Tenor Ian Bostridge is considered one of the greatest interpreters of the Schubert song cycle Winterreise, a set of gorgeous, tragic, Romantic German songs about a lovelorn man wandering the desolate winter countryside. (Bostridge performs Winterreise at the Hop October 25, accompanied by pianist Thomas Adès . Come see Bostridge coach Dartmouth singers in a free masterclass October 26.)
He’s also an admirer of singers as diverse as Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and newly crowned Nobel literature laureate Bob Dylan. He told the Boston Globe in 2015:
I wasn’t a great listener to pop music. I’d never been to a pop concert, unlike anybody else when I was at boarding school. But at the age of about 14 or 15, one of the boys in my house said, you really ought to listen to Bob Dylan. And I remember I had a study bedroom on an upper floor overlooking the yard of our school. And I remember opening the windows and playing “Highway 61 Revisited” incredibly loudly and that being so thrilling.
In his 2015 book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, Bostridge writes that Winterreise‘s “24 songs are forerunners, in a sense, of all those songs of love and loss that have been the soundtrack of generation on generation of teenagers,” and that he thinks of Dylan, in particular, when he sings Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man):
Classical song and popular song should not be so far apart: they share a lot in their subject matter and in their aesthetic of intimacy. Mostly, however, the influence has to be a subliminal one, for only then can it avoid self-consciousness or a certain archness.
One of the rare occasions on which I became conscious of channelling a different kind of musical expression was in a concert in Moscow. I’ve often reimagined “Der Leiermann” as a sort of Dylan song that doesn’t conform to classical norms in singing, but it is hard to achieve the requisite vibe. On this occasion, however, it clicked: I felt a connection with the greatest Dylan love song performance on record, the bitter masterpiece “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Schubert’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man” emerged as a song that was hardly sung, rasping and guttural by the standards of bel canto, but without sounding–I hope–like a ridiculous intrusion of pop singing into the classical world.
I have no idea if Dylan was aware of Winterreise. Given his eclectic influences in the 1960s–from Rimbaud to Brecht to Elvis to the Beat poets–it is not such an outlandish suggestion. There is a definite kinship between Schubert’s hurdy-gurdy player and Dylan’s tambourine man. This weary but not sleepy poet-wanderer talks of how you might hear “laughin’, spinnin’, swingin’ madly across the sun”; of disappearing “far past the frozen leaves / The haunted, frightened trees”. It’s not a million miles from his jingle jangle to Schubert’s hurdy-gurdy.