“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again.” That’s James Joyce’s snow, falling outside a Dublin hotel room, the first notes of the sublime last movement of his long story “The Dead.” Snow is also falling on the nameless lovesick wanderer in Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey).
Though I make a point of listening to Schubert and reading Joyce every year at this time, I’ve never brought them together in the same column — under the same roof of the same imaginary inn, as it were, the short plump bespectacled composer at the piano accompanying the tall, thin, bespectacled Irish tenor whose singing voice was “clarion clear” according to Oliver St. John Gogarty, otherwise known as “stately plump Buck Mulligan” in the opening sentence of Joyce’s Ulysses. Given the preoccupation with songs and singers in Joyce’s life and work, it’s not all that unlikely a pairing, allowing for a little poetic license in the matter of time and space. True, Schubert was born in Vienna on January 31, 1797, Joyce 85 years and 1300 miles away in Dublin on February 2, 1882, but online the distances and years disappear in “that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead,” their “wayward and flickering existence” sensed but not apprehended by Joyce’s Gabriel Conroy seconds before he turns to the window and sees the snow “falling obliquely against the lamplight.” more