, loneliness and resignation, the relationship between the soul’s inner world and the real outer world. However, we also live in a time of huge change. We also have to ask ourselves many fundamental questions: how do we treat people and nature with respect, what do we want and wish for the future, and what are we doing in order to fulfil those wishes? Do we ‘sleep’ rather than act when faced with important challenges: immigration, global warming with ever-retreating ice, political disaffection, estrangement between generations, loneliness due to the fear of disease, mental isolation, and anxiety from being overburdened? Often there is little room to dream.

At almost two hundred years old, these songs contain a whole cosmos of thoughts and feelings and ask us a multitude of different questions. It is music full of individuality, in which performers bring their own points of view which can then be perceived differently by each listener. This is a cycle full of way-markers, trails, and untrodden routes that offer opportunities for ever-new reflections: wherever new signposts can be found, there are new routes that can be taken.

I feel that it is a great gift that Winterreise does not come to a real end with ‘Der Leiermann’ (the ‘hurdy-gurdy’ man), because the wanderer does not get an answer to his ultimate question. You can therefore embark on this musical, intellectual, and emotional journey of personal growth for a lifetime, choosing upon each hearing and at each milestone to take a path different from the last time. At each point along the journey, other artists take different pathways and still none of us will ever get there. Fixed views on interpretation and performance practice of this work can be thrown overboard—this means that new personal interpretations by performers and listeners can arise again and again. This work retains its fascination precisely because of this maze of paths, just as in life itself.

For me, Winterreise is a search for light, for warmth, for security. Müller originally gave Winterreise the subtitle ‘Songs of Life and Love’ which seems a far cry from the cold and loneliness usually associated with this work. Of course, the protagonist is someone who has been abandoned, but they are also someone who is searching in life. They, unlike others, do not want to ‘sleepwalk’ through their life and stumble across their fate, but rather they wish to take life into their own hands. This is someone who is a stranger to society, as the first word of the winter journey suggests. This is someone who has the courage to reflect on their inner and outer journeys, who is not afraid of undiscovered places or of the darkest corners, who faces whatever they encounter. This is a brave soul who is looking for a way out—looking for the light, someone who takes luck into their own hands and who cannot—and does not want to—give up. They are an enlightened and enlightening person. But also a dreamer.

After 23 songs, the winter traveller finally meets their first human being, a musician: a mysterious and completely incomprehensible figure who has also set out on their own journey. Ultimately, after total isolation throughout the cycle up to that point, to me the greatest of all mysteries emerges: the prospect of community.

 

“Every time I perform it, Winterreise feels like a new and different journey, depending on my own mood, the atmosphere in the hall, and of course the shared creativity with the all-important pianist. This journey will be lifelong, as no singer ever gets tired of it, or feels he or she has mastered it. ... The challenge for every singer is not to be inhibited, but to find fresh ways of understanding and transmitting both words and music to their own generation. Somehow, in Winterreise, Schubert has made space for that potential. As Benjamin Britten said: “Every time I come back to it, I am amazed not only by the extraordinary mastery of it, but by the renewal of the magic. Each time, the mystery remains.”

Benjamin Appl

“…unbearably moving…”

The New York Times

“(James Baillieu) is an exceptional accompanist, knowing both when to hold back and let the vocal line do the work, and when to assert himself and propel the music forward.”

The Guardian

Longy's Pickman Hall information

This performance is generously sponsored by
Peter J. Wender.

Additional support provided by
German Consulate

The 2021/22 Debut Series is generously sponsored by Harriet & David Griesinger and the Longy School of Music of Bard College.

 

This performance is made possible in part by support from Celebrity Series' LIVE PERFORMANCE! Arts for All Innovation Funds.

Related Events