Poetry into Song: Performance and Analysis of Lieder

By Rolf, Marie | Notes, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Poetry into Song: Performance and Analysis of Lieder


Rolf, Marie, Notes


Poetry into Song: Performance and Analysis of Lieder. By Deborah Stein and Robert Spillman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. [xvii, 413 p. ISBN 0-19-509328-3. $35.00.]

Poetry into Song is a pedagogically oriented book for students of voice, piano, and theory. Deborah Stein and Robed Spillman bring to the book their combined expertise in the theoretical and concertizing realms; Stein's published research has centered on the songs of Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert, while Spillman's performance and coaching of the lieder repertory is well established both in Germany and the United States.

The authors' ultimate aim is to provide a meaningful context for the study and performance of lieder. They tacitly acknowledge that many listeners and students approach this repertory with trepidation, often because of language or cultural barriers. In order to demystify this repertory the authors provide numerous aides. First, literal translations are given for 105 texts (appendix 1), and reliable sources for translations of other poems are suggested for further study. Second, score study based on reliable editions is stressed by the authors. The songs discussed are either available in reasonably priced Dover editions or are provided in appendix 5 (unfortunately, these texts are sometimes difficult to read and, since they lack measure numbers, their use with discussion elsewhere in the book is problematic). Third, the authors encourage listening to live performances, as opposed to relying on recordings, to facilitate familiarity with the score; they also suggest a process of reading the poem and song, then reflecting and analyzing, and finally performing the song. While such a "hands on" approach is without question the best way to internalize this--or, for that matter, any--repertory, it is also true that in the United States one rarely has the opportunity to hear live lieder performances on a regular basis, except perhaps in the largest metropolitan areas.

The pedagogical orientation of the book further enhances its accessibility. Exercises and leading questions at the end of each chapter guide the student to independent study of other songs. The lieder discussed in the book itself are limited for the most part to standard repertory, scores that are readily available, and songs that can be sightread with relative ease. A glossary (appendix 2) summarizes the terminology presented in the book, always highlighted in small capital letters when the term is initially introduced within the text. In their zeal to define terms and to offer a coherent presentation of their material, the authors occasionally forget their audience; presumably, students of voice, piano, and theory already know what a crescendo is, what constitutes musical repetition, and what other basic elements of music are, but they may not know what Stimmung or directional tonality mean. Those readers seeking insight into the relationship between analysis and performance will find the frequent passages in the text that define basic materials and terminology to be disruptive.

The organization of the material in Poetry into Song is also governed by the book's pedagogical tone.

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