Academic journal article Notes

Songs in Motion: Rhythm and Meter in the German Lied

Academic journal article Notes

Songs in Motion: Rhythm and Meter in the German Lied

Article excerpt

Songs in Motion: Rhythm and Meter in the German Lied. By Yonatan Malin. (Oxford Studies in Music Theory.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. [xx, 236 p. ISBN 9780195340051. $49.95.] Music examples, tables, bibliography, index.

In an 1817 article in the Allgemeine Musika lische Zeitung, the composer, critic, and publisher Hans Georg Nägeli predicted a new era of lied composition that would be characterized by "an as of yet unrecognized polyrhythm, so that the rhythm of speech, singing, and playing will be subsumed into a higher artistic whole" (Hans Georg Nägeli, "Die Liederkunst," Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 45 [1817]: 765-66). The often overlooked relations between these rhythms of poetry and music lie at the heart of Yonatan Malin's valuable contribution to the study of German art song. In Songs in Motion Malin draws on a wealth of past and present approaches to song analysis and metric theory (including his dissertation, "Metric Dissonance and Music- Text Relations in the German Lied" [Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 2003]) to critically examine songs by Fanny Hensel née Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Hugo Wolf. Whereas recent studies of rhythm and meter have largely focused on specific songs or collections, Songs in Motion presents a broad picture of the genre and the changing approaches to lied composition in the nineteenth century. Malin's stated aim of the book is "a deepened awareness" of temporal flow in song and the union of musical and poetic rhythms (p. vii), and his readily comprehensible analytical methods and straightforward prose help realize the goal.

Perhaps counterintuitively, in order to understand how a song is set in motion, it must first be suspended in time; each layer of a song-text, vocal line, and accompaniment-is studied independently, then joined together to observe the resultant polyrhythm that propels a song forward. The opening two chapters ("Part One: Rhythm and Meter in the German Lied") provide a number of tools to do so by introducing methodologies and providing background on the analysis of the poetic and musical rhythms of lieder. In the first chapter, "The Rhythms of Poetry and Song," Malin offers a concise overview of poetic rhythms and meters before turning to a discussion of musical rhythm, in which he identifies a number of declamatory schemas commonly used by nineteenthcentury composers to translate trimeter, tetrameter, and pentameter poetic lines into a given musical meter. These declamatory schemas, which outline declamatory rhythms and indicate recurring patterns of text setting, provide a simple yet effective method for comparing different composers' approaches to combining poetic and musical rhythms, and Malin utilizes this particular approach repeatedly throughout Songs in Motion. Chapter 2, "Theories of Musical Rhythm and Meter," introduces a number of recent developments in metric theory, using the distinction between meter and rhythm as a point of both departure and conclusion. Meter is defined not as a static temporal frame, but as "an infinitely variable structuring of periodic motion" formed by "recurring accents and parallel structures," while rhythm is understood as "the changing pattern of durations (pp. 64-65). This more flexible conception of meter underlies many of the recent development in metric theory. Malin offers succinct explanations of these theories (including those of periodicity, hypermeter, metric perception and entrainment, phrase rhythm, shadow meter, and metric conflict), taking care to apply these concepts to short examples within the lied genre in preparation for the more extended analyses of part 2.

Chapters 3 through 6 ("Part Two: Songs in Motion") turn to closer readings of specific songs that represent in some way the aforementioned composers' approaches to rhythm and meter. Although these two musical elements provide entry points into the various songs, Malin neglects neither the cultural contexts in which the songs were written (he provides brief background information pertinent to understanding each song) nor the other musical and poetic aspects of the songs, including poetic meaning, harmony, form, musical texture, and dynamics. …

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