MEI Transformation for the Winterreise Dataset

Authors: Neumann, Joshua

Date: Thursday, 7 September 2023, 4:15pm to 5:45pm

Location: Main Campus, L 1 <campus:stage>


Just as Franz Schubert is responsible for the mature development of the song cycle, so too is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau for enhancing the genre’s popularity from the mid-twentieth century onward. In addition to numerous recorded performances, Fischer-Dieskau also collaborated on a critical edition of Die Winterreise, situating the cycle as unified, complete ‘work.’ As Natasha Loges has shown, however, performing this cycle in its complete form was not nineteenth-century convention. Moreover, recordings as late as 1943 eliminate strophes of some songs to accommodate limitations of recording technologies. While these reasons for the cycle’s incompleteness differ, the fact remains that presenting it in truncated form was common practice until the mid-1940s.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s longstanding relationship with Franz Schubert’s Die Winterreise resulted in no fewer than fifteen recordings in the period 1948–1990. So many recordings over such a long time is exceptionally rare for any singer, given the effects of age upon a singer’s choice of repertoire. Fischer-Dieskau’s reputation as a singer emphasizes his ability to communicate text and music effectively, as both individual and fused elements, as Alan Blyth summarized his singing for Oxford Music Online. “His interpretations set standards by which other performances were judged. They were based on command of rhythm, a perfect marriage of tone and words, an almost flawless technique and an unerring ability to impart the right color and nuance to a phrase.” Given Fischer-Dieskau’s importance in performance practice history, and the reverence in which singers, pedagogues, and performance studies scholars hold him, understanding how his performances of Die Winterreise evolved is imperative for understanding the cycle’s ongoing creative history.

Such an expansive body of recordings, paired together with such a distinctive status, invites a musicologically-oriented corpus study focused on audio data in relationship to both music and text, and to/with which interdisciplinary audiences can interact. Two extant projects offer a foundation upon which such an interdisciplinary analysis is possible: the Schubert Winterreise Dataset, and the Music Performance Markup toolkit. The Winterreise dataset is a notable and valuable contribution to open science for engaging with this musical content, even as it requires further transformation for use within the MEI environment. Processing the XML requires data quality review and schema transformation into MEI. This workflow will produce diplomatic editions based on the sources used in compiling the Winterreise dataset. Having this song cycle in MEI will enable its use with the Musical Performance Markup infrastructure.

This poster overviews this transformation, situating it in relationship to storing audio markup data along three axes: tempo, dynamics, and timbre in relationship to musical and textual content. Doing so also sets out a technological workflow for responding to the broader musicological questions surrounding the relationship Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau had with Die Winterreise over a half century. Such a workflow can in turn be useful for future MEI-based considerations of musical performance and its resulting audio data.


Berndt, Axel. “Music Performance Markup: Format and Software Tools Report.” In Music Encoding Conference Proceedings 2021 (pp. 57–63). Humanities Commons, 2022. DOI:

Blyth, Alan. “Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 20 Jul. 2023.

Loges, Natasha. “Detours on a Winter’s Journey: Schubert’s Winterreise in Nineteenth-Century Concerts.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 74, no. 1 (2021): 1–42.

Weiß, Christof, Frank Zalkow, Vlora Arifi-Müller, Meinard Müller, Hendrik Vincent Koops, Anja Volk, and Harald G. Grohganz. “Schubert Winterreise Dataset.” Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage 14, no. 2 (2021): 1–18.

“Willkommen Auf Schubert-Online – Der Größten Digitalen Sammlung von Schubert-Autographen, Erst- Und Frühdrucken!” SCHUBERT online. Accessed July 15, 2023.

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