Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Structural and Dramatic Role of the Piano in Strauss's Krämerspiegel, Op. 66

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Structural and Dramatic Role of the Piano in Strauss's Krämerspiegel, Op. 66

Article excerpt

[This article is the third of a three-part series devoted to Strauss's Krämerspiegel, Op. 66 in honor of the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss (1864-1949).]


The first part of this three-part study placed Strauss's Krämerspiegel within the context of the German Liederkreis tradition, and the second part gave a musical overview of the cycle. In this third and final part, the structural and dramatic role of the piano accompaniment will be explored. Examining Krämerspiegel from this angle establishes the work as one of the most unique and interesting song cycles in the repertory.


One of the most striking features of Krämerspiegel is the sheer length of the piano preludes, interludes, and postludes. Indeed, the amount of time devoted to the voice is greatly exceeded by the amount of time devoted to the solo piano. If we survey Strauss's earlier lieder, we see the clearest precedent for this phenomenon in "Morgen!" Op. 27, no. 4.

In parts of Krämerspiegel, Op. 66, the vocal line is almost incidental, being clearly subordinate to the development of the instrumental motives. As in Morgen!, there are long passages where the voice is silent.1

A survey of the complete songs of Schumann, Brahms, and Strauss reveals that only a very small number of songs of these composers use the piano this extensively. Only Schumann's twelfth and sixteenth songs of Dichterliebe, his last song of Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 (1840), and Strauss's "Morgen!" use preludes, interludes, or postludes as profusely as virtually every song in Krämerspiegel does. Moreover, although Schumann's postludes appear within the context of song cycles, Krämerspiegel as a whole emphasizes the piano much more than do any of Schumann's song cycles. In Op. 66, Strauss develops this idea into a compositional strategy that informs the entire song cycle-, the prominence given to the piano-and the consequent minimization of the voice-is unprecedented in the history of the German song cycle.

Table 1 quantifies the extent of the piano's dominance in Krämerspiegel. When one counts the number of measures in which the piano plays alone (i.e., the sum of measures devoted to preludes, interludes, and postludes), astonishing statistics emerge: in every song, the amount of time devoted to preludes, interludes, and postludes is over 40%. In six of the songs (IV, VI, VII, VIII, XI, and XII), the solo piano takes up more than 50% of the song;2 in four songs (IV, VII, VIII, and XII), the piano dominates at least 70% of the time; and in two songs (VIII and XII), the piano engulfs more than 80% of the song. Such emphasis on the piano is hardly typical for a lied accompaniment. Altogether, the solo piano occupies over half of Krämerspiegel: 53.8% of Part I, 70.7% of Part II, and 60.8% of the entire cycle.


Another factor that supports the priority of the piano in Krämerspiegel is its textural relationship with the voice. The vocal line rarely has material that is independent of the piano; in fact, the vocal line doubles the piano line throughout most of the cycle. In some cases, such doubling involves subtle rhythmic variations and arpeggiations of harmonies present in the piano. Table 2 provides an overview of the vocal line, with special attention to its textural doubling of the piano part.

Song I offers a typical example of the textural relationship between the piano and voice, and it also demonstrates the increased importance of the piano in Krämerspiegel. Upon first hearing, the piano may seem to sound like a typical lied accompaniment. A repeated pattern in mm. 1-2 seems as if it is yearning for a vocal line to enter; however, the vocal entrance is delayed until many measures later. Instead we hear the piano spin forth an inner voice melodic line derived from a motive heard in mm. 1-2; this melody is referred to as the Krämerspiegel motive in the forthcoming discussion. …

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