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Word and Music Studies

Essays on Literature and Music

(1967 – 2004)
by Steven Paul Scher

Series Editors

Walter Bernhart
Lawrence Kramer
Suzanne M. Lodato
Steven Paul Scher
Werner Wolf

The book series WORD AND MUSIC STUDIES (WMS) is the central organ
of the International Association for Word and Music Studies (WMA), an
association founded in 1997 to promote transdisciplinary scholarly inquiry
devoted to the relations between literature/verbal texts/language and music.
WMA aims to provide an international forum for musicologists and literary
scholars with an interest in interart/intermedial studies and in crossing cultural
as well as disciplinary boundaries.

WORD AND MUSIC STUDIES will publish, generally on an annual basis,

theme-oriented volumes, documenting and critically assessing the scope, theory,
methodology, and the disciplinary and institutional dimensions and prospects
of the field on an international scale: conference proceedings, collections of
scholarly essays, and, occasionally, monographs on pertinent individual topics
as well as research reports and bibliographical and lexicographical work.
Word and Music Studies

Essays on Literature and Music

(1967 – 2004)
by Steven Paul Scher

Edited by
Walter Bernhart and Werner Wolf

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2004

The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of “ISO
9706: 1994, Information and documentation - Paper for documents -
Requirements for permanence”.

ISBN: 90-420-1752-X
©Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2004
Printed in The Netherlands

Preface ............................................................................................... ix

Walter Bernhart
Masterminding Word and Music Studies:
A Tribute to Steven Paul Scher ......................................................... xi

Essays on Literature and Music by Steven Paul Scher

Thomas Mann’s ‘Verbal Score’:

Adrian Leverkühn’s Symbolic Confession (1967) ............................. 1

Notes Toward a Theory of Verbal Music (1970) ............................. 23

How Meaningful is ‘Musical’ in Literary Criticism? (1972) ........... 37

Brecht’s Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger:

Emblematic Structure as Epic Spectacle (1974) ............................... 47

“O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!”:

Der Realismusbegriff in der Musik (1975) ....................................... 73

Kreativität als Selbstüberwindung:

Thomas Manns permanente ‘Wagner-Krise’ (1976) ........................ 95

Temporality and Mediation:

W. H. Wackenroder and E. T. A. Hoffmann as
Literary Historicists of Music (1976) ............................................. 113

Carl Maria von Weber’s Tonkünstlers Leben:

The Composer as Novelist? (1978) ................................................ 127
Beethoven and the Word:
Literary Affinity or Artistic Necessity? (1980/81) ......................... 143

Comparing Literature and Music:

Current Trends and Prospects in Critical Theory
and Methodology (1981) ................................................................ 159

Literature and Music (1982) ........................................................... 173

Theory in Literature, Analysis in Music:

What Next? (1983) ......................................................................... 203

Comparing Poetry and Music:

Beethoven’s Goethe Lieder as Composed Reading (1986) ............ 223

The Strauss-Hofmannsthal Operatic Experiment:

Tradition, Modernity, or Avant-Garde? (1987) .............................. 239

E. T. A. Hoffmann:
Der Dichter als Komponist (1987) ................................................. 249

Mignon in Music (1988) ................................................................. 265

The German Lied:

A Genre and Its European Reception (1990) .................................. 281

“Tutto nel mondo è burla”:

Humor in Music? (1991) ................................................................ 301

Liszt and Literature (1991) ............................................................. 337

Musicopoetics or Melomania:
Is There a Theory behind Music in German Literature? (1992) ..... 353

Hoffmann, Weber, Wagner:

The Birth of Romantic Opera from the Spirit
of Literature? (1992) ....................................................................... 367

Der Opernkomponist Hoffmann und das europäische

Musiktheater seiner Zeit (1993) ...................................................... 387
Da Ponte und Mozart:
Wort und Ton in Don Giovanni (1994) .......................................... 411

Acoustic Experiment as Ephemeral Spectacle?:

Musical Futurism, Dada, Cage, and the Talking Heads (1994) ...... 433

Mozart – an Epistolary Aesthetician? (1997) ................................. 451

E. T. A. Hoffmanns “Der Dichter und der Komponist”:

Manifest romantischer Librettologie oder melopoetische
Erzählfiktion? (1998) ...................................................................... 461

Melopoetics Revisited:
Reflections on Theorizing Word and Music Studies (1999) .......... 471

Judith Weir’s Heaven Ablaze in His Breast:

A Postmodern Dance Opera Based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s
“The Sandman” (2000/2004) .......................................................... 489

Eine Berlinische Geschichte:

Hoffmanns Brautwahl in Busonis Opernbuch? (2004) .................. 503

Sources ............................................................................................ 521

Acknowledgements ......................................................................... 524

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Two literary scholars may be credited for founding and nurturing con-
temporary Word and Music Studies: the late Calvin S. Brown and
Steven Paul Scher. Volume no. 2 of the series Word and Music Stud-
ies (WMS) was dedicated to Brown (Musico-Poetics in Perspective,
eds. Jean-Louis Cupers and Ulrich Weisstein, Rodopi 2000). The pre-
sent volume, no. 5 of the series WMS, assembles Scher's most impor-
tant contributions to the field that have not appeared in monographs
published under his name (it thus does not contain, for example, the
introduction to Literatur und Musik nor the “Preface” to Music and
Text: Critical Inquiries, edited by Scher in 1984 and 1992, respec-
tively). For obvious reasons, Scher’s wide-ranging work in fields
other than the musico-literary, like German Studies and Comparative
Literature, is not included either. Also, the editors felt it necessary for
a one-volume collection of essays to exclude writings that have, at
least to a large extent, found entry in his later publications.
The order of the essays in the present volume is chronological
rather than thematic. All texts have been reset with occasional emen-
dations, and in some instances new notes by the author have been
added. The bibliographical entries have, however, not been unified but
follow the conventions of the original book or journal publications.
The essays appear here in the original language they had been written,
i. e. English or German. The sources of the essays and the acknowl-
edgements of permissions to reprint are to be found at the end of the
The editors would like to thank Margaret P. Robinson/Hanover,
NH, as well as Ingrid Pfandl-Buchegger and Martin Löschnigg (both
Graz) for painstaking and circumspect proof-reading, moreover Ingrid

Hable/Graz for expertly dealing with the technical aspects of the pub-
Last but not least, our thanks are due to the author of the essays
himself for his tireless cooperation in the production of the present
volume. This collection of essays can be no more than a provisional
sum of his reflections on literary-musical intermediality and is open to
further contributions by the doyen in the field, Steven Paul Scher. But
even so we hope that it will greatly facilitate reading and appreciating
texts spanning some four decades and providing a plurality of original
sources that otherwise would not be easily accessible.

Graz, December 2003 Werner Wolf

Masterminding Word and Music Studies
A Tribute to Steven Paul Scher∗

Walter Bernhart

The section “Defining the Field” has become a regular feature of

WMA conferences, and it usually contains no further qualification or
limitation as to scope of observation. This year, however, there is a
qualification as the section is designed to be “In Honour of Steven
Paul Scher”. This qualification surely implies no limitation in scope:
there is little doubt that Professor Scher has been the mastermind be-
hind establishing and ‘defining the field’ of Word and Music Studies
as a recognized interdisciplinary area of scholarly enquiry. The fact
that he has recently turned sixty-five seems reason enough to draw
public attention to these achievements. But when I intimated to him
the idea of doing so, he characteristically brushed it aside. Yet he
seemed not to downright condemn the idea: I certainly did not feel
encouraged, but also not completely discouraged – and so I went
ahead. His reluctance to accept a special event in his honour is typical
of his complete lack of vanity and self-centredness. It also fits in very
well with some other characteristics I admire in him: his sober com-
mon sense, his natural keenness of mind and direct approach to things

This tribute is based on a speech delivered at the Third International Conference
of the International Association for Word and Music Studies (WMA), held at the
University of Sydney, Australia, in 2001, and was first published in Word and Music
Studies: Essays in Honor of Steven Paul Scher and on Cultural Identity and the Musi-
cal Stage. Suzanne M. Lodato, Suzanne Aspden and Walter Bernhart, eds. Word and
Music Studies 4. Amsterdam/New York, NY: Rodopi, 2002. 3-11.
References added for this volume are in brackets.

and, perhaps most captivatingly, his genuine curiosity and constant

humane concern, not to speak of his wit and subtle humour.
What, then, is the more precise link between Steven Scher and ‘de-
fining the field’? Our overall conceptions of the field have largely
been shaped – in many cases quite unconsciously so, I believe – by his
views and ideas about the relationship of ‘word and music’. It is true,
he was not the ‘founder’ of the discipline: that was Calvin S. Brown
(to whom the second volume of the Rodopi book series Word and
Music Studies is devoted; cf. Cupers/Weisstein, eds.). It was Brown
who first drew attention to the methodological issues involved in
studying the relationships of word and music, and in this respect he
took positions which merit serious consideration still today. Yet
Brown had no systematic concerns and had no interest in surveying
the field as a whole. This is where Professor Scher broke new ground,
and in doing so he put Word and Music Studies on the map of schol-
arship as a distinct field of study, defined by its systematically as-
sessed inner structure. Many of us have become aware of Word and
Music Studies as a separate and independent scholarly field only
through him; this is certainly true for me.
I first met Steven Scher in 1984 when he came to Graz as a guest
professor. He was the first to open our eyes to the possibilities of tran-
scending disciplinary boundaries by talking about ‘Literature and Mu-
sic’, interdisciplinarity then still being considered – if not downright
unacceptable – yet rather unorthodox and a little dubious. New Criti-
cal structuralism with its ‘separatist’ rigour concerning the study of
various art forms was still very much in the air. At about the same
time Ulrich Weisstein came to Graz as well (he now lives there), in-
troducing ‘Literature and the Visual Arts’ to us. It was thus in the mid-
1980s that we came into contact with recent American developments
in the area of what was then called ‘Literature and the Other Arts’ or
‘Comparative Arts’ (its main centre being the Comparative Arts Pro-
gram at Indiana University in Bloomington). Comparative Arts was
considered part of Comparative Literature then – a view that is still

with us in some quarters. Yet the concept of Comparative Arts Studies

has now been widely replaced by that of Interart Studies (a term which
Swedish scholars prefer) or Intermedia Studies (preferred by German-
speaking colleagues). Scher and Weisstein, both originally from
Europe, had a genuine interest in ‘exporting’ the new approach back
to Europe and had jointly published in 1981 the Proceedings of the
Innsbruck ICLA (International Comparative Literature Association)
Congress on “Literature and the Other Arts”.
Steven Scher was the spearhead of this new scholarly activity in at
least two ways: for one, as Chair of the Bibliography Committee of
the MLA Division on Literature and Other Arts, he was the editor of
the yearly Bibliography on the Relations of Literature and the Other
Arts (founded in 1954) from 1972 to 1986. Needless to say, biblio-
graphical work is one of the central pillars of a discipline, an indispen-
sable prerequisite for establishing a scholarly field. His work for the
Bibliography made Scher aware of the richness of worldwide activity
in the field and of the need to organize these efforts in some way.
Secondly, he edited the volume Literatur und Musik. Ein Handbuch
zur Theorie und Praxis eines komparatistischen Grenzgebietes,
published in 1984 by Erich Schmidt Verlag in Berlin. (The companion
piece on Literatur und die bildende Kunst, edited by Weisstein, ap-
peared in 1992.) Scher’s introduction to his Handbuch was partly
based on his 1982 contribution on “Literature and Music” to the Bar-
ricelli/Gibaldi volume, Interrelations of Literature [v. i. 173 ff.], and
partly on his summary in the Innsbruck Proceedings of 1981. This
Innsbruck text had a characteristic title, “Comparing Literature and
Music: Current Trends and Prospects in Critical Theory and Method-
ology” [v. i. 159 ff.] – characteristic, that is, insofar as it chose the
then dominant comparatist standpoint, made theory and methodology
its main concern, and took a typical ‘Scherian’ interest in future de-
velopments (‘prospects’). The central points of this essay are his at-
tacks on what he calls the “age-old terminological confusion” and on
the “rampant metaphorical impressionism” (219 [v. i. 167]). The titles

alone of some of the papers read at the 2001 Sydney WMA confer-
ence – collected in this volume [i. e., WMS 4] – confirm that these
concerns have lost none of their topicality. In his Innsbruck text of
twenty years ago Scher also complained about the scarcity of theoreti-
cal studies in the field and, along with others, called for serious semi-
otic studies, then fairly new on the market. Yet he had already shown
a certain scepticism about semiotic approaches – a scepticism which
has since increased, if I judge him correctly. Generally, theoretical
interests have certainly increased over the last twenty years.
For Steven Scher himself it had all begun in 1968 with Verbal Mu-
sic in German Literature, based on his Yale dissertation, a brilliantly
written study on one form of musicalization of literature, the thematic
form (in contrast to the acoustic and structural forms). It led to his
1970 article, “Notes Toward a Theory of Verbal Music” [v. i. 23 ff.],
which – it appears to me – formed the germ for his well-known tripar-
tite systematic model of word and music relationships.
This first study, with a focus on theoretical issues, was followed by
his first methodological study that I have been able to trace: it was
published in 1975 in the Yearbook of Comparative and General Lit-
erature and had the title “Literature and Music: Comparative or Inter-
disciplinary Study?” It was as early as this that Scher asked a question
and raised an issue which became a dominant methodological concern
only later, in the 1990s.
Still another ‘first’ was his 1972 article entitled “How Meaningful
is ‘Musical’ in Literary Criticism?” [v. i. 37 ff.] (yet another question
mark: he is a very inquisitive person!). It is here that he addressed for
the first time the terminological issue which later became a dominant
concern of his, also reflected in some of the papers read at the Sydney
Another area Scher moved into in the 1980s was the lied: he intro-
duced the notion of what he called “composed reading” in his 1986
essay on Beethoven’s Goethe lieder (cf. 156 [v. i. 223]). It is this area
where his interests come closest to my own: ‘Literature and Music’, in

his familiar terminology, or as he later called it, the area of “compene-

tration”1 [v. i. 284] (or “plurimediality”, according to Werner Wolf2).
Scher’s interest in strategies of ‘composed reading’ is reflected in –
among others – his illuminating though perhaps not so well known
study, “The German Lied: A Genre and Its European Reception” [v. i.
281 ff.]. It was published in 1990, typically in a collection called
European Romanticism: Literary Cross-Currents, Modes, and Models
– typically, because it brings together Scher’s two main areas of schol-
arly work: Word and Music Studies and German Romanticism, with
special emphasis on writer/composer E. T. A. Hoffmann. No doubt,
the two areas share much common ground, and Professor Scher has
trod on it with a firm stride. We are here not immediately concerned
with his contributions to Romantic Studies, but rather with their suc-
cessful overlap with Word and Music Studies. To mention a few
relevant items: “Carl Maria von Weber’s Tonkünstlers Leben: The
Composer as Novelist?” (again a question mark!) (1978) [v. i. 127 ff.];
“Der Opernkomponist Hoffmann und das europäische Musiktheater
seiner Zeit” (1993) [v. i. 387 ff.]; or, very recently, “Judith Weirs
Heaven Ablaze in His Breast: E. T. A. Hoffmanns Der Sandmann als
postmoderne Tanzoper” (2000) [v. i. 489 ff., for the English version].
I have already referred to Scher’s genuine curiosity for what is
new – a typical title is that of his essay “Theory in Literature, Analysis
in Music: What Next?” (question mark!) (1983) [v. i. 203 ff.]. Thus
there is also his characteristic interest in the contemporary British
composer, Judith Weir, just mentioned, or in the legendary rock
group, Talking Heads, about whom he read a paper in Graz (cf.
“Acoustic Experiment”, 1994 [v. i. 433 ff.]).
The title “Theory in Literature, Analysis in Music: What Next?” is
also revealing for Scher in another way: one can regularly observe in

In Scher, “The German Lied” 129, he refers to Louise Rosenblatt’s term, taken
from Tompkins, ed. 259.
See his essay in this volume [i. e., WMS 4], 21.

him a certain distance from – or scepticism against – theory and

analysis for their own sake; he is sceptical of ‘pure theory’. It is his
common-sense attitude and his pragmatic approach which always
draw him to texts and their interpretation. His genuine concern for
methodology and theory has never led him astray: he has always
avoided the pitfalls of theory-obsessed sterility – of curling locks on a
bald head, as the sarcastic Karl Kraus once put it. He has instinctively
found a happy balance of critical theory and interpretive practice and
never become lost in mere abstractions.
So, ‘what next’ after the 1980s, a decade in which Professor Scher
had given the state of the art summary of Word and Music Studies?
Next was, in 1992, his edition of Music and Text: Critical Inquiries.
His preface to this collection of essays stresses the interdisciplinary
character of Word and Music Studies, thus providing an answer to his
1975 question – comparative or interdisciplinary study? – while also
describing the progress the discipline has made in the preceding ten
years before3. Scher’s preface to Music and Text sees progress of the
discipline above all in the fact that the scope of Word and Music Stud-
ies had dramatically widened by 1992: he names “[p]oststructuralism,
hermeneutics, semiotics, reception aesthetics, and deconstruction, as
well as Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic, and reader-response criti-
cism, and more recently [then!] New Historicism” (“Preface” xiii). It
was again Scher who led Word and Music Studies into this ‘brave new
world’. He was fortunate enough to enlist Hayden White to write a
magisterial “Commentary” to Music and Text: a perceptive methodo-
logical reflexion on the introduction of what we are now likely to call
the ‘Culturalist Turn’ in the Humanities, as it applies to Word and
Music Studies. It is with great satisfaction that Scher there registers
the efforts in the field of musicology to participate in this paradigm

By then he preferred to call the discipline ‘melopoetics’, adopting a term from
Lawrence Kramer (cf. “Dangerous Liaisons”); he also uses ‘musicopoetics’ in an
article of 1992. I personally find the term ‘melopoetics’ unsuitable and in fact mis-

shift, in a field which, as he puts it, “until recently, of all humanistic

disciplines […] has been perhaps least receptive to novel critical ap-
proaches” (xiv). How enthusiastic Professor Scher was about this new
trend in musicology became evident – and it is again very characteris-
tic of him – when, as an example, he sent me, in 1994, a review article
from the journal Lingua Franca, called “A Female Deer?” (cf. Ross),
which reviewed the latest gender-oriented studies in musicology.
The topicality of Music and Text was reason enough for me to ask
Scher to read the opening paper at the Graz conference on “Word and
Music Studies: Defining the Field” in 1997, when the International
Association for Word and Music Studies (WMA) was founded. In his
paper entitled “Melopoetics Revisited: Reflections on Theorizing
Word and Music Studies” [v. i. 471 ff.] he substantiated his observa-
tion that musicology had recently undergone a “momentous transfor-
mation in critical orientation” (11 [v. i. 473]); what had emerged as
the New Musicology was a powerful, vibrant field, fully integrated
into “our Age of Cultural Studies” (12 [v. i. 475]). In this 1997 essay,
Scher reflects searchingly on the impact of the ‘new musicology’ on
Word and Music Studies and arrives at a circumspect statement, so
very typical of his sober and deliberate judgement:

Situated at the interface of musical and literary study, melopoetics might benefit
most by yielding to the allure of the ‘new musicology’, albeit without distancing
itself from its more traditional base in literary criticism and theory. (13 [v. i. 476])

Scher welcomes the increased interest of musicologists in Word and

Music Studies – “a change for the better, of course” (ibid.) – but he
also notes that literary critics have increasingly moved into the former
domain of musicology by seriously studying opera and the lied (an
observation to be confirmed by the two subsequent WMA conferences
in Ann Arbor and Sydney).
Again, as so often before, Steven Scher was most perceptive of the
‘trends and prospects’ and clearly defined where Word and Music
Studies stood, where it was going, or where it ought to be going. On

this evidence, the title of this modest tribute to Professor Scher is un-
doubtedly justified: he has been masterminding the discipline for these
last twenty years or so. Saying this implies at least two things: for one,
he has always been a keen observer of the field, and by persuasively
writing about it has decisively increased our general awareness of the
state of the art; and he has always done so in an educative spirit,
showing us new directions and encouraging us to try out new avenues.
The other side of his ‘masterminding’ presence is that he is not
only a keen observer and eloquent teacher but an eminently original
contributor to the field as well – not only an ardent disseminator but
an independent Forscher. He has increased our historical knowledge,
particularly of the Romantic Age; he has developed new concepts
(such as “verbal music” or “composed reading”); his systematic model
has structured our view of the whole field (this typology of word and
music relations is still strongly with us; it has stimulated others to
amend, refine, and complicate it, but no-one has lost sight of it); his
terminological criticism has lost none of its relevance; his concern
with the interpretive relationship between music and text is alive and
thriving. The papers read at the Sydney conference attest to the fact:
they show how his ideas have become starting points for further re-
flexion and have stimulated other minds to find their own solutions to
central issues of the field.
If we want to honour Professor Scher on his sixty-fifth birthday,
we cannot do better than show how he has shaped our thinking and
has taught us how to talk no-nonsense in a field which has notoriously
been prone to vagueness, limited argumentative rigour and much
speculation. He has taught – me at least – to attempt that fine balance
between concreteness and abstraction to which I have already referred;
his concern for critical theory and methodology is always informed
and mitigated by his love for individual texts, for the singular work.
Above all, however, we can learn from his inquisitiveness and his
optimism which, it seems to me, are the ultimate sources of his suc-
cess. These springs, I am positive, will keep him going for another

twenty years or more, and we will have to be prepared to hear from

him about the ‘trends and prospects of Word and Music Studies’ in
2020 or later. We will be enlightened by his words and thoughts as
much as we have been enlightened by them for the last twenty years
or so. And for this we are grateful to him.


Barricelli, Jean-Pierre, Joseph Gibaldi, eds. Interrelations of Litera-

ture. New York: The Modern Language Association of America,
Cupers, Jean-Louis, Ulrich Weisstein, eds. Musico-Poetics in Perspec-
tive: Calvin S. Brown In Memoriam. Word and Music Studies 2.
Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 2000.
Kramer, Lawrence. “Dangerous Liaisons: The Literary Text in Musi-
cal Criticism”. Nineteenth-Century Music 13 (1989): 159-167.
Ross, Alex. “A Female Deer? Looking for Sex in the Sound of Mu-
sic”. Lingua Franca 8/9 (1994): 53-60.
Scher, Steven Paul. Verbal Music in German Literature. New Haven/
London: Yale Univ. Press, 1968.
—. “Notes Toward a Theory of Verbal Music”. Comparative Litera-
ture 22 (1970): 147-156.
—. “How Meaningful is ‘Musical’ in Literary Criticism?”. Yearbook
of Comparative and General Literature 21 (1972): 52-56.
—. “Literature and Music: Comparative or Interdisciplinary Study?”
Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 24 (1975): 37-
—. “Carl Maria von Weber’s Tonkünstlers Leben: The Composer as
Novelist?”. Comparative Literature Studies 15 (1978): 30-42.
—. “Comparing Literature and Music: Current Trends and Prospects
in Critical Theory and Methodology”. Scher/Weisstein, eds. 1981.
—. “Literature and Music”. Barricelli/Gibaldi, eds. 1982. 225-250.
—. “Theory in Literature, Analysis in Music: What Next?”. Yearbook
of Comparative and General Literature 32 (1983): 50-60.
—. “Einleitung: Literatur und Musik – Entwicklung und Stand der
Forschung”. Scher, ed. 1984. 9-25.

—. “Comparing Poetry and Music: Beethoven’s Goethe Lieder”. Já-

nos Riesz, Peter Boerner, Bernhard Scholz, eds. Sensus Communis:
Contemporary Trends in Comparative Literature. Festschrift für
Henry Remak. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1986. 155-165.
—. “The German Lied: A Genre and Its European Reception”. Gerhart
Hoffmeister, ed. European Romanticism: Literary Cross-Currents,
Modes, and Models. Detroit, IL: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1990.
—. “Preface”. Scher, ed. 1992. xiii-xvi.
—. “Musicopoetics or Melomania: Is There a Theory behind Music in
German Literature?”. James M. McGlathery, ed. Music in German
Literature: Their Relationship since the Middle Ages. Columbia,
SC: Camden House, 1992. 328-337.
—. “Der Opernkomponist Hoffmann und das europäische Musikthea-
ter seiner Zeit”. Hartmut Steinecke, ed. E. T. A. Hoffmann: Deut-
sche Romantik im europäischen Kontext. E. T. A. Hoffmann-
Jahrbuch 1, 1992/93. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1993. 106-118.
—. “Acoustic Experiment as Ephemeral Spectacle?: Musical Futur-
ism, Dada, Cage, and the Talking Heads”. Walter Bernhart, ed. Die
Semantik der musiko-literarischen Gattungen: Methodik und Ana-
lyse. Eine Festgabe für Ulrich Weisstein zum 65. Geburtstag / The
Semantics of the Musico-Literary Genres: Method and Analysis. In
Honor of Ulrich Weisstein on his 65th Birthday. Tübingen: Gunter
Narr, 1994. 201-213.
—. “Melopoetics Revisited: Reflections on Theorizing Word and Mu-
sic Studies”. Walter Bernhart, Steven Paul Scher, Werner Wolf,
eds. Word and Music Studies: Defining the Field. Proceedings of
the First International Conference on Word and Music Studies at
Graz, 1997. Word and Music Studies 1. Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA:
Rodopi, 1999. 9-24.
—. “Judith Weirs Heaven Ablaze in His Breast: E. T. A. Hoffmanns
Der Sandmann als postmoderne Tanzoper”. Alo Allkemper, Nor-
bert Otto Eke, eds. Literatur und Demokratie. Festschrift für Hart-
mut Steinecke zum 60. Geburtstag. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2000.
—, ed. Bibliography on the Relations of Literature and the Other Arts.
MLA Division on Literature and the Other Arts, 1972-1986.
—, ed. Literatur und Musik. Ein Handbuch zur Theorie und Praxis
eines komparatistischen Grenzgebietes. Berlin: Erich Schmidt,

—, ed. Music and Text: Critical Inquiries. Cambridge: Cambridge

Univ. Press, 1992.
—, Ulrich Weisstein, eds. Literature and the Other Arts. Proceedings
of the IXth Congress of the International Comparative Literature
Association, Innsbruck. Vol. 3. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kultur-
wissenschaft, Sonderheft 51. Innsbruck: Verlag des Instituts für
Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck, 1981.
Tompkins, Jane P., ed. Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism
to Post-Structuralism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press,
Weisstein, Ulrich, ed. Literatur und die bildende Kunst. Berlin: Erich
Schmidt, 1992.
White, Hayden. “Commentary: Form, Reference, and Ideology in
Musical Discourse”. Scher, ed. 1992. 288-319.
Wolf, Werner. “Intermediality Revisited: Reflections on Word and
Music Relations in the Context of a General Typology of Interme-
diality”. Suzanne M. Lodato, Suzanne Aspden, Walter Bernhart,
eds. Word and Music Studies: Essays in Honor of Steven Paul
Scher and on Cultural Identity and the Musical Stage. Word and
Music Studies 4. Amsterdam/New York, NY: Rodopi, 2002. 13-
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Essays on Literature and Music
by Steven Paul Scher
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Thomas Mann’s ‘Verbal Score’
Adrian Leverkühn’s Symbolic Confession (1967)

Poetic description of music may be termed a Romantic phenomenon;

it has been an essential part of German literary tradition ever since it
became a center of interest among writers such as Wackenroder,
Tieck, Brentano, and Hoffmann. Two fundamental modes of rendering
music in words emerge from this tradition: either the author re-
presents music which he identifies or which is otherwise identifiable
as an existing opus, or he constructs a ‘verbal piece of music’ to which
no composition corresponds. In the first case the poet is usually
prompted and assisted by his own direct experience of the music to be
represented, while in the second it is his imagination alone that evokes
the literary ‘semblance’ of a score.
Thomas Mann’s novel, Doktor Faustus (1947), offers examples for
both types of literary presentation of music. The text I have chosen to
examine constitutes one of the three major evocations in the novel
modelled after an existing opus:1

Wie albern und anspruchsvoll wäre es, zu fragen: ‘Ver-

stehen Sie das?’ Denn wie sollten Sie nicht! So geht es zu,
wenn es schön ist: Die Celli intonieren allein, ein schwermü-
tig sinnendes Thema, das nach dem Unsinn der Welt, dem
5 Wozu all des Hetzens und Treibens und Jagens und einander
Plagens bieder-philosophisch und höchst ausdrucksvoll fragt.
Die Celli verbreiten sich eine Weile weise kopfschüttelnd
und bedauernd über dieses Rätsel, und an einem bestimm-

The other two evocations are based on Beethoven’s piano sonata opus 111 and his
Fidelio-overture. See Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus, first edition (Stockholm, 1947),
pp. 83-86 and 126-128, respectively. Subsequent references to this edition of the
novel (DrF) will be given in parentheses in the text itself, indicating chapter and page

ten Punkt ihrer Rede, einem wohl erwogenen, setzt aushol-

10 end, mit einem tiefen Eratmen, das die Schultern emporzieht
und sinken lässt, der Bläserchor ein zu einer Choral-Hymne,
ergreifend feierlich, prächtig harmonisiert und vorgetragen
mit aller gestopften Würde und mild gebändigten Kraft des
Blechs. So dringt die sonore Melodie bis in die Nähe eines
15 Höhepunktes vor, den sie aber, dem Gesetz der Ökonomie ge-
mäss, fürs erste noch vermeidet; sie weicht aus vor ihm,
spart ihn aus, spart ihn auf, sinkt ab, bleibt sehr schön
auch so, tritt aber zurück und macht einem anderen Gegen-
stande Platz, einem liedhaft-simplen, scherzhaft-gravitätisch-
20 volkstümlichen, scheinbar derb von Natur, der’s aber hinter
den Ohren hat und sich, bei einiger Ausgepichtheit in den
Künsten der orchestralen Analyse und Umfärbung, als er-
staunlich deutungs- und sublimierungsfähig erweist. Mit dem
Liedchen wird nun eine Weile klug und lieblich gewirtschaf-
25 tet, es wird zerlegt, im Einzelnen betrachtet und abgewandelt,
eine reizende Figur daraus wird aus mittleren Klanglagen in
die zauberischsten Höhen der Geigen- und Flötensphäre hin-
aufgeführt, wiegt sich dort oben ein wenig noch, und wie es
am schmeichelhaftesten darum steht, nun, da nimmt wieder
30 das milde Blech, die Choralhymne von vorhin das Wort an
sich, tritt in den Vordergrund, fängt nicht gerade, ausholend
wie das erste Mal, von vorne an, sondern tut, als sei ihre
Melodie schon eine Weile wieder dabei gewesen und setzt
sich weihesam fort gegen jenen Höhepunkt hin, dessen sie
35 sich das erste Mal weislich enthielt, damit die ‘ Ah! ‘-Wirk-
ung, die Gefühlsschwellung desto grösser sei, jetzt, wo sie in
rückhaltlosem, von harmonischen Durchgangstönen der Bass-
tuba wuchtig gestutztem Aufsteigen ihn glorreich beschrei-
tet, um sich dann, gleichsam mit würdiger Genugtuung auf
40 das Vollbrachte zurückblickend, ehrsam zu Ende zu singen.
(DrF, 207-208)

In chapter 15 the narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, expounds parts of the

Leverkühn-Kretzschmar correspondence revelant to Adrian’s identity-
crisis. In one of his letters to Wendell Kretzschmar, his musical men-
tor, young Adrian summarizes his formative interests, gives a bitterly
objective account of himself, and sets out to justify his inclination to
become a musician after all. In the course of this self-analysis it seems
quite appropriate that Leverkühn presents such a music description as
an illustration for one aspect of his argument. Although in the novel
the musical model remains unidentified, in Die Entstehung des Doktor

Faustus (1949) Mann belatedly discloses his source of inspiration:

Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.2
I believe that in the novel this massive yet evanescent paragraph
possibly carries a contextual as well as structural significance not yet
recognized by interpreters of Doktor Faustus. In this description of an
orchestral composition at least two levels of meaning may be dis-
cerned: the text offers an ingenious ‘word picture’ of Wagner’s Pre-
lude, but simultaneously the emerging musical outline and its various
details symbolically correspond to specific major events and decisions
in Leverkühn’s life.

Wagner’s orchestral score begins with a unison cello-passage. A slow-

paced, melancholy theme which characterizes the contemplative na-
ture of Hans Sachs and his suppressed affection for Pogner’s daughter,
Eva. A majestic brass-chorale, reminiscent of the chorale in the church
scene of Act I and anticipating the thematically identical chorus in Act
III, interrupts the cello-passage. The ensuing songlike melody on the
strings represents Eva’s hesitation between her long-time tender admi-
ration for Sachs and her spontaneously awakening love for the young
Walther von Stolzing, the noble stranger. The brass-chorale, markedly
altered in character, triumphantly returns, signifying Eva’s ultimate
choice and the exuberant love of the young couple. The reappearance
of the Sachs-theme, which may reflect this time the cobbler-poet’s
reconciliation with his fate, brings the Prelude to a close. The score
thus contains five major sections.
In his ‘verbal score,’ Thomas Mann faithfully projects the musical
outlines of the Prelude, though not without intentional alterations.

See Thomas Mann, Die Entstehung des Doktor Faustus (Amsterdam, 1949), p. 71
and pp. 92-93.

Only the first four parts of Wagner’s score are distinctly recognizable;
the fifth section is merely added to the characterization of the recur-
ring chorale. There are four sentences in the text roughly correspond-
ing to the four main sections of the music; the entries of the successive
musical themes, however, never coincide with the beginnings of the
respective sentences. The first entry of the brass-chorale is indicated
toward the middle of the fourth sentence (lines 8-11), the songlike
melody toward the middle of the fifth (18-19), and the recapitulated
chorale toward the middle of the sixth sentence (29-31). Such a distri-
bution of the musical sections ensures a flowing quality in the verbal
To integrate the four elaborate sentences of music description (3-
40) into the texture of Adrian’s letter, Mann introduces the paragraph
with two short sentences in the detached, matter-of-fact tone of the
rest of the letter. The word “schön” (3) at once establishes the ironic
tone of the ensuing evocation of music; throughout Doktor Faustus,
the concept of “das Schöne” proves consistently synonymous with
empty aestheticism, superficial artistic ingenuity, and contrived pa-
The actual description begins with a verb, “intonieren” (3), which
as a terminus technicus immediately evokes musical associations. The
adverb “allein” (3) ascertains the genre of this piece of music: it is an
orchestral composition which commences with the cellos in unison.
The rest of the sentence (3-6) is devoted to an imaginative delineation
of the nature of this musical motif. After the concise definition, “ein
schwermütig sinnendes Thema” (3-4), an explanatory clause (4-6)
unfolds the core of the motif, a rhetorical question, ambitious but pe-
destrian. The subsequent “Wozu”-phrase clarifies the expression
“Unsinn der Welt”: the word “Unsinn” is quasi-synonymous with
“Wozu”; similarly the four nouns “Hetzen”, “Treiben”, “Jagen”, and
“Plagen” circumscribe “Welt”.

See DrF, 127-128, 163, 252, 280, 365, 556, 630, etc.

Personification, subtly implied by the use of the verb “fragt,” fully

emerges in the next sentence (7-14). The cello-section of the orchestra
assumes the traits of a modest, experienced man who is sincerely con-
cerned about the fate of mankind (7-8). Behind this humane image
Mann must have envisioned the amiable stature of Hans Sachs, who
soliloquizes: “Wahn! Wahn!/ Überall Wahn!/ Wohin ich forschend
blick’/ in Stadt- und Welt-Chronik,/ den Grund mir aufzufinden,/ wa-
rum gar bis auf’s Blut/ die Leut sich quälen und schinden/ in unnütz
toller Wuth!/ Hat keiner Lohn/ noch Dank davon:/ in Flucht geschla-
gen/ meint er zu jagen.”4
There can be little doubt that Wagner’s text was the model for
Mann’s “word picture” of the first musical theme (3-6) . The general
tone of the monologue is certainly “schwermütig sinnend” and
“bieder-philosophisch”; the interrogative nature of Sachs’ con-
templation is implied by the word “warum” (cf. “Wozu,” 5); Wagner’s
“unnütz” corresponds to Mann’s “Unsinn”, and the verbs “sich quälen
und schinden” as well as the lines “in Flucht geschlagen/ meint er zu
jagen” are echoed by the accumulation of “Hetzen”, “Treiben”,
“Jagen”, and “Plagen” (5-6). Such treatment of the Wagnerian text is
strongly reminiscent of Mann’s earlier paraphrasing technique in his
novella Tristan (1903).
The two personifications suggested in the second descriptive sen-
tence are distinctly antithetical. The first presents the cellos in con-
templation. The image is essentially meditative and expresses compas-
sion and nostalgia, a readiness for acquiescence and resignation rather
than for enthusiastic intervention concerning the affairs of the world.
The second personification, on the other hand, ascribes a robust, im-
portunate yet convincingly majestic attitude to the entering wind in-
struments. A restrained, static effect (7-8) is contrasted with the eman-
cipating gesture of taking a deep breath (9-11). Thus Mann success-

Richard Wagner, “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”, in Gesammelte Schriften
und Dichtungen (Leipzig, o. J.), VII, p. 260.

fully imitates the pronounced polarity between the string and wind
instruments in the Wagnerian score.
While in the first two sentences the description concentrates on the
successive entries of representative instrument groups and presents
them in the form of static tableaus, the third sentence (14-23) intro-
duces approximation of musical motion. “Die sonore Melodie” (14)
emerges out of the chorale texture, and the reader’s attention shifts
toward the unfolding of this melody in space. A forward and upward
direction is indicated by the verb “dringt [...] vor” (14-15) and by the
mention of a “Höhepunkt” (15) which, however, is not reached at first.
Instead, we witness calculated deviations of this peculiarly forward-
striving movement in a spatial framework.5 An asyndetic series of
separable verbs characterizes the progress of this movement: “sie
weicht aus vor ihm, spart ihn aus, spart ihn auf, sinkt ab, [...]” (16-17).
Thereafter, the focus of attention is drawn away from the hesitant and
stagnating melodic line. The brass-chorale temporarily disappears
from sight only to usher in the new, song-like “Gegenstand” (18-19) –
the word here denotes musical subject or theme – that corresponds to
the lyrical middle section of the score.
A comparison of the first three descriptive sentences (3-23) with
the long concluding one (23-40) reveals a significant difference.
While each one of the first three contains an elaborate definition of a
musical motif, there are no such definitions in the last sentence. Since
the major themes have been characterized previously, the last sentence
may now concentrate on the gradual unfolding and ultimate fate of
these themes. Lines 23-29 up to “nun” belong to the definition of the
“Liedchen” and show its further orchestral development, while lines
29-39 up to “um” relate the altered circumstances and the destination
of the recurring chorale. The last two lines render the concluding bars
of the Prelude.

Cf. Mann’s allusion to the same motif in “Leiden und Grösse Richard Wagners”,
in Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main, 1960), vol. IX, p. 382.

Agglomeration of a great number of strategically situated adverbs

and adverbial expressions denoting an aspect of time maintains syn-
tactical coherence in this oversaturated sentence. Some of these words
and expressions recur two or three times and the majority of them
appear grouped together in clusters of two, three or more: “nun eine
Weile” (24), “ein wenig noch [...] wie” (28), “da [...] wieder [...] von
vorhin” (29-30), “das erste Mal” (32), “schon eine Weile wieder”
(33), “das erste Mal” (35), “jetzt, wo” (36), “dann” (39). Several of
the words assume a temporal connotation only in context, e.g., “da”
(dann), 29; and “wo” (wenn), 36. The important function of these
time-words is to secure continuity of the description and to supply the
reader with at least a vague conception of the approximate time-span
of the characterized musical sections. The time-words may bring an
effect of retardation as well, perhaps best demonstrable in lines 28-31
where – due to the accumulation of time-words – the depicted “action”
slows down to almost a standstill.
In the last sentence we also witness creation of space by verbal
means. Mann communicates the spatial framework of the repre-
sentation through various words and technical expressions denoting
position and direction, e.g., “aus” (26), “in die Höhen” (26-27), “hin-
aufgeführt” (27-28), “dort oben “ (28), “Vordergrund” (31), “von vor-
ne” (32), “dabei” (33), “jenen” (34), “Höhepunkt” (34), “hin” (34),
“Aufsteigen” (38), “auf” (39), and “zurückblickend” (40).
The texture of this sentence which results from a combination of
the time-words and space-words successfully evokes a semblance of a
musical sphere constituted by space and time. Within this spatial
framework for the projection of musical motion, the rise and fall of
tonal events may easily be pursued. Mann alternates spatial regions as
a composer would alternate between various musical registers (cf.
“[...] aus mittleren Klanglagen in die zauberischsten Höhen der Gei-
gen- und Flötensphäre hinaufgeführt”, 26-28): the initial ascent
reaches a plateau where it temporarily subsides (28-29) only to con-

tinue in full force to attain the summit (33-39), from which it slowly
descends again to the plain (39-40).
Throughout the paragraph Mann makes extensive use of musical
terms, with which he constructs a plausible framework for a verbal
projection of music. Exact references approximate the instrumentation
in Wagner’s score: “Celli” (3, 7); “Bläserchor” (11); “Blech” (14, 30);
“Geigen- und Flötensphäre” (27); “Basstuba” (37-38). Also, a number
of descriptive words and phrases are derived from musical terminol-
ogy: “intonieren” (3), “Thema” (4); “Choral-Hymne” (11, 30); “har-
monisiert” (12); “Melodie” (14); “Höhepunkt” (15, 34); “orchestrale
Analyse und Umfärbung” (22); “Liedchen” (24); “Figur” (26); “mit-
tlere Klanglagen” (26); and “harmonische Durchgangstöne” (37). Yet,
to what extent is a thorough knowledge of music indispensible for the
understanding of the description? Upon closer examination of this
specific technical vocabulary, it becomes clear that Mann’s select
terms and expressions carry more than just musical connotations and
thus would be understandable to any layman with some literary imagi-
nation. Such terminology is justified in the larger context of the novel
as well: as an excerpt from Leverkühn’s letter, the passage reflects the
language of a promising young man who at this point in his life is not
yet a professional musician, but is about to become one.6
Repetition, a stylistic device apparent in the entire passage, serves
as a guiding light in the labyrinth of complicated syntax. Mann imi-
tates the recapitulation of the brass-chorale in Wagner’s score by ver-
bal repetition and variation, with special attention to the significant
changes in the character of this motif. The return of the brass-chorale
is anticipated by the phrase “fürs erste noch vermeidet” (16), echoed
first in “wie das erste Mal” (32) and then once more in “sich das erste
Mal [...] enthielt” (35). The initial avoidance and ultimate attainment
of the long-awaited “Höhepunkt” (15 and 34, respectively) constitute
the core of the whole description. Accordingly, repetition becomes a

Cf. Kretzschmar’s characterization of Adrian’s musical aptitude, DrF, 199.

means of contrast: the recurring “Choralhymne” is “nicht [...] ausho-

lend” (31) as opposed to “ausholend” (9-10); it is “weihesam” (34)
instead of “ergreifend feierlich” (12); it is intoned on “das milde
Blech” (30) as opposed to the “ mild gebändigte Kraft des Blechs”
(13-14); and finally the climax is reached (“beschreitet”, 38-39) and
not shunned (“vermeidet”, 16).
Throughout the description of the Prelude Mann strictly adheres to
the present tense. Exclusive use of this tense serves as a cohesive
force; it intensifies the immediacy of the piece of music described.7
Leverkühn’s experience of the music is presently transmitted to the
reader, who, while receiving this experience, involuntarily re-lives the
verbalized tonal events. The present tense also promotes an over-all
impression of timelessness. The verbal image of the music is created
to perform a role similar to that of the musical score. Just as the actual
performance of the music may be reproduced on the basis of the avail-
able score, the experience of re-living the actual music may be re-
peated on the basis of the verbal representation. Thus the consistent
use of the present suggests a gnomic, permanent quality of the musical
work of art as well as its literary image.


I have restricted my discussion so far to the text in isolation and have

examined what I consider the most important stylistic devices and
descriptive techniques by means of which Mann ‘composes’ his ‘ver-
bal score’. Viewed within the context of the novel, however, Adrian
Leverkühn’s evocation of Wagner’s Prelude extends well beyond the
limits of a description for description’s sake. Our text may be read as a
disguised account of certain major influences and events in Adrian’s

Cf. Wilhelm Havers, Handbuch der erklärenden Syntax (Heidelberg, 1931), p.

life presented in the first half of the novel up to the climactic Teu-
felsgespräch in chapter 25.
In chapter 1, conspicuously early in Serenus Zeitblom’s punctilious
account of Leverkühn’s life, the ominous phrase “grässlicher Kaufver-
trag” (DrF, 11) casts a daemonic shadow over events yet to be told.
Although Zeitblom hastily “confesses” it to be a blunder on his part
due to the strong emotional ties with his subject, such a deliberately
planted slip exemplifies one of Mann’s favorite novelistic devices: the
anticipatory allusion.8 Similarly, Zeitblom’s ensuing statement con-
cerning Leverkühn’s composing technique may also be interpreted, I
think, as an indirect reference to passages of symbolic content such as
the Prelude description: “Adrian selbst hätte wohl kaum, nehmen wir
an: in einer Symphonie, ein solches Thema so vorzeitig auftreten –
hätte es höchstens auf eine fein versteckte und kaum schon greifbare
Art von ferne sich anmelden lassen.” (DrF I, 11-12; italics added).9
Even Zeitblom, who has been around his friend almost constantly,
expresses genuine astonishment from time to time when all of a sud-
den he comprehends the hidden meaning behind some of Adrian’s
utterances or written statements previously inexplicable to him: “Bei
ihm musste alles sich erst ‘herausstellen’, bei allem musste man ihn
betreffen, überraschen, ertappen, ihm hinter die Briefe kommen, – und
dann errötete er, während man selbst sich hätte vor den Kopf schlagen
mögen, weil man das nicht längst gesehen.” (DrF VII, 72; italics
added). Zeitblom confesses that Adrian’s revealing self-analysis is not
available to him at the time of writing chapter 15; he only ‘quotes’ the
decisive letter from his remarkable memory. He even informs the rea-

Cf. Zeitblom’s statement in chapter 4: “Wenn das ein Fehler ist, [...] dass ich, der
Neigung zum Vorgreifen erliegend, schon hier auf Pfeiffering und die Schweigestills
zu sprechen kam, so bitte ich den Leser, solche Unregelmässigkeiten der Aufregung
zugute zu halten.” DrF, 45.
Cf. also Zeitblom’s characterization of Adrian’s first letter from Leipzig in chap-
ter 17: “Es gab kein besseres Beispiel für das Zitat als Deckung, die Parodie als Vor-
wand.” DrF, 226.

der that it was “sehr gedrängt und chiffernmässig geschrieben, voll

winziger Interpolationen und Korrekturen” (DrF XV, 201).10 Such
statements, I feel, are meant as an encouragement to search for mean-
ing between the lines; Leverkühn’s letter certainly deserves careful
The Prelude description begins with a characterization of a passage
featuring the cellos in unison. Among the many musical instruments
appearing in Doktor Faustus11 the cello seems to be most conspicu-
ously used for symbolic representation. Two major themes may be
associated with this instrument. First, the verbal cello-passage con-
jures up reminiscences of Jonathan Leverkühn, Adrian’s father, whose
favorite pastime was “die Elementa spekulieren” (DrF III, 24): a mel-
ancholy man of native intelligence passionately interested in the ori-
gins of life, who in his home laboratory indefatigably scrutinized in-
explicable organic and inorganic phenomena. One of Father Lever-
kühn’s experiments, in fact, called for an old “Cellobogen” (DrF III,
31). In both Zeitblom’s characterization of the old man in chapter
three (not at all unlike Wagner’s Hans Sachs!) and the indirect per-
sonification in the evoked cello-passage (lines 3-8) I detect an analo-
gous, fundamentally humane attitude with a certain degree of inherent
mysticism as well as a definite similarity in diction (italics added):

Ja, Vater Leverkühn war ein Speku- Die Celli intonieren allein,
lierer und Sinnierer, und ich sagte ein schwermütig sinnendes
schon, dass sein Forscherhang – wenn Thema, das nach dem
man von Forschung sprechen kann, Unsinn der Welt, dem
wo es sich eigentlich nur um träumer- Wozu all des Hetzens und
ische Kontemplation handelte – sich Treibens und Jagens und
immer in eine bestimmte Richtung einander Plagens bieder-
neigte, nämlich die mystische oder philosophisch und höchst
eine ahnungsvoll halb-mystische, in ausdrucksvoll fragt. Die
die, wie mir scheint, der dem Natür- Celli verbreiten sich eine

See also DrF, 240 and 128.
For statistics concerning the various instruments represented see Gunilla
Bergsten, “Musical Symbolism in Thomas Mann’s ‘Doktor Faustus’”, in Orbis Lit-
terarum 14 (1959), 206-214.

lichen nachgehende menschliche Ge- Weile kopfschüttelnd und

danke fast mit Notwendigkeit gelenkt bedauernd über dieses Rät-
wird. (DrF III, 30-31) sel [...] (3-8)

The expressions “schwermütig sinnendes Thema”, “bieder-philoso-

phisch”, and “verbreiten sich ... über” may characterize the amateur
“Spekulierer und Sinnierer” engaged in “träumerischer Kontemplati-
on”. Moreover, Father Leverkühn’s semi-mystical speculations con-
cerning the inexplicable (cf. “Rätsel”) in nature and human nature (cf.
“der [...] menschliche Gedanke”) may well have included the moot
question “Wozu [...] etc.”
Secondly, on an abstract plane, the tone of the cello seems to repre-
sent for Adrian a kind of vox humana throughout the novel. This no-
tion of Leverkühn’s, as so many others, originates from Kretzschmar,
who describes the nature of the “Cellostimme” in a characterization of
Bach’s E-flat major cello-suite as “nichts anderes, als geradezu das
Einfachste, Fundamentalste, die schlichte Wahrheit [...]” (DrF VIII,
102). It is this humane “Cellostimme”, “das hohe g eines Cello” (DrF
XLVI, 745), which dies away at the end of Leverkühn’s last work, Dr.
Fausti Weheklag, and whose irreconcilable hopelessness Adrian in-
stinctively foresees in the Prelude description (cf. “Unsinn der Welt”
and “Wozu [...],” lines 4-5).
In the framework of Leverkühn’s Berufskrise, the definition of the
“schwermütig sinnendes Thema” (3-8) corresponds to the pro-
paedeutic studies in theology which he undertook as a result of his
decision to become a professional theologian. In a religious context
the phrase “Wozu all des Hetzens und Treibens und Jagens und einan-
der Plagens” (5-6) anticipates, I think, the final movement of Dr.
Fausti Weheklag which “wie die Klage Gottes über das Verlorengehen
seiner Welt, wie ein kummervolles ‘Ich habe es nicht gewollt’ des
Schöpfers lautet.” (DrF XLVI, 744).
In his inner struggle of trying to ignore the enticing thought of a
career in music, Adrian’s early excursions into the field of theology
appear by no means to be unmotivated; in his letter in chapter 15 he

apologetically confides to Kretzschmar: “Mein Luthertum [...] sieht in

Theologie und Musik benachbarte, nahe verwandte Sphären [...]”
(DrF, 204). In spite of his aversion to the prospect of becoming either
an orchestral conductor or a piano-virtuoso, Leverkühn cannot with-
stand his fundamental attraction to music. The description of the
brass-chorale (8-14) points to the time of hesitation in his life when,
still involved with theology, he became more and more aware of the
overpowering importance of music in his existence.12
The transitional phrase “an einem bestimmten Punkt ihrer Rede,
einem wohl erwogenen [...]” (8-9) calls to mind Zeitblom’s memo-
rable portrayal of Adrian’s first though primitive experience in syste-
matic music-making, the canon-singing with the “Stall-Hanne” in Hof
Buchel: “Hier war eine zeitliche Verschränkung, ein nachahmendes
Eintreten, zu dem man im gegebenen Augenblick durch einen Rippen-
stoss der Stall-Hanne aufgefordert wurde, wenn der Gesang schon im
Gange war, die Melodie sich bis zu einem gewissen Punkte schon ab-
gespielt hatte, aber bevor sie zu Ende war.” (DrF IV, 47; italics
added). Similar to the critical points of entry in the above description
of canon-singing, the first decisive turning point in Adrian’s adoles-
cent years is the intervention of his Onkel Niko who recognizes the
boy’s extraordinary musical talent at the right time and persuades him
to take up systematic piano instruction with Wendell Kretzschmar (cf.
DrF VII, 75).
The verbal evocation of the brass-chorale13 conveys Adrian’s
gradually awakening interest in music, though not without reservation,
such as demonstrated by the irony in phrases like “gestopfte Würde”
(13) and “mild gebändigte Kraft des Blechs” (13-14). Even though in
this phase of his life Leverkühn abandons the thought of becoming a

See Hans Mayer, Thomas Mann (Berlin, 1950), pp. 345-346.
Cf. also the striking similarity in the description of brass instruments in Onkel
Niko’s music shop. DrF VII, 65.

theologian and turns to music, 14 he still maintains an interest in theol-

ogy on the side.
The leading voice of the brass-chorale proceeds toward a climax
only to avoid it at first. A plausible though seemingly far-fetched im-
plication concerning Adrian’s fate suggests itself: I construe that the
“sonore Melodie” (14) represents the young and shy Leverkühn and
the unattained “Höhepunkt” (15) symbolizes his first encounter with
the Hetaera Esmeralda in the Leipzig brothel. The parallel has deeper
roots than it would appear at first glance. The indirect presence of the
devil is hinted at in both cases. In Leipzig Adrian’s “Fremdenführer”
uncannily resembles Eberhard Schleppfuss, the daemonic professor of
the psychology of religion from Halle, while with the word “Gegen-
stand” (18-19) the characterization of the advancing “sonore Melodie”
includes an allusion to a statement in Schleppfuss’ lectures concerning
his distinction between temptation and sin: “Von wem aber ging die
Versuchung aus? [...] Man hatte leicht sagen, sie komme vom Teufel.
Der war ihre Quelle, die Verwünschung jedoch galt dem Gegenstand.
Der Gegenstand, das Instrumentum des Versuchers, war das Weib.”
(DrF XIII, 166).
The description of the sonorous melody in a spatial “landscape (li-
nes 16-18) may be regarded as a symbolic representation of an uncon-
summated encounter of the sexes: “sie [die sonore Melodie] weicht
aus vor ihm [dem Höhepunkt], spart ihn aus, spart ihn auf,15 sinkt ab
[...] etc.” I detect a possible connection between Mann’s “inversion”

Cf. Zeitblom’s remark at the time: “Die Rechtmässigkeit, Notwendigkeit, der
richtigstellende Charakter des Schrittes, und dass die Theologie nur ein Ausweichen
vor ihm, eine Dissimulation gewesen war, das alles war mir klar. [...]” DrF XV, 214;
italics added.
This asyndetic series of verbs expresses hesitation and avoidance of an important
issue. Also, it conveys Adrian’s tendency for renunciation and for self-imposed absti-
nence. In this connection cf. Mann’s use of the verb “aufsparen” in a similar, specifi-
cally sexual sense: “Ich weiss nicht, wie diese jungen Theologen es in der Tat, jeder
für sich, damit hielten, ob sie sich alle in Züchten für die christliche Ehe aufsparten!”
DrF XVI, 228.

of the genders (i. e., “die Melodie” for Adrian, “der Höhepunkt” for
Esmeralda)16 and the enigmatic Angelus Silesius quote concluding
Kretzschmar’s reply at the end of chapter 15: “Genug des theolo-
gischen Jungfernstandes!

