Thursday, March 31, 2016

No. 24 The Hurdy-Gurdy Man

I have searched for novel ways to play this song, but there is only one: This is a picture of the artist's place in the world.
The symbology is undeniable. The lyre, instrument of troubadours and angels (and icon of music publishers) is reduced to the hurdy-gurdy, a droning mechanical copy of the heavenly instrument, itself a centuries-old harbinger of industrialization. Just like the forgotten coal burner's cabin in No. 10 and the Teutonic postal horn in No. 13, this proto-industrial symbol augurs a shift toward mass production of goods and art. Even the mystical linden tree of No. 5 is trapped just within the emerging property lines of a totally new modernity. Müller, amplified by Schubert, is commenting on the first stirrings of momentous societal changes.
The hurdy-gurdy's droning sound is produced when a rotating circular bow, powered by a hand crank, revolves underneath its strings. In this last song of the cycle, the wanderer's journey is immortalized via the monotonous 'cycle' of the Hurdy-gurdy Man's instrument. Does the wanderer drift into oblivion like the beggar on the ice? No, we will sing his songs next Saturday and it won't be long until we begin again next winter. By the time Michael Scales and I are done with this tour next April and have recorded the music, many other singers will have started their own winter journeys.
The cumbersome words, "hurdy-gurdy player" mean nothing to me, so I have substituted the ironic "lyre player" whenever possible; however, my first instinct when translating the instrument's awkward name was 'auto-lyre,' which evokes for me the childhood image of Judy Collins playing an 'auto-harp' on Sesame Street. With one hand she strummed its strings, with the other she pressed rectangular white buttons labeled with the names of chords. My young brain wondered if it was a real instrument. Ian Bostridge notes that there is a folksy Bob Dylan quality to this song and so far, I have always ended up crooning this one. Does Schubert's last song presage the music of the masses? What a beautiful and horrible sound.
Love to you all and see you next winter,

No. 24 The Lyre Player
There behind the village stands the lyre man
And with frozen fingers he plays best he can
Barefoot on the ice he teeters here are there
And his little plate remains forever bare
No one wants to hear him, no one wants to see
And the dogs are snarling at the old man's feet
And he lets it go on always as it will
Playing on his hurdy-gurdy ever still
Strange old lyre player shall I go with you?
Will you play lyre along with my songs too?

24. Der Leiermann
Drüben hinterm Dorfe Steht ein Leiermann
Und mit starren Fingern Dreht er was er kann.
Barfuß auf dem Eise Wankt er hin und her
Und sein kleiner Teller Bleibt ihm immer leer.
Keiner mag ihn hören, Keiner sieht ihn an,
Und die Hunde knurren Um den alten Mann.
Und er läßt es gehen, Alles wie es will,
Dreht, und seine Leier Steht ihm nimmer still.
Wunderlicher Alter ! Soll ich mit dir geh'n ?
Willst zu meinen Liedern Deine Leier dreh'n ?

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