David Matthews- Winter Journey

Posted on January 6th, 2012 by

Recorded June 2011

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari 1698

Engineer-Jonathan Haskell


David Matthews-Three Studies 

David Matthews visiting Janacek’s house. Brno 2004 (Photo PSS)

Winter Journey is Matthews’ impassioned response to Schubert’s  Winterreise , and is the work with which Matthews and Skærved began their collaboration.


Composers David Matthews, Sadie Harrison, Pavel Novak. Barfrestone Church, Deal Festival 2004.
Composers David Matthews, Sadie Harrison, Pavel Novak. Barfrestone Church, Deal Festival 2004.

PSS and David Matthews on Winter Journey:

When I recently asked David about ‘Winter Journey’, I think that he was a little shocked. After all, so much has happened in our musical friendship since I first fell in love with this piece. I think that we were suddenly taken back to our first working session. This took place at the London Headquarters of Faber Music, on Queen Square in Holborn. I was doubly excited; I was going to work for the first time with a composer whose music I adored, and secondly, I was playing a Stradivarius, the 1708 ‘Prince Regent’ instrument, for the first time. I was very embarrassed that I was lacking any real technical command of ‘Winter Journey’ and probably talked more than I should, probably to avoid David becoming too aware of the damage that I was visiting on his beautiful piece.

Following a ‘Beethoven Explored’ concert , I asked David about Winter Journey-he wrote me a very detailed response;

” Before your concert on Monday, I was talking with Judith Bingham. We agreed that all our pieces were connected with incidents in our lives, though sometimes we didn’t realize this at the time. In the case of ‘Winter Journey’ however, I did realize the connection, as I had done with my previous piece, which was the First Violin Concerto. That piece was derived from a Dostoyevsky story about a man who meets a woman who has been abandoned by her lover; he consoles are befriends her, and inevitably falls in love with her; whereupon her old lover returns and she goes back to him. The man is left alone, but he is strengthened by the experience and we are to understand, turns it into art. In the Robert Bresson film based on the Dostoyevsky, which I saw and which sparked off the piece, the artist is a painter and the last shots as I remember, are of  him painting furiously. Well, the events of the story happened to me as I was composing this piece, more or less exactly like that, which was uncanny. My next piece was for solo violin; as winter was approaching, I felt rather like the hero of Schubert’s Winterreise. So I decided to base the piece on this. The two quotations from Winterreise which stand at the head of the score are from the first poem ‘Gute Nacht’ and the seventeenth poem, ‘Im Dorfe’. This poem is all about the falseness of dreaming, which the poet spurns.

“‘Winter Journey’ is in the tonality of D. Most of it is in a sort of D minor, but a pure D major emerges towards the end, corresponding to the magical change from D minor to D major in ‘Gute Nacht’. The piece is a single movement in Eleven Sections. The first, marked ‘Freely, con Fantasia’ is introductory, and presents much of the material of the piece in fragmentary form. In some of the middle sections I had the sound of another D major/D minor masterpiece in mind, Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ for solo violin. The last D major section is written almost entirely in harmonics, and borrowed very closely from a phrase from ‘Gute Nacht’. The ending vacillates between major and minor, finally choosing the ambiguity of a major second chord on D and F, thus ending just as it began.”

David Mattews, “Letter to Peter Sheppard Skaerved,”  (2002)

Matthews Duos at home. 2005. Photo: Richard Bram