‘Die Jungfrauschaft ist wert, doch muss sie Mutter werden,

Sonst ist sie wie ein Plan von unbefruchter Erden!’” (DrF XV, 211)

On Kretzschmar’s part this hint extends, as it were, an “invitation to

the dance”: Adrian’s extraordinary musical talent should not be left
uncultivated. Such talent, as the quote implies, represents the kind of
fertile soil which proves worthwhile only when made fruitful. Applied
to Leverkühn’s circumstances and ultimate fate, Kretzschmar’s allu-
sion is meaningful. “Jungfrauschaft” characterizes Adrian’s state be-
fore his encounter with Esmeralda; his self-imposed escape from mu-
sic as a student of theology explains why Adrian has not yet attempted
to compose on his own (cf. DrF XV, 199). It is only later, in Press-
burg, that Adrian – in this sense indeed an embodiment of “Jung-
frauschaft,” i. e. dormant creativity – is prepared to receive through
Esmeralda the diabolical token of inspiration. Zeitblom’s rhetorical
question further emphasizes the feminine character of Adrian’s role in
the encounter: “[...] was war es, welches tief geheimste Verlangen
nach dämonischer Empfängnis, nach einer tödlich entfesselnden chy-
mischen Veränderung seiner Natur wirkte dahin, dass der Gewarnte
die Warnung verschmähte und auf dem Besitz dieses Fleisches be-
stand?” (DrF XIX, 239; italics added). In the Leipzig brothel, how-
ever, – at the time of their first meeting, corresponding in our music
description to the “inversion of genders” – Esmeralda simultaneously
performs the male role of the seducer and the daemonic role of the
tempter; she takes the initiative and establishes contact with Adrian:

Notice the similar inversion of roles in Zeitblom’s comment: “Dass er bis dato
kein Weib ‘berührt’ hatte, war und ist mir eine unumstössliche Gewissheit. Nun hatte
das Weib ihn berührt – und er war geflogen.” DrF XVII, 230; italics added.

“Neben mich [recalls Adrian] stellt sich dabei eine Bräunliche, [...] mit
grossem Mund und Mandelaugen, Esmeralda, die streichelt mir mit
dem Arm die Wange.” (DrF XVI, 221).17 After this traumatic ex-
perience Leverkühn flees Esmeralda temporarily (cf. lines 16-18), but
her portentous touch remains on his cheek as an indelible stamp for
the rest of his life.18
The evocation of the songlike melody and its development (19-29)
may be considered analogous to Leverkühn’s period of musical ex-
perimentation; it characterizes his distrust towards the oversenti-
mentalized post-Romanticism of preceding generations. The word
“Gegenstand” (18-19), in addition to its double connotation discussed
above, possibly carries yet another meaning with regard to Adrian’s
early work: an opera buffa based on Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s
Lost. The contextual resemblance between the following descriptive
passage from chapter 20 and lines 18-23 in our text is, I believe,
surely not accidental (italics added):

[...] macht einem anderen Ge- Er [Leverkühn] sprach mir

genstande Platz, einem liedhaft-sim- mit Begeisterung von dem
plen, scherzhaft-gravitätisch-volkstüm- Gegenstand [Love’s La-
lichen, scheinbar derb von Natur, bour’s Lost], der Gelegen-
der’s aber hinter den Ohren hat und heit bot, das Naturwüch-
sich, bei einiger Ausgepichtheit in sig-Tölpelhafte neben das
den Künsten der orchestralen Analyse Komisch-Sublime zu stellen
und Umfärbung, als erstaunlich deu- und eines im anderen lächer-
tungs- und sublimierungsfähig er- lich zu machen.
weist. (18-23) (DrF XX, 254).

The phrases “liedhaft-simpel”, “scherzhaft-gravitätisch-volkstümlich”

and “scheinbar derb von Natur” on the one hand, and “das Natur-
wüchsig-Tölpelhafte neben das Komisch-Sublime” on the other, con-

Cf. also “ befruchtende Berührung”, DrF II, 18.
“Komisch allenfalls war dieses Entweichen in dem bittertragischen Sinn der
Vergeblichkeit. In meinen Augen war Adrian nicht entkommen, und sehr vorüberge-
hend, gewiss, hat er sich als ein Entkommener gefühlt. [...] Adrian sollte zurückkeh-
ren an den Ort, wohin der Betrüger ihn geführt.” DrF XVII, 230-231.

vey an ironic-parodistic attitude characteristic of Adrian’s beginnings

as an “angry young composer”. The analogy to Shakespeare is not
misplaced either; probably the very first Shakespearian play, Love’s
Labour’s Lost reflects a kind of verbal acrobatics and dramatic ex-
perimentation quite comparable to Leverkühn’s early adventures with
musical texture and form.19
The clause “der’s aber hinter den Ohren hat” (20-21) constitutes
another reference to Father Leverkühn’s experimenter-spirit, echoed
by the devil himself in the Teufelsgespräch (see DrF XXV, 363) – a
touch of the diabolical in the father inherited by the son. The rest of
the sentence, on the other hand, alludes to Leverkühn’s musical ap-
prenticeship under Kretzschmar (see DrF XVI, 217-218). Disregard-
ing value judgments and personal preferences, Adrian engages in in-
tensive analyses of the scores of classical and Romantic masters with
special emphasis on style and compositional technique (cf. DrF
XVIII, 234). The phrase “bei einiger Ausgepichtheit in den Künsten
der orchestralen Analyse und Umfärbung” (21-22) conveys the would-
be innovator’s attitude of contempt towards Wagnerian music, though
not without the historical perspective of due admiration. Wagner’s
calculated trickery and effect-hunting bravura represent to Adrian the
odious aspects of musical tradition to be done away with. The word
“Ausgepichtheit” (21) directly echoes Kretzschmar, who in his trench-
ant lectures in Kaisersaschern referred to Wagner as “ein ausgepichter
Instrumentalzauberer”, “Orchesterheros und gelernter Massenerschüt-
terer.” (DrF VIII, 100).
To test his powers, during his period of musical experimentation
Leverkühn composes a song cycle based on thirteen Brentano poems.
The phrase “Mit dem Liedchen wird nun eine Weile klug und lieblich
gewirtschaftet. [...]” (23-25) may refer to the creation of these songs.

As a further proof of the parallel between the Prelude description and Lever-
kühn’s opera Love’s Labour’s Lost, Leverkühn’s instrumentation faithfully cor-
responds to Wagner’s: Adrian adds “ein zweites Paar Hörner, drei Posaunen und eine
Basstuba” to “das klassische Beethoven’sche Orchester” (cf. DrF, 337).

After the ominous encounter with Esmeralda in Leipzig, Adrian re-

nounces her physically; intellectually, however, he is so thoroughly
preoccupied with her that he incorporates the “Klang-Chiffre h e a e
es: Hetaera Esmeralda” (DrF XIX, 241) into the central song of the
cycle, “das herzzerwühlende Lied ‘O lieb Mädel, wie schlecht bist
du’” (DrF XIX, 240).
The anticipated return of the brass-chorale (29-34), which in dis-
cussing lines 8-14 I have linked with Adrian’s awakening interest in
music, manifests this time the projected triumph of music in Lever-
kühn’s career. As we learn from Zeitblom, at the end of chapter 15,
Adrian – encouraged by his correspondence with Kretzschmar – de-
cides to move to Leipzig and devote the major part of his time and
energy to the study of music: “Er [Adrian] wolle, so würde er ihnen
[den Eltern] sagen, die Beschäftigung mit der Musik ‘mehr in den
Vordergrund treten lassen’ und daher die Stadt aufsuchen, in der der
musikalische Mentor seiner Schülerzeit wirke.” (DrF, 212). The self-
quotation contained in this statement corresponds, of course, to “tritt
in den Vordergrund” (31) in our text. That the phrase “‘mehr in den
Vordergrund treten lassen’” is enclosed in quotation marks furnishes
proof for my hypothesis that Adrian was conscious of employing the
same turn of speech, used metaphorically in the Prelude description, to
characterize his turning to music.
The description of the recurring brass-chorale suggests a major
biographical event: Leverkühn’s second encounter with the Hetaera
Esmeralda in Pressburg. Once again, “Melodie” (33) stands for Adrian
and “Höhepunkt” (34) for Esmeralda, except that this time the climax
is attained instead of evaded. After a passing reference to Adrian’s
previous abstinence (“dessen sie sich das erste Mal weislich enthielt,”
34-35)20 a metaphorical description presents the ultimate consumma-
tion of the earlier encounter of Leipzig (35-39). Esmeralda offers “alle
Süssigkeit ihres Weibtums” (DrF XIX, 240), and Adrian takes her in

Cf. “die Enthaltung vom Weibe”, DrF, 342.

spite of the obvious danger of contracting venereal disease. Even

though in Pressburg Adrian takes the initiative, he remains the passive
partner in the affair. Consequently, my above interpretation of the
‘inversion of genders’ seems valid for their second encounter as well.
The erotic connotations of the expressions “‘Ah!’-Wirkung” (35)
and “Gefühlsschwellung” (36) can hardly be overlooked. The remark-
able descriptive intensity of the ensuing evocation of a musical climax
(35-39) – strongly reminiscent of the improvising Hanno Budden-
brook’s erotic ecstasy – also demonstrates Mann’s mastery of the
technique of symbolical-metaphorical representation of music.
Lines 35-39 of the Prelude description may be taken as a veiled an-
ticipation of the Teufelsgespräch. As we know, Esmeralda’s powerful
employer happens to be the devil himself.21 The evocation of the mu-
sical climax hints at the latter’s participation in the act of consumma-
tion through the employment of the instrument “Basstuba” (37-38)
and the adverb “wuchtig” (38), both associated one way or another in
the novel with the diabolical. First referred to by Zeitblom in the de-
scription of Onkel Niko’s music-shop as “die gründende Schwere der
grossen Basstuba” (DrF VII, 65), this instrument assumes in Doktor
Faustus a negative connotation, especially in contrast to instruments
with high pitch, as for example the flute. Out of the fundamental con-
trast between high and low instruments evolves the important leitmotif
of “Himmel und Hölle” (DrF XV, 206), “das weite Auseinander von
Bass und Diskant” (DrF VIII, 85), “der kristallene Engelschor” and
“das Höllengejohle” (DrF XLVI, 739), etc. It may also be of interest
in this context that students in Halle label Professor Ehrenfried
Kumpf, one of the many impersonators of the devil in Doktor Faustus,
as a “wuchtige Persönlichkeit” (DrF XII, 151); he also has the reputa-
tion, of course, “mit dem Teufel auf sehr vertrautem, wenn auch natür-
lich gespanntem, Fusse zu stehen” (DrF XII, 153).

Cf. the devil’s statement in the Teufelsgespräch: “[...] ich, Esmeraldas Freund und
Zuhalt, [...]” DrF, 361.

As a final confirmation of the ironic distance with which young

Leverkühn views Wagner’s artistic achievement, the expressions “mit
würdiger Genugtuung” and “sich [...] ehrsam zu Ende zu singen” (39-
40) echo and illustrate Adrian’s introductory statement: “So geht es
zu, wenn es schön ist” (2-3). Within Wagner’s system of composition,
still firmly rooted in cadence-conscious musical traditionalism, com-
pletion of the Prelude in such a routine, predictable manner is a matter
of course. To be sure, in his critical remarks immediately following
the evocation Leverkühn does give credit to Wagner’s mastery of
sophisticated finesse: “Kann man mit mehr Genie das Hergebrachte
benutzen, die Kniffe weihen? Kann man mit gewiegterem Gefühl das
Schöne erzielen?” (DrF XV, 208). Nevertheless, at this point Adrian
considers Wagnerian music to be anachronistic: a target of his ridicule
prompting him to define the concept which will permeate his life
work, the concept of parody: “Warum müssen fast alle Dinge mir als
ihre eigene Parodie erscheinen? Warum muss es mir vorkommen, als
ob fast alle, nein, alle Mittel und Konvenienzen der Kunst heute nur
noch zur Parodie taugten?” (DrF XV, 209). In such a context the Pre-
lude description prefigures Leverkühn’s “Durchbruch” as a composer.
After the fecundating encounter with the devil through Esmeralda,
Adrian is prepared to surpass the art of Richard Wagner: a triumph of
the future over “das Hergebrachte.” Rejecting the traditional concept
of the beautiful as it culminates in Wagner, Leverkühn will now be
able to proceed toward fulfilling his ultimate goal of composing
within the framework of his own musical system (cf. DrF XLVI, 736).
In conclusion, I find that Thomas Mann’s ‘verbal score’ accom-
plishes more than a successful evocation of the musical and poetic
content of Wagner’s Prelude; the correspondences between the de-
scribed musical sections and formative events in Leverkühn’s life
seem to indicate that in a biographical context Adrian’s exegesis of
the Prelude symbolically represents his own Berufskrise. The verbal-
ized introductory cello passage suggests some sources of Adrian’s
early intellectual and musical orientation together with his awakening

interest in theology and philosophy (3-8). The first appearance of the

brass-chorale signifies that Adrian’s hitherto suppressed interest in
music begins to assume professional dimensions (8-14). The musical
climax, temporarily avoided, possibly stands for Leverkühn’s trau-
matic experience in the Leipzig brothel: his first encounter with, and
instinctive withdrawal from, the Hetaera Esmeralda (14-19). The pres-
entation of the songlike melody and its development would then cor-
respond to that period in Leverkühn’s life in which, though ostensibly
still a student of theology and philosophy, he experiments with tradi-
tional musical styles and orchestration techniques in preparation for a
career as a composer (19-29). The recurring brass-chorale represents
the ultimate triumph of music in Adrian’s life; this time the climax is
carried to its fulfillment: a symbolic representation of Adrian’s second
and last encounter with the Hetaera Esmeralda in Pressburg (29-39). It
is disease (a chiffre of his irrevocable contact with the devil) which
enables Leverkühn to accomplish his “breakthrough” as a composer
and to develop a unique musical style and system of his own. His re-
jection of cadence-conscious musical traditionalism (39-40) consti-
tutes a turning point in the history of music: it opens up new possibili-
ties for the development of modern music.
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Notes Toward a Theory of Verbal Music (1970)

Aesthetic speculation about the interrelationship between literature

and music has been regarded as a fascinating and elusive, if somewhat
suspect, border area of literary criticism. In their influential Theory of
Literature1 Rene Wellek and Austin Warren voiced particularly strong
scepticism concerning the possibility of successfully combining the
“sister arts”. Yet the numerous examples of “great artists in the field
of literature [who] also feel a need for going beyond the limits of their
art and striving after a symbiosis with the other art”2 cannot be ig-
nored; and today more and more scholars agree that musico-literary
relations promise a rewarding territory for critical exploration within
the larger framework of the study of literature and the other arts3. It is
another matter that the legitimacy of such study as an integral branch
of comparative literature continues to be contested. Many comparatists
still only recognize investigations which deal with comparison of lit-

New York, 1942. See chapter XI entitled “Literature and the Other Arts,” pp. 124-
H. P. H. Teesing, “Literature and the Other Arts: Some Remarks,” YCGL, XII
(1963), 30.
For some more recent summarizing views see Northrop Frye, “Introduction: Lexis
and Melos,” in Frye, ed., Sound and Poetry (New York, 1957), ix-xxvii; Mary
Gaither, “Literature and the Arts,” in Newton P. Stallknecht and Horst Frenz, eds.,
Comparative Literature: Method and Perspective (Carbondale, Ill. 1961), 153-170;
Horst Petri, Literatur und Musik: Form- und Strukturparallelen (Göttingen, 1964);
Bertrand H. Bronson, “Literature and Music,” in James Thorpe, ed., The Relations of
Literary Study: Essays on Interdisciplinary Contributions (New York, 1967), 127-
150; and Ulrich Weisstein, Einführung in die Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft
(Stuttgart, 1968), chapter 8, 184-197.

erary works “beyond national boundaries”4. Controversy concerning

the legitimacy of critical treatments of literature and the arts will hope-
fully subside as more comparatists endorse Henry H. H. Remak’s
broader definition, according to which

comparative literature is the study of literature beyond the confines of one par-
ticular country, and the study of the relationships between literature on the one
hand and other areas of knowledge and belief, such as the arts ... philosophy, his-
tory, the social sciences, the sciences, religion, etc., on the other. In brief, it is the
comparison of one literature with another or others, and the comparison of litera-
ture with other spheres of human expression.5

With the publication of Calvin S. Brown’s Music and Literature: A

Comparison of the Arts (Athens, Ga., 1948), the comparative investi-
gation of the sister arts was given a thorough theoretical foundation. In
view of the variety of recent contributions no doubt largely inspired
by Brown’s comprehensive study, there is every reason to assume that
critical attention to the relations of literature and music will continue
to grow. In spite of such promising prospects, however, relevant con-
tributions still appear which are disappointingly limited in scope. For
instance, in a recent publication by the Modern Language Association
aimed at informing a wide audience, The Relations of Literary Study:
Essays on Interdisciplinary Contributions (New York, 1967), Ber-
trand H. Bronson reveals an astonishingly narrow conception of the
future tasks of musico-literary criticism. He concludes his article, “Li-
terature and Music”:

We need studies of forms poetico-musical, with equal attention to both sides

wherever possible, and of individual examples of such forms: masques, operas
and oratorios, odes, songs. We need readable studies of musical theory and musi-
cal history. We need musical criticism written responsibly but with a sense of
style, for the non-professional reader. [...] And finally, we could do with more,

Henry H. H. Remak, “Comparative Literature, Its Definition and Function,” in
Stallknecht and Frenz, op. cit., 4. 147.
Ibid., 3.

and more scholarly, biographies both of musicians and literary men with a strong
musical concern.6

However general in formulation, most of Bronson’s desiderata strike

me as belonging to the domain of musicologists rather than of literary
scholars. In addition to the topics suggested by Bronson involving
music and literature (vocal music), literature in music (program mu-
sic), and musical biography, there are indeed many other areas which
would benefit more from further exploration by literary critics. I am
referring particularly to manifestations of musical influence in litera-
ture such as word music, structural and formal parallels between the
two arts, musical influences on literary periods and on individual au-
thors, and literary synaesthesia7.
In the following I shall focus on a hitherto largely neglected aspect
of the problem of music in literature, the phenomenon of verbal music.
Using the definition developed in my Verbal Music in German Litera-
ture (New Haven, 1968) as a point of departure, I shall attempt to
locate verbal music in a systematic typology accommodating related
musico-literary phenomena which employ language as their primary
medium of expression and to suggest the most important distinctions
between literary and nonliterary approaches to verbal evocation of
music. Finally, I shall discuss some unique aesthetic features charac-
teristic of verbal music in prose.

By verbal music I mean any literary presentation (whether in poetry or prose) of
existing or fictitious musical compositions: any poetic texture which has a piece
of music as its ‘theme.’ In addition to approximating in words an actual or ficti-
tious score, such poems or passages often suggest characterization of a musical

Bronson, in The Relations of Literary Study, 148.
For a typological survey and characterization of these areas see my Verbal Music
in German Literature (New Haven, 1968), Introduction and Appendix.

performance or of subjective response to music. Although verbal music may, on

occasion, contain onomatopoeic effects, it distinctly differs from word music,
which is exclusively an attempt at literary imitation of sound.8

The above definition indicates that verbal music is a literary phe-

nomenon. Its texture consists of artistically organized words which
relate to music only inasmuch as they strive to suggest the experience
or effects of music, while necessarily remaining within the boundaries
of the medium of literature. Realizing the ultimate impossibility of a
transformation in basic artistic material, poets and writers who never-
theless attempt verbalizations of music must be content if they suc-
ceed in achieving a relatively true verbal semblance of the musical
As an illustration of the type of literary texture I have in mind, I
shall quote the following passage of verbal music from Aldous Hux-
ley’s Point Counter Point:

Meanwhile the music played on – Bach's Suite in B minor, for flute and strings.
Young Tolley conducted with his usual inimitable grace, bending in swan-like
undulations from the loins and tracing luscious arabesques on the air with his
waving arms, as though he were dancing to the music. A dozen anonymous fid-
dlers and cellists scraped at his bidding. And the great Pongileoni glueily kissed
his flute. He blew across the mouth hole and a cylindrical air column vibrated;
Bach’s meditations filled the Roman quadrangle. In the opening largo John
Sebastian had, with the help of Pongileoni’s snout and the air column, made a
statement: There are grand things in the world, noble things; there are men born
kingly; there are real conquerors, intrinsic lords of the earth. But of an earth that
is, oh! complex and multitudinous, he had gone on to reflect in the fugal allegro.
You seem to have found the truth; clear, definite, unmistakable, it is announced
by the violins; you have it, you triumphantly hold it. But it slips out of your grasp

Ibid., 8.
“From the standpoint of the literary artist, the grammar and syntax of the lan-
guage he is using, as well as its accepted pronunciation, spelling, and punctuation, are
all technological properties of his medium. He must accept them as partly determin-
ing and limiting, as well as inspiring, the verbal forms which he is to produce. He
must not depart too far from established usage if he is to be widely understood. Yet
this usage is flexible, and can be moulded to some extent into the new patterns of
word-sounds and meanings which he wishes to create.” Thomas Munro, The Arts and
Their Interrelations ( NewYork, 1949), 259.

to present itself in a new aspect among the cellos and yet again in terms of
Pongileoni’s vibrating air column. The parts live their separate lives; they touch,
their paths cross, they combine for a moment to create a seemingly final and per-
fected harmony, only to break apart again. Each is always alone and separate and
individual. “I am I,” asserts the violin; “the world revolves round me.” “Round
me,” calls the cello. “Round me” the flute insists. And all are equally right and
equally wrong; and none of them will listen to the others.
In the human fugue there are eighteen hundred million parts. The resultant noise
means something perhaps to the statistician, nothing to the artist. It is only by
considering one or two parts at a time that the artist can understand anything.
Here, for example, is one particular part; and John Sebastian puts the case. The
Rondeau begins, exquisitely and simply melodious, almost a folk song. It is a
young girl singing to herself of love, in solitude, tenderly mournful. A young girl
singing among the hills, with the clouds drifting overhead. But solitary as one of
the floating clouds, a poet had been listening to her song. The thoughts that it
provoked in him are the Sarabande that follows the Rondeau. His is a slow and
lovely meditation on the beauty (in spite of squalor and stupidity), the profound
goodness (in spite of all the evil), the oneness (in spite of such bewildering diver-
sity) of the world. It is a beauty, a goodness, a unity that no intellectual research
can discover, that analysis dispels, but of whose reality the spirit is from time to
time suddenly and overwhelmingly convinced. A girl singing to herself under the
clouds suffices to create the certitude. Even a fine morning is enough. Is it illusion
or the revelation of profoundest truth? Who knows? Pongileoni blew, the fiddlers
drew their rosined horsehair across the stretched intestines of lambs; through the
long Sarabande the poet slowly meditated his lovely and consoling certitude.10

In this excerpt, which constitutes an early high point of his novel,

Huxley focuses on a performance of Bach’s Suite in B minor, the cen-
tral event of a musical soirée given by Lady Edward Tantamount.
Through its metaphorical content this interpretive description of or-
chestral music also provides a symbolic moment of reference for the
developing plot structure. Just as Proust renders in words the recurrent
“petite phrase” from the Andante movement of Vinteuil’s (?) sonata
for violin and piano in A la recherche du temps perdu, Huxley de-
scribes a musical experience as a significant instant in the narrative
sequence of Point Counter Point. He creates a multidimensional spa-
tial-temporal impression of the music which – after this initial detailed
description – he takes up later in the novel and develops further in its
spiritual and emotional impact.

Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point (New York, 1928), 27-28.

In a discussion of the characteristic aesthetic features of verbal mu-

sic it is necessary, I believe, to emphasize its primarily literary nature.
There is all the more reason to do so, since nonliterary verbalization of
music is not only possible, but constitutes a substantial portion of the
writings of music critics, musicologists, and historians of music. It
might be illuminating, therefore, to focus briefly on the various liter-
ary as well as nonliterary approaches to evocation of music and try to
define the position of verbal music among these approaches.

As shown in the above sketch, evocations of music necessarily occupy

a place between the two poles, music and literature. We may safely
regard absolute music on the one hand and poetry and prose on the
other as pure manifestations of music and literature, respectively. The
remaining types, though each is related primarily to only one of the
two arts, exhibit features which link them to a greater or lesser extent
to the other art as well. Both program music and vocal music employ
music as their primary medium, and thus are connected with literature
only in a limited sense: a piece of program music might be inspired by
a certain literary work (e. g., Dukas’ L’Apprenti sorcier by Goethe’s
“Der Zauberlehrling” or Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
by the Mallarmé poem), while vocal music represents a more balanced
combination of the two arts within a single work (e. g., opera, lied,

oratorio, etc.). Evocations of music, on the other hand, can be either

literary or nonliterary in nature. Although both types resort to lan-
guage as their medium of expression, program notes employ nonliter-
ary language and should therefore be distinguished from word music,
musical structures and devices in literary works, and verbal music.
Thus only literary evocations of music can be said to belong to litera-
ture and to merit recognition as artistic achievements.
A comparative consideration of source, primary technique of reali-
zation, and aim may also cast some light on the distinction between
the various types of verbalization of music. For the music critic, who
writes program notes (‘professional’ musical analysis) to be included
in a concert guide or in the printed program accompanying a live mu-
sical performance, the score and/or a particular interpretation (per-
formance) of a piece of music serve as his immediate source. He gen-
erally offers an analytical transcription of his source in the conven-
tional jargon of musicology, often having recourse to a vague brand of
metaphorical prose as well. In primary aim the music critic’s approach
to his source distinctly differs from the composer’s (transcription of
musical imagination into a score in musical notation) and the perform-
ing musician’s (transformation of a score into actual music through
physical creation of sound). While the composer aims at creation of a
musical work of art and the musician at direct communication of the
music to an audience, the music critic merely provides indirect com-
munication of the music through verbal approximation. Both the com-
poser and the musician employ musical sound material, while the mu-
sic critic uses nonliterary language.
To create literary works of art, the poet (in this designation I in-
clude the writer of poetry as well as of prose) projects his imagination
to his readers by means of conventional or innovative literary struc-
tures and techniques. In all literary evocations of music the poet sup-
plements his ordinary source (i. e., poetic imagination) with direct
musical experience and/or a score, or allows his imagination to be

inspired by music; he thus assumes the role of transmitter, rendering

(suggesting, describing, or creating) music in words.
In word music, which aims at poetic imitation of musical sound,
onomatopoeia – broadly defined – serves as the poet’s primary tech-
nique of verbalization11. The poet who chooses to imitate musical
structures and devices achieves his goal through attempting the super-
imposition of musical structures on a literary work or through experi-
menting with musical devices in a literary medium12.
Rather than capturing a poetic semblance of musical sound or imi-
tating musical form, verbal music aims primarily at poetic rendering
of the intellectual and emotional implications and suggested symbolic
content of music. Two basic types of verbal music can be distin-
guished. When the poet draws on direct musical experience and/or a
knowledge of the score as his source we may speak of re-presentation
of music in words: he proceeds to describe either a piece of music
which he himself identifies or which is identifiable through inference
(e.g., the Huxley passage cited above). Poetic imagination alone, in-
spired by music in general, serves as the source of the second type of
verhal music; and it involves direct presentation of fictitious music in
words: the poet creates “a ‘verbal piece of music,’ to which no com-
position corresponds”13.

For a characterization of word music, see Scher, op. cit., 3-5.
For a thorough and up-to-date consideration, see Horst Petri, op. cit.
Scher, op. cit., 8. Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus may be cited as the most nota-
ble example for a ‘compendium’ of the fictitious type of verbal music.


In his Sound and Symbol, Victor Zuckerkandl observes: “The encoun-

ter with the tonal world includes the three fundamental experiences of
motion, time, and space.”14 His statement holds true, I believe, not
only for the listener’s encounter with the world of music, but also for
the poet’s attempt to capture this encounter and communicate it to his
readers in passages of verbal music, especially in prose15.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s pioneering efforts to compare litera-
ture and the plastic arts are well known; and the distinctions in his
Laokoon oder über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie (1766) are
considered fundamental to modern aesthetics and art criticism. Less
common knowledge, however, is that he also planned to complete a
similar treatise on the relations between literature and music16. It is not
inconceivable that he might have included considerations of musico-
literary phenomena such as verbal music.
In his persuasive article, “Spatial Form in Modern Literature”, Jo-
seph Frank describes Lessing’s conclusions about the limitations of
the respective artistic media (Laokoon, chapter 26) as follows:

Form in the plastic arts, according to Lessing, is necessarily spatial because the
visible aspect of objects can best be presented juxtaposed in an instant of time.
Literature, on the other hand, makes use of language, composed of a succession of
words proceeding through time; and it follows that literary form, to harmonize

New York, 1956, 365
Instances of verbal music in poetry are much more limited in potential sugges-
tiveness. For a comprehensive treatment of related problems in poetry, see Calvin S.
Brown, Tones into Words (Athens, Ga., 1953).
“Lessing’s notes for the unfinished parts of this comprehensive study [Laokoon]
indicate that he believed in the practical as well as theoretical possibility of a synthe-
sis of arts. Two of these were music and poetry, and he analysed them in a way famil-
iar to us from the published Laokoon.” M. G. Flaherty, “Lessing and Opera: A Re-
Evaluation,” Germanic Review 44 (1969), 103. Cf. Lessing’s “Materialien zum
‘Laokoon,’” especially sections 25, 26, and 27, in Lessings Werke, ed. Georg Wit-
kowski (Leipzig, 1911), IV, 305-313.

with the essential quality of its medium, must be based primarily on some form of
narrative sequence.17

And comparing the media of music and the plastic arts, Susanne K.
Langer summarizes:

Music unfolds in virtual time created by sound, a dynamic flow given directly
and, as a rule, purely to the ear. This virtual time, which is an image not of clock-
time, but of lived time, is the primary illusion of music. In it melodies move and
harmonies grow and rhythms prevail, with the logic of an organic living structure.
Virtual time is to music what virtual space is to plastic art: its very stuff, organ-
ized by the tonal forms that create it.18

I suggest that, as a result of a unique set of aesthetic conditions, in-

stances of verbal music, especially in prose, are capable of transcend-
ing the limitations of the literary medium and are able to create a sem-
blance of several artistic media combined while actually confined to
only one, the literary.
Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature, generally
considered the major fine arts, may be classified into two types: visual
and auditory19. The visual arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture)
are static and primarily exist in space. Though essentially spatial in
nature, they also strive to be comprehended in time, i.e., they try to
create the illusion of time20. The auditory arts (music and literature)
are dynamic and primarily exist in time. Though essentially temporal
in nature, they also strive to be comprehended in space, i. e., they try

Joseph Frank, “Spatial Form in Modern Literature,” in Frank, The Widening Gyre
(Bloomington, 1968), 6. Cf. also the concise and illuminating discussion on Lessing’s
relevant distinctions in Herman Meyer, “Raumgestaltung und Raumsymbolik in der
Erzählkunst,” Studium Generale, X ( 1957), 621.
Susanne K. Langer, Problems of Art (New York, 1957), 41.
Aware of the potential dangers, I indulge here in such simplifying classification
for the sake of brevity.
See Etienne Souriau’s important study, “Time in the Plastic Arts,” JAAC, VII
(1949), 294-307.

to create the illusion of space21. Thus each of the two types of art at-
tempts to overcome the ontological restrictions of its own mode and
tends toward the aesthetic conditions of the other type.
However unrealizable the reciprocal tendencies of the various arts
may be, their realization can at least be attempted or approximated by
one type of art in the medium of the other. In this sense we may speak
of an essential affinity between the visual and the auditory arts as re-
flected in the numerous mixed categories and interrelations possible
between the arts such as painting in literature, music as painting,
painting in music, literature in painting, etc22.
Both literature and music are temporal art forms and thus share an
intrinsic aesthetic impulse to be comprehended in space. Approxima-
tion of the one art in the medium of the other might well enhance the
degree of successful ‘spatialization’ under primarily temporal condi-
tions and relationships. With these assumptions in mind, tentative
conclusions may be drawn, I think, concerning the phenomenon of
reciprocal evocability in the sister arts. Effective attempts to express
literature in the medium of music generally accomplish a quasi-visual
representation of ‘literary’ space23 within the temporal confines of
music (cf. the phenomenon of program music). Effective attempts to
express music in the medium of literature, on the other hand, generally
accomplish a representation of the illusion of ‘musical’ space (i. e., the
impression of space invoked by a musical composition) through visual

For exhaustive studies of “literary” space, see Gaston Bachelard, L’Eau et les
rêves; essai sur l’imagination de la matière (Paris, 1942), L’Air et les songes; essai
sur l’imagination du mouvement (Paris, 1943), and especially La Poétique de l’espace
(Paris, 1957), and Herman Meyer, op. cit., 620-630, Susanne K. Langer concedes the
notion of “musical” space in Problems of Art, 81. See also Zuckerkandl, op. cit., 255.
For examples of these and other hybrid forms of artistic expression, see Horst
Frenz and Ulrich Weisstein, “Teaching the Comparative Arts. A Challenge,” College
English, XVIII (1956), 67-71.
For a definition and discussion of “literary” space as a type of “aesthetic” space,
see Herman Meyer, op. cit., pp. 620-621, and G. Giovannini, "Method in the Study of
Literature in its Relation to the Other Fine Arts," JAAC, VIII (1950), 190-191.

and spatial imagery within the temporal confines of literature (cf. the
phenomenon of verbal music, creating “the illusion of ‘musical’ mo-
tion within a ‘musical landscape’”24).
What concrete aesthetic implications for verbal music can be in-
ferred from the preceding speculations? As demonstrable in the Hux-
ley passage quoted above, instances of verbal music are most effective
if they are able to conjure up unique combinations of spatial and tem-
poral relations while firmly anchored in the narrative context. Suc-
cessful authors of verbal music achieve an ingenious intermingling of
the basic principles of spatial and temporal perception to a degree of
simultaneity which ultimately creates a verbal semblance of a pictorial
(three-dimensional) artistic medium beyond the limitations of aes-
thetic perception characteristic of any one art form.
A definite retarding effect on the narrative movement in a given
work emerges as a characteristic feature of prose passages of verbal
music. In context the result of such retardation consists in the creation
of a literally static moment which tends to arrest and suspend the nar-
rative flow for the duration of the verbal evocation. This moment ef-
fects a temporary rest in the progressing, horizontal sequence of the
narrated events. In fact, within the confines of the particular instance,
the horizontal narrative sequence tends to slow down to a vertical
standstill and assume spatial dimensions, suggesting a semblance of
‘literary’ and ‘musical’ space combined.
A passage from Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, the presentation of
Hanno Buddenbrook’s final ecstatic improvisation on the piano con-
cluding his interminably long day at school, may serve as an example
for such a retarding effect of verbal music25. This music description
toward the end of the novel is strategically situated to convey sym-
bolic significance in structure as well as in theme. Structurally, it con-

Scher, op. cit., 154.
Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, in Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main, 1960), I,

stitutes the culmination of the long process of artistic refinement in the

Buddenbrook family; the intrusion of musical influence gradually
destroys the vitality of the competitive commercial spirit of the family
and signifies irreversible decline. In the form of a musical allegory,
full of erotic overtones and reminiscent of the “Liebestod” music of
Wagner’s Tristan, Hanno’s improvisation directly anticipates the ag-
ony of the chilling penultimate chapter describing the symptoms of
typhus, the boy’s fatal illness. And thematically, for the last time be-
fore the final catastrophic events – Hanno’s death and the subsequent
collapse of the Buddenbrook household – the passage reiterates the
major motifs of the novel which bring about the disintegration of the
Are retardation, spatiality, verticality, and a generally static quality
characteristic only of passages of verbal music? Nature descriptions,
evocations of specific paintings, detailed portrayals of objects, essay-
istic digressions, philosophical speculations and the like also seem to
accomplish a similar illusion within the narrative sequence of fiction.
In successful verbal evocations of music, however, the chief distin-
guishing trait might be that the created feeling of spatiality mingles
simultaneously with a definite impression of progressive movement.
Simultaneity, i.e., the momentary fusion of movement in ‘musical’
space (horizontality) and standstill in narrative time (verticality), may
be said to provide a linguistic framework which lends itself more read-
ily to symbolic representation than the other constituents of narration
capable of retardation. By force of a virtually unlimited potentiality
for symbolic reference, instances of verbal music possess a greater
synthesizing power. Authors can utilize this potentiality in order to
integrate retrospective as well as anticipatory allusions and other cor-
respondences present in narrative structures.
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How Meaningful Is ‘Musical’
in Literary Criticism? (1972)

The task of art historians in the widest sense, including historians of literature and
of music, is to evolve a descriptive set of terms in each art, based on the specific
characteristics of each art. Thus poetry today needs a new poetics, a technique of
analysis which cannot be arrived at by simple transfer or adaptation of terms from
the fine arts.”

This statement was made by René Wellek as part of the conclusions to

a lecture on “The Parallelism between Literature and the Arts” deliv-
ered at the 1941 meeting of the English Institute (English Institute
Annual 1941, 1942, p. 62). In this lecture Professor Wellek offered a
penetrating critical evaluation of the uses and abuses – particularly the
abuses – of the so-called “reciprocal illumination of the arts”, a
method of comparative criticism which became fashionable in the
early decades of the twentieth century and included Heinrich Wölfflin,
Oskar Walzel, and Oswald Spengler among its avid practitioners. In a
carefully documented historical survey, Wellek corroborated the scep-
ticism voiced by Karl Vossler and Kurt Wais a few years earlier (Karl
Vossler, “Über wechselseitige Erhellung der Künste”, in Festschrift
Heinrich Wölfflin zum 70. Geburtstag, 1935, pp. 160-7, and Kurt
Wais, “Symbiose der Künste. Forschungsgrundlagen zur Wechselbe-
rührung zwischen Dichtung, Bild- und Tonkunst”, in Schriften und
Vorträge der Württembergischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften,
1936) and called attention to the specific dangers inherent in vague
analogies and all too loose parallels formulated in the deceptive guise
of imprecise metaphors. Although Wellek later included the cited plea
for a proper descriptive set of terms in his chapter on “Literature and
the Other Arts” of the influential Theory of Literature (1949, pp. 124-
35), this important proposal has not found as much critical echo as it

deserves, perhaps because of the implied sentiment of distrust con-

cerning the usefulness of analogizing in general.
I believe that systematic comparisons between the arts can indeed
be fruitful and can contribute toward a better understanding of the
basic aesthetic principles applicable to more than just one art form.
But it must be conceded that a sceptical attitude toward interart paral-
lels is to some extent justifiable. I see the major reason for such scep-
ticism in the lack of a clearly defined critical terminology and in the
predilection of some critics for a set of terms based on little more than
metaphorical impressionism. Particularly in discussions of possible
correspondences between literature and music, critics often seem to
abandon all restraint in matters of appropriate linguistic usage and
succumb to the Dionysian, demonic power of music. The result is
terminological chaos, usually in the form of inexact, undiscriminating
and often highly idiosyncratic borrowings from a vocabulary which
properly belongs to musical analysis; and appellations such as melody,
harmony, counterpoint, cadence, orchestration, syncopation, and
modulation abound.
Representative of the confusion, and perhaps most frustrating, are
those all too frequent instances when the terms ‘musical’, ‘musicality’,
and ‘the music of poetry’ find their way into literary criticism. I
should like to illustrate the inconsistent use of these terms, sketch the
critical response to the problem and suggest some corrective measures
which might lead to a more practicable terminology.
Valéry’s statement that a poem on paper is merely an inadequate
“musical score”, Luigi Ronga’s characterization of a poem by simple
reference to its “musical plasticity” (The Meeting of Poetry and Music,
1956, p. 25), or Jacques Barzun’s formulation that “literature as an art
is a ‘music of meanings’” (Pleasures of Music, 1951, p. 9) are by no
means isolated monuments of vague critical insight. Here is a confus-
ing passage from Gretchen L. Finney’s recent work of musico-literary
criticism: “None of Milton’s poems is more ‘musical’ than ‘Lycidas’.
It is dominated by the Orpheus image; it is ‘sung’ in liquid verse. Yet

in few other poems of Milton is there less obvious musical imagery”

(Musical Background for English Literature 1500-l650, 1962, pp.
In his book entitled Das Musikalische in der Literatur, Johannes
Mittenzwei devotes a full chapter to Clemens Brentano whom he la-
bels “der musikalische Sprachkünstler der Romantik” (1962, p. 163).
Yet, Mittenzwei nowhere explains what in fact makes Brentano a mu-
sical poet; he simply adopts the cliché in spite of Emil Staiger’s per-
ceptive warning of 1953: “Und freilich werden wir die Sprache Bren-
tanos erst ganz verstehen, wenn uns der Sinn der Musik in seiner dich-
terischen Welt durchsichtig ist” (Emil Staiger, Die Zeit als Einbil-
dungskraft des Dichters, 1953, p. 44).
The following statement by K. M. Wilson exemplifies the unquali-
fied over-emphasis on the allegedly musical quality of poetry: “We
may enjoy poetry as absolute music. And so we may enjoy poetry, not
as meaning anything, but as a succession of beautiful sounds or im-
pressions” (Sound and Meaning in English Poetry, 1930, p. 190).
We know that Ezra Pound, both as poet and critic, has devoted se-
rious attention to the complex relationship of poetry and music. His
critical essays contain formulations such as “Poetry is a composition
of words set to music” or “in melopoeia [...] the words are charged,
over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property,
which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning” (T. S. Eliot, ed.,
Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 1954, pp. 437 and 25, resp.). Yet,
Pound does not define more precisely what he means by “some musi-
cal property”.
An excerpt from F. W. H. Myers’ essay on Virgil may serve as an
example of the purely metaphorical allusion to music in an effort to
illuminate stylistic features: “What is meant by the vague praise be-
stowed on Virgil’s unequalled style is practically this, that he has
been, perhaps, more successful than any other poet in fusing together
the expressed and the suggested emotion; that he has discovered the
hidden music which can give to every shade of feeling its distinction,

its permanence, and its charm; that his thoughts seem to come to us on
wings of melodies prepared for them from the foundation of the
world” (Essays: Classical and Modern, 1921, pp. 115-6). Clearly, all
this effusiveness in the spirit of Walter Pater has little to do with the
art of music or with profitable literary criticism.
Luigi Ronga, professor of the history of music in Rome, must
surely be aware of terminological difficulties. Yet, when he writes
about musicality in poetry, he, too, cannot avoid adding to the confu-

The basic factor of all great poetry, by common agreement, is a typical and indi-
vidual musicalness, and it is scarcely possible to point to a genuine poet devoid of
individual melodic gift. [...] It may be alluring, but it would at the same time be
beclouding our judgment [...] would we define certain aspects, otherwise elusive,
as musical aspects of types and nuances of poetry, because, in a strict sense, po-
etry is not ‘un-musical’. Harsh, awkward, contorted verse disappears from mem-
ory by its sheer weight; it lacks that mysterious rhythmic and melic pulsation
which even the closest analysis cannot capture. All great poets, therefore, are
musical. (The Meeting of Poetry and Music, pp. 37-8)

The following passage by Heinrich Meyer is symptomatic of the most

opaque type of critical writing:

Everybody who can sense the difference between ‘Ruh ist über allen Gipfeln’ and
‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ is aware of what is involved. The ‘meaning’ is the
same, but the meaning is different, because in the true form there is contrapuntal
correspondence between ‘meaning’ and melody and sound quality and rhythm,
since here the words are used musically, not analogous to music. (In Books
Abroad, XLIII [1969], p. 602)

The semantic imprecision surrounding the notion of things ‘musi-

cal’ is as old as literary criticism itself. But the use of the word ‘musi-
cal’ in its vague, subjective sense is surely one of the many remnants
of the romantic sensibility still surviving today, a practice which can
be traced back through the symbolists to the romanticists’ cultivation
of the amalgamation and confusion of the arts. Examples for such
usage in German romantic literature and criticism are familiar enough;
and the English romantics are no exception. Analyzing the “specific

symptoms of poetic power” in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Col-

eridge remarks in the Biographia Literaria:

The delight in richness and sweetness of sound, even to a faulty excess [...] I re-
gard as a highly favourable promise in the compositions of a young man. The
man that has not music in his soul can indeed never be a genuine poet [...] The
sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of the imagina-
tion. (1906, rpt. 1947, ch. XV, p. 153)

Though he, too, does not specify, by ‘musical’ here Coleridge means a
lyrical quality in a blurred, general sense, an acoustic and rhythmic
quality based on the overall effect of the poetic composition.
To turn finally to a ‘classic’ case, critics have yet to explain what
exactly Schiller meant when, in a lengthy footnote to his “über naive
und sentimentalische Dichtung”, he called Klopstock a ‘musical’ poet:

Ich sage musikalischen, um hier an die doppelte Verwandtschaft der Poesie mit
der Tonkunst und mit der bildenden Kunst zu erinnern. Je nachdem nämlich die
Poesie entweder einen bestimmten Gegenstand nachahmt, wie die bildenden
Künste tun, oder je nachdem sie, wie die Tonkunst, bloss einen bestimmten Zu-
stand des Gemüts hervorbringt, ohne dazu eines bestimmten Gegenstandes nötig
zu haben, kann sie bildend (plastisch) oder musikalisch genannt werden. Der letz-
tere Ausdruck bezieht sich also nicht bloss auf dasjenige, was in der Poesie, wirk-
lich und der Materie nach, Musik ist, sondern überhaupt auf alle diejenigen Effek-
te derselben, die sie hervorzubringen vermag, ohne die Einbildungskraft durch ein
bestimmtes Objekt zu beherrschen; und in diesem Sinne nenne ich Klopstock vor-
zugsweise einen musikalischen Dichter. (Sämtliche Werke, eds. Gerhard Fricke
and Herbert Göpfert, V [1959], pp. 734-5)

One thing is certain, I believe: rather than specific acoustic or rhyth-

mic qualities or matters of prosody, by ‘musikalisch’ Schiller meant
the intangible, obscure, and formless ‘Stimmung’ conjured up by the
poet. Being unsure at one point about whether a particular poem was
musical or not, Schiller even sought the expert opinion of Zelter,
Goethe’s composer friend. Zelter’s reply in a letter to Schiller on Feb.
20, 1798, found in Carl Kunzels ‘Schilleriana’ (Eduard Castle, ed.,
1955, p. 72), is revealing enough to be quoted here:

Sie könnten mich wohl fragen, was ich unter musikalisch verstehe, und so will ich
Ihnen nun gleich sagen, dass ich es selbst nicht recht weiss; dass ich aber von an-

dern Musikern weiss, dass sie es auch nicht wissen; und dass die meisten unter
ihnen so unwissend sind nicht zu wissen, dass sie es nicht wissen [...] Wir Musi-
ker [haben] gar keinen bestimmten Begriff für das was wir musikalisch nennen.

