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Re-reading Poetry

Re-reading Poetry: Schubert's Multiple Settings of Goethe

Sterling Lambert
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Re-reading Poetry
    Book Description:

    One of the most important aspects of Franz Schubert's song production has remained relatively neglected: the many occasions on which he set poetry to music more than once. This practice of returning to poems, and responding to them anew, is unusual and suggests a greater degree of literary sensitivity on the part of Schubert than is often ascribed to him. In contrast to his similarly frequent tendency to produce revised versions of songs, Schubert's resetting of poetry results in completely new songs. The presence of residues of earlier settings in later ones prompts consideration of the degree to which resettings are to some extent 'radical revisions' of their predecessors. It also raises questions as to what those residues might signify about how and why Schubert reset poetry. Nowhere are such issues more fascinatingly and comprehensively illustrated than in Schubert's multiple settings of the poet who was more important to him than any other: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In recent years, a renewed interest in the relationship between Goethe and Schubert has demonstrated that the two men had more in common than has historically been supposed. A specific bond between them lies in Goethe's recognition that his poems could be read in more than one way. 'Re-reading Poetry' uncovers an important shared outlook between composer and poet.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-756-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Music Examples
    (pp. vii-ix)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xi)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Few composers have undergone such extensive re-evaluation in the past few decades as Schubert. Indeed, as Brian Newbould points out at the start of the introduction to his own recent study of the composer, ‘it may not be entirely coincidental that the unprecedented growth in Schubert research witnessed in the last quarter of the twentieth century came in a period framed by two anniversaries’, the 150th of his death, in 1978, and the 200th of his birth, in 1997.¹ Topics have ranged widely, from paper studies to the composer’s sexuality, and indeed there has been much work to be done,...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Schubert the Singer
    (pp. 16-33)

    The representation of performance within a musical narrative such as opera or song is a compelling phenomenon whose study clearly has an important role to play in any understanding of the complicated nature of voice in music. Temporarily, music ceases to act as a narrative or expressive tool, and instead becomes a sonorous image recognized and perceived by those within that narrative. Rather than thinking or directly expressing themselves through song, characters quote song, as if hearing it in the same way that the audience does. Not surprisingly, such a phenomenon has proved the starting-point for critical studies of voice...

  9. CHAPTER 2 The Sea of Eternity
    (pp. 34-58)

    The sea has always been compelling, for its apparent boundlessness and sheer insusceptibility to rational measurement hold the potential for both fascination and fear. It is hardly surprising that in all areas of the arts its power as a metaphor for the unfathomable has shown itself time and again to be especially potent. Perhaps the most unfathomable concept of all is that of eternity, or timelessness, and the sea has perhaps always been suggestive of this elusive state, at no time more powerfully than in the first half of the nineteenth century. Schubert, who spent his entire life in land-locked...

  10. CHAPTER 3 The River of Time
    (pp. 59-77)

    Although the notions of improvement and reconception are both vital to the discussion of the previous chapter, the relationship between the apparently similar settings of Meerestille, written just a day apart from one another, perhaps speaks more loudly of the former than of the latter. The present chapter, on the other hand, examines the relationship between two very different settings of a poem, separated from one another by more than seven years.¹ The resetting constitutes a ‘reconception’ of the poem with respect to the earlier one, yet compositional residues from that previous song resurface in the later one. Such residues...

  11. CHAPTER 4 The Shape of the Moon
    (pp. 78-112)

    In their respective responses to Goethe’s two-stanza poem, Schubert’s two settings of Am Flusse clearly differ from one another in their formal approach. The first interprets the content of the poem as a three-part structure, while the second takes the binary form of the poem very much at face value, responding to it with a sort of large-scale antecedent-and-consequent structure. In part because of the sheer brevity of the poem, however, neither song really addresses (or is indeed required to address) what is often the central formal issue for music responses to poetry, not just Schubert’s; should a song reflect...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 5 The Aesthetics of Genre
    (pp. 113-149)

    Goethe’s epigram neatly encapsulates the Romantic fascination with a city whose beauty and mystery was surely due in large measure to that curious artificial watercourse known as the canal. Chapters 2 and 3 explored some of the ways in which water, in either its static or flowing state, served as a metaphor for the absence or motion of time – not only for Goethe, but for Schubert and many others of their era. The canal, however, resists such binary categorization, containing properties of both river and sea. As an essentially one-dimensional line rather than a limitless expanse, it shares a fundamental...

  14. Resetting, Recycling: Schubert’s Wilhelm Meister
    (pp. 150-158)

    In its comparison between the passage of water and that of human life (in this case, that of the prophet Mohammed), Goethe’s poem bears an obvious similarity to his Gesang der Geister über den Wassern, discussed in the preceding chapter. Indeed, it seems hardly surprising that Schubert attempted two different settings of Mahomets Gesang at about the same time as his two completed settings of Gesang der Geister (the first setting dates from March 1817, while the second was written in March 1821), especially considering that the two poems appeared next to each other in the Goethe anthologies that were...

  15. CHAPTER 6 Recycling the Harper
    (pp. 159-190)

    Goethe’s harper plays upon a well-established ‘type’ of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the quintessentially Romantic character of the elderly (and therefore timeless) bard who, in imparting his ballads of ancient folklore, is revered as sole caretaker of a common past heritage that has been all but obscured in the mists of time. The enormous appetite for this supposedly ‘timeless’ art is most famously illustrated by the ease with which James McPherson was able to pass off his own work as that of the 3rd-century Gaelic bard Ossian, thereby initiating a veritable craze for the alleged outpourings of this...

  16. CHAPTER 7 Recycling Mignon
    (pp. 191-223)

    Schubert’s engagement with the character Mignon could really be said to have started not with one of her lyrics from the novel, but with his setting of Goethe’s poem An Mignon, a poem which had been written in 1796, over ten years after completion of the novel itself. The first two stanzas alone present a vivid summary of Mignon’s pain, her heart as the centre of this condition, and the secrecy with which she veils it:

    Über Tal und Fluß getragen

    Ziehet rein der Sonne Wagen,

    Ach! sie regt in ihrem Lauf,

    So wie deine, meine Schmerzen,

    Tief im Herzen....

  17. CHAPTER 8 One Song to the Tune of Another
    (pp. 224-252)

    The title of this final chapter borrows the name of an amusing item on the tongue-in-cheek British radio celebrity game show I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, in which contestants are invited to attempt to sing words of one song to the ridiculously inappropriate music of another, the pairing of the tune of the English folksong Scarborough Fair and the words of the seventies pop hit Kung Fu Fighting being one especially memorable example. The juxtaposition of two very different texts (one literally sung and the other connoted by the presence of the music with which it is normally associated)...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 253-257)

    The connotations of mortality inherent in Schubert’s appropriation of In’s Stille Land for his final setting of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt may well be understood to enhance and reinforce Mignon’s desire for death already expressed so poignantly in the previous three songs of Op. 62, most explicitly, of course, in So laßt mich scheinen. Whether this was ever Schubert’s intent, and whether indeed his audience would have recognized an allusion to the earlier song and interpreted it as such cannot fully be known. However, the mere possibility of a deliberate allusion undoubtedly enriches the tragic perspective presented in the...

  19. APPENDIX List of Schubert’s Multiple Settings of Goethe
    (pp. 258-260)
  20. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-268)
  21. Index
    (pp. 269-276)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)