Of Poetry and Song: Approaches to the Nineteenth-Century Lied

By Greschner, Debra | Journal of Singing, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

Of Poetry and Song: Approaches to the Nineteenth-Century Lied


Greschner, Debra, Journal of Singing


Jürgen Thym, editor, Of Poetry and Song: Approaches to the Nineteenth-Century Lied. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2010. Cloth, xx, 450 pp., $95.00. ISBN 978-1-58046-055-2 www.urpress.com

The importance of the nineteenth century lied in the history of solo vocal literature-and indeed, in the annals of music history-is undeniable. The songs of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, and other Romantic composers are lauded for their skillful marriage of words and music. While discussions about lieder recognize the importance of poetry, the relationship of text and music is often examined on a cursory level, such as the identification of obvious text painting or mood setting methods. Of Poetry and Song is a compendium of essays that investigate additional and deeper aspects of text-music relations in the lied.

The volume consists of essays by two German literature specialists, Ann C. Fehn and Harry E. Seelig, and two musicologists, Rufus Hallmark and Jürgen Thym. The authors, while pursuing separate paths of research, share the belief that the aesthetics of song is determined by the interaction of poetry and music. Accordingly, analysis of lieder must include a study of the poem that inspired the setting, and this research must extend beyond the images evoked by the words. "Meter and rhythm, rhyme structure and sound values, verse structure and stanzaic organization," must be considered as well, writes Thym. In short, the poetic structure must be analyzed. A major influence upon the authors was musicologist and theorist Thrasybulos Georgiades (1907-1977), whose book Schubert: Musik und Lyrik (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1967) advocates the study of linguistic and musical aspects of lieder and their interaction. The sentiments resonate with Fehn, Seelig, Hallmark, and Thym. Unlike Georgiades, however, who maintains that lieder effectively ended with Schubert, the quartet of writers featured in this volume believes that composers such as Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Wolf continued the use and development of the form.

Of Poetry and Song is organized into three sections. As a prelude, musicologist Hallmark explores the relationship between text and music in selected Schubert songs; the essay is intended as a primer on prosody and poetic form in the nineteenth century lied. The first section focuses upon close readings and comparative studies. Close reading, a term used in literary criticism, denotes the detailed study of a particular passage of text. In five articles, German literature specialist Seelig analyzes settings of Goethe's poetry, ranging from Schubert's "Suleika" to Karl Weigl's "Wanderers Nachtlied." The sixth essay, penned by Thym, explores the text-music relations in Schumann's setting of Eichendorff's poem "Frühlingsfahrt."

The second section, comprised of four essays that were coauthored by German literature specialist Fehn and either Hallmark or Thym, delves into parallels of poetic and musical structure. Four poetic forms are studied: pentameter, ghazal, sonnet, and free verse. …

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