Lieder and cycling

The king of all bicycle messengers:
Nelson Vails “The Cheetah,”
Olympic Silver Medalist (1984)

When I was a teenager, I got a job one summer working as a bike messenger in New York. We were paid by the number of deliveries, and our reputation for riding recklessly was well-earned; that summer was one long adrenalin rush. One day I had a package to pick up in a used record shop and wound up stopping to chat with the kindly owner. He gifted me a record full of music new to me: Lieder, or, in English, “art song.”

These songs are inevitably heart-on-the-sleeve, serving up love lost and found with an extra helping of sweet suffering. Here are lyrics to a song from “Winterreise” (Winter Journey) by Schubert. The cycle details the dismal journey of a rejected lover in winter and was written during that prodigiously prolific last year.

English Translation by Richard Wigmore from a poem by Wilhelm Müller

By the well, before the gate,
stands a linden tree;
in its shade I dreamt
many a sweet dream.

In its bark I carved
many a word of love;
in joy and sorrow
I was ever drawn to it.

Today, too, I had to walk
past it at dead of night;
even in the darkness
I closed my eyes.And its branches rustled
as if they were calling to me:
‘Come to me, friend,
here you will find rest.’

The cold wind blew
straight into my face,
my hat flew from my head;
I did not turn back.

Now I am many hours’ journey
from that place;
yet I still hear the rustling:
‘There you would find rest.’Listen to how the piano line mimics the lyrics. The opening sounds just like “branches rustling” calling “here you will find rest” (“rest” being a euphemism for death and the end of suffering).

The Linden Tree” from Winterreise by Schubert

Recently I’ve been on a Schumann kick, in particular the cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Love). In the way it can evoke a world of feeling in 58 seconds, this kind of short form is a direct precursor to Anton Webern’s 20th Century miniatures.

“Many flowers spring up from my tears,
and a nightingale choir from my sighs:
If you love me, I'll pick them all for you,
and the nightingale will sing at your window."

Who would think that a love of riding bicycles could lead to the discovery of a new art form? Anyone up for a ride when I come up? Who knows what we would discover?

David Yang, Artistic Director

Download File

latest posts


David Yang

Most of us have had kind and generous teachers that left a lasting impression.


David Yang

On Tuesday, I had the privilege to discuss the composer Arnold Schoenberg with his son, Larry.


David Yang

Buckle your seat belts! The program consists of the Schoenberg String Trio and Mozart’s Divertimento in Eb.

Help ensure our continued success

NCMF relies on the assistance of corporations, foundations, and most importantly, you.

Make a GiftVolunteer