In view of such an array of examples, there are many questions that

should be raised. Is it possible to define ‘musical’ in such a way that
the term could be employed intelligibly and convincingly in literary
criticism? If it is, do we need a separate definition for ‘musicality’ in
prose and in poetry? Or should the term be discarded altogether? What
other term or set of terms might be proposed to clear up the confu-
One would expect that such questions requiring rigorous semantic
discrimination would generate much clarifying effort on the part of
scholars interested in literary theory and methodology. Yet only a few
critics – and only in recent decades – have contributed significantly to
the discussion. (In addition to Wellek, Eliot, Frye, and Hollander, see
Ronald Peacock, “Probleme des Musikalischen in der Sprache” in
Weltliteratur. Festgabe für Fritz Strich zum 70. Geburtstag, eds.
Muschg and Staiger, 1952, pp. 85-100; Donald Davie, Articulate E-
nergy: An Inquiry into the Syntax of English Poetry, 1955; and Georg
Reichert, “Literatur und Musik” in Reallexikon der deutschen Litera-
turgeschichte, eds. Merker and Stammler, II [1958], pp. 143-63.)
There seems to be general agreement that the terminological inexacti-
tude as reflected in traditional usages should not be tolerated. But so
far only the ground has been broken and most of the work has been
descriptive rather than innovative. Also, most of the critics address
themselves to the meaning of music in poetry, with only occasional
remarks on musicality in prose. John Hollander, for example, defines
“the music of poetry” as “all of the non-semantic properties of the
language of a poem including not only its rationalized prosody, but its
actual sound on being read, and certain characteristics of its syntax
and imagery as well” (in JAAC, XV [1956], p. 232). T. S. Eliot, on the
other hand, insists that “a ‘musical’ poem [...] has a musical pattern of
sound and a musical pattern of the secondary meanings of the words

which compose it, and that these two patterns are indissoluble and
one. And if you object that it is only the pure sound, apart from the
sense, to which the adjective ‘musical’ can be rightly applied, I can
only [...] [say] that the sound of a poem is as much an abstraction from
the poem as is the sense” (The Music of Poetry, 1942, p. 19).
While in agreement with Eliot that “there is no ‘musical’ verse
without some general conception of its meaning or at least its emo-
tional tone”, Wellek maintains that “‘musicality’ in verse, closely
analyzed, turns out to be something entirely different from ‘melody’
in music: it means an arrangement of phonetic patterns, an avoidance
of accumulations of consonants, or simply the presence of certain
rhythmical effects” (Theory of Literature, pp. 159 and 126, resp.).
Consequently, Wellek advocates that the term ‘musicality’ be dropped
from literary criticism as misleading.
Northrop Frye’s distinctions are perhaps most useful in assessing
past usages and in mapping out possible future strategies. By ‘musi-
cal’ he means “a quality in literature denoting a substantial analogy to,
and in many cases an actual influence from, the art of music” (Sound
and Poetry, 1957, pp. x-xi). On the basis of this definition and con-
trary to traditional opinion, Frye postulates that mere euphoniousness
does not necessarily make for ‘musical’ poetry, and that sheer beauty
of sound is often the sign of an unmusical poet. He argues, therefore,
that “the literary meaning of musical is unmusical” (in The University
of Toronto Quarterly XI [1941-2], p. 178). Frye also distinguishes
between a sentimental and a technical use of the word ‘musical’:

When, in poetry we have a predominating stress accent and a variable number of

syllables between two stresses (usually four stresses to a line, corresponding to
‘common time’ in music), we have musical poetry [in a technical sense], that is,
poetry which resembles in its structure the music contemporary with it. [...] Such
phrases as ‘smooth musical flow’ or ‘harsh unmusical diction’ belong to the sen-
timental use. […] When we find a careful balancing of vowels and consonants
and a dreamy sensuous flow of sound, we are probably dealing with an unmusical
poet. […] It is more likely to be the harsh, rugged, dissonant poem (assuming of
course some technical competence in the poet) that will show in poetry the ten-
sion and the driving accented impetus of music. […] When we find sharp barking
accents, crabbed and obscure language, mouthfuls of consonants, and long lum-

bering polysyllables, we are probably dealing with melos, or poetry which shows
an analogy to music. (Anatomy of Criticism, 1957, pp. 255-6)

It seems to me that the various usages of ‘musical’ in literary criticism

may be reduced to a few basic types of response. Ignoring those in-
stances when the term is employed in such a muddled way that in the
end it signifies nothing, we may distinguish three possibilities of im-
plicated meaning: the acoustic, the evocative, and the structural. Even
though both music and poetry consist of organized sound, I believe
that the overall acoustic effect of poetry is very different from that of
music. And while certain similar emotions or moods may be evoked
both by a piece of literature and by a musical composition, this resem-
blance does not entitle us to describe the evocation contained in the
literary work in musical terms. In the case of the acoustic and evoca-
tive responses, therefore, no direct connection between the two arts
can be substantiated, and any association with the art of music is illu-
sory. In short, I can see no appreciable gain in critical insight from
such analogies. Only in the case of the third type of response – allud-
ing to structural phenomena, to artistic arrangement in musiclike se-
quence – are we dealing with literary techniques which can be proven
on occasion to be more or less analogous to certain techniques in ac-
tual music. Thus when we try to demonstrate the semblance of a spe-
cifically musical structure or device present in a literary work, the use
of the term ‘musical’ seems to me legitimate.
If ‘musical’ is to be retained in modern critical terminology, I
would subscribe to Frye’s suggestion that it be restricted to “a quality
in literature denoting a substantial analogy to, and in many cases an
actual influence from, the art of music”. Like Frye, I would eliminate
what he calls the sentimental, i. e., traditional usage, which corre-
sponds more or less to what I characterized above as the acoustic re-
sponse. I am willing to endorse what he designates as the technical use
of ‘musical’, which is more or less equivalent to the ‘structural’ re-
sponse. But I am not sure that by continuing to describe as ‘musical’
the “harsh, rugged, dissonant poem” with “crabbed and obscure lan-

guage” we would be causing less semantic confusion than already

exists. I suggest, therefore, that the adjective ‘musical’ be left to be
employed by the poets, and that in criticism we stay away from it,
unless we specifically refer to literary phenomena which have to do
with some aspect of actual music. I propose that in the place of ‘musi-
cality’ or ‘musical’ in the sentimental, impressionistic sense, we sim-
ply refer to the acoustic or phonetic quality of poetry or prose; and
that within this broader acoustic context we distinguish between the
euphonious and the cacophonous. By euphonious I would mean the
poetic use of smooth, mellifluous sound patterns; and the adjective
cacophonous would characterize the poetic use of non-euphonious
sound effects, from the strident through the sibilant to the muted. I
prefer these terms to others like harmonious and melodious or disso-
nant and discordant because they primarily signify a more general
sound quality. But I admit that they also carry a musical connotation,
however remote. Thus, by suggesting this set of terms, I am not
strictly adhering to Wellek’s proposition of 1941. Nevertheless I hope
that if these terms gain wide enough acceptance, we may be able to
avoid much of the terminological confusion which the haphazard use
of the word ‘musical’ has generated in literary criticism.
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Brecht’s Die sieben Todsünden
der Kleinbürger:
Emblematic Structure as Epic Spectacle (1974)

Brecht scholarship during the seventeen years since the poet’s death
has grown to voluminous proportions. Yet only recently, in summing
up the present state of research, Reinhold Grimm was prompted to
write: “[…] die grundsätzliche Forschungssituation ist jedoch die glei-
che geblieben. Zentrale Fragen sind weiterhin ungelöst; zahlreiche
Einzelprobleme harren noch der Klärung”.1 The critical fate of Die
sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger of 1933, Brecht’s only ballet and
the last fruit of his memorable collaboration with Kurt Weill, seems
symptomatic. That this unique, though at first glance unassuming little
work has been all but neglected2 is surprising since critics have exam-
ined in considerable detail virtually everything Brecht wrote for the

Cf. the 3rd, rev. ed. of Reinhold Grimm’s invaluable Sammlung Metzler volume,
Bertolt Brecht (Stuttgart, 1971), p. 104.
Except for a few shorter review articles in newspapers and journals of theater,
dance, and music, and occasional references of primarily descriptive nature in the
numerous books on Brecht, the present essay constitutes the first critical assessment
entirely devoted to this work. Even the most up-to-date and comprehensive bibliogra-
phy lists only a handful of brief treatments. Cf. Grimm, p. 57. Cf. also four additional
items: anonymous review in The Dancing Times (London), August 1933; Horst Koeg-
ler, “Getanzte Literatur,” Theater heute, 1 (1960), 25-29; André Müller, “Zu gut
verkäuflicher Ware gemacht. ‘Die sieben Todsünden’ von Bertolt Brecht und Kurt
Weill in Frankfurt/ Main,” Theater der Zeit, 15 (1960), H. 6:65-68; Ernst Thomas,
“Brecht-Weill: ‘Die sieben Todsünden’. Deutsche Erstaufführung in Frankfurt/Main,"
Musik im Unterricht, 51 (1960), 217-19.

stage, even the short one-act play Die Bibel of the 15-year-old Gym-
Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger is a hybrid among theatrical
genres: a ballet combined with solo and ensemble singing based on
Brecht’s scenario and poem cycle and set to music by Weill. Framed
by a prologue and an epilogue, it is essentially a Stationendrama in
miniature, consisting of a series of seven scenes each ostensibly de-
picting one of the seven deadly sins: “Faulheit”, “Stolz”, “Zorn”,
“Völlerei”, “Unzucht”, “Habsucht”, and “Neid”4.
Brecht chose a well-known subject to accommodate the complex
theatrical design he had in mind involving no less than three basic
artistic media: literature, music, and the dance. Adaptation of the reli-
gious concept of the seven deadly (or cardinal) sins, fraught with me-
dieval symbolism, to the twentieth-century milieu of capitalistic ex-
ploitation and class struggle – preserving traditional ethical connota-
tions of the topos only in the form of hypocritical pseudo-values and
clichés – afforded Brecht the opportunity to develop his own ideologi-
cal interpretation of the altered social conditions within an overtly
didactic framework. For inspiration he must have particularly wel-
comed the loosely connected scenic portrayals of the sins in the paint-
ings and drawings of Bosch and Breughel5 which are so akin in spirit

Die Bibel was first published in the Augsburg student paper Die ErnIe in January,
1914. Reprinted in Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke in 20 Bänden (Frankfurt/Main,
1967), 7, 3028-38. Cf. also Reinhold Grimm, "Brecht’s Beginnings," The Drama
Review, 12 (1967), 29-34.
Bertolt Brecht, Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger, in Brecht, Gesammelte
Werke in 20 Bänden (Frankfurt/Main, 1967), 7, 2858. Hereafter references to this
edition for quotations from the ballet will be given in the text in parentheses, e. g.:
(GW 7, 2858).
Cf. Brecht’s incisive Breughel commentary “Verfremdungseffekt in den erzäh-
lenden Bildern des älteren Breughel,” GW 18, 279-283. Cf. also Wolfgang Hütt,
“Bertolt Brechts episches Theater und Probleme der bildenden Kunst," Wissenschaft-
liche Zeitschrift der M. Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg, 7 (1957-58), 821-41. As
the author of Leben Eduards des Zweiten von England, based on Marlowe’s Edward

and execution to the serial, episodic structure of the spectacle he had

conceived. The topic itself was not novel in Brecht’s poetic practice:
already the opening “Choral vom großen Baal” establishes “Wollust”
as the major theme of the early play Baal, and the scene in Aufstieg
und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny in which Jakob der Vielfraß eats him-
self to death in public is a grotesque example of “Völlerei”. No doubt
aware of the long and illustrious history of the concept in theology,
art, and literature, and thus relying on the traces of the religious and
allegorical representations surviving in the universal consciousness6,
the poet could proceed to construct his own, modern version on the
In Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger, a lower-middle-class
family in Louisiana sends its daughter Anna on a trip to try her luck in
the big city and earn enough money for building a house back home.
To convey the ambivalence inherent in the “sinner”, Brecht splits the
personality of Anna into Anna I, the cynical impresario with a practi-
cal sense and conscience, and Anna II, the emotional, impulsive, artis-
tic beauty, the salable product with an all too human heart. During a
period of seven years in seven major American cities, under the strict
guidance of Anna I, Anna II confronts and successfully withstands the
seven deadly sins of bourgeois society.

II, Brecht must also have known the famous scene in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus
where the personified seven deadly sins make their appearance.
The literature dealing with the subject is vast In addition to Morton W. Bloom-
field’s comprehensive monograph The Seven Deadly Sins. An Introduction to the
History of a Religious Concept, with Special Reference to Medieval English Litera-
ture (East Lansing, Mich., 1952), the following titles are especially helpful: Samuel
C. Chew, The Pilgrimage of Life (New Haven, Conn., 1962); Hanno Fink, Die Sieben
Todsünden in der mittelenglischen erbaulichen Literatur (Hamburg, 1969); Angus
Fletcher, Allegory. The Theory of a Symbolic Mode (Ithaca, N.Y., 1964); Marie
Gothein, “Die Todsünden,” Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, 10 (1907), 416-86;
Hans R. Jauss, “Form und Auffassung der Allegorie in der Tradition der Psy-
chomachia (von Prudentius zum ersten ‘Romanz de la Rose’),” Medium Aevum Vi-
vum: Festschrift für Walther Bulst, ed. H. R. Jauss and D. Schaller (Heidelberg,
1960), 179-206; and Frederick Rogers, The Seven Deadly Sins (London, 1907).

Around 1926 Brecht began a systematic study of Marxism. With

the help of Karl Korsch, his Marxist philosopher friend and expert
teacher, the poet was thoroughly indoctrinated by 19337. Thus the
blunt ideological content of Die sieben Todsünden comes as no sur-
prise. Spelling out a condemnation of the capitalistic system which not
only permits but actively encourages the flourishing of the ‘American
dream’ as a practical necessity for survival, the ballet unmasks the
uncompromising cruelty of bourgeois society toward human nature; it
is a vitriolic satire of the competitive game of ‘making it’. More sig-
nificant than the straightforward, unambiguous moral, however, is the
subtly equivocal conceptual framework Brecht devises to get his mes-
sage across. By appending the phrase “der Kleinbürger” to “Die sie-
ben Todsünden” in the title, he particularizes the universal connotation
of the well-known concept: at once the traditional topos is detached
from its familiar context and assumes a novel, sociological reference.
But Brecht does not stop at this initial stage of alienation. By adding
antithetical explicatory phrases to the individual sins, he further twists
the original connotations toward his didactic aim. Through ironic re-
versals of meaning, what he designates as ‘sins’ turn out to be basic
human virtues. “Faulheit” by itself, for example, is one of the tradi-
tional deadly sins. Anna II reveals herself as only too human in being
susceptible to sloth. But “Faulheit – im Begehen des Unrechts” (GW
7, 2858) is only regarded as a sin by the inhuman rules of bourgeois
society. Wanting to be lazy in committing injustice, Anna II is in fact
being virtuous. Consequently, by preventing Anna II from committing
this ‘sin’, Anna I presents herself as a vicious agent of capitalist men-
tality. In a similar manner, Brecht alters the conventional meaning of
one sin after another so that a dialectic pattern of connotations
emerges: “Stolz” becomes pride in one’s own integrity, “Zorn” anger
about the meanness of others, “Völlerei” indulgence in the pleasure of

See Wolfdietrich Rasch, “Bertolt Brechts marxistischer Lehrer. Zu einem unge-
druckten Briefwechsel zwischen Brecht und Karl Korsch,” Merkur, 17 (1963), 988-

eating normally, “Unzucht” genuine, unselfish love, “Habsucht” ex-

cessive greed in robbing and cheating8, and “Neid” envy of those who
may indulge unscrupulously in being virtuous.
Brecht’s text by itself is not among his most inspired. The original
version is particularly skeletal and wooden compared to the text the
poet prepared for Weill to set to music9. But, in large measure thanks
to Weill’s imaginative musical realization, the work as a whole proves
to be remarkably successful; and it bears the unmistakable stamp of
the Brecht-Weill collaboration at its ‘culinary’ best. In spite of some
shallow lines and occasional embarrassingly bare ideological clichés,
the text is not without a peculiar charm and contains several typically
Brechtian ideas. For example, Anna I and Anna II as the two aspects
of a split personality anticipate Shen Te and Shui Ta in Der gute
Mensch von Sezuan or the sober and drunk personalities of Herr Pun-
tila. The fact that both Annas are simultaneously and continuously
visible, however, is unique. The use of an ‘exotic’ setting (Louisiana)
is likewise familiar from other plays such as Mahagonny (Southern U.
S.), Im Dickicht der Städte, Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe and
Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (Chicago), Mann ist Mann
(British India), and Der kaukasische Kreidekreis (Russian Georgia).
By transplanting contemporary social problems into a geographically
distant milieu, the poet intends to alienate them and thereby bring
about fresh awareness. The camouflaged moralist Brecht is clearly in
his element in Die sieben Todsünden. The religious allusion of the title
signals at the outset that this social satire is meant as a serious attack
on the hypocrisy of the bourgeois moral code; from beneath the

As a Marxist, Brecht seems to be implying here that taking from the rich should
be considered a virtue and that only indiscriminate greed is a sin. This section of the
text is unconvincing in its logic.
The fact that the original text of the ballet only faintly resembles the version as it
is usually performed presents serious difficulties for any discussion of the work in its

pseudo-religious pretense of decency and humaneness, the cruelty and

ruthlessness of competitive capitalistic society emerge.
The stage design, only partially suggested by the initial scenario, is
as essential a dramatic component as the combined impact of Brecht’s
poem cycle, the ballet action, and Weill’s music. In Caspar Neher’s
original setting reminiscent of a circus production, seven gates with
paper stretched across them form a semicircle at the back of the stage,
labelled with the seven deadly sins. Anna II dances through one gate
after the other, ripping through the paper. On one side of the stage the
members of the family are seated on a small platform; and as the ac-
tion proceeds the walls of the house gradually rise around them. Anna
I stands across from the family on the other side of the stage10.
Scored for a large symphonic orchestra with virtuoso instrumenta-
tion, Weill’s music is composed in seven melodically and rhythmi-
cally self-contained movements. The Introduction and Finaletto, cor-
responding to the prologue and epilogue sections in the text, exhibit a
certain thematic similarity and thus round off the cycle of movements.
Climactic musical passages usually occur in the form of orchestral
interludes which serve as accompaniment of major portions of the
ballet action. A bipartite musical structure within the individual
movements is suggested by means of contrasted instrument groups,
e. g., woodwinds versus strings. Weill uses the strings especially in
soft, slow passages in order to create a nostalgic, bittersweet, senti-
mental mood. From time to time there are reminiscences of earlier
Weill sound-combinations like the blend of banjo, piano, and percus-
sion familiar from Die Dreigroschenoper. Recurring in leitmotivic
fashion, the double bass or the bassoon signifies the domineering
mother while woodwind figurations refer to the rest of the family.
Consistently incorporated jazz elements and contemporary dance
rhythms are easily recognizable throughout. A male quartet represent-

Cf. Gottfried von Einem and Siegfried Melchinger, eds., Caspar Neher (Hanno-
ver, 1966), p. 115.

ing the family parodies the chorus in Greek drama and provides the
pseudo-moralizing vocal commentary in mock-biblical language. The
family members – the mother in the role of the choryphaeus (equipped
with a deep buffo bass voice!), the father, and two brothers – alternate
between solo arias and choral passages. The major vocal role of Anna
I is particularly colorful and varied, combining narrative and commen-
tary in straightforward songs and recitative-like passages reminiscent
of the evangelist in oratorios. Diverse forms of musical alienation
abound in the score and faithfully complement Brecht’s textual ‘Ver-
fremdungseffekte’. Weill successfully parodies a variety of serious
and less serious musical styles such as film music, “Gesangvereinstil”,
grand opera, oratorio and cantata style, “Salonmusik”, a capella mad-
rigal style, “Tingel-Tangel-Musik”, and circus and country fair music.

Up to the present day there is a remarkable lack of verifiable informa-
tion concerning the origins and subsequent fate of Die sieben
Todsünden. Brecht wrote the text in the spring of 1933, presumably in
Paris where he spent a few months before settling down in Danish
exile11. Commissioned by Georges Balanchine’s ephemeral “Les Bal-
lets 1933”, the ballet cantata was first produced in June 1933 at the
Théâtre des Champs Élysées with Lotte Lenya as Anna I and Tilly
Losch creating the dancing role of Anna II. Balanchine functioned as
choreographer and the sets were designed by Brecht’s friend and long-
time collaborator Caspar Neher12. Entitled Anna Anna ou Les Sept
Péchés Capitaux but apparently sung in German13, Brecht’s first

Cf. GW 7, Anmerkungen, p. 1.
Cf. Bernard Taper, Balanchine (New York, 1960), p. 319, and also pp. 152-54;
and von Einem and Melchinger, Neher, pp. 96-101.
According to Harry Graf Kessler who was present at the Paris performance. He
reports the occasion in a diary entry to 17 June 1933: “Ich fand [Weills] Musik

original venture in exile met with no success. The English perform-

ances in London later in the same year also remained without appre-
ciable critical echo14. The Dancing Times of London, for example,
found “nothing to clarify or elucidate the heavy darkness of the Ger-
mano-American text”15. Only one critic, Constant Lambert, was sensi-
tive enough to perceive in 1934 that “The Seven Deadly Sins marks as
great an improvement on Mahagonny as Mahagonny did on Die Drei-
groschenoper” and that it is “the most important work in ballet form
since Les Noces and Parade”16. Put on once more before the Second
World War in Copenhagen in 1936, the ballet precipitated a scandal:
the Danish king indignantly walked out in the middle of the perform-
ance17. It was not until 1958 in New York that the work was revived
again, this time successfully18; and the first German performance in
Frankfurt in 1960 also won over reviewers and audiences alike19.

hübsch und eigenartig; allerdings kaum anders als die der ‘Dreigroschenoper’. Lotte
Lenya sang mit ihrer kleinen, sympathischen Stimme (deutsch) Brechts Balladen, und
Tilly Losch tanzte und mimte graziös und fesselnd.” Harry Graf Kessler, Tagebücher
1918-1937 (Frankfurt/Main, 1961), pp. 723-24.
Sung in English, in a translation by Edward James which seems to have got lost.
Cf. John Willett, The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht (New York, 1968), p. 43.
Quoted by Martin Esslin in his Brecht: The Man and His Work (New York,
1971), pp. 66-67.
Constant Lambert, Music Ho! A Study of Music in Decline (London, 1966), p.
197. The book was first published in 1934.
Cf. Hans Kirk’s review in Tiden (Copenhagen), 4 (1936), p. 372.
The English translation used for this production was done by W. H. Auden and
Chester Kallmann but published only later as “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Lower
Middle Class,” The Tulane Drama Review, 6 (1961), 123-29. There exists another,
anonymous English translation (Copyright 1957, Brook House of Music, Inc.) ac-
companying the 1959 recording of the ballet (Columbia KL 5175) which is printed
together with the presumably original stage version of the German text. Lotte Lenya
sings the role of Anna I on this recording. Cf. Peter Bauland, The Hooded Eagle.
Modern German Drama on the New York Stage (Syracuse, N.Y., 1968), pp. 186-187
and 275. Bauland is inaccurate on several details.
For contemporary reviews see n. 2.

Lotte Lenya again sang Anna I in both productions. Since 1961 the
work has become part of the standard repertory of several East Ger-
man theaters20; and lately there have also been sporadic revivals in the
United States and in the rest of Europe.
In addition to the unfavorable reception of the early productions
there are other possible reasons for the relative obscurity which still
surrounds Die sieben Todsünden. First of all, Brecht’s original Ger-
man text was not published until 195921. The work appeared for the
first time in 1933 in French translation22. The first English version has
been lost, while the second English rendering used in the 1958 New
York production was printed only in 196123. But even Brecht’s Ger-
man text – as we have grown accustomed to expect of him – exists in
several versions which distinctly differ from the original; and the
known stage version contains a great many additional and/or altered
lines, especially in the choral passages24. The fact that the German text
was not printed while Brecht was alive suggests that he considered the
work artistically inferior and perhaps wanted to suppress it alto-
gether25. Yet it is reasonable to assume, I believe, that in 1933 both
Brecht and Weill – already well known as co-authors of Die Dreigro-

Cf. Werner Hecht, ed., Brecht-Dialog 1968 (München, 1969), p. 335.
First published in a separate pamphlet as Bertolt Brecht, Die sieben Todsünden
der Kleinbürger (Frankfurt/Main, 1959). Later also in Brecht, Gedichte, III (Frank-
furt/ Main, 1961). Most accessible in GW 7, 2857-2871.
In Les Ballets 1933 de Georges Balanchine (Paris, 1933). Peter Bauland (Hooded
Eagle, p. 186) is thus incorrect in stating that the text “was never published until
See above notes 11 and 13.
Cf. the printed German text accompanying the Columbia recording (KL 5175)
which, to my knowledge, is the only published stage version.
In his voluminous theoretic writings after 1933, including essays on musical
theater such as “Über die Verwendung von Musik für ein episches Theater” (1935),
Brecht never refers to Die sieben Todsünden.

schenoper – hoped to launch their careers in exile by capturing West-

ern audiences anew with this unusual stage spectacle.
In spite of the overwhelmingly positive critical reaction after the
New York and Frankfurt productions, scholarly opinion on Die sieben
Todsünden continues to be negligible. Most critics who do mention
the work in passing tacitly agree that the ballet is an unimpressive,
misconceived, and justly forgotten by-product of the poet’s once so
rewarding partnership with Kurt Weill26. Such a view is myopic, I
believe. It is only partially attributable to the persisting confusion
concerning origins and publishing history. Most likely it stems from
the practice in Brecht studies of concentrating exclusively on works
written either before or after 193327, thus disregarding his first year of
exile. While it is justifiable to separate Brecht’s later period – which
culminated in the writing of great plays such as Mutter Courage und
ihre Kinder, Leben des Galilei, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, Herr
Puntila und sein Knecht Matti, and Der kaukasische Kreidekreis –
from the plays, operas, and Lehrstücke written before 1933, it seems
to me essential to focus attention on this first year of exile as a deci-
sive time of stock-taking and creative reflection at mid-point in the
poet’s career. From this perspective, Die sieben Todsünden proves to
be far from insignificant. As I shall attempt to demonstrate below, in
this work we possess an important milestone in Brecht’s maturation
process, a coherent and transparent model of his theory in practice.
The ballet not only incorporates innovations in dramatic form evolved

The judgment of John Willett, otherwise a circumspect and reliable Brecht com-
mentator, shall suffice here to suggest the general tenor of critical assessment: “Die
sieben Todsünden [...] was a quite conscious regression on Brecht’s part. He never
cared to print the songs which he wrote for it, and it seems a plain attempt to earn
money in exile by recapturing the spirit of his greatest success.” Willett, Theatre, p.
Cf. the radical periodization in books such as Klaus Schuhmann, Der Lyriker
Bertolt Brecht 1913-1933 (Berlin, 1964); Ernst Schumacher, Die dramatischen Ver-
suche Bertolt Brechts 1918-1933 (Berlin, 1955); and Walter Hinck, Die Dramaturgie
des späten Brecht (Göttingen, 1966).

up to 1933; it also anticipates epic theater techniques which are usu-

ally regarded as characteristic only of the later plays, especially of Der
kaukasische Kreidekreis. I believe that two aspects of the formal de-
sign of Die sieben Todsünden merit particular consideration: emblem-
atic structure and the combination of artistic media in a moralistic-
didactic anti-Gesamtkunstwerk.

In a recent article, Reinhold Grimm calls attention to Brecht’s funda-
mentally emblematic vision – whether conscious or not – as a decisive
poetic strategy whose traces are omnipresent in the playwright’s
works28. Though Grimm omits specific mention of Die sieben
Todsünden in this connection, it seems to me that this work is perhaps
best equipped to illustrate the nature of emblematic vision as a basic
formative principle in Brecht’s conception of dramatic structure.
Albrecht Schöne’s Emblematik und Drama im Zeitalter des Barock
is to date the most comprehensive study of the profound influence of
the emblematic tradition on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thea-
ter. In the chapter “Aufbau des Emblems und Funktion seiner Teile”29
Schöne expounds the basic tripartite pattern characteristic of most
emblems included in the various standard collections published since
Alciati’s epoch-making Emblematum liber of 1531. It it customary to
distinguish three components in an emblem: the pictura or symbolic
image or picture, accompanied by the preceding inscriptio or motto
and the subsequent subscriptio, usually an explication in verse of the

Reinhold Grimm, “Marxistische Emblematik. Zu Bertolt Brechts ‘Kriegsfibel’,”
Wissenschaft als Dialog. Studien zur Literatur und Kunst seit der Jahrhundertwende,
eds. Renate von Heydebrand and Klaus Günther Just (Stuttgart, 1969), pp. 351-79.
See especially pp. 372-79.
(Stuttgart, 1964), pp. 18-26. Cf. also Emblemata. Handbuch zur Sinnbildkunst des
XVI. und XVII. ]ahrhunderts, eds. Arthur Henkel and Albrecht Schöne (Stuttgart,

idea expressed in the combination of the inscriptio and the pictura.

Schöne’s analytical results become particularly illuminating when he
points to the many structural and functional elements in Baroque dra-
matic practice deriving from emblematic inspiration.
While to some extent an emblematic orientation is perceptible in
most of Brecht’s stage works, the unique feature of Die sieben
Todsünden is that here the correspondences between emblematic in-
tention and the poet’s well-known techniques of epic theater go far
beyond mere generalities and significantly enhance the effectiveness
of his didactic purpose. Moreover, I believe that an awareness of the
ballet’s tightly-knit double emblematic structure can yield a number of
new insights concerning Brecht’s overall conception of dramatic form.
The following sketch will help to visualize the two distinct, but inte-
grated patterns which emerge:


List of the seven sins with suggested inscriptiones II
meanings – e.g., “Faulheit – im Begehen
des Unrechts”





I) Faulheit inscriptio II/1
Scenario pictura II/1
Lied der Familie subscriptio II/1
2) Stolz inscriptio II/2
Scenario pictura II/2
Lied der Schwester subscriptio II/2


3) Zorn inscriptio II/3
Scenario pictura III3
Lied der Schwester subscriptio II/3
4) Völlerei inscriptio II/4
Scenario pictura II/4
Lied der Familie subscriptio II/4

5) Unzucht inscriptio II/5

Scenario pictura II/5
Lied der Schwester subscriptio II/5
6) Habsucht inscriptio II/6
Scenario pictura II/6
Lied der Familie subscriptio II/6
7) Neid inscriptio II/7
Scenario pictura II/7
Lied der Schwester subscriptio II/7


The larger emblematic pattern (I) constitutes the overall structural

framework of the ballet. The smaller pattern comprising the seven
deadly sins in individual emblematic tableaux (II) is embedded in the
larger pattern. In both patterns the title designations (of the entire
work as well as of the individual scenes) correspond to the inscriptio-
nes; during performances the scene titles are usually displayed con-
spicuously in large letters. Pictura I encompasses the stage action for
the whole ballet including permanent components (e. g., basic setting,
roles, stage position of characters and props) and changing ones (e. g.,
changes of scene, house rising in the background). It represents picto-
rially the dramatic events which are pantomimically executed to musi-
cal accompaniment and take the place of conventional dialogue in a
scenic framework. The seven scenarios (picturae II) perform the same
function with respect to the individual scenes. Providing a continuous
moral commentary on the episodically unfolding dramatic action, the
ten songs (six sung by Anna I and four by the family quartet) assume
the emblematic function of the subscriptio. Though musico-poetic
emblems in their own right30, these songs also supply the forward-

The recurring, identically worded stage directions signalling the appearance of
each song intercepting the dramatic action in Die Dreigroschenoper attest to Brecht’s
awareness of the emblematic nature of this device, e.g.: “Songbeleuchtung: goldenes
Licht. Die Orgel wird illuminiert. An einer Stange kommen von oben drei Lampen
herunter, und auf den Tafeln steht: Die Seeräuber-Jenny.” GW 2, 415. Similarly, in
connecrion with Mutter Courage cf. Helene Weigel, ed., Theaterarbeit. 6 Aufführun-
gen des Berliner Ensembles (Dresden, 1952), p. 274. Cf. also the following lines from
the poem “Die Gesänge” (1950) in Gedichte aus dem “Messingkauf”, GW 9, 795:

driving narrative force by informing the audience about the events.

Subscriptiones I/a and I/c are thematically and musically connected:
the first song sets the scene for the journey and anticipates the moral,
while the last song completes the cycle of episodes and supplies –
however equivocally – the final moral.
The clear line of development that connects Brecht’s dramatic
practices with the emblematically inspired Jesuit theater and Baroque
drama need not be demonstrated here31. More important in our context
is to specify how Brecht utilizes the emblematic framework underly-
ing Die sieben Todsünden to suit his didactic intention. To put it an-
other way, how does the presence of an emblematic structure enhance
the effectiveness of Brecht’s epic theater techniques? The answer lies
in the unique dual role of Anna. Central in every respect, present on
the stage from beginning to end, and performing in the multiple role
of singer, actor, and narrator, Anna I is the perfect authorial instru-
ment to connect emblematic and epic structure. Singing her songs
(subscriptiones) she is part of both the larger and smaller emblematic
patterns; and through her acting as manager to Anna II, she also par-
ticipates in the ballet (picturae). The role of narrator-commentator,
controlling the episodic series of events on stage while also informing
the spectators directly about them, once again links her both to the
individual scenes (picturae II) and to interpreting their moral and so-
cial meaning (subscriptiones II). The representational and interpretive
aspects of the split personality also reflect the emblematic relation
between Anna II (pictura) and Anna I (subscriptio)32.

“Trennt die Gesänge vom übrigen! / Durch ein Emblem der Musik, durch Wechsel
der Beleuchtung / Durch Titel, durch Bilder zeigt an / Daß die Schwesterkunst nun /
Die Bühne betritt.”
Cf. especially chapter IX in Reinhold Grimm, Bertolt Brecht. Die Struktur seines
Werkes, 5th ed. (Nürnberg, 1968), pp. 77-84. Cf. also Brecht, “Vergnügungstheater
oder Lehrtheater?,” GW 15, 272.
Cf. the striking parallel with Schone’s statement about the figure of Gryphius’
Leo Armenius: “Sich selber zeigt sie [die Figur] als pictura vor und verkündet
zugleich die eigene subscriptio.” Schöne, Emblematik und Drama, p. 219. Cf. also:

I fully agree with Andrzej Wirth’s observation in his stimulating

essay “Über die stereometrische Struktur der Brechtschen Stücke” that
in the final analysis “das angestrebte Ziel des Brechtschen Theaters ist
die Erzählung auf der Bühne”33. Recognizing in Der kaukasische
Kreidekreis the most accomplished form of epic theater, Wirth conc-
ludes: “Als der Kommentar immer mehr die Oberhand über die Hand-
lung gewann, schließlich zum Mitschöpfer der Handlung selber wurde
– da entstand das epische Theater.”34 I believe that this statement,
while certainly true for Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, proves to be
applicable to Die sieben Todsünden as well, written eleven years ear-
lier. In fact, because of the imaginative fusion of emblematic and epic
structure – implied in the basic scene sequence depicting the seven
deadly sins and realized in the narrating-commentating role of Anna I
and the assisting family chorus – the ballet can be considered the most
transparent practical demonstration of Brecht’s conception of epic
theater. Nowhere else do we encounter a dominating narrator figure
that is so consistently delineated: Anna I presents, represents, controls,
reports, and interprets the dramatic action while also participating in it
herself. A closer look at Anna I and the chorus will show that most of
the functions or devices characteristic of the singer and his musicians
in Der kaukasische Kreidekreis can already be found in Die sieben
Todsünden. I suggest that the narrative apparatus in the later play –
adjusted, of course, to the particular requirements of that play – is only
a modified and perhaps more sophisticated version of the authorial

“... die dramatische Figur erscheint in der Doppelrolle des Darstellenden und zugleich
die eigene Darstellung Deutenden.” Ibid., p. 158. For a general treatment see Walter
H. Sokel, “Brecht’s Split Characters and His Sense of the Tragic,’ in Peter Demetz,
ed., Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1962), pp. 127-
In Reinhold Grimm, ed., Episches Theater (Köln, 1966), p. 227. First published in
Sinn und Form, 2. Sonderheft Bertolt Brecht (Berlin, 1957), 346-87.
Ibid., p. 228. Writing in 1957, Wirth presumably was not yet familiar with
Brecht’s ballet.

instrument for “scenic narration”35 which Brecht conceived and util-

ized already in 1933.
“Im Kaukasischen Kreidekreis verbirgt sich der Erzähler nicht hin-
ter seiner Erzählung – er ist eine Gestalt, die sich dem Zuschauer
zeigt,” observes Wirth36. In Die sieben Todsünden, too, Anna I unmis-
takably presents herself to the audience in the narrator’s role. But in-
stead of arriving on the scene while the prologue is already in pro-
gress, as the singer does; she is positioned onstage from the outset.
According to the initial stage directions: “Auf der Bühne steht eine
kleine Tafel, auf der die Route der Tournee durch sieben Städte aufge-
zeichnet ist und vor der Anna I mit einem kleinen Zeigestock steht.”
(GW 7, 2859) This device – reminiscent of the performing Bänkel-
sänger and frequently employed by Brecht – establishes the funda-
mentally didactic nature of the forthcoming spectacle: we are to ex-
pect illustrations of the moral principle suggested by the title of the
work. Whereas in Der kaukasische Kreidekreis the traditional ‘play
within a play’ device conveys the didactic purpose, the ballet presents
seven illustrative scenic emblems spanned between the narrative
framework of a prologue and epilogue.
Anna I begins her singing narration by introducing herself (and her
other self, Anna II), giving place and time of the commencing action,
and orienting the audience about the circumstances of the moneymak-
ing venture and her own attitude toward the imminent journey.37 As
early as the third line of her first song she establishes contact with the
audience by stepping out of her role and turning directly ad specta-

Ibid., p. 222.
Cf. “Der Sänger im Kaukasischen Kreidekreis führt in die Handlung auf der
Bühne ein, bezeichnet ihre Zeit, ihren Ort, stellt die Helden vor. Mit einem Wort: er
berichtet, was man gewöhnlich aus der Exposition erfährt.” Ibid., p. 223.

Meine Schwester und ich stammen aus Louisiana

Wo die Wasser des Mississippi unter dem Mond fließen
Wie Sie aus den Liedern erfahren können. (GW 7, 2859)

Repeated verbatim in the epilogue, this type of direct address fulfills a

multiple alienating function. First, it identifies Anna I as both narrator
and active participant in the action, thereby suspending the theatrical
illusion. Second, since both prologue and epilogue employ the present
tense, it sets off the narrative framework from the individual episodes
which are narrated in the past tense. And finally, by referring specifi-
cally to the ensuing songs, it lays bare the epic-emblematic structure
of the work: a series of self-contained, pantomimically enacted scenes
only loosely connected through the continuous presence of the narra-
tor who provides commentary in the form of sung scenic narration.
Having established direct contact with her audience at the outset,
Anna I proceeds to demonstrate the alienating mechanics of her split
personality. At the end of each stanza in her prologue she turns to
Anna II – who, after all, stands next to her on the stage – for confirma-
tion of the narrated details. But what now ensues dispels any trace of
dramatic illusion. Since Anna I herself answers the questions she pre-
tends to pose to Anna II, the expected scenic dialogue becomes nar-
rated dialogue as part of the sustained scenic monologue, e. g.:

Wir sind eigentlich nicht zwei Personen

Sondern nur eine einzige.
Wir heißen beide Anna
Wir haben eine Vergangenheit und eine Zukunft
Ein Herz und ein Sparkassenbuch
Und jede macht nur, was für die andere gut ist
Nicht wahr, Anna?
Ja, Anna. (GW 7, 2860)

This type of narrated dialogue regularly recurs in the individual scenes

when Anna I reports on “conversations” between herself and Anna II,
analyzing the lesson to be learned from a particular experience they
have just had. For example, Anna I concludes her song in the “Zorn”

Immer sagte ich zu ihr: halt du dich zurück, Anna

Du weißt, wohin die Unbeherrschtheit führt!
Und sie gab mir recht und sagte:
Ich weiß, Anna. (GW 7, 2864)

Large portions of Anna I’s songs accompanying the journey are ad-
dressed in this rhetorical fashion to Anna II, containing analytical
reflections and commentary. Instead of describing the dramatic events
as presented by Anna II and the rest of the dancers, Anna I enters them
as active participant: the practical conscience and guardian angel of
her sister. Simultaneously, however, through her reflective generaliza-
tions about the action she communicates the humane and appealing
character of Anna II who is more than susceptible to the many tempta-
tions she encounters. Only Anna I’s sober perseverance and calculated
interventions enable Anna II to extricate herself from the succession
of adverse situations.
In the seventh and final episode entitled “Neid”, Anna I reveals
once more her total control over Anna II and over the entire preceding
dramatic action. After briefly recapitulating the morals learned in the
foregoing episodes, she devotes the rest of her song to an elaboration
of the overall ideological message, ostensibly for the benefit of Anna

Schwester, wir alle sind frei geboren

Wie es uns gefällt, können wir gehen im Licht
Also gehen herum aufrecht wie im Triumph die Toren
Aber wohin sie gehen, das wissen sie nicht. (GW 7, 2870)

In a tone of triumphant jubilation, composed by Weill as an effective

marching song with rousing, emphatic rhythms, she no longer refers
explicitly to Anna lI’s predictable, meek confirmation of her self-
assured insights. Rather, since the battle is won and the seven deadly
sins of bourgeois society have been successfully overcome, she now
takes Anna lI’s approval for granted. Here the two aspects of the split
personality seem to be reconciled and fused:

Iß nicht, trink nicht und sei nicht träge

Die Strafe bedenk, die auf Liebe steht!
Bedenk, was geschieht, wenn du tätst, was dir läge!
Nütze die Jugend nicht: sie vergeht! (GW 7, 2870)

The twisted logic of the climactic line “Nütze die Jugend nicht: sie
vergeht!”, a supreme example of Brecht’s dialectic of alienation,
clearly establishes Anna II in the final tableau as a helpless victim.
She has sacrificed her youth and integrity on the altar of Mammon for
the dubious cause of her family’s material security. Anna II has, how-
ever, not become identical with Anna I; the ambiguity of the split per-
sonality is maintained to the very end. In the epilogue the two sisters
appear arm in arm about to embark on the return trip to their family
and their newly built house in Louisiana.
Compared to the interplay between the singer (narrator and chorus
leader) and his musicians (chorus) in Der kaukasische Kreidekreis38,
the narrative apparatus of the ballet seems at first glance less consis-
tently integrated. The primary authorial instrument for scenic narra-
tion, Anna I, is physically separated from the male quartet represent-
ing her family back home. Also, her dual role as narrator and partici-
pant is dynamic, while the chorus remains static throughout. The
members of the family, physically restricted to their platform on one
side of the stage, cannot become participating actors. They have their
own chorus leader in the person of the mother and function as a sepa-
rate body offering their commentary from a distance. Nevertheless, the
family chorus effectively complements Anna I in her capacity as me-
diator between the ballet’s emblematic and epic structures. Three out
of the seven scenes – “Faulheit,” “Völlerei,” and “Habsucht” – receive
choral commentary alone. In these episodes Anna I withdraws into the
pantomimic ballet action and allows the chorus to provide the moraliz-
ing subscriptiones II. In the “Lied der Familie” at the end of the


“Stolz” scene39, the family ensemble interrupts the story to reprimand

the sisters for their initial blunders and especially for their lack of
promising financial success up to that point in the action; in the over-
all context of the ballet this song belongs to the larger emblematic
framework as subscriptio I/b. Leitmotivically recurring epigrammatic
choral passages of various length40 can also be subsumed under the
subscriptio-network of the larger emblematic pattern, Invariably coun-
teracting the meaning expressed in the individual picturae, these
ironic choral statements are strategically distributed throughout the
work to bring about an overall structural and thematic coherence. For
example, the pseudo-moralizing couplet sung by the chorus, “Wer
über sich selber den Sieg erringt, / der erringt auch den Lohn”, first
appears after Anna I’s song in the “Stolz” scene (subscriptio II/2) to
give the sanction of family authority to her ‘moral’ pronouncements.
The identical couplet reappears in the same function to interrupt Anna
I’s song in the “Unzucht” scene and also to conclude the “Neid”
scene. Within the smaller emblematic pattern, too, a similar use of the
chorus to augment the impact of the subscriptio may be observed. In
the “Faulheit” scene, for example, every line of the mother’s commen-
tary as chorus leader is dutifully seconded by the rest of the family
with the axiomatic, pseudo-proverbial refrain: “Müßiggang ist aller
Laster Anfang”41.

In Brecht’s original text this "Lied der Familie” is included in the “Stolz” scene,
but in the stage version, it belongs musically and dramatically to the subsequent
“Zorn” scene. Cf. the text of the Columbia recording.
The longest choral refrain is quoted in the back of GW vol. 7, Anmerkungen, p. 1:
“Der Herr erleuchte unsre Kinder / Daß sie den Weg erkennen, der zum Wohlstand
führt. / Er gebe ihnen die Kraft und die Freudigkeit / Daß sie nicht sündigen gegen die
Gesetze / Die da reich und glücklich machen.”
Cf. in this context Schöne’s statement on the role of such didactic axioms in the
dramatic architecture of Baroque tragedy: “Die ‘emblematischen’ Sentenzen sind
tragende Elemente im Bau des Trauerspiels: Pfeiler, zwischen denen die szenischen
Bilder sich spannen, und Säulen, auf die das Bühnengeschehen als ein exemplarisches
Geschehen sich gründet.” Schöne, Emblematik und Drama, p. 159.

The brief choral interruptions of Anna I’s scenic narration thus ef-
fectively link her moralizing with the family’s running commentary.
In the four individual songs of the chorus, on the other hand, Brecht
provides the audience with glimpses of the family’s attitude and ac-
tivities during the absence of Anna. For example, he includes snatches
of a conversation (choral song in the “Faulheit” scene), the family’s
reaction to Anna’s slow progress in making money (“Stolz” scene), a
letter they receive from Anna and evaluating remarks on its content
(“Völlerei” scene), and shows the family in the midst of discussing
Anna’s adventures in Tennessee (Baltimore according to the stage
version) while reading about them in the newspaper (“Habsucht”
scene). To underscore the ambiguity of Anna’s split personality,
Brecht has the family members refer to her by alternating between the
use of singular and plural pronoun forms.
Since direct communication between the chorus and Anna I is care-
fully avoided throughout, the two instances when a semblance of di-
rect interplay does ensue are all the more telling examples of Brecht’s
dramaturgical virtuosity. The device of accelerating the dramatic ac-
tion through the intervention of the narrator – accomplished in Der
kaukasische Kreidekreis by the singer alone42 – is ingeniously shared
in Die sieben Todsünden by the family chorus and Anna I. Back in
Louisiana, far away from the sisters’ turbulent activities, the family
nevertheless proves to be so much a part of the progressing events that
it exercises control over the action by admonishing Anna I, however
indirectly. At one point the family even manages to speed up the ac-
tion by eliciting a direct response from Anna I. In her next song she
reacts to the indignant warning by using the same phrase:

“Das Primat des Erzählers im epischen Theater kommt auch darin zum Ausdruck,
daß nicht die Handlung das Tempo seiner Erzählung bestimmt, sondern er selber über
plötzliche Retardationen entscheidet, etwa über ein Beschleunigen der Handlung oder
bezeichnende Verkürzungen.” Wirth, op. cit., p. 223.

Familie: Das geht nicht vorwärts!

Was die da schicken
Das sind keine Summen, mit denen man ein Haus baut!
Anna I: Jetzt geht es vorwärts. Jetzt sind wir schon in Los Angeles.
(GW 7, 2863, 2864)

Anna I seems to have overheard the chorus, even though this is, of
course, impossible. Ironically enough, in stage reality her reaction is
physically possible. Such comic incongruity readily suspends the the-
atrical illusion. Choral use of a deictic formula provides another in-
stance of alienating mediation43. The family addresses Anna directly,
as if to bridge over the physical distance:

Denk an unser Haus in Louisiana!

Sieh, es wächst schon, Stock- um Stockwerk wächst es!
Halte an dich: Freßsucht ist von Übel. (GW 7, 2866)

Here the irony of the situation stems from the fact that both Annas,
sharing the stage with the chorus, can look on as the house gradually
rises in the background.

“Bismarck hatte das Reich, Wagner das Gesamtkunstwerk gegründet,
die beiden Schmiede batten geschmiedet und verschmolzen, und Paris
war von beiden erobert worden.”44 This amusing remark à la Heine is
only one of many such jibes scattered throughout Brecht’s theoretical
writings. Indeed, Wagner’s idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk became the
poet’s chief target in his relentless effort to create a radically different

Cf. the striking parallel here with Baroque dramatic practices, though extended in
Brecht to include the character on stage: “Deiktische Formeln richten den Blick des
Zuschauers und Lesers auf das dramatische Bild, wenn das Resümee erfolgt: Schaut
oder Seht hier.” Schöne, op. cit., p. 161.
Brecht, “Über Bühnenmusik”, GW 15, 486.

theatrical practice45. Brecht regarded the Wagnerian operatic model as

a dangerous narcotic and strove to achieve the opposite effect himself.
He wanted to activate rather than stupefy:

Solange ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ bedeutet, daß das Gesamte ein Aufwaschen ist, so-
lange also Künste ‘verschmelzt’ werden sollen, müssen die einzelnen Elemente
alle gleichermaßen degradiert werden, indem jedes nur Stichwortbringer für das
andere sein kann. Der Schmelzprozeß erfaßt den Zuschauer, der ebenfalls einge-
schmolzen wird und einen passiven (leidenden) Teil des Gesamtkunstwerks dar-
stellt. Solche Magie ist natürlich zu bekämpfen.46

In order to make empathy and abandonment to sensual pleasure on the

part of the spectators as difficult as possible, he proposed – in contra-
distinction to Wagner’s synthesis of the arts – a strict separation of the
major components in his theater (text, music, and production):

So seien all die Schwesterkünste der Schauspielkunst hier geladen, nicht um ein
‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ herzustellen, in dem sie sich alle aufgeben und verlieren, son-
dern sie sollen, zusammen mit der Schauspielkunst, die gemeinsame Aufgabe in
ihrer verschiedenen Weise fördern, und ihr Verkehr miteinander besteht darin,
daß sie sich gegenseitig verfremden. 47

Die sieben Todsünden is not only an exemplary model of Brecht’s

creative conception of emblematic and epic structure as a didactic
instrument; it is also an instructive illustration of how Brecht envis-

Walter Hinck is surely correct in understanding Brecht’s attack as also directed
against Max Reinhardt’s production style. Hinck, Die Dramaturgie des späten Brecht
(Göttingen, 1966), p. 110. Cf. also Hinck’s (p. 128) characterization of Reinhardt’s
style: “Das unverwechselbare Kriterium der Reinhardtschen Inszenierungen: seine
Kunst, Atmosphäre, märchen- und zauberhafte Atmosphäre, zu schaffen, der kon-
gruente Einbau von Musik und Tanz im Sinne eines ‘Gesamtkunstwerks’, die betäu-
bende Wirkung seiner Aufführungen versetzt den Zuschauer gerade in jenen Zustand
völliger Identifikation, der eine Selbsttätigkeit, ein ‘Mitspielen’ am wenigsten mög-
lich macht. In Max Reinhardts Bühne kulminiert das neuzeitliche Theater, hier erst
wird es wirklich autonom. Hier überwältigt die ästhetische Realität der Bühne den
Zuschauer ganz.”
Brecht, “Anmerkungen zur Oper ‘Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny’,” GW
17, 1010-1011.
Brecht, “Kleines Organon für das Theater,” GW 16, 698-99, no.74.

aged his “Trennung der Elemente”48. Propelled in this context more by

anti-Wagnerian than anti-Aristotelian considerations – his elements
“Musik, Wort und Bild”49 correspond, after all, to Aristotle’s melos,
lexis, and opsis as means and manner of mimetic representation –
Brecht’s aim at an interplay of these autonomously functioning ele-
ments seems paradoxical if not unrealizable. Yet, in his practice inter-
play becomes counterplay. In our ballet cantata, for example, the sce-
nic tableaux of the ballet action, the poem cycle delivered by the nar-
rative apparatus of Anna I and the family chorus, and Weill’s strongly
parodistic music are played off against one another in a manner which
ensures that each of the three components takes turns in making its
contribution to the total effect and thus preserves the autonomy of its
individual artistic medium.
I have already discussed the mechanics of interplay (or counter-
play) between Anna I, the chorus, and the pantomimic ballet action.
Even more successful in this respect is Weill’s musical setting which,
necessarily related to all elements, provides a unifying superstructure
of alienation. Among the various autonomous constituents, Brecht
regarded music – especially in its capacity as counterpoint to the text –
as the most important contribution to the concerted effort that was to
produce the finished work. Weill, himself a theoretician of the new
musical theater, agreed: “Das neue Operntheater, das heute entsteht,
hat epischen Charakter. Denn da die berichtende Form den Zuschauer
niemals in Ungewißheit oder in Zweifel über die Bühnenvorgänge
läßt, so kann sich die Musik ihre eigene, selbständige, rein musikali-
sche Wirkung vorbehalten.”50
To evaluate the numerous practical devices of musical alienation
skillfully employed by Weill in Die sieben Todsünden would require a

GW 17, 1010. Cf. also GW 15, 440-41 and 495-96.
GW 17, 1010-1012.
Quoted in Egon Monk, “Der Einfluß Brechts,” Zeitgenössisches Musiktheater.
Internationaler Kongress, Hamburg 1964, ed. Ernst Thomas (Hamburg, 1966), p. 73.

separate investigation51. Here I can merely suggest a few without fur-

ther comment, such as the so-called ‘Gegen-die-Musik-Sprechen’, the
singer’s conscious deviation from the prescribed melodic line, alterna-
tion between singing and speaking, underscoring the message con-
tained in key words or phrases of a song by irregular rhythmic accents
or unusual intervals, sudden changes in intonation, acting against spe-
cific predictable moods created by the music, abrupt modulation
within an accustomed harmonic context (e.g., sudden change in tonal-
ity), and unexpected switches in musical style for parodistic effect52.
To give at least one example of the last mentioned device: Weill ex-
poses the sanctimoniousness of the avaricious family by composing its
leitmotivically recurring refrains as parodistic male chorales in majes-
tic, pseudo-religious cantata style.

