When Schubert penned his now famous song cycle Winterreise, or Winter Journey, he had a little over a year to live. Barely into his 30s, the composer was dying of syphilis – and/or the mercury that was being used to treat it – and it is to this that many attribute the bleakness and despair that seems to permeate the composer’s setting of poetry by Wilhelm Müller.

When the cycle was complete, Schubert invited his friends to hear the work. “Come to Schober’s today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs,” he said, as his close friend Joseph von Spaun related. “He then, with a voice full of feeling, sang the entire Winterreisefor us,” Spaun said. “We were altogether dumbfounded by the sombre mood of these songs, and Schober said that one song only, Der Lindenbaum, had pleased him. Thereupon Schubert leaped up and replied: ‘These songs please me more than all the rest, and in time they will please you as well.’” The cycle has enchanted and fascinated listeners ever since and is now held up as the pinnacle of German Lieder.

Italian...