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2019.11 Vienna State Opera Magazine: Ein Lebenspiegel in 24 Bildern

Prolog – Vienna State Opera Magazine – November 2019

“Ein Lebenspiegel in 24 Bildern”

“A Mirror of Life in 24 Scenes”


A new interview with Simon has been published by the Vienna State Opera in their ‘Prolog’ magazine ahead of his performance of Winterreise on 19 November 2019.

Link to original article in German – interview on page 20

A Mirror of Life in 24 Scenes

   Interviewer: Andreas Láng

English translation by Gudrun

KS Simon Keenlyside interprets Schubert’s “Winterreise”


There is an everlasting discussion about how dark Winterreise is in its basic foundation and how darkly the individual songs can be atmospherically understood –  to what extent it is a journey to death.

 SK: I’m of a completely different opinion. I see Winterreise more as a mirror in which most people find essential facets of their own lives: being in love, broken relationships, homelessness, worries about money and the future, joy, sorrow, despair, hope, loneliness etc.  Everyone in the auditorium is addressed directly. Of course there is often a lot of melancholy in the individual songs, but nevertheless the songs are not bleak, not depressing, but ultimately filled with light. By the way, I don’t necessarily recognise Death in the great Leiermann, whom the young man accompaniesfor three songs earlier he has already walked across a cemetery without finally remaining there. Rather, “Nur weiter denn, nur weiter” (On then, ever onward) is the motto that drives him forward.

Everyone of us knows that: One morning you wake up, you find everything unbearable, you think you don’t have the strength to carry on – but just one day later you say to yourself: OK, it will work out somehow, it has to work out somehow. And that’s exactly what Winterreise is all about: to move on. These 24 songs are a cycle about the difficulties in life, but not a cycle about death!

In any case a popular cycle – both with the audience and the performers.

SK: Why is “Nozze di Figaro” such a great and popular work? Because Mozart has reached an undreamed-of maturity as a composer here. The same applies to Winterreise , the late work of probably the most important lieder composer of all.

Apropos maturity: When a young singer takes on Winterreise, he is generally slated by the critics, no matter how good the result is, because they don’t want to believe that he is “grown-up enough” for these songs. And vice versa, a singer at the age of 45 is guaranteed to offer a valid interpretation even if not everything works ideally on stage. It’s strange, isn’t it?

Well, probably young performers are not believed to be able to trace all the deep psychological “drilling” Schubert undertakes in Winterreise.

SK: But that would also mean that in reality only the musical intelligentsia understands Schubert right down to the last detail. And that’s what I don’t believe. Of course there is much more compositional and content-related complexity in his songs than you might think on first hearing them. Of course Schubert used Wilhelm Müller’s simple poetry as a basis to reach undreamed-of depths. But nevertheless, this wonderful troubadour Schubert first of all touches the human condition within ourselves. That’s why we love him and not because he is a musical ancestor of Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung.

You have already sung Winterreise more than 500 times. Are there any constants in your interpretation that you have been able to identify over the years?

SK: Whether in a recital or an opera performance, for me it’s all about spontaneity. I symbolically take off my musical-technical safety harness in the wings, step onto the stage and try to express myself the way I feel at that moment – so it’s useless to talk about constants.








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