I have not been able, nor have I intended, to give a comprehensive
treatment of this unique work. At best, my essay breaks some critical
ground, while many aspects of interpretation and explication remain
undiscussed. I especially regret having had to forego analysis of the
all-pervasive humor. My aim has been to call long overdue attention
to Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger for reasons which I hope
have become clear. The last work of the Brecht-Weill collaboration, it
is Brecht’s only ballet. Written in 1933, it occupies a crucial position
midway in the poet’s career, summing up his preceding dramaturgical

A comprehensive and musicologically sound study of the Brecht-Weill collabora-
tion on the model of Fritz Hennenberg’s excellent Dessau-Brecht. Musikalische Ar-
beiten (Berlin, 1963) remains to date a serious desideratum in Brecht research. Günter
Hartung’s article, “Zur epischen Oper Brechts und WeilIs,” in Wiss. Zeitschrift der M.
Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg. Gesellschaftswiss. – Sprachwiss. Reihe, 8
(1959), 659-73, deals with the partnership up to around 1930.
For extensive treatment of these and other devices see Hennenberg, op.cit., espe-
cially pp. 204-45.

innovations and pointing forward to techniques further perfected in

the later plays. Because of its extreme brevity and complex yet rigor-
ous construction, it can serve as a model for the study of Brecht’s
basic conception of dramatic form. In fact, as a structural model it
represents the most consistent realization among Brecht’s stage works
of an effective fusion of emblematic framework and epic theater tech-
niques, achieved through a particularly imaginative use of the narrator
figure and the chorus as integral parts of the authorial instrument for
scenic narration. And finally, incorporating various artistic media, the
ballet is a conscious and successful attempt to create a moralistic-
didactic anti-Gesamtkunstwerk in parodistic attire.
„O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!“*
Der Realismusbegriff in der Musik (1975)

Wer im folgenden einen zusammenfassenden oder gar endgültigen

Bericht über den musikalischen Realismusbegriff erwartet, wird ent-
täuscht werden. Eine solche Zusammenschau steht aus gewichtigen
Gründen noch aus. Allenfalls lassen sich heute die Wurzeln, Dimensi-
onen und Schattierungen der bisherigen Realismusauffassung in der
Musik skizzieren.
Beginnen wir mit einem frappanten Beispiel: Tschaikowskis Ou-
vertüre 1812. Man mag sich fragen, was diese Musik bedeutet und
inwiefern sie fähig ist, als künstlerisches Material Wirklichkeitsbezü-
ge aufzuweisen oder gar ‚die Wirklichkeit widerzuspiegeln’. Die e-
benso frappante Antwort liefert ein Bericht aus der Zeitschrift Time:1

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is a medley of the sounds of war. Cannons roar,

bells chime, whistles and trumpets pierce the muffled drumbeat. Seeking superre-
alism in his interpretation, Atlanta Symphony Conductor Robert Shaw installed
16 electronically controlled explosive devices to simulate cannons in the pit. Last
week, before a crowd of 1,500, he pressed a button on the conductor’s stand on
cue, and a smoky, skull-splitting blast filled the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center.
That triggered a smoke-sensitive automatic fire alarm. In minutes, 25 eager fire-
men charged into the auditorium, axes and hoses at the ready. While a dazed au-
dience watched helplessly, the firemen made for the smoke-filled pit and came
within a split second of dousing both crowd and orchestra. Shaw admitted to con-
fusion. ‘As the smoke cleared and firemen in full asbestos regalia appeared, it be-
came apparent that what I had mistaken in the din of battle as a premature entry of
chimes was the smell-all, tell-all alarm that did not know its brass from the prin-
cipal bass.’

* Die Schlußworte Moses’ im 2. Akt von Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron
Time (l. Juli 1974).

Sind das musikalische Vorgänge, die wir als ‚realistisch’ bezeich-

nen dürfen? Haben wir es hier etwa mit musikalischem Naturalismus
zu tun? Oder handelt es sich einfach um Programmusik? Wo sind
terminologisch die Grenzen zu ziehen?
„Musik, eine realistische Kunst“: So lautet der Titel eines Essays
von Michel Butor, geschrieben 1959. Wie erfrischend unproblema-
tisch klingt doch dieser Titel, besonders wenn man mit der vertrackten
Realismus-Diskussion in den anderen Künsten vertraut ist! Wäre es
tatsächlich möglich, daß uns in der Musik der verruchte terminologi-
sche Wirrwarr erspart bliebe? Bei Butor stößt man auf eine Definition
von imponierender Sicherheit:2

Ich erkläre Musik deshalb zu einer realistischen Kunst, weil sie uns, selbst in ih-
ren höchsten, von allem scheinbar am stärksten losgelösten Formen, etwas über
die Welt lehrt, weil die musikalische Grammatik eine Grammatik des Wirklichen
ist, weil die Gesänge das Leben verändern.

Die Versuchung ist groß, einem so elegant formulierten Satz unkri-

tisch zuzustimmen. Beim schärferen Hinschauen jedoch stellt sich der
Inhalt als höchst problematisch heraus. Ist Musik wirklich imstande,
uns etwas über die Welt zu lehren? Was bedeutet „eine Grammatik
des Wirklichen“? Wieso „verändern die Gesänge das Leben“?
Butor bleibt uns eine plausible Antwort schuldig. Unsere Fragestel-
lung aber eröffnet überraschende Perspektiven, die uns mitten in die
Problematik des musikalischen Realismus3 und damit in die Kernprob-
lematik der abenteuerlichen Geschichte der Musikästhetik führen: von
den platonischen und aristotelischen Mimesisüberlegungen über die
Spekulationen eines Vincenzo Galilei, die Affektenlehre des 18. Jahr-

Michel Butor, Musik, eine realistische Kunst. In: Essays zur modernen Literatur
und Musik (München, 1965), 66.
Vgl. Norman Cazden, Towards a Theory of Realism in Music. In: JAAC, 10
(1951), 135-151; Cazden, Realism in Abstract Music. In: Music and Letters, 36
(1955),17-38; Paul L. Frank, Realism and Naturalism in Music. In: JAAC, 11 (1952),

hunderts, die romantische Stimmungsästhetik, die Programmusik-

Theorien eines Franz Liszt, die formalistische Musikauffassung eines
Eduard Hanslick und die Realismus-Theorien der russischen Revolu-
tions-Demokraten Belinski, Dobroljubow und Tschernyschewski bis
hin zu Musikästhetikern des 20. Jahrhunderts wie etwa Arnold Sche-
ring, August Halm, Ernst Kurth und Theodor Adorno, um nur einige
Stadien und Repräsentanten zu nennen. Am intensivsten wird natür-
lich die Realismus-Diskussion in der marxistischen Musikästhetik
geführt, wo die Legitimierung des Realismusbegriffs unmittelbar der
Wesensbestimmung der sozialistisch-realistischen Kunstauffassung
dient .4
Butors Aufsatz ist eine der spärlichen westlichen Publikationen,
die sich ausdrücklich mit dem Realismusbegriff in der Musik beschäf-
tigen. Immer wieder sind es Ästhetiker in den östlichen Ländern, die –
unter Berufung auf die marxistisch-leninistische Methode – kritische
Versuche einer stark geschichtlich konzipierten theoretischen Zusam-
menschau unternommen haben. Nicht einmal das unleugbare intellek-
tuelle Niveau dieser Debatte kann aber ihre tief verwurzelte Aporie
überdecken. Selbst Georg Lukàcs hält es für nötig, das umfangreiche
Musikkapitel in seiner Ästhetik mit einer Apologie zu beginnen:5

In unseren Tagen wird von sehr vielen Seiten der mimetische Charakter der Mu-
sik bestritten. Ja, das Selbstverständlichnehmen der Negation ihrer Abbildlichkeit
wird oft als Hauptargument gegen die Widerspiegelungstheorie überhaupt einge-
setzt. Solche Gedankengänge stehen theoretisch auf schwachen Füßen.

Vgl. z. B. W. Wanslow, Über die Widerspiegelung der Wirklichkeit in der Musik
(Moskau, 1953); Zofia Lissa, Fragen der Musikästhetik (Berlin, 1954); L. Lesznai,
Realistische Ausdrucksmittel in der Musik Bela Bartóks. In: Studia Musicologica, 5
(1963), 469-479; Sinn und Form. Sonderheft Hanns Eisler (1964); Günter Mayer, Zur
Dialektik des musikalischen Materials. In: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 14
(1966), 1367-1388; Heinz Alfred Brockhaus, Probleme der Realismustheorie. In:
Sammelbände zur Musikgeschichte der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Bd. II
(Berlin, 1971), 24-76; und Klaus Mehner, Überlegungen zum Gegenstand und zu den
Aufgaben der Musikästhetik. In: Weimarer Beiträge, 18 (1972), H. 9, 66-98.
Georg Lukàcs, Ästhetik, Teil I: Die Eigenart des Ästhetischen (Neuwied, 1963), 2.
Halbbd., 330.

Obwohl Lukàcs „die radikal unbestimmte Gegenständlichkeit“ der

Musik offen zugibt, entwickelt er seine bekannte doppelte Widerspie-
gelungstheorie trotzdem am Beispiel der Musik.
Es sind ontologische und deshalb manchmal unangenehme Fragen,
die hier berührt werden müssen. Denn wie steht es eigentlich um den
Realismus in der Musik, der abstraktesten unter den Künsten? Auf den
ersten Blick scheint dieser Terminus eine contradictio in adjecto zu
sein. Sind wir daher berechtigt, überhaupt von einem konkreten musi-
kalischen Ausdruck zu sprechen? Und – falls er sich aufweisen läßt –
mit welchen Maßstäben sollen wir ihn bewerten? Der DDR-
Musikästhetiker Klaus Mehner glaubte noch 1972 auf diese Fragen
eine ganz eindeutige Antwort geben zu können:6

Die entscheidende Frage ist, in welch spezifischer Weise die Musik in der Lage
ist, auf Erscheinungen der Wirklichkeit zu reagieren. Daß es sich dabei um die
zentrale Frage handelt, zeigt die musikästhetische Literatur der letzten zwanzig
Jahre ganz eindeutig; zentral aber auch deshalb, weil die Geschichte der Musikäs-
thetik stark voneinander abweichende Antworten darauf erbracht hat. Während in
der Mimesis-Lehre, in der Affektenlehre oder in der Intonationstheorie entschei-
dende Ansätze auch für unsere dialektisch-materialistische Betrachtungsweise
ausgearbeitet worden sind, haben idealistische und reaktionäre Tendenzen in der
Musikästhetik die Musik als ein in sich ruhendes, sich selbst genügendes Reich
interpretiert und ihr den Wirklichkeitsbezug mehr oder weniger abgesprochen.

Doch diese Fragen lassen sich auch anders beantworten. Das mag
folgende Zitatauswahl belegen:

(Musik) ist diejenige Kunst, die am meisten das Körperliche abstreift, indem sie
reine Bewegung selbst als solche, von dem Gegenstand abgezogen, vorstellt und
von unsichtbaren, fast geistigen Flügeln getragen wird. (Schelling)7

Daß nun aber die Musik ihre volle Wirkung ausübe, dazu gehört noch mehr als
das bloß abstrakte Tönen in seiner zeitlichen Bewegung. Die zweite Seite, die hin-

Klaus Mehner, Überlegungen, 69.
F. W. J. Schelling, Sämtliche Werke (Stuttgart, 1859), I. Abt., Bd. V, 1802, 1803.
II, 502.

zukommen muß, ist ein Inhalt, eine geistvolle Empfindung für das Gemüt, und
der Ausdruck, die Seele dieses Inhalts in den Tönen. (Hegel)8

Die Musik ist unschätzbar als letztes Begeisterungsmittel (...). Aber die Literatur
muß ihr vorangegangen sein. Musik allein bringt die Welt nicht vorwärts. Musik
allein ist gefährlich. (Th. Mann)9

Keine Kunst ist so sehr sozial bedingt wie die angeblich selbsttätige, gar mechani-
sche selbstgerechte Musik; es wimmelt in ihr von historischem Materialismus.

Musik ist sprachähnlich (...). Aber Musik ist nicht Sprache. Ihre Sprachähnlich-
keit weist den Weg ins Innere, doch auch ins Vage. Wer Musik wörtlich als Spra-
che nimmt, den führt sie ins Irre. (Adorno)11

I consider that music is, by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all
(...), if, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is
only an illusion, and not a reality. (Strawinski)12

Es ist nicht mehr und nicht weniger gefordert, als daß unsere Musik die Menschen
befähigen soll, Einblicke in unser Zeitalter zu gewinnen, und das mit hohem Ver-
gnügen und hoher Sittlichkeit. (Brecht)13

Wir haben hier eine verblüffende, jedoch für den Sachverhalt typi-
sche Mischung von Populärphilosophie und echtem Scharfsinn, ideo-
logischer Überzeugung und edler Einfalt. Was soll man sich aber bei
solcher Abstraktheit und Verallgemeinerung des Ausdrucks überhaupt
unter Musik vorstellen? Vielleicht helfen uns an dieser Stelle einige
praktische Beispiele weiter. Welchen Sinngehalt besitzt etwa die
Schlittenfahrt von Leopold Mozart? Doch könnte man nicht auch eine

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Ästhetik (Berlin – Weimar, 1965), II, 278.
Thomas Mann, Der Zauberberg (Frankfurt, 1960), III, 160-161.
Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung (Frankfurt, 1973), III, 1248-1249.
Th. W. Adorno, Fragment über Musik und Sprache. In: Musik und Dichtung
(München, 1953), 146.
Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky: An Autobiography (New York, 1936), 83-84.
Zit. nach Heinz Josef Herbort, Weder Buh noch Bravo. Die Zeit, 26. März 1965,

gewisse Passage aus Bruno Madernas Oboenkonzert als “Schlitten-

fahrt” betiteln? Das ‘Realistische’ drückt sich hier meist nur im Titel
Um die Schwierigkeiten der modernen Realismus-Diskussion
wirklich verstehen zu können, müssen wir uns zunächst die musikäs-
thetischen Voraussetzungen vergegenwärtigen. Und zwar werde ich
mich dabei auf die sogenannte ‘absolute Musik’, das heißt Musik ohne
unmittelbare Verbindung mit einem Text, konzentrieren. Daß man
dabei das Problem nicht voll ausdiskutieren kann, liegt in der Natur
der Sache.
Der Ursprung musikalischer Realismusauffassungen ist in der heu-
te noch weithin angenommenen magischen Kraft der Musik zu su-
chen. Schon in uralten Mythen wird Musik als etwas Magisches und
Heilendes empfunden. Aus China wird zum Beispiel die Geschichte
von Schi-Da überliefert, einem legendären Harfenspieler, der angeb-
lich fähig war, mit seinem fünfsaitigen Instrument die bösen Winde zu
besänftigen und Früchten und Lebewesen Kraft zu spenden.14 Die
ägyptische Hathor-Mythe erzählt von Hathor-Tefnut, der Tochter des
Sonnengottes Re: Ihr wildes Gemüt konnte nur durch Musik besänf-
tigt werden. Aus der griechischen Welt ist uns neben dem Gesang der
Sirenen die Orpheus-Mythe am vertrautesten; sie ist noch in Mozarts
Zauberflöte wiederzuerkennen. Aufgrund solcher Beispiele ist es
möglich, in den Reflexionen über Funktion und Wirkung der Musik
zwei Grundtypen zu erkennen: einerseits das grundsätzlich Böse, Dä-
monische, Fremdartige, andererseits die beruhigende, harmonieschaf-
fende, humanisierende Wirkung der Musik.
Die Auffassung von Musik als Magie hat in gewissem Sinne schon
einen ethischen und anthropozentrischen Inhalt. Bis zu den musikali-
schen Implikationen der platonischen Ethoslehre und der aristoteli-
schen Mimesiskonzeption ist jedoch noch ein langer Weg zurückzule-

Liä Dsi, Das wahre Buch vom quellenden Ursprung (Jena, 1921), Buch V, Nr.

gen – ein Weg, der durch die pythagoräische Sphärenharmonie und

Zahlentheorie führt. Hier wird die Musik erstmals abstrahiert, verab-
solutiert, vergeistigt. „Weltenmusik (musica mundana, Sphärenmu-
sik), Körpermusik (musica humana) und eigentliche Tonkunst (musica
instrumentalis) treten hervor als weit zurückreichende Grundteilung“
der musikalischen Erscheinungen.15 Daß sich solche Elemente kosmo-
logisch-noëtischer Musikanschauung auch in der modernen Musik
niedergeschlagen haben, beweist etwa Mozarts Verwendung der frei-
maurerischen Dreizahlsymbolik in der Zauberflöte und der stark ma-
thematisch-kombinatorische Zug des Schönbergschen Zwölftonsys-
Noëtik ist aber noch keine richtige Ästhetik. „Musik ist (hier) nicht
als reale, sinnfällige Kunst, sondern als Symbol der Weltgesetzlich-
keit, als Wahrheit, Wissenschaft wertvoll.“16 Jedoch kennzeichnet die
Beschäftigung mit der Zahlenmystik den Anfang der Musikästhetik
als Wissenschaft. Die bedeutendste Leistung der Pythagoräer war
nämlich das Aufdecken der genauen Meßbarkeit der Tonhöhenver-
hältnisse und dadurch die Begründung der systematischen Musiktheo-
rie, die dann im Mittelalter als streng mathematische Disziplin weiter-
entwickelt wurde. Ohne die pythagoräischen Zahlenspekulationen
wären auch Platons Äußerungen nicht denkbar gewesen. Seine Mu-
sikästhetik basiert freilich eher auf der Überzeugung, daß die einzel-
nen Tonarten bestimmten Seelenhaltungen entsprechen und sich dem-
gemäß auf die Sitten positiv oder negativ auswirken können. Im Staat
spricht er

vor allem dem ernsten Dorischen und (mit Vorbehalt) dem klugen Phrygischen
die Gabe zu, die Jugend in allen staatsbürgerlichen Tugenden zu befestigen, wäh-
rend im ‘Gastmahl’ die Flötenspielerin als Trägerin asiatischer Sinnlichkeit weg-
geschickt wird, bevor die geistige Auseinandersetzung beginnt.

Hans Joachim Moser, Musikästhetik (Berlin, 1953), 149.
Rudolf Schäfke, Geschichte der Musikästhetik in Umrissen (Berlin, 1934), 35.
Moser, Musikästhetik, 150.

Platons Ansichten über die didaktisch-erzieherische Rolle und poten-

tielle politische Gefährlichkeit der Musik sind bekannt genug und
immer noch aktuell, nicht zuletzt weil sie der sozialistisch-realisti-
schen Musikauffassung zugrunde liegen und vornehmlich in der Sow-
jetunion auch heute noch uneingeschränkt Verwendung finden.
Besonders aufschlußreich sind die musikalischen Bezüge der aris-
totelischen Nachahmungstheorie. Aristoteles, der sich von der pytha-
goräischen Zahlenhegemonie distanziert, teilt und erweitert Platons
Glauben an den konkreten ethischen Gehalt der Musik: Nicht nur Ge-
fühlszustände, sondern auch Charaktereigenschaften und sogar be-
stimmte Leidenschaften können ihm zufolge durch musikalische Mi-
mesis übermittelt werden. Das Mimetische in der Musik bedeutet aber
für Aristoteles nicht einfach treue, gleichsam mechanische Nachah-
mung der Natur. Vielmehr besteht für ihn die Funktion der Musik
darin, die Naturtöne künstlerisch neuschöpfend in idealisierte Musik-
töne zu verwandeln.
Wir finden in der Gegenüberstellung der pythagoräischen Zahlen-
mystik und der platonisch-aristotelischen Ethos- und Mimesislehre die
später geradezu antinomisch gespaltene Entwicklungslinie der abend-
ländischen Musikästhetik deutlich vorgezeichnet. Die kosmologisch-
mathematische, pythagoräische Richtung kulminiert in der modernen,
formalistisch orientierten idealistischen Musikauffassung, während die
mehr wirklichkeitsnahe, emotionsbezogene, also anthropozentrische
aristotelische Richtung auf den angeblich unmittelbar sozialen, realis-
tischen Inhalt der Musik in den jüngsten Musikauffassungen marxisti-
scher Prägung vorausweist.
Der Sprung zu Vincenzo Galilei wird weniger gewagt erscheinen,
sobald wir Galileis erstaunlich modernen Beitrag zur Musikästhetik
näher untersuchen. Die Erneuerung der aristotelischen Mimesiskon-
zeption bei ihm markiert den Anfang neuzeitlicher Spekulationen über
die Möglichkeiten des musikalischen Realismus. Als führender Theo-
retiker der Florentiner Camerata argumentiert er in seinem 1581 veröf-
fentlichten Dialogo della musica antica e moderna gegen die poly-

phone Kontrapunktik rein instrumentalen Ursprungs und für eine enge

Bindung des Musikalischen an die Rhetorik der Sprache, für eine
sprechende Musik, einen wortgebundenen Stil: den sogenannten stile
recitativo. In Übereinstimmung mit Galilei definiert Giulio Caccini,
ein anderer Wortführer der Camerata, die Musik als eine „Art von
harmonischer Sprache“.18 Nach Galilei drückt die Musik „die im gan-
zen Text enthaltene Seelenbewegung richtig und wahr aus. Dazu muß
sie auf korrekte Betonung der Worte, auf Höhe und Tiefe, Rhythmik,
Akzentuierung der affektvollen Rede achten.“19 Galilei verlangt dar-
über hinaus vom Komponisten, daß er die verschiedenen Stile der
sozialen Stände, ihre typischen Temperamente und Stimmungen ge-
nau berücksichtige.
Obwohl das Problem der Sprachähnlichkeit weiterhin der Leitfa-
den inhaltorientierter Musikdeutungsversuche bleibt, wird schon im
17. und dann im 18. Jahrhundert eine Akzentverschiebung im ethisch-
emotionalen Gehalt erkennbar. Zwar immer noch dem aristotelischen
Mimesis-Erbe verpflichtet, tritt nun der Glaube an die Ausdrucksfä-
higkeit der Musik, vornehmlich in bezug auf Empfindungen und Lei-
denschaften, in den Vordergrund (musica movet affectus). Typisch für
die Anfänge dieser musikalischen Affektenlehre ist Johann Matthe-
sons Vollkommener Capellmeister von 1739:20

Weil nun die Instrumental-Musik nichts anders ist, als eine Ton-Sprache oder
Klang-Rede, so muß sie ihre eigentliche Absicht allemahl auf eine gewisse Ge-
müths-Bewegung richten, welche zu erregen, der Nachdruck in den Intervallen u.
dg. wol in Acht genommen werden müssen.

Damit beginnt die lange fällige Emanzipation der Instrumentalmu-

sik von der textbeherrschten Vokalmusik. Sie kulminiert in der Zu-
sammenstellung von Beispielsammlungen, in denen mit wörterbuch-

Schäfke, Geschichte der Musikästhetik in Umrissen, 279.
Ebd., 283.
Johann Mattheson, Der vollkommene Capellmeister (Hamburg, 1739), 82.

artigem Schematismus einzelne Affekte wie Liebe, Hoffnung, Furcht,

Traurigkeit bestimmten musikalischen Elementen wie Intervallen,
allgemein bekannten Läufen oder stereotypen Wendungen zugeordnet
werden. Es entstand so ein Gemeingut von Formeln, das beim Kom-
ponieren sogar praktische Hilfe leisten sollte. Für den bekannten Flö-
tenvirtuosen Johann Joachim Quantz etwa rufen die kleinen Intervalle
„die Wirkung des Schmeichelnden, Traurigen, Zärtlichen, die großen
die des Freudigen, Lustigen, Frechen hervor“.21
Die systematische Ausarbeitung der musikalischen Affektenlehre
ist vor allem die Leistung der französischen Aufklärungsästhetik von
Batteux bis Diderot, d’Alembert und Rousseau, verbunden mit den
Ansichten einiger Deutscher wie Mattheson, Heinse und Herder. Das
Grundprinzip bleibt weiterhin die Naturnachahmung. Musik ist natür-
lich, wenn sie die Welt menschlicher Affekte widerspiegelt und zur
unmittelbaren Sprache der Gefühle wird. Sprachähnlichkeit wird also
gleichbedeutend mit Naturähnlichkeit; der bisherige Primat der Har-
monie in musikalischen Spekulationen (besonders von Rameau vertre-
ten) wird so durch den Primat der Melodie ersetzt. Der künstlichen
Eigenart der Harmonie gegenüber betont Rousseau die natürliche Ei-
genart der Melodie, der er auch die Hauptrolle im musikalischen Aus-
druck zuschreibt.
Die Modernität dieser Richtung der Affektenlehre ist in ihrem me-
lozentrischen Impuls klar zu erkennen. Die Entwicklungslinie führt
nämlich über die russischen Revolutions-Demokraten zur marxisti-
schen Intonationslehre. Es ist vielleicht wenig bekannt, daß Tscherny-
schewskis bahnbrechende Bemühungen um die Klärung des ästheti-
schen Verhältnisses zwischen Kunst und Wirklichkeit durch eine Kri-
tik am idealistischen Schönheitsbegriff auch musikbezogene Überle-
gungen einschließen. Tschernyschewski, indem er die Instrumental-
musik prinzipiell als Gesangsnachahmung, als Begleitung des natur-
gegebenen Gesangs auffaßt, nimmt die melozentrische Orientation der

Schäfke, Geschichte der Musikästhetik in Umrissen, 309.

Affektenlehre wieder auf. Nach Tschernyschewski ist allein das

Volkslied fähig, das eigentümlich Naturschöne in der Musik auszu-
drücken. Nicht der romantische Volksliedkult ist hier gemeint, son-
dern das Streben nach einer wirklichkeitsnahen Volkstümlichkeit, die
in Mussorgskis Kompositionen vielleicht ihren charakteristischsten
Ausdruck gefunden hat. Das musikalisch Schöne ist nie „rein musika-
lisch“, sondern steht immer in enger Verbindung zur Lebenswahrheit
des musikalischen Ausdrucks – mit dieser Auffassung begründet
Tschernyschewski die sich im Osten bis heute haltende ästhetische
Theorie des musikalischen Realismus.22
Im Gegensatz zum Prinzip der sprachbezogenen, realistisch-
tonmalenden Naturnachahmung französischen Ursprungs heben engli-
sche Ästhetiker des 18. Jahrhunderts wie Charles Avison, James Har-
ris, Daniel Webb und Thomas Twinning die subjektive, emotionale
Seite der Affektenlehre hervor. Die geringe nachahmende Fähigkeit
der Musik, „durch direkte Ähnlichkeit Ideen zu erwecken“, lehnen sie
einstimmig ab. Ihr Glaubensbekenntnis formuliert Daniel Webb am

In der Musik ist es besser, gar keine, als falsche Ideen zu haben; und immer siche-
rer sich auf die bloße Wirkung des Eindrucks zu verlassen, als auf die müßigen
Spielwerke einer gezwungenen Einbildungskraft.

Der englische Zweig der Affektenlehre ebnet den Weg zur roman-
tischen, quasi-impressionistischen Stimmungsästhetik. Als Kostprobe
dürfte eine typische Aussage aus Wackenroders Essay Das eigentüm-
liche innere Wesen der Tonkunst und die Seelenlehre der heutigen
Instrumentalmusik genügen:24

Vgl. N. G. Tschernyschewski, Ausgewählte Werke (Moskau, 1949).
Daniel Webb, Observation on the Correspondence between Poetry and Music
(London, 1769). Zit. nach J. J. Eschenburgs Übersetzung Betrachtungen über die
Poesie und Musik (Leipzig, 1771), 99.
W. H. Wackenroder, Werke und Briefe, Hrsg. von Friedrich von der Leyen (Jena,
1910), I, 192.

Aber in diesen Wellen (der Tonkunst) strömt recht eigentlich nur das reine, form-
lose Wesen, der Gang und die Farbe, und auch vornehmlich der tausendfältige
Übergang der Empfindungen; die idealische, engelreine Kunst weiß in ihrer Un-
schuld weder den Ursprung, noch das Ziel ihrer Regungen, kennt nicht den Zu-
sammenhang ihrer Gefühle mit der wirklichen Welt.

Auf diesem Wege schreiten dann Friedrich H. Dalberg („Der Ge-

genstand der Musik ist der Ton, ihr Zweck: das Wohlgefallen des
Gehörs“)25 und Eduard Hanslick („Tönend bewegte Formen sind ein-
zig und allein Inhalt und Gegenstand der Musik“)26 weiter. Das eigent-
liche Bindeglied zwischen den englischen Ästhetikern und Hanslick
finden wir jedoch in Hans Georg Nägelis Vorlesungen über Musik mit
Berücksichtigung des Dilettanten (1826). Nach Nägeli kann die Musik
weder etwas darstellen noch etwas nachahmen, sondern

sie ist (ein) spielendes Wesen, weiter nichts. Sie hat auch keinen Inhalt, wie man
sonst meinte, und was man ihr auch andichten wollte. Sie hat nur Formen, gere-
gelte Zusammenverbindung von Tönen und Tonreihen zu einem Ganzen.27

Als pointierte Attacke gegen die romantische Ästhetik des Musika-

lisch-Poetischen, also gegen eine radikale Literarisierung der Musik,
die in der Form der sogenannten Programmusik das Musikschaffen
des 19. Jahrhunderts beherrscht, ist Hanslicks epochemachendes Buch
Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (1854) direkt, wenn auch zwischen den
Zeilen, gegen die dramatisch-illustrierende Tendenz in der Kunst
Wagners und Liszts gerichtet. Wesentlicher scheint mir freilich die
Tatsache zu sein, daß Hanslick – wie später auch Strawinski – die
Musik von vornherein für unfähig hält, irgendeine Intention auszudrü-
cken. Diese kategorische Ablehnung außermusikalischer Inhalte ist
gleichbedeutend mit der Negation jeglicher Bemühungen um einen
überzeugenden künstlerischen Realismusbegriff in der Musik.

Friedrich H. Dalberg, Blicke eines Tonkünstlers in die Musik der Geister (Mann-
heim, 1787), 16.
Eduard Hanslick, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (Wien, 1854), 32.
(Stuttgart – Tübingen, 1826), 32.

Es ist gerade Hanslicks Auffassung von Musik als tönender Bewe-

gung, auf die psychologisierende Theoretiker wie August Halm, Hein-
rich Schenker und Ernst Kurth zurückgreifen, um in der Musik vor
allem das Phänomen der Bewegung zu betonen. Nach Kurth28 zum
Beispiel ist die Musik

keine Spiegelung der Natur, sondern das Erlebnis ihrer rätselhaften Energien
selbst in uns; die Spannungsempfindungen in uns sind das eigentümliche Verspü-
ren von gleichartigen lebendigen Kräften, wie sie sich im Uranfang alles physi-
schen und organischen Lebens offenbaren.

Diese Anerkennung der musikalischen Form als Prozeß und Tätig-

keit und nicht bloß als Zustand ist ohne Zweifel der wichtigste Beitrag
der ‚Energetiker’ Kurth und Halm. Er bildet auch den Ausgangspunkt
für die Ausarbeitung der modernen Intonationslehre durch die russi-
schen Musikästhetiker Jaworski und Assafjew. Was schon dem Mu-
sikkapitel in Hegels Ästhetik als zentrale Einsicht zugrunde lag, näm-
lich die unmittelbare Zeitbedingtheit und Prozessualität der Musik als
dialektischer Bewegungsvorgang, wird am Anfang des 20. Jahrhun-
derts auf psychologischem Umweg wiederentdeckt und später zum
theoretischen Fundament der marxistischen Realismusauslegung um-
Die Häufigkeit meiner Hinweise auf den Begriff ‚Intonation’ mag
den Eindruck erwecken, wir hätten es hier mit einem erlösenden
Oberbegriff zu tun, der tatsächlich imstande wäre, die Abbildfunktion
der Musik als eine Form des gesellschaftlichen Bewußtseins zu legi-
timieren. Das ist keineswegs der Fall. Die marxistische Musikästhetik
war lange Zeit im Bann dieser für sie zentralen Kategorie befangen,
deren Verwendbarkeit für die Bestimmung des musikalischen Realis-
mus aber heute mehr und mehr in Frage gestellt wird. Die umfassend-

Ernst Kurth, Die romantische Harmonik und ihre Krise in Wagners Tristan (Ber-
lin, 1923), 4.

ste Definition stammt von dem sowjetischen Kritiker W. A. Bely aus

dem Jahre 1952:29

Die Intonation kann man ein melodisches Gebilde nennen, das eine bestimmte
Ausdrucksbedeutung besitzt, seinen bestimmten Charakter hat und typisch für die
Entwicklung eines musikalischen Ganzen, eines Musikwerkes ist.

Zwanzig Jahre später definierte Klaus Mehner die Intonationstheo-

rie als den

Versuch einer Analogiebildung zwischen musikalischen und außermusikalischen

Erscheinungen; die Intonationen werden als funktionelle Größen der musikali-
schen Gestaltungsweise betrachtet und als Träger einer selbständigen Information
verstanden. Man denke dabei nur an mögliche akustische (etwa Geräusche oder
Klänge) oder Bewegungsintonationen (zum Beispiel die Marschintonation) und
zum Teil auch an ‘optisch’ vermittelte Intonationen (etwa Räumlichkeit und Hel-

Mit Hilfe des Intonationsbegriffs also versucht die marxistische

Musikästhetik zu klären, wie die musikalische Mimesis sich als Wi-
derspiegelung gesellschaftlicher Verhältnisse konkretisieren kann. Es
handelt sich darum, daß das musikalische Gefüge sich in der Regel
nicht aus den kleinsten, atomisierten Einheiten zusammensetzt. Viel-
mehr gibt es gewisse, schon aus mehreren Elementen vorgeformte
größere Einheiten (wie Melodiewendungen oder harmonische Modu-
lationen), die sich, durch Verknüpfung immer größer werdend, zur
Totalität des Musikwerkes strukturieren. Diese Grundformeln werden
in der marxistischen Literatur als ‚Intonationen’ bezeichnet. Es fragt
sich, welchen Bedeutungsinhalt und somit selbständigen Informati-
onswert sie besitzen.
Man denke an ein Stück satirischer Instrumentalmusik, das von der
zeitgenössischen Kritik als „Pornophonie“ bezeichnet wurde. Es ist
das groteske, auf eine derb naturalistische Verführungsszene folgende

Zit. nach Lissa, Fragen der Musikästhetik (Berlin, 1954), 237.
Mehner, Überlegungen, 81.

Zwischenspiel aus Schostakowitschs Oper Lady Macbeth von Mzensk

(1934) – ein Musterbeispiel des späten Verismo. Mit vulgär karikie-
renden Glissandi eines Bläserchors soll hier der Höhepunkt eines Ge-
schlechtsakts hinter dem Vorhang verdeutlicht werden. Freilich, selbst
wenn wir die unmittelbare Suggestivkraft dieser Musik anerkennen,
bleibt doch die Frage, ob wir ohne eine Vertrautheit mit der Handlung
diese Musik als dargestellte Erotik empfinden würden. Ja, selbst bei
manchen Vogelgesang-Imitationen, wie dem Gezwitscher in Bartóks
3. Klavierkonzert oder in Messiaens Chants d’oiseaux, ist die ‘realisti-
sche’ Ausbeute recht mager.
Der Begriff ‘Intonation’ wurde wohl zum erstenmal in der Studie
Der Aufbau der musikalischen Sprache (1908) von Boleslav Jaworski
benutzt. Jaworski definiert hier die Intonation als kleinste musikali-
sche Einheit, als Kombination kleinster Tonelemente, die schon in
sich bedeutungs- und ausdrucksfähig sind. Offensichtlich weist diese
Formulierung auf die sprachbezogene Richtung der musikalischen
Affektenlehre zurück: Ihr Gültigkeitsanspruch beruht nach wie vor auf
der Annahme, daß die vor allem akustische Sprachähnlichkeit der
Musik einen allgemein zugänglichen Bedeutungsinhalt garantiere.
Boris Assafjew erweitert Jaworskis Analogie, indem er zunächst
die gleichzeitige Präsenz von Gefühls- und Bedeutungsinhalten be-
tont, in der Musik wie auch in der Sprache. Noch in seinen frühen
Abhandlungen treibt Assafjew seine Vermutungen über die Sprach-
ähnlichkeit der Musik so weit, daß er behauptet, einzelne Intervalle
könnten bestimmte begriffliche Gehalte aufweisen. Er spricht sogar,
kühn genug, von der Gleichwertigkeit strukturierter Klangvorstellun-
gen mit intonierenden sprachlichen Aussagen, d. h. von einer Gleich-
wertigkeit von musikalischem und begrifflichem Denken. Weniger
irrtümlich erscheinen mir dagegen die im Tschernyschewskischen
Sinne melozentrisch orientierten Versuche Assafjews, die sich in sei-
nem 1947 erschienenen Buch Die musikalische Form als Prozeß zu
einer Dialektik der Prozessualität und der Dinglichkeit der Musik kri-

Der Assafjewsche Intonationsbegriff wurde leider nie eindeutig de-

finiert. Kein Wunder daher, daß das ursprünglich hervorgehobene
Gleichgewicht zwischen emotionaler und sinnhafter Bedeutung der
Intonation in der Shdanow-Zeit zugunsten des emotionalen Inhalts
umgedeutet wurde. Die einseitige Unterschätzung des Sinngehalts
(und damit des rationalistischen Experimentierens) ermöglichte den
stalinistischen Dogmatikern die offizielle Ablehnung moderner musi-
kalischer Neuerungsversuche, die kategorisch zu formalistischen De-
kadenzerscheinungen gestempelt wurden. Shdanows eigene, im Januar
1948 vor dem ZK der KPdSU vorgetragene Formulierung verdeutlicht
die Anwendung dieser theoretischen Verzerrungen auf die zeitgenös-
sische Musikpraxis:31

Tatsächlich haben wir einen sehr scharfen, wenn auch nach außen hin maskierten
Kampf zweier Richtungen in der sowjetischen Musik zu verzeichnen. Die eine
Richtung stellt das gesunde, fortschrittliche Prinzip der Sowjetmusik dar, das auf
der Anerkennung der gewaltigen Rolle des klassischen Erbes, insbesondere der
Traditionen der russischen musikalischen Schule, auf der Verbindung des hohen
Ideengehalts und Inhaltsreichtums der Musik, ihrer Wahrhaftigkeit und Realistik,
ihrer tiefen, organischen Verbundenheit mit dem Volke, seinem musikalischen,
seinem Liedschaffen einerseits, mit dem hohen, professionellen Können anderer-
seits basiert. Die andere Richtung ist der Ausdruck eines Formalismus, der der
Sowjetkunst fremd ist; sie bedeutet unter dem Banner eines angeblichen Neuerer-
tums die Abkehr vom klassischen Erbe, die Abkehr von der Volkstümlichkeit der
Musik und vom Dienst am Volke zugunsten des Dienstes an den rein individualis-
tischen Empfindungen einer kleinen Gruppe auserwählter Ästheten.

Vom Assafjewschen Intonationsbegriff bleibt hier nur die von

Shdanow emphatisch propagierte Forderung nach Programmhaftigkeit
in der Musik übrig. Ihr zufolge kann der Sinngehalt der Musik nur in
einem außermusikalischen Programm enthalten sein. Dieses musikali-
sche Programm verhält sich aber zur Musik selber wie der Bedeu-
tungsinhalt der Sprache zum Gefühlsinhalt der Musik.

A. A. Shdanow, Fragen der sowjetischen Musikkultur. Diskussionsbeitrag auf der
Beratung von Vertretern der sowjetischen Musik im ZK der KPdSU (B), Januar 1948.
In: Beiträge zum sozialistischen Realismus. Grundsätzliches über Kunst und Literatur
(Berlin, 1953), 47.

Damit sind wir bei der sozialistisch-realistischen Auffassung des

musikalischen Realismus angelangt. Für die Musik nämlich, behauptet
noch 1971 der DDR-Musikästhetiker Heinz Alfred Brockhaus,

ist die Theorie des sozialistischen Realismus auch das, was wir mit Fug und Recht
die marxistisch-leninistische Philosophie unserer neuen Musik nennen, ein theore-
tisch philosophisches System, das seinen Sinn nicht nur in der neuartigen Inter-
pretation der Welt des Musikalischen, sondern vor allem in seiner sozialistischen
Veränderung sieht.32

Nur bei einem solchen Parteilichkeitsanspruch ist es begreiflich, daß

eine dermaßen groteske Werkanalyse wie die von Alexei Tolstoi zur
Fünften Sinfonie von Schostakowitsch ernstgenommen und sogar als
modellhaft gepriesen werden konnte:33

Music must present the consummate formulation of the psychological tribulations

of mankind, it should accumulate man’s energy. Here we have the ‘symphony of
Socialism’. It begins with the Largo of the masses working underground, and ac-
celerando corresponds to the subway system; the Allegro in its turn symbolizes
gigantic factory machinery and its victory over nature. The Adagio represents the
synthesis of Soviet culture, science, and art. The Scherzo reflects the athletic life
of the happy inhabitants of the Union. As for the Finale, it is the image of the gra-
titude and the enthusiasm of the masses.

Diese Art von Realismusauffassung können wir kaum als ‘wissen-

schaftlich’ fundierte ästhetische Theorie akzeptieren. Georg Lukàcs’
musikästhetische Spekulationen dürfen wir dagegen keineswegs als
parteiliche Verirrungen abtun; schon deshalb nicht, weil er sich von

sektiererischen Verteidigern des sozialistischen Realismus, (die) die sogenannte

Grundidee eines Werkes zur begrifflichen Allgemeinheit erheben und in deren
Wahrheit oder Unwahrheit das gesuchte Kriterium des musikalischen Realismus
zu finden meinen,34

Brockhaus, Probleme der Realismustheorie, 36.
Zit. nach Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music (New York, 1959), 121.
Lukàcs, Ästhetik, Teil I, 2. Halbbd., 392-393.

selber distanziert hat. Noch stärker als sonst in seinem Denken von
Hegel zehrend, entwickelt Lukàcs seine doppelte Widerspiegelungs-
theorie aufgrund der dialektischen Zusammengehörigkeit der be-
stimmten und unbestimmten Gegenständlichkeit der Musik:35

Die Bestimmtheit der musikalischen Formenwelt lebt zwar in organischer Koexis-

tenz mit einer ihr zugeordneten, von ihr evozierten Welt der unbestimmten Ge-
genständlichkeit. Auch hier gilt, daß diese keine Unbestimmtheit schlechthin ist,
sondern eine konkrete, eine bis zu einem gewissen Grad bestimmte Unbestimmt-
heit; daß diese dementsprechend sehr unterschiedliche Stufen der Erscheinungs-
weise haben kann, ohne das Allegorisieren der Programmusik auch nur zu strei-
fen, ist selbstverständlich. Werke wie die ‘Eroica’ oder die ‘Pastorale’ zeigen,
wieweit diese Grenzen vorgeschoben sein können, ohne in jenes Extrem umzu-
schlagen. Aus solchen Werken wird aber zugleich evident, wie gleitend das We-
sen dieser bestimmten Unbestimmtheit ist: es gibt keine allgemein angebbare
Grenze, die diese Werke von jenen trennt, in denen die Unbestimmtheit keinerlei
derartig konkrete Determination erhält.

Aus musikästhetischer Sicht – und Lukàcs bekennt hier mehrmals

seine mangelnde Kompetenz – ist es offensichtlich, daß sein Begriff
der Gegenständlichkeit durchaus als die bestimmte Prozessualität der
Musik, ihrem Wesen nach eine rein musikbezogene Formkategorie,
präzisiert werden kann. So weitergedacht, ermöglicht die Lukàcs’sche
Insistenz auf einer dialektischen Wechselwirkung zwischen bestimm-
ter und unbestimmter Gegenständlichkeit eine souveräne Definition,
wonach der spezifische Gegenstand der Musik als Bewegung der inne-
ren und äußeren Welt in ihrer allgemeinsten Gesetzlichkeit, der eigen-
ständigen Subjekt-Objekt-Welt entsprechend, aufgefaßt werden kann.
Die potentielle Verwendbarkeit dieser Definition als Grundlage eines
plausiblen musikalischen Realismusbegriffs führt womöglich zur Be-
freiung der doppelten Widerspiegelungstheorie von der Exklusivität
der Musikbezogenheit und schlägt dadurch eine Brücke zur allmähli-
chen Erkenntnis einer Wesensverwandtschaft der „allgemeinen Krite-
rien eines Realismus in der Musik mit denen der anderen Künste“.36

Ebd., 1. Halbbd., 741.
Ebd., 2. Halbbd., 395.

Theodor Adorno dagegen lehnt die Möglichkeit eines künstleri-

schen Realismus in der Musik kategorisch ab. Wiederholt betont er,
Musik sei „nicht gegenständlich und nicht begreiflich. (...) Sie findet
sich in der gesellschaftlichen Struktur, der gesellschaftlichen Wirk-
lichkeit, vermag aber nicht von sich aus etwas Wesentliches über
sie“.37 Lukàcs’ Widerspiegelungstheorie ist für Adorno ebenfalls nicht
überzeugend. Trotz wesentlicher Auffassungsunterschiede aber sehe
ich dennoch eine Möglichkeit zur partiellen Aussöhnung eben darin,
daß Adorno – wie Lukàcs – letzten Endes die spezifische Gegenständ-
lichkeit der Musik in ihrem eigenen, musikimmanenten Funktionieren
anerkennt und die dialektische Wechselwirkung der musikalischen
Objektivität und Subjektivität als den zu erreichenden Idealzustand
bezeichnet. Der Hauptunterschied liegt im Perspektivenentwurf, den
Adorno in seiner Philosophie der neuen Musik (1949) über die polari-
sierte Entwicklung der Musik im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert vorlegt und
den er – im Gegensatz zu Lukàcs’ in der Grundeinstellung progressi-
ver, optimistischer Prognose – eindeutig negativ auswertet. Wie be-
kannt, sieht Adorno in Strawinskis verfremdendem Restaurations-
impuls und in Schönbergs nonkonformistischem Radikalismus die
zwei unversöhnlichen Gegenpole einer Typologie der modernen Mu-
sik. Bei Strawinski führe die programmatisch antisubjektive, ironisie-
rende Kompositionsmethode zur Schein-Objektivität und totalen Ver-
dinglichung der Musik, während Schönbergs „authentische“ Angst vor
einer totalen Vernichtung der musikalischen Subjektivität ihn zum
verzweifelten Suchen nach objektiven Formkategorien, nach einem
rationalen System zwinge.38
In unserem Zusammenhang ist besonders die weitere Anwendung
von Adornos Polaritätstheorie auf die Periode nach 1950 aufschluß-
reich. Strawinskis antimelodisch eingestellte, stark rhythmisch und

Th. W. Adorno, Über einige Schwierigkeiten des Komponierens heute. In: Aspek-
te der Modernität. Hrsg. von Hans Steffen (Göttingen, 1965), 139.

klangfarbenorientierte Kompositionsmethode lebt nämlich in extre-

mer, wenn auch traditioneller Form bei Orff, doch ebenso in der elek-
tronischen Musik Stockhausens und der musique concrète Pierre
Schaeffers weiter. In diesen Richtungen macht sich eine im alltägli-
chen Sinn ‘realistische’ Tendenz bemerkbar. Die musikalische Gegen-
ständlichkeit der musique concrète scheint zum Beispiel viel be-
stimmbarer als bei früheren Musikarten. Das dialektische Nebenein-
ander von neuesten Richtungen wie Aleatorik (John Cage) und Kon-
struktivismus (Milton Babbitt) ist ebenfalls von Strawinskis Impressi-
onismus im Gegensatz zu Schönbergs Serialismus abzuleiten. Es sind
die Vertreter der sogenannten ‘stochastischen’ Musik – einer auf
Wahrscheinlichkeitsberechnungen basierenden Improvisation – wie
Xenakis und Penderecki, die sich heute um eine Synthese von Aleato-
rik und Konstruktivismus bemühen.

Die Geschichte einzelner realistischer Elemente ist eines, und die Normen des
Realismus ein anderes; und selbst der tiefere Blick in die Vergangenheit vermag
die Notwendigkeit einer systematischen Beschreibung nicht aus der Welt zu

schrieb Peter Demetz in einem Beitrag zur Definition des literarischen

Realismus. Im musikalischen Bereich sollte es auch nicht anders
sein. Nach unserem Überblick scheint jedoch die Annahme berechtigt,
daß auf musikästhetischem Gebiet die Fragestellung etwas anderes
sein muß. Hier handelt es sich nicht so sehr um das Was als vielmehr
darum, ob und wie Realismus in der Musik überhaupt möglich ist.
Nach dem Stichwort ‘Realismus’ sucht man sogar in manchen mu-
sikalischen Fachlexika umsonst. Der vernünftigste Definitionsversuch,
den ich ausfindig machen konnte, illustriert zugleich die semantische
Verwirrung, die auf diesem Gebiet herrscht:40

Peter Demetz, Zur Definition des Realismus. In: Literatur und Kritik, 16/17
(1967), 336.
Nicolas Slonimsky, Music since 1900 (New York, 41971), 1485.

Generally speaking, the term realism as applied to music describes a type of pro-
grammatic romanticism, which is intended to picture a landscape or represent a
psychological state. Realism has aquired a special meaning in the nomenclature of
Soviet music, usually appearing in the dual formula of socialist realism whose
function it is to give a realistic reflection of contemporary life from the standpoint
of Socialist society.

Doch auch diese Definition bleibt letztlich ein vages Konglomerat

von Begriffen, die kaum zu einem einheitlichen Realismuskonzept
zusammengefaßt werden können.
Was den sozialistisch-realistischen Realismus in der Musik betrifft,
so halte ich ihn für eine pseudo-ästhetische Fiktion, von Parteifunkti-
onären erfunden, um eine Niveausenkung des allgemeinen Musikver-
ständnisses herbeizuführen und diese im nachhinein didaktisch legiti-
mieren zu können. Das Ergebnis der Implementierung dieser Fiktion
in der heutigen sozialistischen Musik ergibt Symptome einer verhäng-
nisvollen Krankheit: bornierte Programmhaftigkeit, Verdünnung des
musikalischen Materials, kategorische Ablehnung von Neuerungsver-
suchen und damit Stagnation.
Außerhalb des sozialistisch-realistischen Kontexts sehe ich die
Chancen für eine überzeugende Begriffsbestimmung des musikali-
schen Realismus womöglich noch weniger ‘realistisch’. Aus dem
westlichen Lager ist mir als wissenschaftlich ernst zu nehmender Bei-
trag nur ein Aufsatz des amerikanischen Musikologen Norman Caz-
den bekannt, der sich mit Termini wie „Naturalismus und Piktoralis-
mus“ in der Musik beschäftigt:41

Realism in music is the totality of concrete reference to the common experience

of human beings as embodied in all the formal elements of musical art. It is the
inner content of music, not the exterior coating. Realism is therefore the opposite
of naturalism, wherein musical form is denied for the sake of a surface imitation;
and of pictorialism, wherein a chance verbal connection relates essentially unlike

Cazden, Towards a Theory of Realism in Music, 150.

Es ist Cazdens Verdienst, mit Nachdruck auf die ästhetische Min-

derwertigkeit naturalistischer Imitationsexperimente hingewiesen zu
haben. Soviel hat aber 1818 schon Goethe erkannt, als er fragte, „was
der Musiker malen“ dürfe:42

Nichts und Alles. Nichts, wie er es durch die äußern Sinne empfängt darf er nach-
ahmen; aber alles darf er darstellen was er bei diesen äußern Sinneseinwirkungen
empfindet. Den Donner in der Musik nachzuahmen ist keine Kunst, aber der Mu-
siker, der das Gefühl in mir erregt als wenn ich donnern hörte würde sehr schätz-
bar sein. Das Innere in Stimmung zu setzen, ohne die gemeinen äußern Mittel zu
brauchen ist der Musik großes und edles Vorrecht.

J. W. Goethe, Briefe (München, 1958), 827.
Kreativität als Selbstüberwindung
Thomas Manns permanente ‚Wagner-Krise’ (1976)

Wenn unter Literaturforschern und -kritikern von den mannigfaltigen

Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Literatur und Musik die Rede ist – und
dieses komplexe, bisher viel gescholtene Grenzgebiet der Verglei-
chenden Literaturwissenschaft wird in letzter Zeit mit kompetenterer
musikalischer Sachkenntnis zum legitimen Studiengegenstand erho-
ben1 –, fällt unumgänglich der Name Thomas Mann. Sein von Musik
und Musikern inspiriertes Gesamtwerk liefert tatsächlich wie kein
anderes in der Moderne Paradebeispiele für die seltene Fähigkeit eines
Prosaschriftstellers, in seiner dichterischen Praxis die Schwesterkünste
fruchtbar miteinander in Verbindung zu bringen und auf weltliterari-
schem Niveau erzähltechnisch zu integrieren.
Thomas Mann war schon zu Lebzeiten ein Lieblingsgegenstand der
Kritik; und die neuesten bibliographischen Monumente in Ost und
West bestätigen nur allzu deutlich den dubiosen Umfang einer Sekun-
därliteratur kaum überschaubaren Ausmaßes.2 Infolgedessen dürfte
man annehmen, daß unter solchen quantitativ ‚günstigen’ Umständen
das als allgemein für zentral anerkannte Thema ‚Thomas Mann und
die Musik’ schon umsichtig genug durchleuchtet wurde. Abgesehen

Vgl. z. B. Ulrich Weisstein: Einführung in die Vergleichende Literaturwissen-
schaft, Stuttgart 1968, bes. Kapitel VIII (Exkurs: Wechselseitige Erhellung der Küns-
te); Comparative Literature, 22 (1970), H. 2: Special Number on Music and Literatu-
re; und Calvin S. Brown: Musico-Literary Research in the Last Two Decades, in:
Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, 19 (1970), S. 5-27.
Klaus W. Jonas: Die Thomas-Mann-Literatur. Band I: Bibliographie der Kritik
1896 bis 1955, Berlin 1972, 458 Seiten; und Harry Matter: Die Literatur über Thomas
Mann. Eine Bibliographie 1898-1969, Berlin und Weimar 1972, 2 Bde., 701 und 637

von der wertvollen, heute noch richtungweisenden, wiewohl im gro-

ßen Ganzen doch ergänzungsbedürftigen Pionierarbeit von Viktor
Žmegač, Die Musik im Schaffen Thomas Manns,3 ist das aber nicht der
Fall: eine der Gewichtigkeit des Themas entsprechende Zusammen-
schau ist noch nicht geleistet worden. Als Ausgangspunkt dazu wäre
nach wie vor „ein spezieller Forschungsbericht wünschenswert“4, der
die sonstigen, eher spärlichen Einzelveröffentlichungen zu den musik-
bezogenen Teilaspekten des erzählerischen und essayistischen Werkes
sichtet. Solch ein Bericht ist im begrenzten Raum des gegenwärtigen
Beitrags nicht einmal in Ansätzen möglich. Statt einer verallgemei-
nernden und notwendigerweise skizzenhaften Charakterisierung von
noch nicht genügend ausgereiften Einzelpositionen erscheint es hier
eher wünschenswert und fruchtbar, mich auf einen einzigen, jedoch
das Gesamtwerk betreffenden zentralen Problemkomplex zu konzent-
rieren: nämlich auf das viel umstrittene Wagner-Bild Thomas Manns5.
Eine nüchtern und kritisch angelegte Neuauswertung von Thomas
Manns Wagner-Erlebnis ist beim heutigen Stand der Forschung uner-

Zagreb 1959 (künftig: Žmegač).
Herbert Lehnert: Thomas-Mann-Forschung. Ein Bericht. Stuttgart 1968 (künftig:
Lehnert), S. 114.
Vgl. dazu u. a. Anna Jacobson: Das Wagner-Erlebnis Thomas Manns, in: Germa-
nic Review, 5 (1930), S. 166-179; Martin Gregor: Wagner und kein Ende, Bayreuth
1958 (künftig: Gregor); Werner Vortriede: Richard Wagners “Tod in Venedig”, in:
Euphorion, 52 (1959), S. 378-396; William Blissett: Thomas Mann: The Last Wagne-
rite, in: Germanic Review, 35 (1960), S. 50-76; Willi Schuh: Zum Geleit, in: Thomas
Mann, Wagner und unsere Zeit, Frankfurt/M. 1963 (künftig: Schuh); Jürgen Mainka:
Eine Polemik um Thomas Manns Wagnerbild, in: Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft, 5
(1963), S. 231-234; Andreas Oplatka: Thomas Mann und Richard Wagner, in:
Schweizer Monatshefte, 45 (1965), S. 672-679; Gerhard Kluge: Das Leitmotiv als
Sinnträger in „Der kleine Herr Friedemann“, in: JDSG, 11 (1967), S. 484-526; Hans
Wysling: ‘Mythos und Psychologie’ bei Thomas Mann, in: E.T.H. Kultur und Staats-
wissenschaftliche Schriften, H. 130, Zürich 1969, S. 5-23; Erwin Koppen: Vom De-
cadent zum Proto-Hitler. Wagner-Bilder Thomas Manns, in: Thomas Mann und die
Tradition, hg. v. Peter Pütz, Frankfurt/M. 1971, S. 201-224; Erwin Koppen: Dekaden-
ter Wagnerismus. Studien zur europäischen Literatur des Fin de siècle, Berlin 1973;
sowie Hans Vaget und Dagmar Barnouw: Thomas Mann. Studien zu Fragen der
Rezeption, Bern und Frankfurt/M. 1975 (künftig: Vaget), S. 3-81.

läßlich geworden. Mit Recht wendet sich nämlich die neueste Tho-
mas-Mann-Kritik mehr und mehr dem noch nicht erschöpfend genug
beleuchteten Frühwerk zu, wo unter den vielfältigen „rückwärtigen
Bindungen“6 Thomas Manns diejenige an Wagner die vielleicht be-
deutendste und am meisten werkbezogene Einflußwirkung ausübt.
Wie Hans Rudolf Vaget in einem vor kurzem erschienenen und für
unser Thema unentbehrlichen Beitrag „‚Goethe oder Wagner’. Studien
zu Thomas Manns Goethe-Rezeption 1905-1912“ überzeugend betont,
ist „Wagners Bedeutung für Thomas Mann [...] um so höher einzu-
schätzen, als er mit Wagners Musik früher vertraut wurde als mit den
Schriften Schopenhauers und Nietzsches. Nicht diese, sondern eben
Wagners Musik stand als künstlerisches Vorbild über den frühen
Werken.“ Mit sicherem Urteil weist Vaget im weiteren auf die korrek-
turbedürftige Tatsache hin, daß „diese frühe Orientierung an Wagner
[...] in der Thomas-Mann-Forschung gewöhnlich verkannt oder auf
das simple Klischee von der Nachahmung der Wagnerschen Leitmo-
tivtechnik reduziert“ wird7.
Der Nachweis von Wagner-Spuren im Frühwerk ist keineswegs
neu, wurde aber bisher noch nicht ausreichend mit genauen, auf die
fiktionsbildende und erzähltechnische Funktion von Wagners Kunst
eingehenden Werkinterpretationen untermauert. Eine besonders loh-
nende Aufgabe wäre z. B., die in Struktur, Wortwahl und Wortschatz
auf den ganzen Roman übergreifende Textstelle mit Hannos Wagneri-
scher Klavierimprovisation am Schluß der Buddenbrooks ausführlich
zu untersuchen. Diese virtuose, in ihrer Mehrschichtigkeit Wagners
musikalische Technik ins Epische transponierende Musikbeschrei-
bung spielt nicht nur auf bestimmte Wagner-Opern an und weist eine
eigene musikalische Struktur auf, sondern enthält auch stichwortartig
zusammenfassende Charakterisierungen typischer Merkmale der vier

Thomas Mann: Gesammelte Werke in dreizehn Bänden, Frankfurt/M. 1974 (künf-
tig nach Bandnummer und Seitenzahl zitiert), XI, 312.
Vaget, S. 17.

dargestellten Buddenbrook-Generationen, der Hauptfiguren und der

wichtigsten Ereignisse in der Familiengeschichte.
Statt den Text als Ausgangspunkt zu nehmen, unterliegen die meis-
ten Mann-Interpreten heute noch der nur allzu verständlichen Verlo-
ckung, sich durch die treffend formulierten, wiewohl häufig mit Ab-
sicht vagen, kontradiktorischen Kommentare dieses ausgesprochen
selbstdeutungsfreudigen Autors irreführen zu lassen. Eine ähnliche
interpretatorische Aporie herrscht in bezug auf Wagner-Spuren im
Spätwerk. Das überrascht nicht, da in der Forschungsliteratur die
sachlichen, analytischen Einsichten meistens zugunsten der weniger
konkret werkbezogenen, eher verallgemeinernden Meinungen überse-
hen oder unterdrückt werden. Es ist z. B. bedauerlich, daß Willi
Schuhs hellsichtiger Hinweis von 1963 offenbar ignoriert wurde:

Wer den Sinn des Wörtleins ‚und’ zwischen den Namen Richard Wagner und
Thomas Mann ergründen will, muß den Spuren der Wagner-Bewunderung und
der Wagner-Kritik nicht nur im essayistischen Werk Thomas Manns und in den
Briefen, sondern auch im dichterischen Werk [...] aufmerksam nachgehen.8

Daß gerade Wagner bisher in der textorientierten Thomas-Mann-

Forschung ein Schattendasein führte, ist vielleicht kein Zufall, beson-
ders wenn man bedenkt, daß Herbert Lehnerts 1968 mit der Autorität
eines Experten apodiktisch formulierte Bemerkung vorschnell und
ungeprüft akzeptiert wurde: „Im ganzen kann man sagen, daß ein
Durchgang durch Thomas Manns Werk unter dem Gesichtspunkt
Wagner wesentlich unbefriedigender ist als einer unter dem Gesichts-
punkt Nietzsches oder Goethes“9. Dieser Satz steht in Lehnerts ver-
dienstvollem Standardwerk Thomas-Mann-Forschung. Ein Bericht, in
dem er jedoch an anderer Stelle seine Musikkenntnisse offen als unzu-
reichend bezeichnet:

Schuh, S. 7.
Lehnert, S. 100.

Mein Urteil ist unsicher in diesem Bereich, aus mehreren Gründen. Spezielle mu-
sikologische Kenntnisse fehlen mir, sind aber wohl für einen litera-
risch-musikalischen Komplex unerläßlich, der an einzelnen Stellen über die
Kompetenz des Amateurs hinausgeht, mag auch Thomas Mann im Grunde noch
diesen Status behalten haben.10

Wo also wäre der Schlüssel zu einem sachgerechten Verständnis

der Thomas Mann-Wagner-Beziehung zu suchen? Sicherlich nicht in
den unreflektierten, bloß sensationserregenden Verleumdungen eines
Hanjo Kesting, der neulich im Spiegel – sich seiner von der unwissen-
den Öffentlichkeit gesicherten Narrenfreiheit bewußt – die zwei Na-
men auf Kosten Nietzsches11 wie folgt miteinander verband: „Was
Richard Wagner für die Musik bedeutete, bedeutet – mit allerdings
kleinerem Radius – Thomas Mann für die Literatur: die Heraufkunft
des Schauspielers“12. Es war doch gerade Wagners unehrliche Schau-
spielernatur und seine Theatromanie, die Thomas Mann, wie schon
vor ihm Nietzsche13, in wiederholten Auseinandersetzungen mit dem
Phänomen Wagner auch noch im Doktor Faustus als abstoßend emp-
funden hatte14. Für unseren Zusammenhang scheint es mir zunächst
sinnvoller, die Frage zu stellen, ob wir bei Thomas Mann – wie Hans
Vaget es tut – von einer echt empfundenen und bewußt durchgemach-
ten „Wagner-Krise“ zu sprechen und ob wir diese Krise tatsächlich als
eine „Entgegensetzung von Wagner und Goethe“15 und eine etwa um
das Jahr 1911 – also vor dem Tod in Venedig – angesetzte gleichzeiti-

ebda., S. 114.
Vgl. Friedrich Nietzsche: Der Fall Wagner, in: Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bänden,
hg. v. Karl Schlechta, München 1966 (künftig: Nietzsche), Bd. II, S. 925.
Der Spiegel, H. 22 (26. Mai 1975).
Nietzsche, Bd. II, S. 919-923.
Bezeichnenderweise kehrt Manns Apostrophierung Wagners u. a. als “gelernter
Massenerschütterer” aus dem 1937-Essay “Richard Wagner und der ‘Ring des Nibe-
lungen’” (IX, 505) in der Stockholmer Erstausgabe des Doktor Faustus (1947) wieder
Vaget, S. 19.

ge „Annäherung an Goethe“ und „Distanzierung von Wagner16“ auf-

zufassen berechtigt sind.
Was Thomas Manns Verhältnis zu Goethe angeht, finde ich Vagets
sorgfältig dokumentierte Studie vollkommen überzeugend. Aufgrund
von analytisch aufgearbeitetem Belegmaterial, welches eine plausible
Neuinterpretation des Tod in Venedig einschließt, gelingt es ihm zu
beweisen, daß „eine intime Vertrautheit Thomas Manns mit dem Werk
Goethes nicht erst 1921/22, sondern schon 1912 vorausgesetzt werden
muß“17. So erhellend diese These auch in bezug auf Thomas Manns
Goethe-Rezeption sein mag, durch Vagets Beweisführung, Manns
gleichzeitige Wagner-Rezeption betreffend, ergibt sich dennoch eine
Akzentverschiebung, die nach Klärung verlangt.
Die drei Texte aus dem Jahre 1911, die als theoretische Hauptdo-
kumente für Thomas Manns überwundene „Wagner-Krise“ angeführt
werden – es sind keine Stellen aus dem Erzählwerk, sondern aus Pri-
vatbriefen und aus einem Antwort-Aufsatz auf eine Rundfrage – be-
zeugen keineswegs eine eindeutige Abrechnung mit dem Phänomen
Wagner als Manns Jugendliebe, die von nun an entschieden der Ver-
gangenheit angehört18. Vielmehr bestätigen alle drei Zeugnisse den
gleichen „Ausdruck einer enthusiastischen Ambivalenz, von der mein
[Thomas Manns] Verhältnis zu Wagner nun einmal bestimmt ist und
die man schlecht und recht Leidenschaft nennen könnte“ (X, 928). So
nämlich äußert sich noch 1951 der 76jährige Thomas Mann über den
Gegenstand seiner Haß-Liebe. Obwohl das Wort „Krise“ tatsächlich
fällt, geht selbst aus dem Brief von 1911 an Ernst Bertram klar hervor,

ebda., S. 24.
ebda., S. 59.
Vgl. Thomas Mann an Ernst Bertram, 11. Aug. 1911, in: Thomas Mann an Ernst
Bertram. Briefe aus den Jahren 1910-1955, hg. v. Inge Jens, Pfullingen, 1960 (künf-
tig: Mann an Bertram), S. 10; Thomas Mann an Julius Bab, 14. Sept. 1911, in: Tho-
mas Mann. Briefe 1889-1936, hg. v. Erika Mann, Frankfurt/M. 1962 (künftig: Br. 1),
S. 91; und Thomas Mann: Über die Kunst Richard Wagners, (X, 840-842).

was der Merker [die Wiener Zeitschrift, in welcher der Aufsatz von 1911, betitelt
‚Auseinandersetzung mit Richard Wagner’, erstmals abgedruckt wurde] meine
[Thomas Manns] ‚Abrechnung mit Wagner’ nennt, die eigentlich unverantwort-
lich skizzenhafte und journalistische Abfertigung eines Gegenstandes [ist], den
auf eine gründliche und entscheidende Weise zu behandeln eigentlich der Augen-
blick gekommen wäre. [...] Von der Krise, in der ich mich dieser Kunst gegenüber
befinde, gibt das Aufsätzchen keine Vorstellung [...] Mit der Zeit werde ich wohl
ruhiger und gerechter denken lernen.19

Der Ertrag von Thomas Manns intensiv reflektierter Auseinanderset-

zung mit Wagners Gesamtwerk und dessen Wirkung kommt in der Tat
erst später, nach zwanzig Jahren weiterer Beschäftigung und wieder-
holten Gelegenheitsäußerungen ähnlich ambivalenten Inhalts, in den
zwei groß angelegten Wagner-Essays: „Leiden und Größe Richard
Wagners“ (1933) und „Richard Wagner und der ‚Ring des Nibelun-
gen’“ (1937). Die Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen von 1918 sind
ebensowenig frei von Manns andauernder „Wagner-Krise“ wie das
Erzählwerk selber. In diesem Zusammenhang sollte es hier genügen,
auf den bedeutungsschweren Romantitel und auf Settembrinis musik-
bezogene Bemerkungen im Zauberberg zu verweisen, von den Spuren
tiefverwurzelter Wagnerscher Inspiration in der Gesamtstruktur und
den thematischen und erzähltechnischen Einzelheiten der Joseph-
Tetralogie nicht zu reden. Auf die Frage von Wagners übergreifender
Bedeutung auch für das Spätwerk, insbesondere im Doktor Faustus,
komme ich noch zurück.
Wesentlich problematischer, gleichzeitig aber auch lohnender für
eine unvoreingenommene Gesamtinterpretation des Mann-Wagner-
Verhältnisses, ist die Stellungnahme zum Thema „Goethe oder Wag-
ner“. Die auch von Vaget zitierte Schlüsselstelle aus einem Brief Tho-
mas Manns von 1911 an Julius Bab lautet:

Die Deutschen sollte man vor die Entscheidung stellen: Goethe oder Wagner.
Beides zusammen geht nicht. Aber ich fürchte, sie würden ‚Wagner’ sagen. Oder
doch vielleicht nicht? Sollte nicht doch vielleicht jeder Deutsche im Grunde sei-
nes Herzens wissen, daß Goethe ein unvergleichlich verehrungs- und vertrauens-

Mann an Bertram, S. 10.

würdigerer Führer und Nationalheld ist, als dieser schnupfende Gnom aus Sach-
sen mit dem Bombentalent und dem schäbigen Charakter?20

Vagets Belege und Kommentare zu dieser frappanten Briefstelle

sind im einzelnen durchaus plausibel. Seine Schlußfolgerung jedoch,
daß u. a. aufgrund dieser unpersönlich gehaltenen, wiewohl rhetorisch
zugespitzten Entgegensetzung von Wagner und Goethe Mann selber
sich zu einer Entscheidung für Goethe durchzwingt21, ist beim Mangel
an beweiskräftigerer Evidenz in Frage zu stellen. Vielmehr drücken
diese Sätze absichtlich ausgewogener Prägung die gleiche Ambivalenz
der Mannschen Position Wagner gegenüber aus, von der schon vorhin
die Rede war. Es führt eher zu einem verwirrungstiftenden Miß-
verständnis der Eigenart des Mannschen Schaffensprozesses, wenn
man seine konsequent aufrechterhaltene und bewußt relativierende
Dauerposition eines „Sowohl-als-auch“ – besonders in Sachen Wag-
ner – als ein chronologisch festlegbares, kategorisches „Entweder-
Oder“ interpretiert22. Ohne Zweifel wird in diesem Brief die Quintes-
senz von Thomas Manns nie zu seiner eigenen Befriedigung gelöstem
Hauptdilemma prägnant wiedergegeben; ein eigentlich unlösbares
Dilemma, das sein schriftstellerisches Schaffen im Zeichen seiner
Rezeption der Wagner-Kritik Nietzsches zeitlebens hin- und her-
schwankend begleitet. Die Tatsache aber, daß Mann „die boshaften
Ausfälle [Nietzsches] gegen Wagner [...] nur als die negative Seite
einer andauernden Wagner-Leidenschaft [deutet], in der man nicht
unbedingt einen Bruch sehen muß“23, gilt in gleichem Maße für seine
eigene künstlerische Praxis, für seine eigenen Ausfälle gegen Wagner.

Br. 1, S. 91.
Vaget, S. 19.
Vgl. dazu Helmut Koopmann. Thomas Mann. Theorie und Praxis der epischen
Ironie, in: Deutsche Romantheorien, hg. v. Reinhold Grimm, Frankfurt/M. und Bonn
1968, S. 280.
Gregor, S. 30.

Die polemische Alternative Goethe oder Wagner stellt sich Thomas

Mann wiederholt nach Nietzsches Muster, aber immer nur als Selbst-
provokation, als Selbstklarifikation. Was sein Werk angeht, bleibt er
durchwegs darum bemüht, beide Riesenkonstellationen, Goethe und
Wagner – wie kontradiktorisch diese Gegenüberstellung auch sein
mag – nebeneinander in seine Fiktionswelt zu integrieren. Noch 1937
im Essay „Richard Wagner und der ‚Ring des Nibelungen’“ formuliert
er unmißverständlich:

Denn dies beides sind ja wir, – Goethe und Wagner, beides ist Deutschland. Es
sind die höchsten Namen für zwei Seelen in unserer Brust, die sich voneinander
trennen wollen und deren Widerstreit wir doch als ewig fruchtbar, als Lebensquell
inneren Reichtums immer aufs neue empfinden lernen müssen [...] (IX, 507)

Zu einer endgültigen Wahl zwischen Goethe und Wagner, auch wenn

er diese Wahl aufrichtig treffen wollte, konnte er sich nie völlig durch-
ringen. Für den repräsentierenden und repräsentativsten deutschen
Schriftsteller des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts war Goethe das überle-
bensgroße künstlerische Vorbild. Als Gegenpol, als eine Art Anti-
Vorbild, bewunderte Thomas Mann jedoch gleichzeitig – in diesem
Fall mit einer kritischen Leidenschaft wider Willen – „diesen schnup-
fenden Gnom aus Sachsen mit dem Bombentalent und dem schäbigen
Charakter“, dessen musikdramatische Monumentalkunst „so stimulie-
rend wie sonst nichts in der Welt“ (X, 840) eine dauernde schöpferi-
sche Faszination auf ihn als Epiker ausübte. Thomas Manns Selbststi-
lisierung als des Goethe der Moderne ist daher ohne die unauslöschli-
che Prägung durch sein Wagner-Erlebnis nicht zu verstehen; sie wur-
de von Anfang an von einer bewußt angestrebten Selbstüberwindung,
ja von einer schöpferisch befruchtenden, fortwährenden Verdrängung
des Phänomens Richard Wagner begleitet. Den vielleicht schlagkräf-
tigsten Beweis für Thomas Manns permanente „Wagner-Krise“ im
Spätwerk liefert der Roman Doktor Faustus.
Erstaunlicherweise ist dieser grundlegende Aspekt des Romans in
der Kritik bisher fast völlig unbeachtet geblieben. Unter renommierten
Thomas-Mann-Kennern sind es nur wenige wie Hans Mayer, Martin

Gregor, Jonas Lesser und Peter Altenberg – und ihre scharfsinnigen

Werkanalysen aus den fünfziger und sechziger Jahren werden in der
neuesten Forschung kaum mehr rezipiert24 –, die Joseph Kermans
zweifellos zutreffender Behauptung zustimmen würden, daß „Manns
novel Doktor Faustus [...] the most impressively Wagnerian work of
our time“25 sei. Kermans Adjektiv „Wagnerian“ impliziert nicht nur
Thomas Manns schöpferisch assimilierende Anwendung von Wagners
Kompositionstechnik und musikdramatischen Darstellungsmitteln.
Vielmehr weist es auch darauf hin, daß der ganze Roman stillschwei-
gend um und gegen das Kulturphänomen Richard Wagner konstruiert
ist und sich – wenn auch immer wieder nur als indirektes Gegenbei-
spiel – mit dessen überwältigender Nachwirkung konsequent ausein-
andersetzt. Wagners Gestalt erweist sich daher als die hintergründige,
für die musikgeschichtlich orientierte Romanthematik unentbehrliche
Verbindungsfigur zwischen den zwei sonst im Doktor Faustus domi-
nierenden Musikergestalten: Beethoven und Leverkühn.
Es handelt sich im Faustus-Roman um einen Musiker, dessen
kompositorische Neuerungsversuche, nachromantische Emotionsbela-
denheit überwindend, das extrem-nüchtern Esoterische und Konstruk-
tive in der Entwicklung der modernen Musik paradigmatisch darstel-
len sollen. Wagnerisch also können Leverkühns Werke wohl kaum
bezeichnet werden. Ebenfalls muß man zugeben, daß direkte Hinweise
auf Wagner im Roman an die eindrucksvolle Zahl derer auf Beetho-
ven bei weitem nicht heranreichen26. Vielleicht sind es eben diese und
ähnliche, nur scheinbar beweiskräftige Indizien, die auch die zuverläs-
sigsten Kritiker wiederholt zu Fehlinterpretationen der Wagnerschen

Vgl. Hans Mayer: Thomas Mann. Werk und Entwicklung, Berlin 1950; Gregor,
op. cit.; Jonas Lesser, Thomas Mann in der Epoche seiner Vollendung, München
1952; und Peter Altenberg: Die Romane Thomas Manns, Bad Homburg vor der Höhe
Joseph Kerman: Opera as Drama, New York 1952, S. 193.
Vgl. dazu Gunilla Bergsten: Musical Symbolism in Thomas Manns „Doktor
Faustus“, in: Orbis litterarum, 14 (1959), S. 206-214.

Präsenz im Doktor Faustus verleiten. Viktor Žmegač findet z. B. den

Umstand bemerkenswert,

daß das Musikdrama Wagners so gar keinen Einfluß auf Leverkühn ausübt, daß es
nicht einmal erwähnt wird. Stellt man nämlich auch noch die wenigen, ausgespro-
chen kühlen Bemerkungen über Wagner daneben, so gewinnt man mit Recht den
Eindruck, daß die Bayreuther Musik [...] dem geistigen Stil der Faustuswelt nicht
zu entsprechen vermochte und demzufolge aus ihrem innersten Kreis ausge-
schlossen blieb.27

Beträchtliche Wagner-Spuren vermißt auch Gunilla Bergsten:

Diese Jugendliebe Manns [d. h. Wagner] wird im Roman zwar an einigen Stellen
genannt, aber nur gleichsam nebenher, was erstaunlich scheinen mag, wenn man
den Wagnerkult Manns in seinen früheren Werken in Betracht zieht. In den Bud-
denbrooks, im Tristan, in Leiden und Größe Richard Wagners u. a. tritt Wagner
nicht nur als der Lieblingskomponist Manns auf, sondern auch als eine der wich-
tigsten Persönlichkeiten im geistigen und musikalischen Leben Deutschlands, und
es liegt kein Grund zu der Annahme vor, daß Mann seine Meinung in dieser Hin-
sicht grundlegend geändert habe.28

Erwin Koppen, Autor der bisher aufschlußreichsten komparatisti-

schen Studie des europäischen Wagnerismus29, urteilt ebenso unent-

Es ist merkwürdig, daß Thomas Mann [seine] politische Auseinandersetzung mit

Wagner nicht in seinem erzählenden Werk fortgesetzt hat, obwohl sich der nun
entstehende „Doktor Faustus“ dazu angeboten hätte. Die Gestalt Adrian Lever-
kühns trägt nicht die Züge Wagners, und es scheint auch so, als habe Thomas
Mann Wagner aus dem „Doktor Faustus“ geradezu herausgehalten.30

Žmegač, S. 80.
Gunilla Bergsten, Thomas Manns Doktor Faustus. Untersuchungen zu den Quel-
len und zur Struktur des Romans, Lund 1963, S. 182.
Erwin Koppen: Dekadenter Wagnerismus. Studien zur europäischen Literatur des
Fin de siècle, Berlin 1973.
Erwin Koppen: Vom Décadent zum Proto-Hitler. Wagner-Bilder Thomas Manns,
in: Thomas Mann und die Tradition, hg. v. Peter Pütz, Frankfurt/M. 1971, S. 221.

Auch wenn er die entsprechenden Wagner-Spuren noch nicht er-

kennt, ahnt Koppen den Zusammenhang zwischen der politischen
Thematik des Romans als symbolischer Darstellung der barbarischen
Elemente des Nazismus und Thomas Manns Auslegung Wagners als
künstlerisch verklärter Manifestation der dunklen, letzten Endes zer-
störerischen Kraft dionysischer Berauschtheit. In seiner 1974 erschie-
nenen Gesamtdeutung Thomas Mann: The Uses of Tradition gelingt
es T. J. Reed – ohne jedoch, daß er Wagners erzählerische Funktion
im Roman ausdrücklich wahrnimmt –, die einleuchtende, wenn auch
provozierend anmutende These zu formulieren, die in der Forschung
vorerst wenig Zustimmung ernten wird: „This is the bedrock of Dok-
tor Faustus: not the Faust myth, but the theory of the Dionysiac“31.
Ohne Zweifel erschließt Reeds These interpretatorisches Neuland,
wobei der Einbezug von Wagner als hinter den Kulissen anwesendem
Katalysator des Dämonisch-Dionysischen im Roman allerdings noch
anhand von relevanten Textbeispielen zu belegen wäre. Es muß hier
genügen, wenn ich als Ansatz zu einer ausführlichen Analyse auf ei-
nige beziehungsreiche Stellen verweise, die die ständige und subtil
verschleierte Präsenz Wagners im Doktor Faustus deutlich erscheinen
„Diejenigen Prosawerke, die Wagner nicht wörtlich und ausdrück-
lich erwähnen, sind Kunstwerke im Vermeiden und lassen ihn gegen-
wärtiger erscheinen denn je.“32 So ein „Kunstwerk im Vermeiden“ ist
Manns Doktor Faustus und in solchem Sinne spürt man Wagnerisches
Fluidum überall im Roman. Schon früh in der Lebensgeschichte des
„deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn“ sind es die bemerkenswerte
Wortwahl und aufs erste befremdende Ausdrucksweise des Erzählers,
die in uns ahnungslosen Lesern Verdacht erregen. Zeitblom läßt Jona-
than Leverkühn, Adrians Vater, vor unseren Augen „die elementa
spekulieren“ (VI, 22). Über „Exotische Falter und Meergetier“, von

T. J. Reed: Thomas Mann: The Uses of Tradition, Oxford 1974, S. 396.
Gregor, S. 17.

Vater Leverkühns „Hang zur Zauberei“ und „zweideutigen Launen,

halbverhüllten und sonderbar ins Ungewisse weisenden Allusionen“
(VI, 22), von der „Zeichenschrift auf den Schalen gewisser Muscheln“
und ihrem „Warnungsprunk“ (VI, 25), von einem „werkmeisterlichen
Zwischengott“ und der „Eitelkeit des Sichtbaren“ (VI, 26) wird da
geredet, ehe wir auf einen zusammenfassenden Absatz stoßen, der
indirekt auf die paradoxe Eigenart von Wagners Artistik anspielt und
in welchem kaum verkennbar aus der Parsifal- und Tristan-Welt ver-
traute Requisiten aufgezählt werden:

Zuweilen war sie tückisch, diese Außenästhetik; denn gewisse Kegelschnecken,

reizend asymmetrische, in ein geädertes Blaßrosa oder weißgeflecktes Honig-
braun getauchte Erscheinungen, waren wegen ihres Giftbisses berüchtigt, – und
überhaupt war [...] eine gewisse Anrüchigkeit oder phantastische Zweideutigkeit
von dieser ganzen wunderlichen Sektion des Lebens nicht fernzuhalten. Eine son-
derbare Ambivalenz der Anschauung hatte sich immer in dem sehr verschiedenar-
tigen Gebrauch kundgegeben, den man von den Prunkgeschöpfen machte. Sie
hatten im Mittelalter zum stehenden Inventar der Hexenküchen und Alchimisten-
Gewölbe gehört und waren als die passenden Gefäße für Gifte und Liebestränke
befunden worden. Andererseits und zugleich aber hatten sie beim Gottesdienst zu
Muschelschreinen für Hostien und Reliquien und sogar als Abendmahlskelche
gedient. Wie vieles berührt sich hier – Gift und Schönheit, Gift und Zauberei,
aber auch Zauberei und Liturgie. Wenn wir es nicht dachten, so gaben Jonathan
Leverkühns Kommentare es uns doch unbestimmt zu empfinden. (VI, 26)

Später in Kaisersaschern, mitten in einem seiner großartigen Vor-

träge, läßt Kretzschmar den Namen Kundry erklingen, der „Büßerin in
der Hölle des Zauberweibes“, „die nicht wolle, was sie tue, und wei-
che Arme der Lust um den Nacken des Toren schlinge“ (VI, 85). In
dieser Charakterisierung fällt es nicht schwer, die symbolische Vor-
ausweisung auf die Versucher-Verführer-Rolle der Hetaera Esmeralda
zu erkennen, die Adrian bei ihrer ersten Begegnung in Halle „mit dem
nackten Arm seine Wange streicheln“ wird (VI, 198) – eine subtile
Manifestation des Motivs der geheimnisvollen Identität als assoziative
Erzähltechnik mit Hilfe der Wagnerischen Schlüsselfigur. Eine andere
typische Stelle enthält Leverkühns Beschreibung der Leonoren-
Ouvertüre Nr. 3, wo Wagner – diesmal ungenannt – gegen Beethoven
ausgespielt wird:

Lieber Freund[...], das ist ein vollkommenes Musikstück! Klassizismus, – ja; raf-
finiert ist es in keinem Zuge, aber es ist groß. Ich sage nicht: denn es ist groß, weil
es auch raffinierte Größe gibt, aber die ist im Grunde viel familiärer. (VI, 107)

Wessen „raffinierte Größe“ hier gemeint ist, bedarf wohl keiner weite-
ren Erklärung.
Das eindeutigste Beispiel für Adrians ironisch-kritische Stellung-
nahme zu Wagner bringt Kapitel XV, mit der „undeklarierten Nach-
bildung des dritten Meistersinger-Vorspiels“ (XI, 196), die ich an
anderem Ort schon ausführlich interpretiert habe33. Unmittelbar auf
diese meisterhafte Beschreibung eines vorhandenen Musikstücks folgt
eine der häufig zitierten Kernstellen des Romans: „Warum müssen
fast alle Dinge mir als ihre eigene Parodie erscheinen? Warum muß es
mir vorkommen, als ob fast alle, nein, alle Mittel und Konvenienzen
der Kunst heute nur noch zur Parodie taugten?“ (VI, 180). Parodie
also erfüllt im Doktor Faustus eine Doppelfunktion: Einerseits fun-
giert sie als ein auf Wagners Kunst bezogenes Zentralmotiv innerhalb
des Romans, andererseits aber verkörpert sie ein fruchtbares Stilmittel,
durch welches der junge Adrian das Phänomen Wagner assimilierend
bewältigen und auch überwinden kann; ein Phänomen, das zur Aus-
prägung der schöpferischen Physiognomie Leverkühns sowie auch
Thomas Manns entscheidend beigetragen hat. Keineswegs überrascht
es daher, wenn der junge Leverkühn dennoch offen zugibt, „daß die
ganze deutsche Musikentwicklung zu dem Wort-Ton-Drama Wagners
hinstrebe und ihr Ziel darin finde“ (VI, 218), obwohl er selber darüber
hinaus will und seine Musik für Love’s Labour’s Lost „so unwagne-
risch wie möglich, der Natur-Dämonie und dem mythischen Pathos
am allerentferntesten“ (VI, 218) zu komponieren versucht. Übrigens
ist es kein Zufall, daß Adrian für seinen Opernstoff auf Shakespeare
zurückgreift: Beim Abschluß der Komposition von Leverkühns Love’s
Labour’s Lost und Wagners Das Liebesverbot (1836) sind beide Kom-

Siehe Steven Paul Scher: Verbal Music in German Literature, New Haven and
London 1968, S. 106-142.

ponisten dreiundzwanzig Jahre alt, und Wagners Stoff fußt ebenfalls

auf Shakespeare (Measure for Measure). Aber selbst über die themati-
sche Ähnlichkeit hinaus ist eine tiefere Affinität erkennbar zwischen
Wagners Operabuffa-Fassung von Shakespeares ursprünglich düste-
rem Stück und Leverkühns Bemühungen, den Geist echter
Shakespearescher Komik in seiner Vertonung neu zu beleben.
Immer wieder begegnen wir Schlüsselstellen im Roman, die zwar
verschleiert, aber dennoch unmißverständlich auf Manns kritisch-
ambivalente Wagner-Rezeption und deren bewußte, in Erzählfiktion
sublimierte Verdrängung verweisen. Hierher gehören z. B. Adrians
wichtige Bemerkungen während der Komposition seiner Gestaroma-
norum-Musik über die Durchbruch-Idee und den von Nietzsche her-
rührenden Erlöser-Gedanken34:

Wem also der Durchbruch gelänge aus geistiger Kälte in eine Wagniswelt neuen
Gefühls, ihn sollte man wohl den Erlöser der Kunst nennen. Erlösung [...]. ein
romantisches Wort; und ein Harmoniker-Wort, das Handlungswort für die Ka-
denz-Seligkeit der harmonischen Musik. Ist es nicht komisch, daß die Musik sich
eine Zeitlang als Erlösungsmittel empfand, während sie doch selbst, wie alle
Kunst, der Erlösung bedarf [...] (VI, 428)

Folglich verwundert es dann wenig, wenn Leverkühn später erneut

erklärt, die Konzeption des Schlusses seiner Apocalypsis cum figuris
„sei weit entfernt von romantischer Erlösungsmusik“ (VI, 479).
Um abschließend noch einmal kurz auf die entscheidende Frage
„Goethe oder Wagner“ zurückzukommen, ist es vielleicht nicht abwe-
gig, Thomas Manns oben erwähnte „Auseinandersetzung mit Richard
Wagner“ von 1911 mit einer Leverkühn-Aussage verblüffend ähnli-
chen Inhalts direkt in Verbindung zu setzen.
Die Stelle von 1911 lautet:

Denke ich aber an das Meisterwerk des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts, so schwebt mir
etwas vor, was sich von dem Wagner’schen sehr wesentlich und, wie ich glaube,
vorteilhaft unterscheidet, – irgend etwas ausnehmend Logisches, Formvolles und

Nietzsche, Bd. II, S. 908.

Klares, etwas zugleich Strenges und Heiteres, von nicht geringerer Willensan-
spannung als jenes, aber von kühlerer, vornehmerer und selbst gesunderer Geis-
tigkeit, etwas, das seine Größe nicht im Barock-Kolossalischen und seine Schön-
heit nicht im Rausche sucht, – eine neue Klassizität, dünkt mich, muß kommen.
(X, 842)

Im Vergleich dazu Adrian:

Die ganze Lebensstimmung der Kunst [...] wird sich ändern, und zwar ins Heiter-
Bescheidenere, – es ist unvermeidlich, und es ist ein Glück. Viel melancholische
Ambition wird von ihr abfallen und eine neue Unschuld, ja Harmlosigkeit ihr Teil
sein. Die Zukunft wird in ihr, sie selbst wird wieder in sich die Dienerin sehen an
einer Gemeinschaft, die weit mehr als ‚Bildung’ umfassen und Kultur nicht ha-
ben, vielleicht aber eine sein wird. Wir stellen es uns nur mit Mühe vor, und doch
wird es das geben und wird das Natürliche sein: eine Kunst ohne Leiden, seelisch
gesund, unfeierlich, untraurig-zutraulich, eine Kunst mit der Menschheit auf du
und du [...] (VI, 429)

Die Aussage von 1911 deutet Hans Vaget vor allem als ein Zei-
chen für Manns Zuwendung zu Goethes Kunstideal, insbesondere zum
episch-klassizistischen Stilideal der Wahlverwandtschaften35. Ich nei-
ge eher dazu, sie als eine typisch Mannsche ahnungsvolle Vorweg-
nahme der eigenen epischen Zukunftsmusik der Moderne, des im
Doktor Faustus erstrebten Ideals Leverkühnschen Schaffens aufzufas-
sen. Den einzigen Weg zur Verwirklichung dieses Kunstideals sieht
der frühe Thomas Mann wie auch sein Adrian Leverkühn in der Über-
windung der Kunst Richard Wagners, über welche er 1910 an Her-
mann Hesse schreibt:

[...] diese ebenso exklusive wie demagogische Kunst, die mein Ideal, meine Be-
dürfnisse vielleicht auf immer beeinflußt, um nicht zu sagen, korrumpiert hat.
Nietzsche spricht einmal von Wagners ‚wechselnder Optik’: bald in Hinsicht auf
die gröbsten Bedürfnisse, bald in Hinsicht auf die raffiniertesten. Dies ist der
Einfluß, den ich meine, und ich weiß nicht, ob ich je den Willen finden werde,
mich seiner völlig zu entschlagen.36

Vaget, S. 21. Vgl. auch S. 60: „Die anvisierte neue Klassizität kann so als ‚ent-
wagnerte’ epische ‚Musikalität’ verstanden werden.“
Thomas Mann. Briefe 1948-1955 und Nachlese, hg. v. Erika Mann, Frankfurt/M.
1965, S. 457.

Thomas Manns Werk zeugt durchgehend davon, daß er sich von

Wagner, trotz und wegen seiner lebenslangen schöpferischen Ausei-
nandersetzung mit ihm, nie endgültig befreien konnte. Wir sind be-
rechtigt, wie ich meine, wenn auch nur dieses eine Mal, ihn beim Wort
zu nehmen und ihm zu trauen, wenn er 1942 in einem Brief an Agnes
Meyer behauptet: „[...] meine Redeweise über Wagner hat nichts mit
Chronologie und Entwicklung zu tun. Es ist und bleibt ‚ambivalent’;
und ich kann heute so über ihn schreiben und morgen so.“37

Thomas Mann. Briefe 1937-1947, hg. v. Erika Mann, Frankfurt/M. 1963, S. 239.
This page intentionally left blank
Temporality and Mediation
W. H. Wackenroder and E. T. A. Hoffmann
as Literary Historicists of Music (1976)

Among the ingenious inventions of Romanticism, none transformed

more radically the predominant modes of speculative thinking and had
more lasting consequences for the modern human condition than the
idea of history. It need hardly be rehearsed that the nineteenth century
witnessed the rise and rule of historical consciousness in the writing of
history proper as well as in philosophy, literature, and the arts. Until
today we have not ceased to groan under the heavy burden of what
classic theorists of widely diverging persuasions like Herder, Ranke,
Hegel, Nietzsche, Meinecke, and Troeltsch have said about it all.
Although it is difficult to resist the temptation to continue in this
melancholy vein and reassess the relevant statements and attitudes, as
has been customary in the scholarship dealing with historicism, I shall
not succumb. For when we contemplate the problematic and elusive
symbiosis of “History and Music”, it becomes obvious that such a
catalogue of warriors and their views would not get us very far. Not
that we cannot confirm the existence of a body of texts, however slim,
which constitutes musical historiography.1 In matters of music, what
we lack has not been its history, but the music itself. About the begin-
nings of music as an artistic product of the imagination we are still
very much in the dark; and even the earliest reliably documented mu-
sical compositions and events in music history do not emerge until
relatively late in Western civilization. There is simply no Homer in

For initial orientation see Warren Dwight Allen’s Philosophies of Music History.
A Study of General Histories of Music 1600-1960 (New York, 1962).

music: no scores are preserved which would be comparable in histori-

cal significance to surviving examples of Greek and Roman architec-
ture and sculpture, or to the wall paintings of Pompeii. Music that is
two or three hundred years old, say Bach or Palestrina, still today we
regard without hesitation as old; and it is really hard for us to conceive
of the acoustic or iconic representations of anything much older than
plainsong. The rest remains subject to speculative prehistory or, liter-
ally, silence.
If the music-historical horizon is this limited today, it is not sur-
prising that it was even more limited throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury. As late as 1894 a competent musicologist like Eduard Hanslick
could confess in all earnestness:

Für die Geschichte beginnt mir unsere lebendige Musik mit Bach und Händel. Für
mein Herz beginnt sie erst mit Mozart, gipfelt in Beethoven, Schumann und

Even Nietzsche in his eloquent attack on historicism – a designation

he scrupulously avoids, preferring instead to talk about “historische
Krankheit” and “Übermaß des Historischen” – even Nietzsche can still
recommend music as a panacea against the attitude of contemporary
architects and sculptors who tend to see

keine neuen Gestalten vor sich, sondern immer nur die alten hinter sich; so dienen
sie der Historie, aber nicht dem Leben, und sind tot, bevor sie gestorben sind ...
Wahres, fruchtbares Leben, das heißt gegenwärtig allein: Musik.3

Here, as so often elsewhere, Nietzsche displays no willful ignorance

of history, but rather betrays himself as a direct descendant of Rous-
seau and early Romantic aestheticians like Wackenroder, Novalis, and
the Schlegels.

Eduard Hanslick, Aus meinem Leben (Berlin, 1894), II, 307.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (Leipzig, 1930), p. 334.

Statements such as Hanslick’s and Nietzsche’s should not discour-

age us, however, from asking the fundamental question: Can we have
a meaningful discussion of historicism in music comparable to histori-
cism in literature and in the visual arts? I believe we can. To be sure,
while its early stages may be traced back to around 1800 and before, a
broader awareness of music as history is a more recent development
and does not come to full bloom until after Wagner and Nietzsche.
Musical compositions since 1900 attesting to such an awareness read-
ily come to mind: Pfitzner’s opera Palestrina (1917), Prokofief’s
Classical Symphony (1917), and numerous works by Mahler, Reger,
Stravinsky, Ives, Ravel, or even by such living composers as Carl
Orff, Shostakovich, or George Crumb. But renewed attempts to ascer-
tain specific points of tangency between romanticism and historicism
have drawn attention at last also to the pre-Wagnerian period. As far
as I can see, only during the last decade or so has modern musicologi-
cal research begun to explore systematically the origins of historicism
in music.4 Apart from heated debates on applicable terminology and
problems of definition uncannily familiar from other disciplines, the
discussion centers on major trends and events reflecting growing pre-
occupation with older music such as the early nineteenth-century Pal-
estrina renaissance and Bach revival, Mendelssohn’s legendary 1829
performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and the launching after
1820 of the so-called “historical concerts” all over Europe, in addition
to which there were more and more organized concerts devoted exclu-
sively to the music of an emerging canon of great composers of the
last eighty years, above all Bach, Händel, Gluck, Mozart, Haydn,
Beethoven, and Weber.5 The growing sense of history on the part of

See esp. Walter Salmen, ed., Beiträge zur Geschichte der Musikanschauung im
19. Jahrhundert (Regensburg, 1965) and Walter Wiora, ed., Die Ausbreitung des
Historismus über die Musik (Regensburg, 1969).
Cf. Monika Lichtenfeld, “Zur Geschichte, Idee und Ästhetik des historischen
Konzerts”, in Wiora, pp. 41-53.

nineteenth-century composers is likewise of recent scholarly interest.6

Louis Spohr’s Sixth Symphony of 1839, entitled Historische Sinfonie
im Styl und Geschmack vier verschiedener Zeitabschnitte, constitutes
perhaps the most striking document attempting to integrate a pro-
nounced historicist attitude into an actual piece of music. Preoccupa-
tion with the historical method of inquiry is here effectively translated
into musical practice. Spohr’s obsession with chronology and his
strictly diachronic imagination become apparent in the titles assigned
to the individual movements: “Erster Satz: Bach-Händelsche Periode,
1720; Larghetto: Haydn-Mozartsche, 1780; Scherzo: Beethovensche,
1810; Finale: Allerneueste Periode, 1840”. Not surprisingly, Spohr’s
Concertino for orchestra – also composed in 1839 – consists of two
movements and bears the title: Sonst und Jetzt. Finally, in the area of
music history proper, more and more critical light is being shed on the
work of nineteenth-century historiographers of music like Raphael
Georg Kiesewetter, Carl von Winterfeld, August Wilhelm Ambros,
François-Joseph Fetis, and some later authors.7
Reading in what seems to be the only book so far on the history of
musical historiography claiming comprehensiveness, Warren Dwight
Allen’s Philosophies of Music History. A Study of General Histories
of Music 1600-1960 (first published in 1939 and reissued in 1962), I
came across the following overstatement:

No musicological research worthy of the name was carried on from Forkel’s his-
tory in 1788 to Kiesewetter’s in 1834 – roughly equivalent to the period of Beet-
hoven’s creative life.8

While Allen’s study is in need of extensive revision, his remark de-

serves serious reflection and substantiation. Even if it is only partially

Cf. Erich Doflein, “Historismus in der Musik”, in Wiora, pp. 9-39.
Cf. Bernhard Meier, “Zur Musikhistoriographie des 19 Jahrhunderts”, in Wiora,
pp. 169-207.
Allen, p. 85.

true, I believe it is no coincidence that the time span conspicuously

lacking genuine historiographical activity in music roughly corre-
sponds to the period we customarily associate with German literary
Romanticism and philosophical idealism. Two distinct lines of devel-
opment may be discerned during this period. First, under the formida-
ble shadow of the two monumental narrative histories of music by
Burney and Hawkins (both published in London beginning in 1776
and promptly translated into German), reliable positivists like E. L.
Gerber and H. C. Koch resorted to compiling useful lexica and dic-
tionaries of a biographical and bibliographical nature.9 More aestheti-
cally and critically oriented theorists like Sulzer and Herder, on the
other hand, adopted and further cultivated the late eighteenth-century
British trend in aesthetics: speculation about the correspondences
among the fine arts. The culmination of this trend came, as M. H.
Abrams has shown, with the emergence of early romantic “melomani-
acs” such as Wackenroder, Tieck, Novalis, Schelling, the physicist
Ritter, and a little later E. T. A. Hoffmann: they were enamored of the
expressive power of pure instrumental music and convinced of the
supremacy of music over the other arts. Having discovered in music
“the art most immediately expressive of spirit and emotion”10, these
melomaniacs upset the well-established eighteenth-century hierarchy
of art forms and dislodged the hegemony of ut pictura poesis, only to
declare their belief in ut musica poesis.11

Charles Burney, A General History of Music from the earliest ages to the present
period, 4 vols. (London, 1776 1789); John Hawkins, A General History of the Science
and Practice of Music, 4 vols. (London, 1776); Ernst Ludwig Gerber, Historisch-
biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler (Leipzig, 1790-92); and Heinrich Christoph
Koch, Musikalisches Lexikon (Leipzig, 1802).
M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical
Tradition (New York, 1953), p. 50.
For a detailed discussion see Steven P. Scher, Verbal Music in German Literature
(New Haven and London, 1968), pp. 156-59.

When we attempt to account for the postulated historiographical

hiatus, therefore, it seems to me crucial to focus on Romantic theories
of music as they evolved along with Romantic theories of poetry in
relation to conceptions of the historical process and to the function of
temporal experience for the individual works themselves. Far from
being merely ephemeral, time-bound modes of aesthetic perception,
the types of historical consciousness inherent in Romantic attitudes
toward music proved paradigmatic for theorists and historians of mu-
sic throughout the nineteenth century. Two prominent Romanticists
occupy key positions in our context: W. H. Wackenroder and E. T. A.
Hoffmann; I find the interplay of historicism and musical aesthetics as
reflected in their views particularly illuminating. The choice of these
two authors is appropriate, I believe, since both possessed a high de-
gree of competence in musical matters, unlike Tieck, Novalis, Schel-
ling, and the Schlegels, who nevertheless did not hesitate on occasion
to include music in their aesthetic theorizing. Though not concur-
rently, both Wackenroder and Hoffmann studied with Johann Frie-
drich Reichardt, a leading musical personality of the period and a
storehouse of historical information, albeit superficial. Wackenroder
attended Johann Nikolaus Forkel’s lectures in Göttingen, was inti-
mately familiar with Forkel’s two-volume history of music, and could
conceivably have become a professional musician himself, had he not
died at the age of 24 in 1798.12 Hoffmann’s musical credentials, of
course, have long been established beyond question: he was a com-
poser of considerable merit and – with his unsurpassed blend of pro-
fessional expertise, poetic imagination, and writing skill – the founder
of modern music criticism.13

Cf. A. Gillies’ introduction to W. H. Wackenroder and Ludwig Tieck, Herzenser-
giessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (Oxford, 1966), esp. pp. xxviii-xxix.
See E. T. A. Hoffmann, Schriften zur Musik. Nachlese, ed. Friedrich Schnapp
(Munich, 1963).

Although their ideas about music and music history were in many
ways similar, ultimately Wackenroder and Hoffmann may be regarded
as representing two different approaches which prove to be not only
characteristic of the early stages of musical historicism but are also
easily traceable in the ideology behind later manifestations of musical
aesthetics and historiography.
What are some of the views they share? First of all, they believe
with Novalis that the world must be romanticized in order to regain
the original sense of harmony. Thus, like most Romantic thinkers,
Wackenroder and Hoffmann firmly endorse a larger scheme of his-
tory, consisting of three periods: (1) the original state of innocence
and equilibrium, characterized by the gentle rule of poetry over the
human condition. What follows is (2) a process of depoetization
which they experience in their desolate present as a loss of ideal val-
ues, an inescapably time-bound state of being. The final period, then,
is utopian and transcendental: (3) the belief in the possibility of “repo-
etization” (A. W. Schlegel’s coinage), regeneration, and reintegration
which would mean a return to the original, ideal state; that is harmony
reestablished.14 Robert Schumann’s programmatic policy statement
introducing the second volume of his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik illus-
trates how deeply rooted the notion of this triadic historical scheme
still was in 1835:

Unsere Gesinnung [...] ist diese: an die alte Zeit und ihre Werke mit allem Nach-
druck zu erinnern, darauf aufmerksam zu machen, wie nur an so reinem Quelle
neue Kunstschönheiten gekräftigt werden können – sodann, die letzte Vergangen-
heit, die nur auf Steigerung äusserlicher Virtuosität ausging, als eine unkünstleri-
sche zu bekämpfen – endlich, eine neue poetische Zeit vorzubereiten, beschleuni-
gen zu helfen.15

Cf. Walter Wiora, “Die Musik im Weltbild der deutschen Romantik”, in Salmen,
pp. 11-59.
Robert Schumann, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (Leipzig), II (1835), p. 3.

For Wackenroder, thinking about music means myth-making and

not policy-making. In a unique piece of Romantic mythology in
miniature, called “Ein wunderbares morgenländisches Märchen von
einem nackten Heiligen” (l799)16 and identified as a musical essay
attributed to his fictitious musician figure Joseph Berglinger, Wacken-
roder successfully renders his philosophy of time, history, and music
in the condensed form of a poetic allegory.
Living in a cave adjacent to a little river rushing by, the naked saint
seems to hear the roaring revolutions of the Wheel of Time (“das Rad
der Zeit”) and feels compelled to turn it with his own hands day and
night, “damit die Zeit ja nicht in die Gefahr komme, nur einen Augen-
blick stillzustehn”. He cannot endure the sight of people going about
their business nearby, gathering herbs or felling wood. He is unable to
comprehend how human beings find it at all possible to work at some-
thing else, to take on a “taktloses Geschäft”, to remain preoccupied
with earthly trivialities while Time keeps rolling on. No matter how
desperately he wants now and again to free himself (“er wollte sich
ausserhalb oder in sich vor sich selber retten”), he cannot but continue
to turn the Wheel of Time feverishly for years on end. One moonlit
summer night, however, the naked saint perceives “ätherische Musik”
emanating from a light skiff floating up the stream: two lovers sing of
the beauty of their love. The power of this “schwimmende Welt von
Tönen” breaks the spell at last: the roaring Wheel of Time disappears,
together with the Saint’s earthly frame. A phantom of angelic beauty
is seen ascending “in tanzender Bewegung” out of the cave into the
sky; and it appeared to the lovers that they were beholding the “Ge-
nius der Liebe und der Musik”.
The Oriental setting intimates symbolic, universal dimensions, and
the immediately obvious tripartite structure allows for an interpreta-
tion of Wackenroder’s tale as a variation of the familiar triadic con-

Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, Werke und Briefe, ed. Friedrich von der Leyen
(Jena, 1910) I, pp. 156-62. The quotes from his tale in the subsequent paragraph are
taken from these pages.

ception of history in which the problem of temporality and Romantic

notions of time-consciousness and self-consciousness are inextricably
intertwined with the idea of music as a redemptive, metaphysical
force.17 Accordingly, I discern three distinct modes of temporal con-
sciousness. First, we have the situation of the herb gatherers and wood
cutters for whom the experience of time is totally unproblematic. As
they are independent of time-consciousness, their human condition
can be described as an unmeditated and therefore un-self-conscious
state of being-in-time. Unaware of their own historicity, they exist in a
state of blissful timelessness, as it were, which assures for them an
illusion of freedom. The second mode is represented by the naked
saint for whom time becomes a problematic, inescapable notion to
such an overpowering extent that his self-consciousness becomes con-
fined to his time-consciousness: he can no longer conceive of reality
except in terms of his awareness of being-in-time. A captive of time,
he is totally paralyzed by the sense of his own historicity. The third
mode offers the only solution for the saint’s existential dilemma: rec-
onciliation between self-consciousness and time-consciousness, which
is possible only through the combined redemptive power of love and
music. A means of salvation and liberation, music is seen by Wacken-
roder as a corrective measure, a unique temporal system which is ca-
pable of superseding the rigid monotony of time’s rhythmic structure
by shaping it into music’s own rhythmic structure of infinite variety.
The implication is clear, however, that such a metaphysical operation
restoring the lost sense of freedom to the human condition can be con-
ceived only in a realm beyond time and history, in the realm of music
which Wackenroder elsewhere calls “das Land des Glaubens”18. No-

For recent critical literature or this tale see esp. Elmar Hertrich, Joseph Berglin-
ger. Eine Studie zu Wackenroders Musiker-Dichtung (Berlin, 1969), pp. 163-92, and
Klaus Weimar, Versuch über Voraussetzung und Entstehung der Romantik (Tübin-
gen, 1968), pp. 63-71.
Wackenroder, I, p. 164.

valis proclaims the need for a “romanticization” of the world;

Wackenroder calls for “musicalization” and means the same.
Wackenroder’s conception of temporality and the historical proc-
ess as it emerges in this remarkable tale is unusually specific; in his
other writings he tends to resort to vague generalizations. At best he
would acknowledge the superiority of what he calls “das eigentüm-
liche innere Wesen”19 of new music – that is the purely instrumental
compositions of his own time by Haydn or Mozart – over whatever
little he knew of older music, especially older church music. But mu-
sic to Wackenroder always means absolute music; that is, symphonic,
instrumental music. Although in his discourses on the visual arts he
often names his favorite Italian and German masters and their
achievements, in his musical reveries he never mentions specific com-
posers or works. Precisely because he conceives of music in the ab-
stract temporal sense and virtually equates it with religion, this highest
of all arts is for him not only sacrosanct, but also beyond the need of
mundane comparisons.
Along with Herder, Reichardt, Tieck, and E. T. A. Hoffmann, in
his own enthusiastic manner Wackenroder clearly belongs to those
intellectuals who prepared the aesthetic climate for the early nine-
teenth-century Palestrina renaissance. Yet, he would hardly have sub-
scribed to typical later manifestations of the enthusiastic critical trend
like Alexandre Choron’s “Palestrina c’est le Racine, c’est le Raphael,
c’est le Jesus-Christ de la musique”.20 In his book Über Reinheit der
Tonkunst (1825), A. F. J. Thibaut even goes as far as mentioning Pal-
estrina and Homer in one breath and calling Händel the Shakespeare
of music.21 Unlike Wackenroder, Hoffmann would have approved of
such hyperbolic glorifications. He himself hailed Mozart as the Shake-

Wackenroder I, p. 182.
Quoted in Abbé Daniel, Rapport sur le concours ouvert pour l’éloge de Choron
(Paris, 1845), p. 2.
A. F. J. Thibaut, Über Reinheit der Tonkunst (Heidelberg, 1825), p. 95 and p. 83.

speare of music, and Palestrina as the founding father of music who is

“einfach, wahrhaft, kindlich fromm, stark und mächtig, echt christlich
in seinen Werken wie in der Malerei Pietro von Cortona und unser
Albrecht Dürer.”22
Despite the legitimate charge of occasional impressionism that
might be leveled at the author of such sweeping comparisons, Hoff-
mann nevertheless exhibits a thoroughly conscious historicist attitude
in musical matters. Ample evidence of his preoccupation with the
historical process can be found throughout his musical writings; and
there is never any doubt that Hoffmann speaks in the capacity of the
experienced, practicing musician who is firmly grounded in theory as
well as in compositional and performance techniques. Because he
invariably commences his reviews with short historical sketches com-
bined with critical reflections on the respective musical genres, he not
only places the analyzed works in a historical framework, but also
paves the way for their future reception. His pioneering review essays
between 1810 and 1814 in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung on
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the two Piano Trios op. 70, the Coriola-
nus overture, the Egmont music, and the C-Major Mass, for example,
were in large measure responsible for the composer’s subsequent im-
age as a quintessentially Romantic artist. It is less well known that
Hoffmann also had a considerable share in breaking ground for the
Palestrina and Bach revivals. His influential pronouncements, admit-
tedly based more on a healthy critical instinct than on an extensive
knowledge of the actual works by these past masters, must be seen in
the proper context of contemporary intellectual currents. It is instruc-
tive in this respect to trace the tortuous history of the familiar com-
parison of Bach’s music to the Strassburg cathedral, a comparison
usually attributed to Hoffmann. In 1782, Reichardt was the first to cite
Goethe’s 1772 essay “Von deutscher Baukunst” in connection with

E. T. A. Hoffmann, “Alte und neue Kirchenmusik”, in Hoffmann, Schriften zur
Musik. Nachlese, p. 216.

his efforts to substantiate Bach’s greatness.23 No doubt inspired by

Reichardt’s text, as well as by Wackenroder’s piece entitled “Die Pe-
terskirche” in the Phantasien über die Kunst of 1799, Hoffmann in
1814 combines the disparate sources in one striking thought:

Sebastian Bachs Musik verhält sich zu der Musik der alten Italiener ebenso, wie
der Münster in Straßburg zu der Peterskirche in Rom.

And in 1821 Carl Maria von Weber adds the universalizing touch by
directly equating Bach’s “Grossartigkeit, Erhabenheit und Pracht” and
“künstliche kontrapunktische Verflechtungen” with a “wahrhaft goti-
schen Dom der Kunstkirche”25: the image has now become an expres-
sion of affinity between specific musical and architectural styles. This
simple example may serve to illustrate the powerful role that transmu-
tation and assimilation of intellectual property, involving a genuine
interpenetration of the various arts, assumed in shaping historical con-
The clearest and most significant expression of Hoffmann’s contri-
bution as both critic and mediator may be found in his analytical trea-
tise entitled “Alte und neue Kirchenmusik” (1814). Hoffmann offers
here nothing less than a severely critical mini-history of church music
as a genre, a panoramic view of its evolution interspersed with indi-
vidual portraits of its most meritorious representatives, past and con-
temporary. Predictably, Hoffmann finds his hero in Palestrina, fol-
lowed at a considerable distance by lesser though still positively
evaluated Italian composers like Allegri, Alessandro Scarlatti,
Benedetto Marcello, and Leonardo Leo; and Handel and Bach are still
included as the last great figures of the Golden Age of Church music.

Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Kunstmagazin (Berlin, 1782), p. 196 f.
E. T. A. Hoffmann, “Höchst zerstreute Gedanken”, in Hoffmann, Fantasie- und
Nachtstücke (Munich, 1960), p. 50.
Carl Maria von Weber, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Georg Kaiser (Berlin and Leip-
zig, 1908), p. 342.

In broad outlines, Hoffmann, too, adheres to the familiar triadic con-

ception of history, except that with his many references to specific
names and compositions one no longer senses the vague, predomi-
nantly subjective stance so typical of early Romantic visionaries such
as Wackenroder. But it is especially fascinating to observe how skill-
fully Hoffmann manipulates this scheme to fit his own ideology of
history, according to which the history of church music is a history of
gradual decline. In his view, the Golden Age of church music as an
expression of a truly “religious cult” reached its peak with the works
of Palestrina and came to an end after the middle of the eighteenth
century. At this time a deplorable tendency toward “Verweichlichung”
and “ekle Süsslichkeit” set in which banished all seriousness, all dig-
nity from church music.26 Among contemporary works only Mozart’s
Requiem receives unconditional praise. Otherwise not even the reli-
gious compositions of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven escape Hoff-
mann’s condemnation. For the future of the genre Hoffmann sees little
hope; and it is here that he assumes the role of mediator between the
old and the new styles. Tacitly, however, he comes to an important
realization. On the one hand he is firmly convinced of the impossibil-
ity of returning to Palestrina’s “Einfachheit und Grösse”, while on the
other hand he believes that “die Instrumentalmusik sich in neuerer
Zeit zu einer Höhe erhoben hat, die die alten Meister nicht ahnten”27.
The only way Hoffmann can reconcile these convictions is to advocate
regeneration rather than mere restoration in the form of a progressive
synthesis of old and new approaches. Thus Hoffmann’s constructive
recommendations for influencing musical progress in the right direc-
tion transcend the genre of church music and reflect unequivocally the
attitude of a mediating historicist: present-day musicians must learn
from the grand old masters but must also assimilate and make creative
use of innovative contemporary practices.

Hoffmann, Schriften zur Musik. Nachlese, p. 227.
Hoffmann, Schriften, pp. 230-31.

Even from this brief discussion, I hope it has become apparent how
differently Wackenroder and Hoffmann viewed the interaction be-
tween music and history and how each in his own way prepared the
ground for major interpretive trends of modern historicism in music.
Accordingly, I suggest that we term Wackenroder a visionary histori-
cist of temporality and Hoffmann a critical historicist of mediation.
That Hoffmann must have been aware – and also somewhat afraid – of
the modernity of his own mediating historical perspective is evident in
the reserved concluding paragraph of “Alte und neue Kirchenmusik”,
which is curiously out of tune with the rest of his essay. Suddenly he
lapses back into a Wackenroder-like rhetoric of temporality that
sounds an unexpectedly hesitant note:

Immer weiter fort und fort treibt der waltende Weltgeist; nie kehren die ver-
schwundenen Gestalten, so wie sie sich in der Lust des Körperlebens bewegten,
wieder: aber ewig, unvergänglich ist das Wahrhaftige, und eine wunderbare Geis-
tergemeinschaft schlingt ihr geheimnisvolles Band um Vergangenheit, Gegenwart
und Zukunft. Noch leben geistig die alten, hohen Meister; nicht verklungen sind
ihre Gesänge: nur nicht vernommen wurden sie im brausenden, tobenden Ge-
räusch des ausgelassenen, wilden Treibens, das über uns einbrach. Mag die Zeit
der Erfüllung unseres Hoffens nicht mehr fern sein, mag ein frommes Leben in
Friede und Freudigkeit beginnen, und die Musik frei und kräftig ihre Seraphs-
schwingen regen, um aufs neue den Flug zu dem Jenseits zu beginnen, das ihre
Heimat ist, und von dem Trost und Heil in die unruhvolle Brust des Menschen

Hoffmann, Schriften, p. 235.
Carl Maria von Weber’s Tonkünstlers Leben:
The Composer as Novelist? (1978)

The affinities and interrelations between literature and music, in aes-

thetic theory and artistic practice, have been explored substantially1.
There are few if any artists of stature who achieved real distinction
and lasting fame in both media of expression. One may think of the
formidable figure of Richard Wagner, followed perhaps, at some dis-
tance, by E. T. A. Hoffmann. But no more convincing examples of
this rare combination of outstanding musical and literary talent come
to mind. And not even Wagner or Hoffmann qualify without reserva-
tions: the poetic value of Wagner’s opera texts and prose writings
remains questionable, while in the proper perspective Hoffmann’s
compositional activities (primarily his Undine of 1816, the first truly
romantic opera, five years before Weber’s Der Freischütz) merit only
historical significance.
Qualitatively, Hoffmann the author and pioneering music critic no
doubt overshadows the composer Hoffmann: posterity holds him in
high esteem – no matter how much against his own will – as a brilliant
writer who also composed. Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), on the
other hand, is remembered today as one of the great nineteenth-
century composers. Only a few initiates are aware of the fact that We-
ber the musician and music critic was also a writer of considerable
literary merit. His fate as a prominent composer who also wrote is thus
conversely similar to that of Hoffmann.

Originating in eighteenth-century British aesthetics, musico-literary studies have
become increasingly popular in recent decades, thanks in large measure to Calvin S.
Brown, the pioneering authority in this complex field. See especially his “Musico-
Literary Research in the Last Two Decades,” YCGL, 19 (1970), 5-27.

But the similarities do not end here. As if being gifted in composi-

tion and writing were not enough, both artists were also talented in
painting, drawing, conducting, and in all aspects of the theater. Not
unlike Hoffmann who began composing as a youngster and kept it up
until shortly before his death, Weber published his first piece of music
criticism at the age of fourteen2 and from 1809 on, when he was twen-
ty-three, frequently contributed reviews to Rochlitz’ prestigious Allge-
meine musikalische Zeitung. 1809 is also the year in which Weber first
conceived of a genuinely literary work that proved to be distinctive
enough in form, subject matter, style, and overall artistic inventiveness
to warrant him more than an honorable mention in literary history.
Perhaps because it was never completed and for long only bits and
pieces of it were published, Weber’s semi-autobiographical and quin-
tessentially romantic novel fragment entitled Tonkünstlers Leben, eine
Arabeske has not reccived due consideration until today3.
Encouraged by acquaintances such as Hoffmann, Tieck, Brentano,
Jean Paul, and Rochlitz who were familiar with the ambitious literary
project of their musician friend, Weber worked on Tonkünstlers Leben
– intermittently, though with persistence – for over a decade (1809-
1820). From two brief chapter-by-chapter outlines he left behind, it
seems that Weber planned a novel of twenty-three full chapters, along

“Beantwortung von Kritikern über die Oper Das Waldmädchen,” first published
in Gnädigst bewilligte Freyberger gemeinnützigen Nachrichten für das chursächsi-
sche Erzgebirge (1801), p. 69.
“Tonkünstlers Leben. Fragmente eines Romans,1809-1820” in Carl Maria von
Weber, Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Georg Kaiser (Berlin and Leipzig, 1908), pp. 437-
510. Hereafter references to Weber’s text will be cited from this edition, with page
numbers in parentheses. – No study so far has been devoted exclusively to Tonkün-
stlers Leben. The following articles, dealing with Weber’s literary and critical activi-
ties, contain much valuable information but also numerous factual and interpretive
inaccuracies: Gerald Abraham, “Weber as Novelist and Critic,” Musical Quarterly,
20 (1934), 27-38; Paul Bülow, “Weber im Roman und in der Novelle,” Zeitschrift für
Deutschkunde, 42 (1928), 282-86; Andre Coeuroy, “Weber as a Writer,” Musical
Quarterly, 11 (1925), 97-115; Georg Kaiser, “Weber als Schriftsteller,” Neue
Zeitschrift für Musik, 81 (1914), 85-88 and 101-104; Friedrich Kerst-Elberfeld, “Carl
Maria von Weber als Schriftsteller,” Die Musik, 18-19 (1906), 324-30.

with a concluding section called “Letzter Wille des Künstlers” (444).

As it happens, the accumulated fragments were never arranged by the
author himself in any meaningful novelistic sequence but were left in
disarray. In addition to the outlines to which Weber ultimately paid
little attention, the conglomerate contains several more or less pol-
ished and completed chapters, some of them in various versions (chap-
ters 1, 3, 4, 5, 6), open-ended snippets of chapters 2 and 8, as well as
marginal notes, diverse ideas, and aphoristic comments which were
eventually to be incorporated into the novel4.
Only two parts of the unfinishod novel were published during We-
ber’s lifetime and a third segment in 1827, shortly after his death: 1)
“Fragment einer musikalischen Reise, die vielleicht erscheinen wird”
in 1809 in Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände (identical with Chapter
4); 2) “Bruchstücke aus Tonkünstlers Leben. Eine Arabeske von Carl
Maria von Weber” in 1821 in Die Muse, edited by Friedrich Kind, the
librettist of Der Freischütz (Chapters 1, 3, 5); and 3) “Viertes Bruch-
stück aus: Tonkünstlers Leben. Eine Arabeske. Von Carl Maria von
Weber” (a large portion of Chapter 6) in 1827 in W. G. Becker’s Ta-
schenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen5. The titles of these publications
are revealing, for they stress the idea of fragmentariness and the con-
cept of the arabesque which are so pervasive throughout Weber’s nov-
elistic effort. Theodor Hell is responsible for the plausible arrange-
ment of the extant fragments (1828), also used in Georg Kaiser’s criti-
cal edition of Weber’s writings (1908)6. Hell recognized that a
chronological arrangement of the scattered fragments would be futile
and opted instead felicitously for the principle of structural coherence.
Consequently, in its present and presumably final shape Weber’s

Cf. the detailed chronology of the individual fragments in Kaiser, pp. CXX-
Cf. the annotated list of these original publications in Kaiser, pp. CXXI-CXXIV.
Hinterlassene Schriften von C. M. v. Weber, ed. by Theodor Hell, 3 vols. (Dres-
den and Leipzig, 1828). Cf. also Kaiser, p. CXXIV.

Tonkünstlers Leben resembles the formal construction of Friedrich

Schlegel’s celebrated novelistic tour de force, Lucinde (1799), like-
wise a fragment.
Fragmentariness, of course, is the essence of Friedrich Schlegel’s
artistic physiognomy. In a concentrated effort of a lifetime devoted to
speculative philosophizing and criticism he evolved a theory in which
he proclaimed the hegemony of fragmentariness as the guiding princi-
ple of intellectual creativity: “[...] der Sinn für Fragmente und Projekte
sei der transzendentale Bestandteil des historischen Geistes”7. Such a
theory was for Schlegel – the master aphorist who abandoned most of
his projects unfinished – surely in large measure self-justification:
“Viele Werke der Alten sind Fragmente geworden. Viele Werke der
Neuern sind es gleich bei der Entstehung.”8 Weber’s novel fragment is
only one of astonishingly many romantic works in this genre which
reflect their authors’ affinity with Schlegel’s persuasive creed, as ex-
emplified in his Lucinde, Tieck’s Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen,
Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre, Arnim’s
Die Kronenwächter, and Hoffmann’s Kater Murr, to mention only a
prominent few.
Schlegel’s glorification of the fragment constitutes only a part of
his all-encompassing theory of the novel which he defines in its ideal
form as ‘arabesque’: “Das Wesentliche im Roman ist die chaotische
Form – Arabeske, Märchen”9. It is well-nigh impossible to attempt a
meaningful summary of Schlegel’s multifaceted usage of the term
‘Arabeske’ without indulging in crude simplification10. In our context

Friedrich Schlegel, Athenäums-Fragment No. 22, in Schlegel, Schriften zur Lite-
ratur, ed. by Wolfdietrich Rasch (München, 1972), p. 27.
Athenäums-Fragment No. 24. Ibid, p. 27.
Friedrich Schlegel, LN, 1804, in Schlegel, Literary Notebooks, 1797-1801, ed. by
Hans Eichner (London, 1957), p. 180.
For the most comprehensive treatment of the term, see Karl Konrad Polheim, Die
Arabeske. Ansichten und Ideen aus Friedrich Schlegels Poetik (München-Paderborn-
Wien, 1966).

it must suffice to say that Schlegel envisioned the ideal novel (Roman)
as a grandiose, all-inclusive fictional construct which would readily
accommodate prose, lyrics, dramatic poetry, dialogues, letters, essay-
istic digressions, dreams etc., as well as manifestations of the other
arts and even the sciences. The artistic fusion of all these heterogene-
ous elements was to be accomplished by means of ‘arabesque’ form, i.
e., a combination of “infinite plenitude” with “infinite unity”, a juxta-
position of “symmetry and chaos”, “artistically arranged confusion”,
and a “charming symmetry of contradictions”11. Predictably, Schlegel
designated Lucinde as a “Naturarabeske”12. And likewise predictably,
as in the case of his idea of fragmentariness, he added a touch of the
universal in that he pronounced “die Arabeske für eine ganz bestim-
mte und wesentliche Form oder Äußerungsart der Poesie”13.
Ever since the publication of Lucinde and Gespräch über die Poe-
sie (1800), Schlegel’s concept of the arabesque had been well known
in European intellectual circles. Himself by no means a literary theo-
rist but surely an informed reader of contemporary literature, Weber
must have been aware of the generic connotations inherent in the term.
Indeed, Tonkünstlers Leben reads very much like a fictional entity
fashioned after Schlegel’s prescription. Though the musician’s per-
spective prevails throughout, Weber’s novelistic attempt is con-
sciously self-reflective. The following insight, for example, appended
to the fragment, applies equally to the creative process in music and in
literature: “Das erste Stück einer anderen Gattung ist immer das
schwerste, es ist leicht in Nachahmung zu verfallen; hat man erst eins
gemacht, seinen Ideengang in dieses neue Modell gepreßt, so geht es”
(p. 509). The romantic notion of planned form in the form of deliber-
ate formlessness, which is so apparent in Schlegel’s Lucinde, can also

Cf. esp. Hans Eichner, Friedrich Schlegel (New York, 1970), pp. 62-64 and 68-
Quoted in Polheim, p. 251.
Friedrich Schlegel, “Brief über den Roman,” in Rasch, p. 313.

be detected in Tonkünstlers Leben. Somewhat extravagantly, Weber

intended to head each of the novel’s chapters with a musical note,
beginning the sequence with the C below the bass clef. As the hero
reviews his life story at the end of the work, these notes would build
up to a chorale. Moreover, the same notes were to form a Zirkelkanon
within the novel, sounding the same backwards and forwards. All this
was meant to provide the reader with a composite “Bild des mensch-
lichen Lebens überhaupt” (p. 504).
In the framework of the romantic novel tradition à la Schlegel,
Tonkünstlers Leben – a deliberate mixture of genres, “Chaos” and
“eros”14, melancholy musings and parodistic wit, social ethics and
musical aesthetics – deserves to be remembered as a fascinating and
potentially successful experiment in narrative fiction. Naturally, if
viewed according to criteria normally applied to the conventional
(non-romantic) novel, the impression is less favorable. Though We-
ber’s text purports to be a Künstlerroman relating the adventures and
experiences of a traveling young musician, not even Felix (or “A”), its
composer protagonist, is convincingly delineated to come alive as a
fullblooded character. His relationship to his friend Diehl, his abortive
love affair with Emilie, and his brief sojourn at the court of the Prince
are sketched much too sparsely. Dario, the only figure with a potential
for narrative portrayal, appears but for a fleeting moment in chapter 6.
His promising character traits are only suggested in the synopsis of
Chapter 21:

Dario ist kalt und trocken, aus italienischer Familie, Mathematikus, Verächter der
Musik; Atheist, unter der Maske des strengsten Ernstes, in dem zuweilen eine
teuflische Glätte und Gewandtheit anzieht. Wie die Klapperschlange, zieht er
selbst Felix an sich, der ihn gegen Diehl, welcher ihn durchaus nicht leiden kann,
immer verteidigt. (p. 444)

“Chaos and eros ist wohl die beste Erklärung des Romantischen.” Friedrich
Schlegel, LN, 1760, in Literary Notebooks, p. 176.

The contrived story line is so fragile that it scarcely sustains the essen-
tially unintegrated episodes. It seems to serve Weber merely as a pre-
text for incorporating autobiographical reminiscences along with so-
cial criticism in the guise of caustic remarks concerning the com-
poser’s lot in a society indifferent to the arts, expert accounts of a
musician’s state of mind while engaged in the act of composition (pre-
sumably Weber’s own experiences), animated dialogues on the theory
and practice of writing and producing opera and drama, and tenden-
tious but highly entertaining parodies of contemporary musical cus-
toms and Italian, French, and German opera.
The interspersed autobiographical details are so scant and general
that their overall impact on the novel fragment proves to be peripheral.
More carefully integrated in the narrative are Weber’s genuinely in-
spired reflections on the nature of music and on the creative aspects of
compositional practice. To be sure, his views and occasional defini-
tions unmistakably echo Wackenroder’s and Hoffmann’s musically
oriented writings which provided the foundation for a distinctly ro-
mantic aesthetics of music15. Yet in many instances Weber’s formula-
tions are so profound and original that they merit recognition and
scrutiny in their own right. Particularly revealing for Weber’s aesthet-
ics is the spontaneous manner in which his composer-hero – availing
himself of a characteristically synaesthetic vocabulary (“Das heilige
Crescendo der Natur im lichtbringenden Äther erhob mein still erge-
benes Gemüt zu fromm heiterer Ahndungsregung.”) – musicalizes his
experience of contemplating nature:

Das Anschauen einer Gegend ist mir die Aufführung eines Musikstücks. Ich er-
fühle das Ganze, ohne mich bei den es hervorbringenden Einzelheiten aufzuhal-
ten; mit einem Worte, die Gegend bewegt sich mir, seltsam genug, in der Zeit. Sie
ist mir ein sukzessiver Genuß. (pp. 451-52)

Cf. Steven Paul Scher, “Temporality and Mediation: W.H. Wackenroder and
E. T. A. Hoffmann as Literary Historicists of Music,” JEGP, 75 (1976), 492-502.

And it is precisely the revelation of this totality of musically, tempo-

rally experienced nature, the ultimate identity of nature and music,
which empowers the truly gifted composer to comprehend the divine
secret of music: his “spiritual, inner ear” is able to hear “ganze Perio-
den, ja ganze Stücke auf einmal, [...] das Ganze auch in seinen Teilen”
(p. 450).
In contradistinction to the privileged vantage paint of real composi-
tional talent, Weber vividly renders the predicament of the composing
bungler who, for lack of imagination a prisoner of his own “piano-
fingers”, is forever destined to remain derivative:

Denn eben diese Hände, diese verdammten Klavierfinger, die über dem ewigen
Üben und Meistern an ihnen endlich eine Art von Selbständigkeit und eigenwilli-
gen Verstand erhalten, sind bewußtlose Tyrannen und Zwingherren der Schöp-
fungskraft. Sie erfinden nichts Neues, ja alles Neue ist ihnen unbequem. (pp. 449-

At one point the universal import of Weber’s insight concerning

the notion of the ineffable in the supreme moment of artistic creation
even reaches the level of Wordsworth’s aesthetic theorizing. Here is
Weber’s version of Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “the sponta-
neous overflow of powerful feelings” and “emotion recollected in

Alles Tiefempfundene fühlt sich, aber sagt sich nicht. Der Moment, Geistespro-
dukte zu erschaffen, muß in jener gewissen ruhigen Stimmung als Grundelement
sich bewegen, welche eigner, in dem Augenblicke willkürlich erzeugter Begeiste-
rung fähig, das individuelle Ich, sozusagen, ganz zu verlassen und in das andere,
das zu schaffende, überzugehen imstande ist.

In the literary realm Weber’s more emotionally charged aesthetic

stance exhibits a fundamental affinity with typically romantic theoriz-
ing. The practice of musical composition, on the other hand, he re-
garded as a more disciplined intellectual activity, requiring the highest
degree of concentration. Thus it is not without an element of surprise
(fully intended by the author, I believe) that behind the composer-

hero’s unique compositional method we discern Weber the classicist

and disciple of his idol Mozart:

Denn ich kann sehr bequem von ganz andern Gegenständen zusammenhängend
sprechen und doch, mit voller Seele und ganz von meinem Objekte erfüllt, Ton-
ideen bilden und komponieren. (p. 499)

Chapter 5 of Tonkünstlers Leben – a unique blend of musicoliter-

ary theory as dramatized fiction and fictionalized music criticism,
comparable in subject matter and narrative design only to Hoffmann’s
brilliant Der Dichter und der Komponist (1813) – features Weber the
writer at his best. What starts out as a dialogue between Felix and his
friend Diehl on whether dramatic masterpieces such as Schiller’s Wal-
lenstein ought to be presented on stage uncut or abridged soon gives
way to the composer-hero’s impassioned critical analysis of the con-
temporary operatic scene. The central passage of this analysis, con-
taining one of the earliest definitions of the idea of the Gesamtkunst-
werk, has even become well known independent of the novel frag-
ment. Weber himself considered it so important, as part of his sus-
tained effort to promote German opera, that he quoted it virtually ver-
batim in his famous 1817 review of Hoffmann’s Undine:

Es versteht sich von selbst, daß ich von der Oper spreche, die der Deutsche will:
ein in sich abgeschlossenes Kunstwerk, wo alle Teile und Beiträge der verwand-
ten und benutzten Künste ineinanderschmelzend verschwinden und auf gewisse
Weise untergehend – eine neue Welt bilden. (p. 129)

Weber’s elaboration on this definition is likewise instructive:

Die Natur und das innere Wesen der Oper, aus Ganzen im Ganzen bestehend, ge-
biert diese große Schwierigkeit [i.e. that most of the existing works do not achie-
ve the desirable effect of totality], die nur den Heroen der Kunst zu überwinden
gelang. Jedes Musikstück erscheint durch den ihm zukommenden Bau als ein
selbständig organisches, in sich abgeschlossenes Wesen. Doch soll es als Teil des
Gebäudes verschwinden in der Anschauung desselben; doch kann und soll es da-
bei (das Ensemblestück vornehmlich), verschiedene Außenseiten zugleich zei-
gend, ein vielfältiger, auf einen Blick zu übersehender Januskopf sein. (pp. 129-

As reflected in these formulations and frequently elsewhere in his

writings, the idea of self-contained totality constitutes an indispensa-
ble conceptual cornerstone in Weber’s aesthetics. For example, as the
notion central to the ideal operatic model, it clearly echoes the com-
poser-hero’s perception in chapter 1 of musically experienced nature
as a temporally conditioned totality.
From the foregoing discussion the author of Tonkünstlers Leben
emerges as an imaginative and in many ways original aesthetician of
music and a respectable musician-writer of modest novelistic ambi-
tions. But such an assessment does justice to only one side of Weber’s
writing talent. An avid and prolific practitioner of comic occasional
poetry16, Weber had a definite knack for satirical criticism in the form
of parodistic humor. His genuine literary flair manifests itself most
directly in the hilarious parodies – predominantly in verse – which are
included in his novel fragment. Intended primarily as comic relief,
though always with a serious didactic undertone, these interspersed
parodistic episodes represent an impressive literary achievement. Most
literary and sophisticated among them is Weber’s inspired rewrite in
Chapter 5 of the Kapuziner’s speech from Wallensteins Lager. Rather
than aiming his parodistic intent at Schiller, Weber faithfully adheres
to the original metric and rhyme scheme and simply employs
Schiller’s speech (itself already a parodistic adaptation of a text by
Abraham a Santa Clara) as a convenient vehicle to accommodate spe-
cific aspects of his target of ridicule: shoddy musicianship, commer-
cialization of musical life, and the primacy of Italian opera. The paro-
distic sting here is in the ingenious distortion and substitution of dic-
tion and syntax by means of which Weber transforms the Kapuziner’s
religiously tinged tirade against the atrocities of Wallenstein’s disso-
lute soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War into a witty indictment of
the declining quality of contemporary music in general and the irate

See Weber’s numerous poems and humoristic prose in Kaiser, pp. 417-37 and

battle between Italian and German opera in particular. A juxtaposition

of the beginning lines from both speeches suffices to illustrate We-
ber’s method:

Heisa, juchheia! Dudeldumdei!
Das geht ja hoch her. Bin auch dabei!
Ist das eine Armee von Christen?
Sind wir Türken? Sind wir Antibaptisten?
Treibt man so mit dem Sonntag Spott,
Als hätte der allmächtige Gott
Das Chiragra, könnte nicht dreinschlagen?
Ist jetzt Zeit zu Saufgelagen?
Zu Banketten und Feiertagen? . . .
Was steht ihr und legt die Hände in Schoß?
Die Kriegsfuri ist an der Donau los,
Das Bollwerk des Bayerlands ist gefallen,
Regenspurg ist in des Feindes Krallen,
Und die Armee liegt hier in Böhmen,
Pflegt den Bauch, läßt sichs wenig grämen,
Kümmert sich mehr um den Krug als den Krieg,
Wetzt lieber den Schnabel als den Sabel,
Hetzt sich lieber herum mit der Dirn,
Frißt den Ochsen lieber als den Oxenstirn.
Die Christenheit trauert in Sack und Asche,
Der Soldat füllt sich nur die Tasche.

Heisa, Juchheisa! Dudeldumdei!
Das geht ja toll her, bin nicht dabei.
Ist das eine Art Komponisten?
Seid ihr Türken, seid ihr noch Melodisten?
Treibt man so mit der Tonkunst Spott,
Als hätte der alte Musengott
Das Chiragra, könnte nicht dreinschlagen?
Ist jetzt die Zeit der Orchesterplagen,
Mit Pickelflöten und Trommelschlagen?
Ihr steht nicht hier und legt die Hände in den Schoß,
Die Kriegsfurie ist in den Tönen los.
Das Bollwerk des reinen Sangs ist gefallen,
Italien ist in des Feindes Krallen,
Weil der Komponist liegt im Bequemen,

Friedrich Schiller, Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Gerhard Fricke and Herbert G.
Göpfert (München: Hanser, 1965), II, 292.

Höhnt die Natur, läßt sich wenig grämen,

Kümmert sich mehr um den Knall als den Schall,
Pflegt lieber die Narrheit, als Wahrheit,
Hetzt die Hörer lieber toll im Gehirn,
Hat das Honorar lieber als das Honoriern.
Die Kunstfreunde trauern in Sack und Asche,
Der Direktor füllt sich nur die Tasche. (p. 473)

Genuine sense of humor has traditionally been a rare commodity

among German writers. It is a pleasant surprise, therefore, to discover
in the opera parodies of Chapter 7 Weber the master humorist. Once
again, the awkward attempt to couch his parodies in a plausible narra-
tive framework must be judged a novelistic failure; the inclusion of
the parodistic interlude is not well motivated and the pretext of pro-
moting the cause of German opera is all too transparent. In the midst
of a masked ball which the composer-hero Felix reluctantly attends, a
Hanswurst appears as self-appointed master of ceremonies and prom-
ises entertainment on a grand scale: “eine große deklamatorische,
dramatische, melopoetische, allegorische Darstellung in Versen” (p.
480). What follows, however, more than compensates for the con-
trived narrative situation. The orchestra produces some noise, “das in
Italien Ouverture genannt wird”, and the prima donna begins the pun-
gent persiflage of Italian opera:

Recit. Oh Dio – – – addio – –

– – – – – – – – –
Arioso. Oh non pianger mio bene
– – – – – – – – – –
Ti lascio – Idol mio –
– – – oime – –
Allegro. Già la Tromba suona – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Colla parte. Per te morir io voglio –
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
piu stretto. O Felicita – –
(Auf Ta ein Triller von zehn Takten; das Publikum
applaudierte unmenschlich.)
– Caro – – !
– Cara – – !
a Due. Sorte amara – –

(Auf amara, wegen des a, die süßesten Terzienpassagen.)

Allegro. – oh barbaro tormento –
(Es hatte kein Mensch zugehört, aber ein Kenner rief Bravo! Bravo!
[applaudierte] und das ganze Publikum fiel fortissimo ein.) (pp.480-81)

Weber is truly in his element here, poking fun at the worst features of
an operatic style cultivated by his arch enemy Rossini whom he pas-
sionately attacked wherever he could. Hanswurst’s ensuing commen-
tary is equally vitriolic as he enumerates Weber’s favorite charges
against Italian opera: shallowness of melodic and harmonic invention,
predilection for bombastic situations, and a severe lack of dramatic
tension in music and text alike.
Though more tolerant, the lampoon of French grand opera (freely
adapted by Weber from an eighteenth-century parody) likewise con-
centrates on a few chronic shortcomings: exaggerated adherence to
classical rules (“Die Handlung spielt zwischen 12 Uhr und Mittag”),
the emptiness of lofty declamatory style, and the superficiality of
grandiose stage spectacles:

Erster Akt.
La Princesse. Cher Prince, on nous unit.
Le Prince. J’en suis ravi, Princesse;
Peuple, chantez, dansez, montrez votre allégresse!
Choeur. Chantons, dansons, montrons notre allégresse!
Ende des ersten Aktes.
Zweiter Akt.
La Princesse. Amour!
(Kriegerisches Getöse. Die Prinzessin fällt in Ohnmacht. Der Prinz
erscheint kämpfend gegen seine Feinde und wird erschlagen.)
Cher prince!
Le Prince. Hélas!
La Princesse. Quoi?
Le Prince. J’expire!
La Princesse. O Malheur!
Peuple, chantez, dansez, montrez votre douleur!
Choeur. Chantons, dansons, montrons notre douleur!
Ein Marsch schließt den zweiten Akt.
Dritter Akt.
Pallas erscheint in den Wolken.
Pallas. Pallas te rend le jour.
La Princesse. Ah quel moment!
Le Prince. Oû suis-je?

Peuple, chantez, dansez, célébrez ce prodige!

Choeur. Dansons, chantons, célébrons ce prodige!
Fin. (p. 483)

It is to Weber’s credit that when at last he comes to the vicissitudes

of German opera he can muster up enough distance and objectivity to
ridicule his own country’s products just as mercilessly. The elaborate
parody begins with the choice of subject matter expressed in its title
(Agnes Bernauerin, romantisch-vaterländisches Tonspiel) and contin-
ues with less than exacting specifications as to cast and place of action
(“Personen, so viel vonnöten. Handlung im Herzen von Deutsch-
land”). Weber manages to assemble a colorful collection of every
imaginable stock character on the contemporary German operatic
stage: a happily absurd mix of innocent maidens, noble seducers, vil-
lains (one by the name of Kaspar!), robbers, ghosts, hermits, minne-
singers, genies, etc. The deliberately insipid skit provides unadulter-
ated fun from beginning to end, especially since a great deal of it turns
out to be prophetic self-parody: even Der Freischütz (1821), Euryan-
the (1825) and Oberon (1826) – Weber’s three best operas – still
abound with similar stereotypical figures, requisites, and other incon-
gruous ingredients. Perhaps the delightfully chaotic Finale to Act One
of Agnes Bernauerin conveys Weber’s parodistic style most aptly:

(Waldige Felsengegend. – Links im Hintergrunde ein Schloß, gegenüber ein
Weinberg, weiter vor eine Einsiedlerhütte. – Links vorn eine Höhle, weiter vorn
eine Laube, in der Mitte zwei hohle Bäume, weiter vorn ein unterirdischer Gang.)
Einsiedler (tritt auf im singenden Gebete). – Agnes (singt eine Arie im Schlosse,
wozu Chor von Winzerinnen auf der andern Seite.) – In der Laube schlummert
Albrecht (und singt träumend in abgebrochenen Tönen). – Kaspar (singt vor
Furcht eine Polonaise in den hohlen Bäumen). – Räuber (in der Höhle singen ei-
nen wilden Chor). – Genien (schweben schützend über Albrecht). – Kriegsgetüm-
mel hinter der Szene. – Ferner Marsch von der andern Seite. – Natürlich alles
zugleich. – Zwei Blitze fahren von verschiedenen Seiten herab und zerschmettern
Alle. Ha!
(Der Vorhang fällt.) (p. 487)

An analysis of the parodistic aspects of Tonkünstlers Leben would not

be complete without at least a cursory mention of the composer-hero’s
dream in Chapter 4, another tribute to Weber’s inventive literary
imagination (pp. 462-66). Felix dreams that he has overheard the in-
struments of a large orchestra as they discussed – rather critically,
each from his own expert instrumentalist perspective – the deplorable
quality of the symphonic and operatic repertory of the time. The
dream concludes with a current (1809) example of a typically flawed
work, however unidentified:

Nein, hört das Rezept der neuesten Sinfonie, das ich soeben von Wien erhalte,
und urteilt darnach: Erstens, ein langsames Tempo, voll kurzer abgerissener I-
deen, wo ja keine mit der andern Zusammenhang haben darf, alle Viertelstunden
drei oder vier Noten! – das spannt! dann ein dumpfer Paukenwirbel und mysteri-
öse Bratschensätze, alles mit der gehörigen Portion Generalpausen und Halte ge-
schmückt; endlich, nachdem der Zuhörer vor lauter Spannung schon auf das Al-
legro Verzicht getan, ein wütendes Tempo, in welchem aber hauptsächlich dafür
gesorgt sein muß, daß kein Hauptgedanke hervortritt und dem Zuhörer desto mehr
selbst zu suchen übrig bleibt; Übergänge von einem Tone in den andern dürfen
nicht fehlen; man braucht sich aber deswegen gar nicht zu genieren, man braucht
z. B. wie Paer in der Leonore nur einen Lauf durch die halben Töne zu machen
und auf dem Tone, in den man gern will, stehenzubleiben, so ist die Modulation
fertig. Überhaupt vermeide man alles Geregelte, denn die Regel fesselt nur das
Genie. – (p. 465)

Until recently, this viciously ironic piece of verbal music has been
regarded (even by Weber scholars) as a parodistic putdown of Beet-
hoven’s Fourth Symphony (1807) and a creditable proof of Weber’s
notoriously myopic view of Beethoven’s genius. But, as John War-
rack, Weber’s latest biographer, has convincingly proven, the descrip-
tive details are “too vague for identification”: “since Weber deliber-
ately avoided mention of any particular work here but did not hesitate
to name the Eroica previously, he was attacking a generalized tar-
It seems appropriate to conclude that Tonkünstlers Leben, however
unfinished, constitutes a significant literary achievement. The musi-

John Warrack, Carl Maria von Weber (London, 1968), pp. 94-95.

cian-author of this unique novel fragment proves to be a spirited and

versatile writer of fiction, fully conscious of the literary currents of his
time and endowed with a healthy sense of humor and considerable
parodistic talent. Above all its innate fragmentariness and arabesque
form are the decisive features which distinguish Weber’s novelistic
experiment as yet another remarkable literary document of early nine-
teenth-century romantic sensibility.
Beethoven and the Word:
Literary Affinity or Artistic Necessity? (1980/81)

Aber die Musik und Sprache gehörten zusammen, sie seien im Grunde eins, die
Sprache Musik, die Musik eine Sprache, und getrennt berufe immer das eine sich
auf das andere, ahme das andere nach, bediene sich der Mittel des anderen, gebe
immer das eine sich als das Substitut des anderen zu verstehen. Wie Musik zu-
nächst Wort sei, wortmäßig vorgedacht und geplant werden könne, wolle er mir
durch die Tatsache demonstrieren, daß man Beethoven beim Komponieren in
Worten beobachtet habe. „Was schreibt er da in sein Taschenbuch?“, habe es ge-
heißen. – „Er komponiert.“ – „Aber er schreibt Worte, nicht Noten.“ – ja, das war
so seine Art. Er zeichnete gewöhnlich in Worten den Ideengang einer Kompositi-
on auf, indem er höchstens ein paar Noten zwischenhinein streute. – [...] Der
künstlerische Gedanke, meinte er, bilde wohl überhaupt eine eigene und einzige
geistige Kategorie, aber schwerlich werde je der erste Entwurf zu einem Bilde,
einer Statue in Worten bestanden haben, – was für die besondere Zusammengehö-
rigkeit von Musik und Sprache zeuge. Es sei sehr natürlich, daß die Musik am
Wort entbrenne, das Wort aus der Musik hervorbräche, wie es sich gegen Ende
der Neunten Symphonie ereigne.1

I am about to offer, with considerable trepidation, some highly ten-

tative remarks on Beethoven’s literariness – by which I mean Beetho-
ven’s awareness of, and attitude toward, literature in the widest sense,
including his interest in all forms of verbal expression, the nature and
extent of his literary knowledge, his predilection for certain authors
and specific literary works, past and contemporary, and the demon-
strable impact of the written word on his music, particularly vocal
music. It is not without design, therefore, that I began by quoting
Thomas Mann’s Adrian Leverkühn, talking to his loyal friend Serenus
Zeitblom about Beethoven and the word. A curious blend of anecdotal
material treated as straightforward fact and aesthetic speculation yield-
ing interpretive conclusions based on this ‘anecdotal’ fact, the cited

Thomas Mann: Doktor Faustus, Stockholm 1947, 253.

passage represents Beethoven reception at its belletristic best. But

Doktor Faustus is fiction, after all; and Thomas Mann, unsurpassed
master of epic montage, surely does not need to be exonerated from
such a subtle blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction.
The trouble is that a large portion of the supposedly scholarly com-
mentary comprising Beethoven research over the last century and a
half – voluminous beyond belief and showing no signs of abating –
also reads like fiction, except that most of it is bad, unconvincing fic-
tion, with hardly any belletristic flair, yet full of unverifiable legends
and personal reminiscences of contemporaries which in time have
become widely accepted and frequently quoted pseudofacts and which
together make up the familiar, larger-than-life portrait of Ludwig van
Beethoven the man and artist as we see him today. To be sure, Tho-
mas Mann made ingenious use of the unusual anecdote which he
found in at least two seemingly authoritative sources,2 and which can
be traced back to some ‘Recollections’ published in 1840 by Karl
Johann Braun von Braunthal who, allegedly in the company of Schu-
bert, had observed Beethoven at a Viennese inn. Actually, according
to Otto Erich Deutsch, Braunthal’s ‘Recollections’ are dubious at best
and most probably the scene as described never took place.3
Such are the vicissitudes of Beethoven reception. But given this
state of affairs, which is typical, what is the frustrated critic to do
when searching for the truth? Are there no verifiable facts at his dis-
posal? Frankly, very few, hardly enough to yield a halfway plausible
initial framework for meaningful critical assessment. I have tried to
consult most of the available reliable sources which include, in addi-
tion to the actual scores, Beethoven’s sketchbooks, notebooks, con-
versation books, diaries, and letters, as well as selected items from the

See Julius Bahle: Eingebung und Tat im musikalischen Schaffen, Leipzig 1939,
182; and Ernest Newman: The Unconscious Beethoven – An Essay in Musical Psy-
chology, New York 1927, 143f.
See Martin Cooper: Beethoven: The Last Decade 1817-1827, London 1970, 130.

immense biographical and critical literature.4 That I still tread on

shaky ground is, I hope, understandable.
Fortunately, first-hand evidence of concrete, demonstrable points
of tangency between words and music abounds in Beethoven’s extant
oeuvre. The challenge of setting texts to music, often surprisingly
inferior in literary worth, occupied him intensively all his creative life,
as reflected in the numerous Lieder, cantatas, the oratorio Christus am
Ölberg, the Egmont-music, his only opera, Fidelio, the Choral Fan-
tasy, op. 80, the two masses (Mass in C major, op. 86, and Missa Sol-
emnis, op. 123), and the final movement of the Ninth Symphony, op.
125, to mention only the most obvious examples. Even in the purely
instrumental and chamber music there are traces of his preoccupation
with verbal expression as an integral part of the overall communica-
tive effect of the musical work of art; I am referring here to the famil-
iar descriptive titles he has given the individual movements in the
Sixth Symphony (Pastorale):

I. Erwachen heiterer Gefühle bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande

II. Szene am Bach
III. Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute
IV. Gewitter, Sturm
V. Hirtengesang. Frohe, dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm.

Also well known are the similarly programmatic directives employed

in the late quartets, more specifically in op. 132 and 135:

op. 132: – Heiliger Dankgesang an die Gottheit eines Genesenen in der lydischen
– Neue Kraft fühlend ,
op. 135: – IV – Der schwergefaßte Entschluß (Grave: Muß es sein? Allegro: Es
muß sein!)

This pronounced preoccupation with the word throughout Beetho-

ven’s career, in nature and basic orientation so radically different from

For an up-to-date, highly selective and cogently annotated bibliography, see
Maynard Solomon: Beethoven, New York 1977, 372-385.

that of, say, Haydn, Mozart, or Schubert, or of other major composers

before or after him – with the possible exception of Wagner and
Mahler – continues to pose an intriguing problem which has been
subject to enormous controversy and led to conjectures ranging from
the sublime to the ludicrous, with little sober opinion between the
extremes. The problem, however elusive, can be stated in simple
terms: is there any meaning behind Beethoven’s music? If there is,
what sort of meaning is it? And what is the connection, if there is any,
between this meaning and Beethoven’s sustained interest in and use of
the word to which he seems to have been irresistibly drawn in his re-
lentless search for the ideal and most effective medium of artistic
communication, even more effective than sheer music?
As soon as we succumb to speculation along these lines, we find
ourselves in the no-man’s-land of psychological theorizing about the
mysteries of artistic creation – and that is a slippery territory best
shied away from. Evidently not so for the many critics – with promi-
nent ones among them – who have simply proceded to formulate pre-
posterous theories while being naively unaware or willfully ignorant
of the very real potential for fallacious argumentation based on unsub-
stantiated evidence. From none other than Richard Wagner stems the
statement that “die Beethovenschen größeren Tonwerke nur in letzter
Linie Musik, in erster Linie aber einen dichterischen Gegenstand ent-
halten”5. Paul Bekker, author of an influential early 20th-century bi-
ography, sincerely believed that “Beethoven ist in erster Linie Denker
und Dichter, in zweiter Linie erst Musiker”6. Arnold Schering, the
well-known Berlin musicologist who died in 1941, even wrote a 600-
page tome on Beethoven und die Dichtung7 in which he set out to
prove definitively – and in tedious analytical detail – that Beethoven

Quoted in Hans Boettcher: Beethoven als Liederkomponist, Augsburg 1928, 25.
Berlin 1936.

modeled certain symphonies, quartets, and sonatas on specific literary

works; for example the Seventh Symphony on Wilhelm Meisters Lehr-
jahre, the last three quartets (op. 132, 133, and 135) on Faust Part
One, the Kreutzer Sonata (op. 47) on Tasso’s La Gerusalemme Libe-
rata, the Waldstein Sonata (op. 53) on the 23rd book of the Odyssee,
and the Pathétique Sonata (op. 13) on Schiller’s poem Hero und
Leander. And just in time to confirm my melancholy hunch that there
is no end in sight to subjective vagaries in Beethoven research, the
Hamburg musicologist and Mahler expert Constantin Floros recently
published a book entitled Beethovens Eroica und Prometheus-Musik.
Sujet-Studien8 in which he postulates that the young radical Beethoven
definitely associated, nay identified, Napoleon with Prometheus.
All this seems a far cry from Eduard Hanslick’s conviction, elo-
quently formulated as early as 1854 in his Vom Musikalisch-Schönen,
a treatise which remains the bible of formalist aestheticians of music:
“Es ist ästhetisch gleichgültig, ob sich Beethoven allenfalls bei seinen
sämtlichen Kompositionen bestimmte Vorwürfe gewählt; wir kennen
sie nicht, sie sind daher für das Werk nicht existierend.”9 And a hun-
dred years later Igor Stravinsky, endearingly outspoken in these mat-
ters, still echoes Hanslick when he writes in his Autobiography:

What does it matter whether the Third Symphony was inspired by the figure of
Bonaparte the Republican or Napoleon the Emperor? It is only the music that
matters. But to talk music is risky, and entails responsibility. Therefore some find
it preferable to seize on side issues. It is easy, and enables you to pass as a deep

To illustrate his point, Stravinsky continues with the retelling of a

conversation between Mallarmé and Degas, which he heard from Paul

Wilhelmshaven 1979.
Ninth edition, Leipzig 1896, 98.

Degas, who, as is well known, liked to dabble in poetry, one day said to Mallarmé
“I cannot manage the end of my sonnet, and it is not that I am wanting in ideas.”
Mallarmé, softly: “It is not with ideas that one makes sonnets, but with words.”

“So it is with Beethoven.” – Stravinsky concludes – “It is in the qual-

ity of his musical material and not in the nature of his ideas that his
true greatness lies.”10
With all due respect for the formalists’ pragmatic logic, it would be
insincere to deny that, for whatever reason, the very nature of what we
know about Beethoven’s literariness does tend to encourage unbridled
flights of fancy. On the other hand, there must also be a kernel of truth
in the categorical opinions of informed critics such as Debussy, who
was convinced that “there was not an ounce of literature in Beethoven,
not at any rate in the accepted sense of the word”11, or Ernest New-
man, who believed that “Beethoven was a man of only moderate intel-
ligence”12. Before we give in to the temptation to endorse any of these
views, let us consider briefly some of the evidence we do have.
Most important of all are Beethoven’s own relevant remarks, scat-
tered about in various sources. In 1809, in his fortieth year, he asked
his publishers Breitkopf and Härtel for copies of the collected works
of Goethe and Schiller, declaring that “Die zwei Dichter sind meine
Lieblingsdichter, sowie Ossian, Homer, welchen letzteren ich leider
nur in Übersetzungen lesen kann”13.
And later that year he writes to them:

Igor Stravinsky: Stravinsky: An Autobiography, New York 1936, 184.
Quoted in Denis Arnold and Nigel Fortune, eds.: The Beethoven Companion,
London 1971, 521.
Ernest Newman: Müssen Komponisten k1uge Leute sein?, in: Musica 13 (1959),
Emmerich Kastner and Julius Kappen, eds.: Ludwig van Beethovens sämtliche
Briefe, Leipzig 1923, 145, [August 8, 1809]. Hereafter this edition will be cited as

Es gibt keine Abhandlung, die sobald zu gelehrt für mich wäre; ohne auch im
mindesten Anspruch auf eigentliche Gelehrsamkeit zu machen, habe ich mich
doch bestrebt von Kindheit an, den Sinn der Besseren und Weisen jedes Zeitalters
zu fassen. Schande für einen Künstler, der es nicht für Schuldigkeit hält, es hierin
wenigstens soweit zu bringen.14

Behind the exaggerated pride of this last statement we clearly sense

the lifelong predicament of a self-educated man: in spite of his tre-
mendous determination and sustained efforts Beethoven could never
make up fully for his lack of formal education in areas other than mu-
sic. That he remained an atrocious speller and could not perform sim-
ple multiplication is well known. More often than not in his choice of
literary readings he had to rely on instinct or chance – which explains
the perennial inconsistency in his judgments concerning literary value.
Nonetheless, the extent to which Beethoven overcame his disad-
vantaged cultural background and acquired a fairly broad literary
knowledge deserves our admiration. Since he was seriously deficient
in foreign languages, he had to read his favorite Greek authors – pri-
marily Homer and Plutarch, but also Plato, Aristotle, and Euripides –
as well as Ossian and Shakespeare in German translation. His famili-
arity with Horace, Ovid, Pliny, and Quintilian must have been rather
superficial. As for the French, Italian, or Spanish literary traditions,
there is virtually no trace of any real awareness on Beethoven’s part:
he composed one song to a text by Rousseau, several to texts by Me-
tastasio, and presumably knew Bouilly’s libretto Leonore ou l’amour
conjugal, if one can regard the latter as literature.15 Nor should we

Ibid., 148 [December 2, 1809].
Scholarly attention devoted to Beethoven’s literary readings has been sporadic
and inconclusive: Eleanor Selfridge-Field: Beethoven and Greek Classicism, in: JHI
33 (1972), 577-596; Günter Fleischhauer: Beethoven und die Antike, in: Brockhaus,
Heinz Alfred and Konrad Niemann, eds.: Bericht über den internationalen Beet-
hoven-Kongreß 10.-12. Dezember 1970 in Berlin, Berlin 1971, 465-482; Karl-Heinz
Köhler: Beethovens literarische Kontakte – Ein Beitrag zum Weltbild des Kompo-
nisten, 483-488; Albrecht Leitzmann: Beethovens literarische Bildung, in: Deutsche
Rundschau 154 (1913), 271-283; and Max Friedländer: Deutsche Dichtung in Beet-
hovens Musik, in: Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters 19 (1912), 25-48.

assume any genuine acquaintance with English poetry on the basis of

Beethoven’s curious, commissioned arrangements of some 150 Scot-
tish, Irish, and Welsh tunes for voice, piano, violin, and cello. Though
some of the lyrics were by poets like Robert Burns, Byron, and Walter
Scott, the composer simply worked with the melodies, not really
grasping the meaning of the underlying words, with often hilariously
incongruous results.16
The picture significantly brightens when we come to Beethoven’s
knowledge of German literature. Goethe and Schiller loom largest in
his literary consciousness; and he seems to have known their major
works intimately. Klopstock he learned to love in his early youth. His
spontaneous account of this formative experience, as told in retrospect
to Friedrich Rochlitz, the influential editor of the Allgemeine musika-
lische Zeitung, reflects perhaps most accurately the highly subjective
nature of his attitude toward literary matters in general, an attitude
typical of the enthusiastic autodidact:

Ich habe mich jahrelang mit ihm [Klopstock] getragen, wenn ich spazieren ging
und sonst. Ei nun, verstanden hab’ ich ihn freilich nicht überall. Er springt so her-
um, er fängt auch immer gar zu weit von oben herunter an, immer Maestoso!
Des-Dur! Nicht? Aber er ist doch groß und hebt die Seele. Wo ich ihn nicht ver-
stand, da riet ich doch – so ungefähr.17

But Goethe and Schiller soon replaced Klopstock as Beethoven’s most

revered literary idols and this time the admiration was lasting.
A great deal has been said about Beethoven and Goethe, of course,
a favorite topic of raconteurs and professional fictionalizers of various
persuasions from Bettina Brentano through Romain Rolland to Arnold
Schering and beyond. Since much of it is quite well known in ample
speculative detail, particularly the circumstances of their infamous
1812 encounter in Teplitz, I shall not offer here yet another account.

For a detailed discussion, see Donald W. MacArdle: Beethoven and George
Thomson, in: Music and Letters 37 (1956), 27-50.
Martin Hürlimann, ed.: Beethoven-Briefe und Gespräche, Zurich 1944, 196f.

Let it suffice to quote only from Beethoven’s moving and most reveal-
ing last letter to Goethe, dated 1823, to which the poet never bothered
to reply:

Die Verehrung, Liebe und Hochachtung, welche ich für den einzigen unsterb-
lichen Goethe von meinen Jünglingsjahren schon hatte, ist mir immer geblieben.
So was läßt sich nicht wohl in Worte fassen, besonders von einem solchen Stüm-
per wie ich, der nur immer gedacht hat, die Töne sich eigen zu machen. Allein ein
eigenes Gefühl treibt mich immer, Ihnen soviel zu sagen, indem ich in Ihren
Schriften lebe [...] Ich hoffe, Sie werden die Zueignung an E. E. von Meeresstille
und glückliche Fahrt in Töne gebracht von mir erhalten haben; beide schienen mir
ihres Kontrastes wegen sehr geeignet, auch diesen durch Musik mitteilen zu kön-
nen. Wie lieb würde es mir sein, zu wissen, ob ich passend meine Harmonie mit
der Ihrigen verbunden [...].18

Compared to the extensive use he made of Goethe’s texts, Beetho-

ven’s settings of Schiller are astonishingly few. It is true that his pre-
occupation with the ode An die Freude dates back to the early years in
Bonn and comes to fruition only thirty years later in the exalted, orgi-
astic Finale of the Ninth Symphony. But it seems that he had compel-
ling artistic reasons which explain his reluctance toward composing
Schiller’s texts. As he confided to Karl Czerny on one occasion:
“Schillers Dichtungen sind für den Musiker äußerst schwierig. Der
Tonsetzer muß sich weit über den Dichter zu erheben wissen; wer
kann das bei Schiller? Da ist Goethe viel leichter.”19 Most commenta-
tors have interpreted this opaque remark as an indirect value judgment
on Beethoven’s part, meaning that ultimately perhaps he thought more
highly of Schiller than of Goethe. But there is more to it than that, I
believe, especially in the context of our topic. We have here a revela-
tory instance – and by no means the only one – of Beethoven’s pro-
found theoretical insight into the complex problem of composing vo-
cal music in general, the aesthetics of combining word and tone; an
insight into the composition of literary material, formulated with an

Briefe (cf. note 13) 640f. [February 8, 1823].
Quoted in Boettcher (cf. note 5) 45.

eye to his own special needs. What these special requirements were
can be deduced only from a circumspect, close scrutiny of his total
output of vocal music, and only when that is regarded as an integral
part of his entire œuvre. Beethoven’s Lieder, though admittedly un-
even in quality and seemingly lacking in generic homogeneity, prove
to be particularly instructive in this respect: they are transparent
enough individually or in small groupings to exhibit characteristic
compositional strategies. Analysis of the sketchbooks shows conclu-
sively that throughout his career Beethoven continuously experi-
mented with, and struggled to find optimal solutions for, song compo-
sition (as well as other types of vocal music). He knew very well what
he was talking about whenever he commented on setting texts to mu-
Clearly crucial to him was the correct choice of texts most suitable
for his musical realization. Among the literary superstars of the time it
was in Goethe – and not in Schiller or Klopstock – that Beethoven
found the right kind of text, charged with just the right type and
amount of emotional and ideational content which he could cast into
music so unmistakably his own. What, then, made Goethe texts so
ideally composable for him? This time Bettina’s empathizing recon-
struction of Beethoven’s words sounds plausibly genuine:

Goethes Gedichte behaupten nicht allein durch ihren Inhalt, sondern auch durch
den Rhythmus eine große Gewalt über mich, ich werde gestimmt und aufgeregt
zum Komponieren durch diese Sprache, die wie durch Geister zu höherer Ord-
nung sich aufbaut und das Geheimnis der Harmonien schon in sich trägt.20

In other words, Beethoven looked for poetic texts which in a vague,

general sense already contained some potential rhythmic and declama-
tory ingredients but which could still be artistically enhanced and ‘ele-
vated’ through his musical treatment. Gems such as Neue Liebe, neues
Leben, Mailied, Wonne der Wehmut, Sehnsucht (“Was zieht mir das

Hürlimann (cf. note 17) 145.

Herz so?”) and Mit einem gemalten Band readily come to mind as
supreme examples among the Lieder. Is it possible, then, that Beetho-
ven perceived Schiller’s poetry as being so much more ‘musically’
endowed and thus already so ‘elevated’ that as a composer he felt
incapable of rising above the poet? The parlando-like simplicity of the
melody he invented for “Freude, schöner Götterfunken” would sub-
stantiate this sentiment. It is certainly a curious coincidence that what
in the process of poetic creation Schiller himself seems to have ex-
perienced, Beethoven’ instinctively sensed in his poetry. In 1792
Schiller wrote to Körner:

Das Musikalische eines Gedichtes schwebt mir weit öfter vor der Seele, wenn ich
mich hinsetze, es zu machen, als der klare Begriff vom Inhalt, über den ich oft
kaum mit mir einig bin.21

The question of what exactly the adjective ‘musical’ means when

applied to things literary has vexed critics for centuries. Schiller, in a
famous passage of his Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung,
called Klopstock a ‘musical’ poet and also tried to define the term,
causing only more confusion in the process. Later on he even con-
sulted Zelter, whose honesty on the matter is still today as amusing as
it is characteristic:

Sie könnten mich wohl fragen, was ich unter musikalisch verstehe und so will ich
Ihnen nun gleich sagen, daß ich es selbst nicht recht weiß, daß ich aber von an-
dern Musikern weiß, daß sie es auch nicht wissen; und daß die meisten unter ih-
nen so unwissend sind nicht zu wissen, daß sie es nicht wissen [...]. Wir Musiker
[haben] gar keinen bestimmten Begriff für das was wir musikalisch nennen.22

Though it may not have been conscious on his part either, the meaning
of Beethoven’s general usage of the term is more straightforward and

Karl Goedeke, ed.: Schillers Briefwechsel mit Körner, 2 vols., Leipzig 1879, vol.
2. 452f. [April 22. 1792].
Eduard Castle, ed.: Carl Künzels ‘Schilleriana’, Vienna 1955, 72 (February 20,

has to do with his daily compositional practice, I believe. He consid-

ered a text ‘musical’ only if it possessed just the right poetic con-
stituents for him to set it to music. And he would call a poet ‘musical’
if this poet could provide him with what he as a musician considered a
composable text.
Averdonk, Breuning, Collin, Gellert, Gleim, Goebel, Haugwitz,
Herrossee, Hölty, Jeitteles, Kotzebue, Kuffner, Matthisson, Pfeffel,
Reßlig, Sauter, Seume, Sonnleithner, Stoll, Tiedge, Treitschke,
Ueltzen, Werner. The longer we contemplate this motley sampling of
second and third rate poets whose words (and not whose names) Beet-
hoven also immortalized through his music, the clearer it becomes that
the real question for him was not the choice between Goethe or
Schiller but rather the highly subjective selection of texts commensu-
rate with his conception of their potential for his musical setting: in
every poet he turned to, however minor, he must have identified some
striking sentiment or idea appropriate enough to inspire in him a cor-
responding compositional impulse. Whether this impulse was more
the result of literary affinity or artistic necessity, that would have to be
judged in each individual instance; and I would tend to say that more
often than not it was a combination of both. At any rate, here are two
of many statements which confirm that in choosing texts for composi-
tion Beethoven was well aware of the presence or absence of intrinsic
literary merit:

Christus am Ölberg ward von mir mit dem Dichter [Franz Xaver Huber] in [der]
Zeit von 14 Tagen geschrieben. Allein der Dichter war musikalisch und hatte
schon mehreres für Musik geschrieben; ich konnte mich jeden Augenblick mit
ihm besprechen. Lassen wir den Wert dergleichen Dichtungen ununtersucht. Wir
wissen alle, wie wir das hiermit nehmen können; das Gute liegt hier in der Mitte.
Was mich aber angeht, so will ich lieber selbst Homer, Klopstock, Schiller in Mu-
sik setzen; wenigstens, wenn man auch Schwierigkeiten zu besiegen hat, so ver-
dienen dies diese unsterblichen Dichter.23

And likewise about the oratorio, op. 85:

Briefe (cf. note 13) 703 [January 23, 1824].

Ich weiß, der Text ist äußerst schlecht, aber hat man sich einmal aus einem auch
schlechten Text ein Ganzes gedacht, so ist es schwer, durch einzelne Änderungen
zu vermeiden, daß eben dieses nicht gestört werde, und ist nun gar ein Wort al-
lein, worin manchmal große Bedeutung gelegt, so muß es schon bleiben, und ein
schlechter Autor ist dieses, der nicht soviel Gutes als möglich auch aus einem
schlechten Text zu machen weiß oder sucht [...].24

As we can tell from these keen observations, Beethoven’s meticu-

lous concern for the practical exigencies of vocal composition encom-
passed the overall conception of the work as well as the most minute
contextual details of its execution. In his outstanding study which after
fifty years still remains unsurpassed as the standard monograph on
Beethoven’s Lieder, Hans Boettcher concludes that “nach einem pri-
mären Reden, nach einer der Prosa angenäherten dichterischen Spra-
che verlangt der Liederkomponist Beethoven”.25 Boettcher convinc-
ingly demonstrates that this need for a “poetic language that ap-
proaches the quality of prose” explains why Beethoven often chooses
texts which contain declamatory or interrogative clauses and phrases
or recitative-like passages. And it is this same longing that necessitates
certain identifiable, almost manneristic compositional strategies such
as frequent textual alterations and repetitions, the insertion of addi-
tional “Ja”s for emphasis, or Beethoven’s pronounced preference for
particular stanzas or lines to be set while neglecting the rest of the
poem. The end effect of these strategies becomes especially meaning-
ful in the light of an elliptical, otherwise enigmatic diary entry: “Also
gesungen auch vortreffliche Worte ausdrücken”26; in the process of
composition Beethoven assimilates the chosen text to such an extent
that in the finished work even the words cannot be regarded as any-
thing but his very own. The resulting fusion of text and music is Beet-
hoven through and through.

Briefe (cf. note 13) 198 [August 23, 1811].
Boettcher (cf. note 5) 49.
Ibid., 36.

These analytical considerations, based primarily on the Lieder, il-

lustrate clearly Beethoven’s everpresent concern for the word and its
necessary function in the musical realization of his artistic goals. But,
with appropriate generic modifications, they could be applied profita-
bly also to Beethoven’s other vocal compositions and even to some of
the instrumental and symphonic music, I believe; a worthwile critical
task which ought to receive expert attention and which promises illu-
minating results. What I mean is simply the fundamental interdepend-
ence of Beethoven’s vocal and instrumental works. For example, we
can find certain structures and techniques in the Lieder which derive
from the instrumental compositions, like the subtle use of the sonata
form in the Goethe songs Neue Liebe, neues Leben and Mit einem
gemalten Band or traces of variational, improvisational, and cyclic
writing as reflected, say, in An die ferne Geliebte, the first song cycle
in music history. And likewise we can discover musical semblances of
what Boettcher termed “poetic language that approaches the quality of
prose” in instrumental works such as the well-known recitative-like
passages in the first movement of the d-minor piano sonata op. 31, 2
(Les Adieux), and in the final movement of the Ninth Symphony in-
toned by the lower strings and leading over to the baritone recitative
set to Beethoven’s own words “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! sondern
laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere” or the “pecu-
liarly lyrical, declamatory style”27 so pronounced in the last quartets.
My necessarily incomplete discussion of Beethoven and the word
would be even more sketchy without at least mentioning, by way of
conclusion, another significant aspect of his literariness: opera. To
ponder his abortive operatic ventures is just as instructive as studying
the various versions of Fidelio. It would be fascinating, for example,
to speculate about operas seriously planned and invariably abandoned
by Beethoven on lofty subjects like Vestas Feuer (Schikaneder),
Romulus (Treitschke), Macbeth and Armida (Collin), The Return of

Ibid., 35.

Ulysses (Körner), Libussa and Melusine (Grillparzer), Bacchus (Geit-

teles), Attila (Kotzebue), and Faust, of course, the composition of
which remained Beethoven’s greatest unfulfilled desire. Was it a care-
fully veiled sense of despair and longing for a good opera text or his
sincere belief in Kotzebue’s literary stature that induced him to write
so admiringly to Kotzebue in January 1812, just six months before he
met his true literary idol Goethe in Teplitz?

Indem ich für die Ungarn Ihr [Kotzebue’s] Vor- und Nachspiel mit Musik be-
gleitete [the music to King Stephen and The Ruins of Athens], konnte ich mich des
lebhaften Wunsches nicht enthalten, eine Oper von Ihrem einzig dramatischen
Genie zu besitzen, möge sie romantisch, ganz ernsthaft, heroisch, komisch, senti-
mental sein, kurzum, wie es Ihnen gefalle, werde ich sie mit Vergnügen anneh-
men. Freilich würde mir am liebsten ein großer Gegenstand aus der Geschichte
sein und besonders aus den dunkleren Zeiten, z.b.des Attila usw. Doch werde ich
mit Dank annehmen, wie der Gegenstand auch immer sei, wenn etwas mir von
Ihnen kommt, von Ihrem poetischen Geiste, das ich in meinen musikalischen
übertragen kann.28

Obviously, Beethoven would have given anything for a suitable li-

bretto – and we know that he actively searched for one, in vain,
throughout his creative life. No wonder, therefore, that much of his
vocal music bears the imprint of the frustrated opera composer. One
could argue, of course, as G. B. Shaw persuasively did, that even Fi-
delio hardly qualifies as a true opera, for it “resolves opera into can-
tata or allegorical oratorio”.29 But then, conversely, it is only a small
and plausible step along the same route to conceive of the long stretch
of solo and choral singing which concludes the Ninth Symphony as
inherently operatic, especially since it unmistakably echoes in musical
and ideational content the jubilant Finale of Fidelio. The truth, most
probably, lies somewhere in the middle.
But where does all this leave Adrian Leverkühn, for whom it was
“sehr natürlich, daß die Musik am Wort entbrenne, das Wort aus der

Briefe (cf. note 13) 208 [January 28, 1812].
Peter Conrad: Romantic Opera and Literary Form, Berkeley 1977, 82.

Musik hervorbräche, wie es sich gegen Ende der Neunten Symphonie

ereigne”? Leverkühn opts here for Wagnerian mystification which
beclouds the real issue: the complex and ultimately creative necessity
of the word for Beethoven the man and artist. As I hope to have sug-
gested, for Beethoven this necessity of the word as artistic resource
was inseparable from an innate though by far not infallible literary
affinity unique among musicians of any age.
Comparing Literature and Music
Current Trends and Prospects in Critical Theory
and Methodology (1981)

Apart from a personal privilege, it is also an unprecedented opportu-

nity to address – at a truly international meeting such as ours – a siz-
able group of comparatists with a pronounced interest in literature and
the arts as a subject for serious study. My use of the word “serious” is
deliberate, for the state, status, and prospects of scholarship concerned
with comparing literature and the other arts have not always been as
encouraging as they appear to us today. Not long ago indeed, in 1968,
Ulrich Weisstein’s sober assessment of this comparatistic no-man’s-
land sounded appropriately bleak, that is, thoroughly realistic:

Until very recently [...] the study of the arts in their mutual interpenetration was a
sort of academic twilight zone that was either annexed to aesthetics or, for lack of
interest on the part of literary critics and historians, claimed by art history and

I hasten to add, however, that at the same time Professor Weisstein –

coolly confident of a brighter future for this type of inquiry – did not
hesitate to predict what we no longer find astonishing, that sooner or
later, the study of literature’s share in the mutual illumination of the
arts “will, along with the sociology of literature and the revived genol-
ogy and thematology, find a prominent place in the next phase of the
history of Comparative Literature.”2 It is surely no coincidence that
the relevant chapter in the original 1968 German version of Weis-

Ulrich Weisstein, Comparative Literature and Literary Theory: Survey and Intro-
duction. Tr. W. Riggan (Bloomington, Ind., 1973), p. 151.
Ibid., p. 152.

stein’s comprehensive Einführung in die Vergleichende Literaturwis-

senschaft, then still hesitatingly entitled “Exkurs: Wechselseitige Er-
hellung der Künste”, became only five years later, in the English ver-
sion, a full-fledged chapter simply called “The Mutual Illumination of
the Arts”.
Weisstein is not alone, of course, with his firm endorsement of lit-
erarily based interart criticism as legitimate comparatist activity. Par-
ticularly in the last decade or so, there has been a gratifyingly signifi-
cant shift in attitude among comparatists on an international scale with
regard to interart parallels drawn from literature and the visual arts,
literature and music, and literature and film. Even as prominent a rep-
resentative of Eastern European comparatist methodology as György
Vajda can be quoted as conceding that

Auf nationaler und geschichtlicher Grundlage halten wir es für möglich, daß die
vergleichende Literaturforschung ihr Augenmerk auch auf parallele Erscheinun-
gen aus anderen Bereichen der Kunst richtet. Sind doch Literatur und Kunst, The-
ater und Musik Produkte desselben geschichtlichen Prozesses. Und sie bestehen
nicht nur nebeneinander, sie wirken auch gegenseitig aufeinander.3

More and more of us by now share the conviction that the “interart
borderland”, to borrow Breon Mitchell’s felicitous designation (YCGL
27 [1978], p. 5), does indeed constitute a potentially profitable area of
comparative investigation. We might even look forward to a little
more recognition and trust on the part of our hitherto rather skeptical
colleagues who have been working mostly in the safer, traditional
confines of the discipline, comparing only literary works “beyond
national boundaries.”4

In G. Ziegengeist, ed., Aktuelle Probleme der Vergleichenden Literaturforschung
(Berlin-Ost, 1968), p. 96.
Henry H. H. Remak, “Comparative Literature, Its Definition and Function”, in:
Newton P. Stallknecht and Horst Frenz, eds., Comparative Literature: Method and
Perspective (Carbondale, Ill., 1961), p. 4.

Before I turn specifically to the fates and fortunes of comparing lit-

erature and music, it may be worthwhile to ponder for a moment the
reasons for this timely attention to our pursuits. The password here, I
suspect, is also the most fashionable term in humanistic studies today,
“currently [...] so overused as to be abused”5: interdisciplinary. As
Michael Messmer recently observed, “the frequent use of hybrid terms
– psychohistory, sociolinguistics, cliometrics, etc. – clearly indicates
recognition by practitioners of the intellectual endeavors to which
such terms are affixed that what they are doing no longer falls (or
seems to fall) comfortably within the boundaries of recognized aca-
demic disciplines”6. Messmer views the latest preoccupations of inter-
disciplinarians such as Hayden White, Raymond Williams, and Ed-
ward Said as “exemplary instances of boundary-violating critiques of
conventional knowledge”7 and concludes – correctly, I believe – that
“substantive interdisciplinary work will always cause [...] nervousness
in a contemporary academic world in which inviolable boundaries and
sacred taboos hedge the departmentalized disciplines one from an-
The relatively recent emergence of semiotics is likewise a case in
point. Being a “new and aggressive discipline”9, as Jonathan Culler in
his discussion on the pursuit of signs eloquently argues, it effects per-
ceptible changes and adjustments in a host of implicated disciplines
from among the humanities and social sciences. Obviously, in terms
of their scope, ambition, and eventual multi-disciplinary impact, semi-
otic and musico-literary inquiry bear no comparison. But on a more

See Michael W. Messmer, “The Vogue of the Interdisciplinary,” CentR, 22
(1978), 467-77.
Ibid., p. 467.
Ibid., p. 469.
Jonathan Culler, “In Pursuit of Signs,” Daedalus, No. 106 (Fall, 1977), p. 96.

modest scale, in terms of Fachgeschichte, for example, I do sense

some similarities. According to Culler (who has semiotics in mind),
“as a discipline makes a place for itself it makes a past for itself,
claiming certain scholars as precursors, interpreting their work in a
new light, identifying and redefining forces previously at work in
older disciplines”10. A mere glance at the history of esthetic theorizing
about the correspondences between literature and music, starting with
the mid-eighteenth century, suffices to substantiate that practitioners
in our field have been engaged in establishing similar objectives and
claims. The line of development is well known. Early theorists like
Charles Avison, Daniel Webb, John Brown, James Beattie, and Tho-
mas Twining11 in England and J. G. Sulzer, J. N. Forkel, and J. G.
Herder12 in Germany laid the groundwork for nineteenth-century es-
theticians such as Eduard Hanslick, W. A. Ambros, and Jules Com-
barieu13. Influential twentieth-century directions in the field have been
associated chiefly with theoretical and methodological studies by Os-
kar Walzel, Kurt Wais, René Wellek14, and Calvin S. Brown (who

Charles Avison, An Essay on Musical Expression (London, 1752); Daniel Webb,
Observations on the Correspondence between Poetry and Musick (London, 1762);
John Brown, A Dissertation on the Rise, Union, and Power, the Progressions, Sepa-
rations, and Corruptions of Poetry and Music (London, 1763); James Beattie, Essays
on Poetry and Music, as they Affect the Mind (London, 1770); and Thomas Twining,
ed., Aristotle’s Treatise on Poetry Translated: ... and Two Dissertations, on Poetical,
and Musical, Imitation (London, 1789).
J. G. Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste (Leipzig, 1771-74); J. N.
Forkel, Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (2 vols. Leipzig, 1788, 1801); and J. G.
Herder, Kritische Wälder (Riga, 1769).
Eduard Hanslick, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (Leipzig, 1854); W. A. Ambros, Die
Grenzen der Musik und Poesie (Prag, 1856); and Jules Combarieu, Les Rapports de la
musique et de la poésie (Paris, 1894).
Oskar Walzel, Wechselseitige Erhellung der Künste (Berlin, 1917), and Gehalt
und Gestalt im Kunstwerk des Dichters (Berlin-Neubabelsberg, 1923); Kurt Wais,
Symbiose der Künste. Forschungsgrundlagen zur Wechselberührung zwischen Dich-

retired last year as Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature

at the University of Georgia). Brown’s book entitled Music and Lit-
erature: A Comparison of the Arts15 clearly constitutes the most com-
prehensive modern scholarly assessment of the interrelationship.
Brown’s carefully conceived subsequent contributions to the field
over the last thirty years have made him its central, most influential
figure. His circumspect and highly informative Forschungsbericht, for
example, published in 1970 remains indispensable for anyone inter-
ested in the state and prospects of musico-literary research during the
preceding two decades16. This truly international survey is particularly
relevant for our purposes here because in it Brown provides not only
capsule characterizations of significant and/or representative studies
that appeared roughly between 1950 and 1970, but he also describes
and critically evaluates – with admirable clarity and sound judgment –
the various theoretical, methodological, and interpretive trends, preoc-
cupations, emphases, directions, and perspectives he discerns in this
largely heterogeneous and undisciplined discipline. His general char-
acterization of the field is still valid today:

There is no organization of the work or the workers in the field of musico-literary

relationships. Many a scholar publishes a single article in the field, usually in-
volving a writer or aspect of literature in which he regularly works, and never re-
turns to the relationship of the arts. A small number of scholars have a primary in-
terest in the field and work in it intensively, but they do not form anything that
could be called a group or coterie. Similarly, there are no organized or conflicting
schools of thought, as there is no official point of view and no standard methodol-
ogy. The entire field of study remains essentially individual and unorganized.17

tung, Bild- und Tonkunst (Stuttgart, 1936); and René Wellek, “The Parallelism bet-
ween Literature and the Arts,” English Institute Annual 1941 (N. Y., 1942), pp. 29-
Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1948.
Calvin S. Brown, “Musico-Literary Research in the Last Two Decades,” YCGL,
19 (1970), 5-27.
Ibid., pp. 5-6.

Brown’s initiative is also responsible for another important contribu-

tion dating from the same year, with longer-range theoretical and prac-
tical consequences for our field: the special, Spring 1970, issue of the
journal Comparative Literature, which is devoted to topics of music
and literature, with Brown as guest editor and feature articles by Ul-
rich Weisstein, Jack M. Stein, Nan C. Carpenter, Frederick W. Stern-
feld, Mary Chan, and myself.’18 In his introductory essay to this com-
pilation, Brown arrived at an ingenious definition of Comparative
Literature which should be better known. According to Brown, “If we
define comparative literature as any study of literature involving at
least two different media of expression, a good many difficulties in
classification will disappear”19. I regard this concise definition as the
most successful and persuasive plea so far for the legitimacy of liter-
arily based comparisons of literature with the other arts, including
literature and music, as an integral branch of Comparative Literature.
The diverse attempts at a practicable and widely acceptable defini-
tion for Comparative Literature have long been a favorite target of
attack within the discipline. It is, of course, ultimately impossible to
find a formulation that would satisfactorily accommodate every indi-
vidual interest; and a great deal of creative energy has been expended
on frequently abortive scholarly debates concerning exclusions and
inclusions according to disciplinary, national, and/or linguistic
boundaries – or, with specific relevance to our area of study, concern-
ing the credibility of the “music as language” theory. How appropri-
ately broad yet cogently restrictive Calvin Brown’s formulation is can
perhaps best be appreciated when it is contrasted with Henry H. H.
Remak’s well-known definition which has been criticized for its
overly permissive interdisciplinary bias:

“Special Number on Music and Literature,” CL, 22 (1970), number 2.
Ibid., p. 102.

Comparative literature is the study of literature beyond the confines of one par-
ticular country, and the study of the relationships between literature on the one
hand and other areas of knowledge and belief, such as the arts (e. g., painting,
sculpture, architecture, music), philosophy, history, the social sciences (e. g., poli-
tics, economics, sociology), the sciences, religion, etc., on the other. In brief, it is
the comparison of one literature with another or others, and the comparison of lit-
erature with other spheres of human expression.20

Clearly, Brown has honed and refined Remak’s “other spheres of hu-
man expression” by suggesting that, being itself a medium of expres-
sion, literature can be meaningfully compared with other “media of
expression” such as painting and music. The common link is, of
course, that as esthetic constructs literature and the other arts inher-
ently possess expressive content. It must be stressed, however, that
Brown’s designation “media of expression” does not carry specific
linguistic connotations. In other words, he would not regard the art of
literature as mere language, just as he would disapprove of literature-
based interart comparisons operating with hackneyed metaphorical
abstractions like “the language of music”, “music as language”, or
“the language of painting”. Also, as a further tacit improvement,
Brown’s definition simply disregards Remak’s ambiguous, all-
inclusive notion of “other areas of knowledge and belief.”21
Questions of definition and other theoretical issues of such magni-
tude involve the entire discipline of Comparative Literature and re-
quire a broader frame of reference. I shall now turn from this larger,
general context back to the narrower confines of comparing literature
and music and shall reflect briefly on some recent trends, preoccupa-
tions, and future tasks. To start with the positive side: during the last
decades, active interest in the serious study of musico-literary phe-
nomena has been steadily growing also among musicologists and

Remak, op. cit., p. 3.
I have raised this question along with other related ones in a paper given at the
1974 ACLA symposium devoted to “The Place of Comparative Literature in Interdis-
ciplinary Studies”. See YCGL, 24 (1975), 37-40.

composers with a solid literary background. It is encouraging indeed

that lately some of the ablest minds in the field of music have been
attracted to our pursuits: along with Thrasybulos Georgiades, Joseph
Müller-Blattau, Walter Wiora, and Frederick Sternfeld (who belong to
the older generation), the musicologists Joseph Kerman, Edward
Cone, Denis Stevens, Carl Dahlhaus, and Leon Plantinga; and the
composers Stockhausen, Cage, Boulez, Berio, and Dallapiccola. As
more musicologists find it worthwhile to publish on musico-literary
topics, certain basic methodological questions will surely arise. To
what extent, for example, should we insist on thorough academic
training and equal competence in both arts when contemplating the
interrelation? Where, if at all, are we to draw the line separating the
hunting ground of musico-literary comparatists from the domain of
musicologists? Traditionally, musicologists interested in this area have
been studying the combination of music and literature when they are
simultaneously present in the same work of art, as exemplified in op-
era and the Lied, in other types of vocal music, like the oratorio and
the cantata, and, to a lesser extent, in program music. Literary schol-
ars, on the other hand, have been concentrating on attempts by poets
and writers at “musicalization” of literature, thus dealing with music’s
impact on literature as the primary medium of expression. Since the
spectre of dilettantism looms large, no matter which side we come
from, what ultimately matters is, I believe, that the degree of profes-
sional competence required for the particular comparison be commen-
surate with the individual scholar’s ability, critical rigor, and appro-
priate background in both arts. Of course, adequate familiarity with
philosophical, literary, and musical esthetics is also a must. But it
would be myopic and counterproductive to prescribe any further the
nature and extent of specialized knowledge necessary for informed
and illuminating contributions. After all, in interart comparisons it
often proves to be a definite advantage if the critic remains unencum-
bered by overly technical vocabulary and analytical practices derived
from one or the other art. As numerous recent, persuasive studies

demonstrate, however, a reliable working knowledge of music in its

historical, technical, and practical aspects can provide profitable new
insights into literary works which exhibit “a substantial analogy to,
and in many cases an actual influence from, the art of music.”22 To
mention only one recent example by a historian of music: Hermann
Danuser’s comprehensive treatment of the phenomenon of Musikali-
sche Prosa (1975)23 succeeds precisely because throughout it rests on
a solid musicological foundation which never overshadows the in-
formed critical analyses of the topic’s literary aspects. Conversely, a
number of potentially promising studies of the interrelation by literary
scholars have been severely flawed by a partial, or even total, lack of
sophistication in musical matters.
This last observation already belongs to the negative side of our
balance. In spite of the many recent encouraging signs of health and
vigor in our field, certain problems continue to persist. I shall single
out only one here, and that only in passing, for I have commented on
it repeatedly and emphatically elsewhere: the age-old terminological
confusion unfortunately still omnipresent in comparisons of literature
and music. Perhaps this is a curse that will simply remain with us,
forever impeding honest efforts to evolve a clearly defined set of criti-
cal terms designed to eliminate the distorting vagueness so often en-
countered in comparative criticism. Such a set of terms would do
wonders! However Utopian it may sound, in place of rampant meta-
phorical impressionism – still happily fostered by the continuing
abuse and misuse of terms like “musical”, “musicality”, “music of
poetry”, “leitmotiv”, “melody”, “harmony”, and “counterpoint” – we
would have terminologically sound and responsibly formulated com-
parative studies of interart parallels. But the sobering fact is that I can
report no appreciable progress in this area at this time. After almost

Northrop Frye, “Introduction: Lexis and Melos,” in Frye, ed., Sound and Poetry.
English Institute Annual for 1956 (New York, 1957), pp. X-XI.
Regensburg, 1975.

two centuries, Friedrich Zelter’s notorious confession is still sympto-

matic of our terminological dilemma. Goethe’s composer friend wrote
to Schiller on February 20, 1798:

Sie könnten mich wohl fragen, was ich unter musikalisch verstehe und so will ich
Ihnen nun gleich sagen, daß ich es selbst nicht recht weiß; daß ich aber von an-
dern Musikern weiß, daß sie es auch nicht wissen; und daß die meisten unter ih-
nen so unwissend sind nicht zu wissen, daß sie es nicht wissen [...] Wir Musiker
[haben] gar keinen Begriff für das was wir musikalisch nennen.24

Obviously, then, one of the urgent tasks of musico-literary com-

paratists ought to be a rigorous self-examination with the aim of over-
coming the persistent “trend towards the loose metaphorical use of
technical terms”25. But we have to be practical, after all, and also iden-
tify more immediate, as well as concrete and manageable needs in the
field. Given the steady growth, in volume as well as in quality, of
pertinent scholarship, a circumspect and detailed Forschungsbericht
covering the last ten years – along the lines of Calvin Brown’s 1970
contribution – would be most welcome. Such a project could be based
on the only regularly appearing publication entirely devoted to the
interrelations of literature and the arts, now also including literature
and film. The twenty-seven-year old annual Bibliography on the Rela-
tions of Literature and the Other Arts – which I have been editing
since 1973 and which is being produced at Dartmouth College – con-
tinues to serve the rising number of interart comparatists. While the
Bibliography cannot possibly claim to be exhaustive, it is generally
regarded as a more than adequate overview of the international scene;
and more specifically, as a helpful tool that provides a reliable and up-
to-date source for assessing the diverse contributions published year
after year.
Looking at the work on musico-literary topics published in the last
decade, the scarcity of theoretically oriented items becomes immedi-

Eduard Castle, ed., Carl Kunzels ‘Schilleriana’ (Vienna, 1955), p. 72.
Brown, op. cit., p. 6.

ately apparent. Instead, scholars have concentrated on musical connec-

tions demonstrable in individual authors or specific literary works,
with certain authors receiving a great deal more critical attention than
others. Rousseau, Wackenroder, Kleist, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Heine,
Nietzsche, Hofmannsthal, Thomas Mann, Brecht, and T. S. Eliot have
been most frequently treated, with Mann’s Doktor Faustus being the
one single work most often studied. Important new work has also been
done on the literary connections of composers such as Haydn, Berlioz,
Debussy, Hindemith, Kurt Weill, and Hanns Eisler. Only the Lied and
opera have been subjected to considerable theoretical scrutiny. Joseph
Kerman’s recent comment on the appearance of new studies in oper-
atic critical theory is characteristic of the whimsicality of critical fads:

Five such volumes came out in 1977, almost the first to arrive since my own
Opera as Drama in 1956; and I may perhaps be allowed to express some be-
musement both at the dearth of sustained work in this area in the last twenty years
or so, and also at this sudden new deluge.26

Still, the observed trends are not likely to change overnight. Musico-
literary scholarship will surely need, therefore, more solid studies of
the synchronic, systematic relations between the two arts, as well as
inquiries into diachronic, historical correlations such as periodization,
reception, dissemination, and influence. Also, the time has come, I
believe, for a more ambitious and formidable project: the writing of a
comprehensive, book-length historical survey of the theory and prac-
tice of musico-literary criticism – a task that has been attempted so far
only in bits and pieces, in the form of individual articles or book chap-
In conclusion, I come to the most problematic desideratum: the
need for informed studies on the feasibility and potential usefulness of
the semiotic approach for comparing literature and music. I must con-
fess that at this early stage of semiotic inquiry into the various arts I

Joseph Kerman, “Opera, Novel, Drama: The Case of La Traviata,” YCGL, 27
(1978), 44.

am rather skeptical about eventual results. Not that I doubt that in

some way future work in musical, linguistic, and literary semiology
and extensive research into the exact nature of possible reciprocal
contact between semiotics and esthetics will prove helpful in explor-
ing certain aspects of the interrelation. Indeed, much provocative
comparative work has already been done on the semiotic aspects of
music and language by scholars like Roman Jakobson, Roland
Barthes, Nicolas Ruwet, Roland Harweg, and Jean-Jacques Nattiez,
primarily linguists.27 It is just that, so far, I have not come across any
illuminating semiotic treatment of literature and music. Only the mu-
sicologist Rose Subotnik’s persuasively argued recent essay in Criti-
cal Inquiry entitled “The Cultural Message of Musical Semiology:
Some Thoughts on Music, Language, and Criticism since the Enlight-
enment”28 provided me with a few passing flashes of semiotic insight
linking the two arts; but then Subotnik herself ends up doubting the
basic premise of musical semiology. “Musik und Zeichen. Aspekte
einer nicht vorhandenen musikalischen Semiotik” is the suggestive
title of another recent musicological contribution.29
There seem to be more incorrigible optimists among literary critics
(or are they prophets?) who – like Professor Vajda – anticipate far-
reaching results from the impact of semiotics on interart comparisons:

[An] area to which semiotics can perhaps direct us is the elaboration of the shared
language of meaning-overlaps between literature and the other arts. This would be
one of the most attractive and rewarding fields of comparative studies, as it would
further the establishment of a solid foundation for the unified study of literature

E. g., Roman Jakobson, “Musikwissenschaft und Linguistik,” Prager Presse
(December 7, 1932); Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris, 1957); Nicolas Ruwet,
Langage, musique, poésie (Paris, 1972); Roland Harweg, “Sprache und Musik,”
Poetica, 1 (1967), 390-414 and 556-566; and Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Fondements
d’une sémiologie de la musique (Paris, 1975).
Critical Inquiry, 4 (1978), 741-768.
By Tibor Kneif in Musica, 27 (1973), 9-12.

and the other arts, the objectification of such unified investigations, and the explo-
ration of deeper inner relations among the arts.30

Without some comforting evidence, however, this is perhaps too op-

timistic a prognosis for me to endorse fully at this time. But, as I hope
my remarks on the nature and range of current critical activity have
shown, comparing literature and music is a dynamic and resilient field
of study, ready for the challenge of solving old problems and able to
face promising new tasks, including the challenge of semiotics.

György M. Vajda, “Present Perspectives of Comparative Literature”, Neohelicon
5 (1977), p. 279.
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Literature and Music (1982)

Poets and musicians are members of one church,

related in the most intimate way: for the secret
of word and tone is one and the same.
E. T. A. Hoffmann

What demon pushes the composer so inexorably to literature?

What is the power that compels him in emergency to become
a poet himself? Is it merely the longing for the lost Paradise,
for that original unity which can never be regained?
Pierre Boulez

To find a true word in music is as lucky as

to find true music in words.
William W. Austin

That music and literature share their origin is a notion as old as the
first stirrings of aesthetic consciousness. Even a cursory glance at the
evolution of the arts confirms that “histories of both have remained in
many ways mutually contingent.”1 As the two arts developed, diverse
theories were advanced about their comparability as basic media of
artistic expression. From early on, juxtapositions now all too familiar,
like “music and poetry”, “word and tone”, and “sound and poetry”,
recur with formulaic frequency in critical discourse. Though rarely
substantiated by a precise definition, such commonplace juxtaposi-
tions lend a deceptively axiomatic aura of legitimacy to comparisons
of the two arts. Indeed, by their cumulative presence alone, these cli-

John Hollander, “Music and Poetry”, in Alex Preminger, ed., Encyclopedia of
Poetry and Poetics (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1965), p. 533.

chés seem to authenticate what has been traditionally viewed in aes-

thetic speculation as a relation of mutual dependency. But as scrutiny
of critical theory and practice reveals, the relation is precarious and
beset with interpretive pitfalls: while in many instances the two arts
are virtually inseparable, there are also apparent correlations that ulti-
mately prove to be illusory or at best metaphorical.
It may seem odd to begin a discussion of the manifold alliance of
literature and music on a skeptical note. Yet it is necessary here as a
preventive measure, for the study of this correspondence – perhaps
more than any other study of interart parallels – holds “a fatal attrac-
tion for the dilettante, the faddist and the crackpot”2. One reason for
this attraction may be the tacit endorsement in aesthetics and art criti-
cism of the cliché that music is the art most closely allied with litera-
ture. A generalization of this sort, however true, often fosters the illu-
sion that scholars in the field require little if any specialized back-
ground. To be sure, the spectrum of possible parallels between the two
arts is vast. But that most of these parallels are also enormously com-
plex is not readily evident even to musically sophisticated students of
literature or, for that matter, to musicologists with considerable liter-
ary erudition. Precisely here lies the difficulty for prospective practi-
tioners of musico-literary study: namely, that more often than not they
make the decisive initial contact with this “interarts borderland”3 of
literary and musical aesthetics on too high a level of generalization.
Uninitiated parallel seekers thus enter the happy hunting ground of
musico-literary relations with insufficient ammunition, yet expect to
emerge with a handsome booty. What awaits them behind the unas-
suming conjunction “and” is an infinite variety of affinities, inter-
plays, and analogies as well as divergencies; to master the complexi-

Calvin S. Brown, “Comparative Literature”, Georgia Review, 13 (1959), 175.
Breon Mitchell’s felicitous designation in Yearbook of Comparative and General
Literature, 27 (1978), 5.

ties, they need a knowledge of the fundamental principles, creative

potentialities, and interpretive possibilities of both arts.
No matter how similar literature and music may appear on occa-
sion, they are only analogous, never identical. In addressing some of
the basic issues and preoccupations of musico-literary criticism, an
attempt will be made to maintain a reasonable balance between the
literary and the musical perspectives. A systematic and a historical
overview of the interrelation will be included as well as consideration
of more general questions concerning the boundaries between the two
arts: where and how do they overlap or transgress their individual
confines; what are the typical, concrete manifestations of the interac-
tion, based on specific affinities; which are the major areas and com-
monly practiced types of comparative investigation; and to what ex-
tent can legitimate comparisons succeed and be fruitful for the literary
scholar? To facilitate orientation, the parallels between the two arts
will be divided into three categories: music and literature, literature in
music, and music in literature.4
Manifestations of what we generally call “vocal music” fall under
the heading “music and literature”. In vocal music, literary text and
musical composition are inextricably bound. Together they constitute
a symbiotic construct that qualifies as a full-fledged work of art only if
components of both are simultaneously present. Most common among
such combinations of text and music in a single work are operas and
lieder (art songs), along with a host of other forms familiar from past
centuries of European musical and theatrical history, such as oratorios,
cantatas, masses, motets, madrigals, a cappella choruses, ballads, the
English masque, and the German singspiel. From its early seven-
teenth-century beginnings, opera has been a unique and indestructible
form of artistic expression fusing poetry and music into a theatrical

The following presentation draws extensively on my publications treating mu-
sico-literary topics (see bibliography). Whenever possible, an attempt has been made
to improve upon earlier definitions and formulations. Direct quotations from previous
material are acknowledged in the text.

spectacle, and it has generated memorable partnerships between poets

and composers of stature; in the twentieth century, for example, Rich-
ard Strauss collaborated with Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Igor Stra-
vinsky with Jean Cocteau and W. H. Auden. Perhaps even better
known are those cases in which composers drew inspiration from ex-
isting literary works to create operatic masterpieces or outstanding
examples of the lied: Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff;
Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov; Alban Berg’s Wozzeck; Ben-
jamin Britten’s Billy Budd; Franz Peter Schubert’s settings of Goethe
poems; and Robert Schumann’s Eichendorff songs readily come to
mind. In the interaction between text and music, poets and musicians
no doubt recognized an opportunity to transcend the communicative
limitations of the individual art forms. The manifold aspects of where
and how word interacts and intersects with tone have proved most
rewarding for musico-literary study.
Traditionally, in spite of the obvious points of reciprocal contact
between the two arts, vocal music has been regarded as a primarily
musical genre. No one would seriously think of, say, Verdi’s operas
based on Shakespeare plays or Schubert’s Goethe lieder as first and
foremost literary creations. Yet interpreters of such works cannot dis-
pense with the literary aspect of the relation. After all, it is almost
always a given text that inspires the composer’s musical realization,
even if it undergoes alteration in the creative process. For a long time,
opera criticism and lied scholarship have been practiced almost exclu-
sively by musicologists. As a result, the poetic elements in the word-
tone synthesis have rarely received due attention.5 In recent years,
however, remarkable progress has been made by musically informed
literary critics toward a correction of this imbalance, notably by Ulrich
Weisstein, Gary Schmidgall, Peter Conrad, and Jack M. Stein. Analy-
sis of the complex artistic conditions conducive to a realization of

Prominent exceptions are studies by such musicologists as Joseph Kerman, Thra-
sybulos Georgiades, and Walter Wiora.

optimal musical settings of poetic texts; discussion of matters of prior-

ity, such as the recurring dilemma of collaborating composers, poets,
and librettists about the relative merit of the text or the music – “prima
le parole e dopo la musica” or “prima la musica e poi le parole”;
speculation about the particular choice, nature, and aesthetic value of
the text to be set to music; and inquiry into specific theoretical and
interpretive problems generated by the diverse attempts to achieve an
ideal word-tone synthesis: these are only a sampling of the most fre-
quently treated topics concerning composite instances of music and
”Literature in music” conveniently designates works customarily
referred to as “program music”. Though, like vocal music, a primarily
musical genre, program music invites the scrutiny of the literary
scholar inasmuch as it often exhibits an impact of literature on music.
Particularly in nineteenth and early twentieth-century music, this im-
pact has been so considerable that we may say that most examples of
program music represent attempts on the part of their composers at
“literarization” of music. In contradistinction to “absolute” or “ab-
stract” music that possesses no extramusical connotations, program
music is defined as instrumental music inspired by or based on “a
nonmusical idea, which is usually indicated in the title and sometimes
described in explanatory remarks or a preface.”6 In 1854 Franz Liszt
coined the term “symphonic poem” (later also known as “tone poem”)
for what has since become the most common type of such expressive
instrumental music. Liszt’s own pioneering symphonic poems like
Tasso or Hamlet and his Dante and Faust symphonies were followed
by a host of others similarly inspired by specific literary works, as for
example Hector Berlioz’ Harold en Italie (based on Lord Byron’s
Childe Harold), Hugo Wolf’s Penthesilea (after Heinrich von Kleist’s
tragedy), Richard Strauss’s Don Juan (after Nikolaus Lenau), Paul

Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, comp. Don M. Randel (Cambridge: Har-
vard Univ. Press, 1978), p. 402.

Dukas’s L’Apprenti sorcier (after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s

ballad “Der Zauberlehrling”) and Claude Debussy’s Prélude à
l’après-midi d’un faune (after Stephane Mallarmé’s eclogue). Some of
the best-known pieces of program music, however, were inspired by
nonliterary sources such as impressions of landscape and events in
nature (Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony), nationalistic
themes (Bedřich Smetana’s Má Vlast), specific paintings (Mussorg-
sky’s Pictures at an Exhibition) and quasi-philosophical writings
(Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, after Friedrich Nietzsche).
Critical consideration of the theoretical and interpretive ramifica-
tions of program music is contingent on a grasp of the history and
aesthetics of music. Particularly relevant in this context is the contro-
versy that arose in response to Eduard Hanslick’s 1854 treatise Vom
Musikalisch-Schönen [The Beautiful in Music] between “formalist”
and “expressionist” aestheticians about the meaning of music.7 This
ongoing controversy harbors implications for the correlation of music
and literature: the issue intimated here is the incomparability of the
two arts. Clearly, “since any literary work is composed of words con-
veying some sort of definite conceptual meaning, through proper com-
bination of words literature can communicate, express, or evoke a
wide range of possibilities beyond itself. Music, on the other hand, is
not composed of words and therefore lacks conceptual meaning”
(Scher, Verbal Music, p. 163). Directed at the time against the overtly
dramatic, illustrative tendency in Richard Wagner’s and Liszt’s com-
positional approach, Hanslick’s definition “Moving patterns of sound
are the sole content and object of music” (p. 32) confirms the essential
difference in expressivity between the two arts. This difference con-
tinues to separate the formalists or absolutists (champions of absolute
music) from the expressionists or programmatists (champions of pro-
gram music). Two contrasting statements illustrate the irrecon-

John Hospers’ Meaning and Truth in the Arts (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Caro-
lina Press, 1946) is still the most informative account of this controversy. See esp. pp.
78-98. See also Scher, Verbal Music, p. 163.

cilability in basic outlook. Almost a century later the convinced for-

malist Igor Stravinsky still echoes Hanslick: “I consider that music is,
by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all, [...] if, as is
nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is
only an illusion, and not reality.”8 The British musicologist Deryck
Cooke, in his polemical The Language of Music, espouses the oppo-
site extreme: “The ‘literary’ aspect of music is to be found, to a
greater or lesser extent, in most Western music written between 1400
and the present day, since music is, properly speaking, a language of
the emotions, akin to speech [...]. Music is, in fact, ‘extra-musical’ in
the sense that poetry is ‘extra-verbal’, since notes, like words, have
emotional connotations […].“ (p. 33)
So far, few literary critics have ventured beyond source study into
the aesthetics of program music and grappled with the implications of
the problematic presence, nature, and effectiveness of the literary
model as reflected in the musical realization.9 The best treatment of
these and related aspects can be found in Calvin S. Brown’s Music
and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts (1948). In several chapters
devoted to what he terms “literary types in music”, Brown offers com-
prehensive analytical surveys of the kinds of program music, evaluates
their literariness, and makes distinctions between descriptive and nar-
rative types of program music.
“Music in literature” is the only one of the three areas of the inter-
relation that encompasses exclusively literary works of art. While
unalterably bound to the literary medium of expression, in one way or
another all these works represent attempts at “musicalization” of lit-

Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky: An Autobiography (New York: Norton, 1936), pp.
See, for example, W. H. Hadow, The Place of Music Among the Arts (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1933); John Hospers, Meaning and Truth in the Arts; M. P. T. Leahy,
“The Vacuity of Musical Expressionism”, British Journal of Aesthetics, 16 (1976),
144-56; and Luigi Ronga, The Meeting of Poetry and Music, trans. Elio Gianturco
and Cara Rusanti (New York: Merlin, 1956).

erature or verbalization of music. No matter how similar to music

purely verbal constructs may be, in the nature of their material they
remain fundamentally different from works whose medium is primar-
ily musical, such as absolute, vocal, or program music. Literary texts
cannot transcend the confines of literary texture and become musical
texture. Literature lacks the unique acoustic quality of music; only
through ingenious linguistic means or special literary techniques can it
imply, evoke, imitate, or otherwise indirectly approximate actual mu-
sic and thus create what amounts at best to a verbal semblance of mu-
sic. Firmly anchored in the literary realm, manifestations of music in
literature promise to be most rewarding for literary study. But the
possibilities of literary treatment of music are so numerous and di-
verse that only the three basic kinds can be discussed and illustrated
here in some detail: “word music”, musical structures and techniques
in literary works, and “verbal music”. They will be reviewed as part of
a larger framework of the major methodological strategies practiced
by critics who deal with musico-literary parallels: the synchronic ap-
proach concerning the systematic relations and the diachronic ap-
proach concerning the historical relations between the two arts.
The essential distinction between affinity in material and affinity in
structure determines the nature and extent of systematic analogies
between literature and music. Organized sound serves as basic mate-
rial for both arts, a shared feature that immediately suggests the idea
of comparability. But caution is in order, for the literary sound unit
differs substantially from the musical sound unit: the individual word
can (and usually does) carry semantic connotations, whereas the indi-
vidual tone cannot. Word music, for example, is a rather common type
of poetic practice that aims primarily at imitation in words of the
acoustic quality of music (frequently also of non-musical sound) and
that is realizable because of affinities in basic material (Yoshida,
“Word-Music”). “Experimenters with such ‘pure’ poetry or prose of
intense sound attempt to evoke the auditory sensation of music by
composing verbal structures consisting predominantly of onomato-

poeic words or word clusters” (Scher, Verbal Music, p. 3). Onomato-

poeia is, of course, the technique most often used to approximate in
words the effect of sound. Particular constituents superimposed on
organized sound structures and patterns in both music and language
likewise substantiate affinity in material: rhythm, stress, pitch (intona-
tion), and timbre (tone color) are all applicable in literature, more or
less effectively, to create musiclike textures. Selected strategies of
versification such as alliteration, assonance, consonance, and rhyme
schemes are purely literary and have also been successfully utilized
for this purpose. A sampling of characteristic examples from the last
two centuries shows that poetic preoccupation with the phenomenon
of word music is by no means confined to any one national literature:
we often encounter it in allusive poems by Clemens Brentano, Joseph
von Eichendorff, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine,
Mallarmé (and other French symbolists); in Edith Sitwell’s “poésie
pure”; in the nonsense Iyrics of the Dadaists Hugo Ball, Hans Arp,
and Kurt Schwitters; in the imaginative sound poems (Lautgedichte)
of the Austrian Ernst Jandl; and in virtuoso prose passages of James
Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The first stanza of Verlaine’s
poem “Chanson d’automne” illustrates word music at its suggestive

Les sanglots longs

Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur

But even here the successful imitation of musical timbre – through

transparent interplay of appropriate diction, assonances, and rhymes –
depends on the poet’s naming of the violin, whose timbre is being

Paul Verlaine, Œuvres poétiques, ed. Jacques Robichez (Paris: Garnier, 1969),
p. 39.

imitated. Without this suggestive aid (comparable to the function of

suggestive literary titles in program music) even a reader endowed
with the most fertile imagination would find it difficult to identify the
instrument in question, supposing that he or she could associate the
imitative verbal timbre with a musical instrument at all.
In the traditional classification of the fine arts, music and literature
are viewed as closely akin, because they both are auditory, temporal,
and dynamic art forms. (Painting, sculpture, and architecture, on the
other hand, resemble one another on account of their visual, spatial,
and static nature.) Without the auditory quality inherent in both music
and literature, for example, imitative experiments with word music
would be inconceivable. That by nature both arts are also temporal
and dynamic becomes particularly relevant when we consider their
affinities in structure. Since in an abstract sense receptive comprehen-
sion of both arts requires attentive tracing of a certain movement to be
completed in time, both “music and literature are activities to be rea-
lized; they [...] create [...] ‘things to be done’ (a score to be performed
or a book to be read), i.e. processes which still need to be decoded”
(Scher, “Literature and Music”, p. 38). In terms of musico-literary
critical practice, decoding here means recognition and interpretation of
certain corresponding formal designs and organizing strategies in lit-
erature that create the impression of comparable progressive move-
ment. Clearly, imitation of standard musical forms and features based
on concrete structural affinities deserves special critical attention
when the “musiclike” organization is integrated as unobtrusively and
fully as possible into the literary work. In such rare instances analysis
can advance beyond mere recognition to a critical evaluation of the
contours similar to music. The demonstrable correspondences occa-
sioned by the interart transfer constitute an additional interpretive
dimension within the musically inspired literary work.
In spite of the difficulties involved, many authors susceptible to
music’s formative impact have found the borrowing of musical strate-
gies for literary purposes an irresistible challenge. Two major types of

such borrowing are the adaptation of larger musical structures and

patterns and the application of certain musical techniques and devices
common to both arts. Aldous Huxley, an avid and not inept practition-
er of music in literature, provides an illuminating theoretical digres-
sion in his novel Point Counter Point on how some musical tech-
niques might be translated into novelistic practice:

The musicalization of fiction. Not in the symbolist way, by subordinating sense to

sound [...]: But on a large scale, in the construction. Meditate on Beethoven. The
changes of moods, the abrupt transitions. [...] More interesting still, the modula-
tions, not merely from one key to another, but from mood to mood. A theme is
stated, then developed, pushed out of shape, imperceptibly deformed, until,
though still recognizably the same, it has become quite different. In sets of varia-
tions the process is carried a step further. Those incredible Diabelli variations, for
example. The whole range of thought and feeling, yet all in organic relation to a
ridiculous waltz tune. Get this into a novel. How? The abrupt transitions are easy
enough. All you need is a sufficiency of characters and parallel, contrapuntal
plots. [...] More interesting, the modulations and variations are also more difficult.
A novelist modulates by repudiating situation and characters. He shows several
people falling in love, or dying, or praying in different ways – dissimilars solving
the same problem. [...] In this way you can modulate through all the aspects of
your theme, you can write variations in any number of different moods.11

From a musical point of view, Huxley’s methodological musings

verge on dilettantism. But as a writer of fiction Huxley is entitled to a
laxer usage of terms like theme, modulation, or variation; as a precon-
dition for creative reflection, he must be allowed to contemplate the
other medium from a distance and interpret its ground rules with
Among the larger structures, the theme and variations, the sonata,
the fugue, and the rondo form have been attempted most frequently –
and at times quite successfully – in literature. Based on the principles
of repetition and variation indispensable to both music and literature,
the literary set of variations comes perhaps closest to approximating
its musical counterpart. In a recent article, “Theme and Variations as a

Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1928), pp.

Literary Form”, Calvin S. Brown has examined some effective uses,

found as early as in Eve’s morning song to Adam in John Milton’s
Paradise Lost (IV.641-56). Later examples include Ludwig Tieck’s
romantic comedy Die verkehrte Welt, Robert Browning’s The Ring
and the Book, and Raymond Queneau’s Exercises de style. Interpre-
tive insights have been derived from the sonata form as an incon-
spicuous but demonstrable overall design in prose works such as
Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger and Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppen-
wolf.12 Thomas De Quincey’s “Dream Fugue” and Paul Celan’s “To-
desfuge” are considered the most convincing literary realizations of
the fugue. As for the literary rondo, here is a compact passage from
the “sirens” section of Joyce’s Ulysses:

From the saloon a call came, long in dying. That was a tuning fork the tuner had
that he forgot that he now struck. A call again. That he now poised that it now
throbbed. You hear? It throbbed, pure, purer, softly and softlier, its buzzing
prongs. Longer in dying call.13

In music the rondo is essentially an extended A-B-A form that resem-

bles the tripartite (exposition-development-recapitulation) sonata
form. The usual scheme for the musical rondo is A-B-A-C-A-D-A...
In this passage Joyce succeeds in approximating the musical scheme
in miniature. A “call” constitutes the regularly recurring basic theme
or refrain (A). In between its recurrences, distinctly different contrast-
ing themes or episodes (B and C) appear and linger on a while before
they are finally abandoned so that the refrain (A) can once again re-

Harold A. Basilius, “Thomas Mann’s Use of Musical Structure and Techniques in
Tonio Kröger”, Germanic Review, 19 (1944), 284-308, and Theodore Ziolkowski,
“Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf: A Sonata in Prose”, Modern Language Quarterly, 19
(1958), 115-40.
James Joyce, Ulysses (1922; rpt. New York: Random, 1961), p. 264.
Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s novel Tynset has been convincingly analyzed as the
latest example of the literary rondo. See Patricia H. Stanley, “The Structure of Wolf-
gang Hildesheimer’s Tynset”, Monatshefte, 71 (1979), 29-40.

Organizing principles such as repetition, variation, balance, and

contrast pervade both musical and literary textures; and the straight-
forward way they usually function in the respective arts yields many
points of contact for legitimate comparison. Only the leitmotiv – a
unique, more sophisticated repetition technique of truly mixed origin –
needs special comment. The term itself was coined by the Wagnerite
critic Hans von Wolzogen to denote the recurring musical themes
(Grundthema was Wagner’s own designation) attached to characters,
objects, situations, and ideas that together form the associative net-
work underlying the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. But the technique
in literature can be traced back to the principle of formulaic repetition
evident in the Homeric epitheton ornans and has been refined and
employed in epic tradition ever since: “a verbal formula which is de-
liberately repeated, which is easily recognized at each recurrence, and
which serves, by means of this recognition, to link the context in
which the repetition occurs with earlier contexts in which the motive
has appeared” (Brown, Music and Literature, p. 211). Indiscriminate
use of the leitmotiv as a catchword for any kind of literary repetition
has resulted in horrendous misinterpretations familiar to readers of
modern and contemporary criticism. However disconcerting these
critical blunders may be, they should not deter us from realizing that
the literary leitmotiv – responsibly defined – provides a rare instance
of genuinely reciprocal impact of music and literature: an associative
technique that, as an overall structural principle, can be analogously
employed in dramatic vocal music, in instrumental music, and in epic
(less frequently also in dramatic) literature. As Marcel Proust’s A la
recherche du temps perdu and Thomas Mann’s œuvre clearly demon-
strate, the impact of the Wagnerian leitmotiv on modern literature can
hardly be overestimated. More specifically, documentary evidence
confirms that there is a direct line from the musical leitmotiv – from
Wagner through Eduard Dujardin and Italo Svevo to Joyce – to the
stream-of-consciousness technique.

Transplantation of other standard musical devices and features into

literature has also been tried, though with disappointing results. Not
even the favorably disposed reader’s total suspension of disbelief can
help the author to suggest the actual impression of a musical phrase
that is attempted in a text only through punctuation or syntax; resem-
blance to tonality in music cannot be conveyed specifically enough by
a main theme, idea, or topic that permeates a literary work; and modu-
lation from one key to another in a composition is something very
different from what Huxley calls modulation “from mood to mood” in
a novel. The outcome of such interart transfers is usually so vague that
even the endeavor itself seems hardly worthwhile. Yet we cannot dis-
miss these attempts as fascinating aberrations, for no matter how
hopeless, they represent an aesthetic impulse on the part of their au-
thors to transcend the limitations of their own medium of expression
(in this case literature) and cross over into another medium (in this
case music), while still remaining necessarily confined to the original
medium. Given the impossibility of the task and the fascination that it
has elicited, the improbable notion of a literary equivalent to counter-
point warrants a closer look.
Counterpoint denotes “music consisting of two or more lines that
sound simultaneously”15. In order to achieve a semblance of poly-
phonic construction, literature would have to be able to present and
sustain two or more ideas or narrative strains simultaneously – which,
by the nature of its medium, it cannot do. That the notion of literary
counterpoint continues nevertheless to be entertained by authors and
critics is a telling example of the aesthetic intent to overcome a fun-
damental difference between the two arts, namely, that the idea of
fusing sequentiality and simultaneity is achievable in music but only
conceivable in literature. Interestingly enough, even in a mixed me-
dium like vocal music, which is not primarily literary, quasi-
contrapuntal simultaneity has a restricting effect: the simultaneous

Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, p. 121.

presentation of words and music may retard or impede full compre-

hension of the text. In the lied, for example, the musical dimension
represents a continuous distraction for the listener who wants to un-
derstand the words. Or in operatic ensemble singing, say, in a quartet
where the four characters sing different lines simultaneously, total
comprehension of the individual lines is severely limited, if not im-
possible. According to Calvin S. Brown, in literature proper the genu-
ine pun comes closest to contrapuntal simultaneity, though still not
close enough (Music and Literature, p. 42). For in a pun, only one
idea can actually be told, which, during its telling, simultaneously
implies another idea; that idea, if the pun is understood, can be simul-
taneously perceived but has not actually been told. Theodore
Ziolkowski takes Brown’s cue one step further when he claims that in
Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf “double perception achieves the
effect of a sustained pun, and the interplay of the two levels of reality
produces a genuine contrapuntal effect”16. Prominent modern experi-
menters with counterpoint in literature include Aldous Huxley (Point
Counter Point), André Gide (Les Faux-Monnayeurs), and, of course,
James Joyce, who invented words like bespectable and even “had a
special theory about what he called the ‘polyphonic’ word which
would emit two meanings just as a chord emits several notes in one
sound”17. In a recent book on Laurence Sterne and the Origins of the
Musical Novel, William Freedman has tried to make a case for poly-
phonic construction as the predominant narrative technique in Tris-
tram Shandy, but Erwin Rotermund’s discussion of the sustained ef-
fort of quasi-contrapuntal simultaneity created by the two alternating,
continually converging narrative strains in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s re-
markably modern romantic novel Kater Murr seems more convinc-

Ziolkowski, “Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf,” p. 124.
Stephen Ullmann, Style in the French Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,
1957), p. 12.

ing.18 It should be clear, however, that any parallel between musical

and literary counterpoint can only be metaphorical; and the term itself,
as used widely in literary criticism, translates in plain language to
mean various forms of contrast.
“Verbal music” as a general designation has been gaining wide
currency in recent musico-literary criticism; it refers to the third basic
kind of imitative approach to music in literature, which may draw on
any, all, or none of the affinities discussed above. In critical usage
verbal music must not be confused with seemingly similar terms such
as word music, vocal music, or literary music (sometimes used for
program music) that, as we have seen, mean something different. I
have defined verbal music as “any literary presentation (whether in
poetry or prose) of existing or fictitious musical compositions: any
poetic texture which has a piece of music as its ‘theme.’ In addition to
approximating in words an actual or fictitious score, such poems or
passages often suggest characterization of a musical performance or of
subjective response to music” (Scher, Verbal Music, p. 8). In many
ways verbal music is the most genuinely literary among musico-
literary phenomena, perhaps because successful attempts to render
poetically the intellectual and emotional import and intimated sym-
bolic content of music tend to be less specific and restricting in mi-
metic aim and thus less obtrusive than direct imitations of particular
sound effects or elements of musical form. Prominent poets like Bren-
tano, Franz Grillparzer, Verlaine, and Algernon Charles Swinburne (as
well as all too many less prominent ones) have experimented with
verbal music in lyric poetry, on the whole with unconvincing results.
Calvin S. Brown, who has studied these attempts exhaustively in his
Tones into Words, assesses them as “distinctly minor verse” (p. 2),
containing little more than vague, dilettantish effusions about the in-
toxicating beauty and power of music. Verbal music in prose, how-

See William Freedman, Laurence Sterne and the Origins of the Musical Novel
(Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1978), and Erwin Rotermund, “Musikalische und
erzählerische ‘Arabeske’ bei E. T. A. Hoffmann”, Poetica, 2 (1968), 48-69.

ever, possesses greater aesthetic potential. As a versatile combination

of rhetorical, syntactical, and stylistic strategies, it can create plausible
literary semblances of actual or fictitious music as well as integrate
musiclike verbal textures unobtrusively into a larger epic context,
which is normally sustained by a network of anticipatory and retro-
spective allusions. Diverse examples of verbal music in prose abound
in German literature since 1800 (notably, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Kleist,
Grillparzer, Heinrich Heine, Eduard Mörike, Thomas Mann, Hesse,
and more recently Wolfgang Hildesheimer) but can also be found
frequently in French, Russian, and English works.19 The following
excerpt from Chapter xv of Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, a verita-
ble “verbal score” of the Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s opera Die
Meistersinger von Nürnberg, demonstrates the connotative quality and
far-reaching interpretive possibilities inherent in the phenomenon of
verbal music. In a candid letter to his musical mentor, the hero, Adrian
Leverkühn, an avant-garde composer, offers an ironically tinged illus-
tration to justify his rejection of the traditional concept of the beautiful
as it culminates in cadence-conscious Wagnerian music:

It goes like this when it is beautiful: the cellos by themselves intone a melan-
choly, pensive theme, which, in a manner both highly expressive and decorously
philosophical, questions the world’s folly, the wherefore of all the struggle and
striving, pursuing and plaguing. The cellos, head-shaking and deploring, enlarge
upon this riddle for a while, and at a certain point in their remarks, a well-chosen
point, the choir of wind instruments enters with a deep, full breath that makes
your shoulders rise and fall, in a choral hymn, movingly solemn, richly harmo-
nized, and produced with all the muted dignity and mildly restrained power of the
brass. Thus the sonorous melody presses on up to nearly the height of a climax,
which, in accordance with the laws of economy, it at first avoids, yielding, leav-
ing open, holding in reserve, remaining very beautiful even so, then withdrawing
and giving way to another subject, a songlike, simple one, now jesting, now
grave, now popular, apparently robust by nature, but sly as can be, and, for some-
one seasoned in the arts of analysis and transformation, astoundingly full of pos-
sibilities of significance and refinement. This little song is managed and deployed
for a while, cleverly and charmingly. It is taken apart, looked at in detail and var-

To mention only a few prominent authors: Balzac, Proust, Gide, and Romain
Rolland; Turgenev and Tolstoy; and E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Joyce, and Hux-

ied. Out of it, a delightful figure in the middle register is led up into the most en-
chanting heights of fiddles and flutes, lulls itself there a little, and then, when it is
at its most artful, the mild brass again takes up the word with the earlier choral
hymn and moves into the foreground – not, however, starting with a deep breath
from the beginning as it did the first time, but as though its melody had already
been going all along – and it continues, solemnly, to that climax from which it
had so wisely refrained the first time, in order that the surging feeling, the Ah-h
effect, might be the greater, now, that, mounting unchecked and with weighty
support from the passing notes of the bass tuba, it can gloriously bestride the
theme, looking back, as it were, with dignified satisfaction on the finished
achievement, singing its way modestly to the end.20

An ingenious blend of imitation, description, analysis, and interpreta-

tion, this single, self-contained paragraph reflects the musical essence

Michael Steinberg’s unpublished translation of Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus
(Stockholm: Fischer, 1947), pp. 207-08:
So geht es zu, wenn es schön ist: Die Celli intonieren allein, ein schwermütig sin-
nendes Thema, das nach dem Unsinn der Welt, dem Wozu all des Hetzens und
Treibens und Jagens und einander Plagens bieder-philosophisch und höchst aus-
drucksvoll fragt. Die Celli verbreiten sich eine Weile kopfschüttelnd und bedau-
ernd über dieses Rätsel, und an einem bestimmten Punkt ihrer Rede, einem wohl
erwogenen, setzt ausholend, mit einem tiefen Eratmen, das die Schultern empor-
zieht und sinken läßt, der Bläserchor ein zu einer Choralhymne, ergreifend feier-
lich, prächtig harmonisiert und vorgetragen mit aller gestopften Würde und mild
gebändigten Kraft des Blechs. So dringt die sonore Melodie bis in die Nähe eines
Höhepunktes vor, den sie aber, dem Gesetz der Ökonomie gemäß, fürs erste noch
vermeidet; sie weicht aus vor ihm, spart ihn auf, sinkt ab, bleibt sehr schön auch
so, tritt aber zurück und macht einem anderen Gegenstande Platz, einem liedhaft-
simplen, scherzhaft-gravitätisch-volkstümlichen, scheinbar derb von Natur, der’s
aber hinter den Ohren hat und sich, bei einiger Ausgepichtheit in den Künsten der
orchestralen Analyse und Umfärbung, als erstaunlich deutungs- und sublimie-
rungsfähig erweist. Mit dem Liedchen wird nun eine Weile klug und lieblich ge-
wirtschaftet, es wird zerlegt, im Einzelnen betrachtet und abgewandelt, eine rei-
zende Figur daraus wird aus mittleren Klanglagen in die zauberischsten Höhen
der Geigen und Flötensphäre hinaufgeführt, wiegt sich dort oben ein wenig noch,
und wie es am schmeichelhaftesten darum steht, nun, da nimmt wieder das milde
Blech, die Choralhymne von vorhin das Wort an sich, tritt in den Vordergrund,
fängt nicht gerade, ausholend wie das erste Mal, von vorne an, sondern tut, als sei
ihre Melodie schon eine Weile wieder dabei gewesen und setzt sich weihesam
fort gegen jenen Höhepunkt hin, dessen sie sich das erste Mal weislich enthielt,
damit die ‘Ah!’-Wirkung, die Gefühlsschwellung desto größer sei, jetzt, wo sie in
rückhaltlosem, von harmonischen Durchgangstönen der Baßtuba wuchtig gestütz-
tem Aufsteigen ihn glorreich beschreitet, um sich dann, gleichsam mit würdiger
Genugtuung auf das Vollbrachte zurückblickend, ehrsam zu Ende zu singen.

and suggests the metaphorical dimensions of Wagner’s Prelude. But

beneath the descriptive surface texture that allows initiated readers to
re-create in their reading experience the effect of listening to this or-
chestral composition, other contextual and structural levels of meaning
crucial to the interpretation of the entire novel may be discerned. For
instance, the exegesis of the Prelude can be read as a camouflaged
confession in which the evoked musical outlines and events symboli-
cally correspond to certain formative influences and major events in
Leverkühn’s life: allusions to his early years as well as anticipations
of his extraordinary musical career made possible by his encounter
with the mysterious Hetaera Esmeralda, who embodies the diaboli-
Verbal music is a literary phenomenon and as such must be distin-
guished from the nonliterary verbalization of music that is practiced
by music critics and musicologists, usually in the form of program
notes accompanying a musical performance, reviews of performed
music, or technical descriptions of music. G. B. Shaw’s parody of the
nonliterary style and diction of contemporary music reviewing accen-
tuates the difference:

Here the composer, by one of those licences which are, perhaps, permissible un-
der exceptional circumstances to men of genius, but which cannot be too carefully
avoided by students desirous of forming a legitimate style, has abruptly intro-
duced the dominant seventh of the key of C major into the key of A flat, in order
to recover, by a forced modulation, the key relationship proper to the second sub-
ject of a movement in F – an awkward device which he might have spared himself
by simply introducing his second subject in its true key of C.22

The following diagram presents the relations of literature and mu-

sic in a systematic typology and shows how the major areas of mu-

For a detailed interpretation of this passage, see Scher, Verbal Music, pp. 106-42.
G. B. Shaw, “Sir George Grove”, in Shaw, Pen Portraits and Reviews (London:
Constable, 1931), p. 106.

sico-literary study and the basic kinds of musico-literary phenomena

are interconnected:

(musicology) (literary study)
absolute poetry
music or

musico-literary study

literature in mu- music and literatu- music in literatu-

program music vocal music word musical structures verbal

music and techniques music

A few other topics do not fit into our categorization as basic ap-
proaches to music in literature but have generated significant critical
response. Ever since the advent of European Romanticism, for exam-
ple, experimentation with music’s role in literary synesthesia – “poetic
interpretation of musical experiences in terms of specific colors or
visual images” (Scher, Verbal Music, p. 166) – has been a trend, from
the German and English Romantics to the French symbolists and be-
yond (more recently in the poetry of Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens).
Doppelbegabung is a phenomenon that has been studied for its effect
on the artistic physiognomy of extraordinary multiple talents like E. T.
A. Hoffmann, Wagner, and Nietzsche.23 Both musicologists and liter-
ary critics have found it rewarding to investigate the music criticism of

See esp. Herbert Günther, Künstlerische Doppelbegabungen, 2nd ed. (Munich:
Heimeran, 1960).

such authors as Hoffmann, Stendhal, G. B. Shaw, and Ezra Pound

from the point of view that they also excelled as competent music
critics (see Braun and Graf). But most common are studies that treat
musician figures in fiction (Schoolfield) like Hoffmann’s Johannes
Kreisler (Kater Murr), Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe (Sices), and
Thomas Mann’s Leverkühn and analyze the creative influence of mu-
sic on literary periods and individual writers.
The latter topic – music’s influence on periods and authors – sug-
gests that the synchronic, systematic relations between music and
literature must be viewed together with diachronic, historical correla-
tions such as periodization, reception, dissemination, and influence.
Take for instance the highly problematic area of periodization.24 To
what extent are we justified in assuming a parallel development in
music and literature during a given cultural period, for example, that
of the so-called Romantic era? Is the period term “impressionism”
more or less equally applicable to a certain identifiable style in both
arts? Is there an expressionistic style in twentieth-century music com-
parable to the stylistic traits we commonly associate with literary ex-
pressionism? Since scholarly opinion on these questions differs widely
(and wildly), do we side with Kurt Wais, who believes in what he
called the “parallel development of the arts”? Or do we espouse René
Wellek and Austin Warren’s conviction that “‘classicism’ in music
must mean something very different from its use in literature for the
simple reason that no real classical music (with the exception of a few
fragments) was known and could thus shape the evolution of music as
literature was actually shaped by the precepts and practice of antiq-
uity” (Theory of Literature, pp. 127-28)? Until we develop a solid
theoretical and methodological foundation for period comparisons, no

See Hubert P. H. Teesing, Das Problem der Perioden in der Literaturgeschichte
(Groningen: Wolters, 1949); Lawrence Lipking, “Periods in the Arts: Sketches and
Speculations”, New Literary History, 1 (1970), 181-200; and Jost Hermand, “Musika-
lischer Expressionismus”, in Hermand, Stile, Ismen, Etiketten: Zur Periodisierung der
modernen Kunst (Wiesbaden: Athenaion, 1978), pp. 65-79.

definitive answers can be provided; and diachronic interart analogies

will remain limited, both in scope and in interpretive validity.
A historical overview of the development of aesthetics, however, is
necessary at this point, for “the system of aesthetics is its history: a
history which is permeated with ideas and experiences of heterogene-
ous origin”25. As reflected in the theories and methodologies that have
shaped musico-literary scholarship, such an overview will comple-
ment the foregoing systematic consideration of the parallels and dif-
ferences between the two arts. Although philosophers of classical
antiquity like Plato and Aristotle engaged in speculation concerning
the nature, relative merits, and comparability of literature and the
other arts, including literature and music, scholarly activity in the
modern sense, focusing specifically on interart relations, is of more
recent origin: it evolved during the eighteenth century as part of gen-
eral aesthetics, which by then had established itself as a more or less
independent discipline. The first comparative treatments regard music
and literature as separate but parallel “sister arts”. Appropriately,
Hildebrande Jacob’s early attempt to determine the fundamental af-
finities and correspondences between the two arts and their relative
ranking within the contemporary hierarchy of the arts bears the title Of
the Sister Arts (London, 1734). In this hierarchy, still based on the
Aristotelian mimetic principle, poetry occupied first place, with paint-
ing second and music only an inferior third. But around mid-century,
expressive theories of music – derived from the influential Affekten-
lehre ‘doctrine of affections’ of the baroque period – began to under-
mine the reigning concept of imitation in the arts.26 Charles Avison
was the first critic to stress, in his An Essay on Musical Expression
(London, 1752), the emotive aspect of music and convincingly chal-
lenge the primacy of the traditional mimetic principle, still firmly up-

Carl Dahlhaus, Musikästhetik, p. 10.
René Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism, 1750-1950, I (New Haven: Yale
Univ. Press, 1955), p. 115.

held by French aestheticians like Charles Batteux and Jean-Baptiste

Du Bos.27 Avison’s treatise inspired the first specific scholarly com-
parisons of poetry and music as “sister” arts by fellow British aestheti-
cians John Brown, Daniel Webb, James Beattie, and Thomas Twin-
ing.28 Clearly, for these critics poetry and music, rather than poetry
and painting, were the true “sister” arts.
This British trend of specific comparisons was sympathetically re-
ceived and further refined in German by aestheticians like Johann
Georg Sulzer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, and Johann Gottfried von
Herder.29 And it is this very trend that culminated a few decades later
in the emotion-oriented aesthetics of “melomaniac” Romanticists like
Wilhelm Wackenroder, Ludwig Tieck, Novalis, and E. T. A. Hoff-
mann, who proclaimed the supremacy of music among the arts: in the
new hierarchy, music, and not poetry, was “the art most immediately
expressive of spirit and emotion”30. Ever since 1800, Romantic aes-
thetics, openly advocating the elimination of boundaries between lit-
erature and music in theory and poetic practice, has had a major im-
pact on the development of the interrelation. Musicalization of litera-

Charles Batteux, Les Beaux Arts reduits à un même principe (Paris, 1747), and
Jean Baptiste Du Bos, Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture (Paris,
The titles of these contributions are revealing: John Brown, A Dissertation on the
Rise, Union, and Power, the Progressions, Separations, and Corruptions of Poetry
and Music (London, 1763); Daniel Webb, Observations on the Correspondence be-
tween Poetry and Music (London, 1769); James Beattie, Essays on Poetry and Music,
as They Affect the Mind (London, 1770); and Thomas Twining, Aristotle’s Treatise on
Poetry Translated: ... and Two Dissertations on Poetical, and Musical Imitation
(London, 1789). For a summary of aesthetic developments in this period, see James S.
Malek, The Arts Compared: An Aspect of Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics
(Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1974).
J G. Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste (Leipzig, 1771-74); J. N.
Forkel, Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1788, 1801); and J. G.
von Herder, Kritische Wälder (Riga, 1769).
M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical
Tradition (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1953), p. 50.

ture is a quintessentially Romantic notion, after all: it was first at-

tempted in earnest by Romantic authors whose works inspired all later
musico-literary experimenters, including the French symbolists,
Joyce, and Thomas Mann. Also part of the Romantic legacy, through-
out the nineteenth century and beyond, is the radical impulse toward
literarization of music in the form of program music (Beethoven, Ber-
lioz, Liszt), the lied (Schubert, Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and
Hugo Wolf), and the literary opera (Wagner’s music dramas). And
without the lingering climate of Romantic aesthetics, even Eduard
Hanslick’s formalist manifesto Vom Musikalisch-Schönen of 1854 –
categorically rejecting the expressive principle in music – could not
have been written.
Jules Combarieu’s Les Rapports de la musique et de la poésie,
considérées au point de vue de l’expression of 1894 marks a new
departure for musico-literary scholarship. Of clearly antiformalist
persuasion, Combarieu presents for the first time a philologically as
well as musicologically reliable comparative study of the correspon-
dences. The next landmark is Oskar Walzel’s pioneering treatise of
1917, Wechselseitige Erhellung der Künste, along with his compre-
hensive Gehalt und Gestalt im Kunstwerk des Dichters of 1923, which
contains several analytical chapters on the interrelations of
“Dichtkunst und Musik” in the light of his concept of “reciprocal il-
lumination of the arts”. Also in 1923, though independent of Walzel,
André Cœuroy published his traditional, more musicologically ori-
ented Musique et littérature: Etudes de musique et de littérature com-
parées. Until today, René Wellek’s historical survey of 1942, “The
Parallelism between Literature and the Arts”, constitutes the most
informative critical assessment of twentieth-century international re-
search concerning interart analogies; and in retrospect his timely skep-
ticism toward vague analogizing in the arts remains justified.
The period since World War II shows definite signs of a renewed
scholarly interest in the exploration of the parallels between literature
and the other arts. The rekindling of this interest in musico-literary

studies is due chiefly to the efforts of Calvin S. Brown, whose contri-

butions to the field over the last thirty years have made him its central,
most influential figure. In his Music and Literature: A Comparison of
the Arts of 1948, the only comprehensive modern scholarly treatment
of the interrelation to date, Brown systematically surveys, analyzes,
and evaluates virtually all musicoliterary phenomena with sound
judgment, common sense, and admirable terminological rigor. Simi-
larly exemplary is the article “Musico-Literary Research in the Last
Two Decades”, the only recent review of scholarship in the field that
is of truly international scope, in which Brown surveys significant or
representative studies published between 1950 and 1970 and assesses
the emerging theoretical, methodological, and interpretive trends and
perspectives. His description of this undisciplined discipline is still apt

There is no organization of the work or the workers in the field of musico-literary

relationships. Many a scholar publishes a single article in the field, usually in-
volving a writer or aspect of literature in which he regularly works, and never re-
turns to the relationship of the arts. A small number of scholars have a primary in-
terest in the field and work in it intensively, but they do not form anything that
could be called a group or coterie. Similarly, there are no organized or conflicting
schools of thought, as there is no official point of view and no standard methodol-
ogy. The entire field of study remains essentially individual and unorganized. (pp.

Brown also served as guest editor of the special issue of Compara-

tive Literature (Spring 1970) devoted to music and literature. The
definition of comparative literature he offers in his introductory essay
to this issue – “any study of literature involving at least two different
media of expression” (p. 102) – strikes me as the most persuasive plea
so far for the legitimacy of literature-based interart comparisons, in-
cluding that of literature with music, as an integral branch of compara-
tive literature.
During the last decades, then, active interest in the serious study of
musico-literary relations has increased considerably, not only among
literary scholars. Many of the ablest minds in music have been at-

tracted by the field: along with Thrasybulos Georgiades, Joseph

Müller-Blattau, Walter Wiora, and Frederick Sternfeld of the older
generation, the musicologists Joseph Kerman, Leonard B. Meyer,
Edward Cone, Carl Dahlhaus and the composers Karlheinz Stock-
hausen, John Cage, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, and Luigi Dallapic-
cola. As more musicologists contribute to musico-literary research,
certain methodological questions will continue to be raised. To what
extent, for example, should we insist on thorough academic training
and equal competence in both arts when contemplating the interrela-
tion? Aware of the unavoidable overlaps, where, if at all, are we to
draw the line separating the hunting ground of musico-literary com-
paratists from the domain of musicologists? Is there a definable mini-
mum of musical knowledge necessary for fruitful musico-literary
study? Above all, we must beware of the potential danger of dilettan-
tism and set our standards accordingly: the individual scholar’s abil-
ity, critical rigor, and background in both arts must be commensurate
with the degree of competence required for a particular comparison.
But beyond this general standard, there is no need for specific pre-
scriptions. After all, in interart comparisons it often proves to be a
definite advantage if the critic remains unencumbered by overly-
technical vocabulary and analytical practices borrowed from one or
the other art. As a recent contribution by a historian of music demon-
strates, however, a reliable working knowledge of music can provide
profitable new insights into literary works that exhibit “a substantial
analogy to, and in many cases an actual influence from, the art of mu-
sic” (Frye, Sound and Poetry, pp. x-xi): Hermann Danuser’s 1975
study of the phenomenon of ‘Musikalische Prosa’ succeeds because it
rests on a solid musicological foundation that complements but never
overshadows the informed analyses of the topic’s literary aspects.
All too many potentially promising interart comparisons by literary
scholars, however, have been severely flawed by a lack of sophistica-
tion in musical matters. A case in point is the frequently inexact and
inconsistent usage in literary criticism of specific terms undiscriminat-

ingly borrowed from the vocabulary of musical analysis, such as mel-

ody, harmony, counterpoint, cadence, tonality, modulation, and or-
chestration. Perhaps even more crucial and frustrating is the termino-
logical confusion that results from the notorious abuse and misuse of
designations like “musical”, “musicality”, and “the music of poetry”.
The following sample of the vacuous and most deplorable kind of
pseudocritical discourse is cited here as a warning example:

Everybody who can sense the difference between “Ruh ist über allen Gipfeln”
and “Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh” is aware of what is involved. The ‘meaning’ is
the same, but the meaning is different, because in the true form there is contra-
puntal correspondence between ‘meaning’ and melody and sound quality and
rhythm, since here the words are used musically, not analogous to music.31

In my “How Meaningful Is ‘Musical’ in Literary Criticism?” I dis-

cerned three types of critical usage of the term: the acoustic, the
evocative, and the structural. Only the third type of usage, “alluding to
[...] artistic arrangement in musiclike sequence” in literary works,
seems potentially meaningful. Ideally, the adjective “musical” should
be left to poets. If used at all in criticism, it should denote only literary
phenomena that relate specifically to some aspect of actual music.
Whenever this is not the case, instead of “musical” or “musicality” in
the impressionistic sense, reference to the acoustic or phonetic quality
of poetry or prose is most appropriate: and within this broader acous-
tic context it might be practicable to distinguish between the euphoni-
ous and the cacophonous.
In view of the continuing terminological dilemma, one of the tasks
for serious musico-literary scholars ought to be to evolve a set of
clearly defined critical terms that would put an end to the persisting
“trend towards the loose metaphorical use of technical terms” (Brown,
“Musico-Literary Research”, p. 6), clearly a remnant of Romantic
aesthetics bent on amalgamation and confusion of the arts. There is
also an immediate need to assess the numerous contributions since

Heinrich Meyer in Books Abroad, 43 (1969), 602.

1970, following the model of Calvin Brown’s review of scholarship

and based on the musico-literary sections of the annual Bibliography
on the Relations of Literature and the Other Arts, covering the inter-
national scene since 1953. Rather than contemplate the many still
unsolved theoretical issues of the interrelation, during the last decade
scholars have concentrated on musical connections demonstrable in
individual authors or specific literary works, with authors like Jean-
Jacques Rousseau, Diderot, Wackenroder, Kleist, Hoffmann, Heine,
Honoré de Balzac, Giuseppe Mazzini, Nietzsche, Hofmannsthal,
Thomas Mann, Brecht, and T. S. Eliot receiving a great deal more
critical attention than others. Important new work has also been done
on the literary connections of composers such as Franz Joseph Haydn,
Berlioz, Liszt, Debussy, Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, and Hanns
Eisler. Appreciable theoretical advances were made only in lied and
opera research (Kerman).
Literature and music today is a vigorous and steadily growing field
of comparative inquiry. But for some time to come it will remain a
pioneering field that could accommodate more terminologically and
methodologically solid interpretive studies of the diverse systematic
relations – especially of structural parallels based on demonstrable
points of tangency – and innovative, informed analyses of the histori-
cal correlations between the two arts. The time is also ripe for a criti-
cal and comprehensive historical survey of the theory and practice of
musico-literary scholarship. Such a survey would also have to account
for the feasibility and potential usefulness of the semiotic approach in
comparing literature and music. To date only the semiotic features of
music and language – not of literature – have been explored in depth
by scholars like Roman Jakobson, Roland Barthes, Nicolas Ruwet,
Roland Harweg, and Jean Jacques Nattiez.32 Perhaps it is too early to

Roman Jakobson, “Musikwissenschaft und Linguistik”, Prager Presse, 7 Dec.
1932; Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Seuil, 1957); Nicolas Ruwet, Langage,
musique, poésie (Paris: Seuil, 1972); Roland Harweg, “Sprache und Musik”, Poetica,

tell, but it seems probable that future work in musical, linguistic, and
literary semiology will help to illuminate certain aspects of the interre-
lation between music and literature.33

1 (1967), 390-414 and 556-66; and Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Fondements d’une sémiolo-
gie de la musique (Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1976).
For preliminary considerations, see esp. Rose Subotnik, “The Cultural Message of
Musical Semiology: Some Thoughts on Music, Language, and Criticism since the
Enlightenment”, Critical Inquiry, 4 (1978), 741-68.
This page intentionally left blank
Theory in Literature, Analysis in Music:
What Next? (1983)

During the last decade there has been a significant shift in attitude
among comparatists with regard to studies concerning interart paral-
lels. Surely not unaffected by Calvin S. Brown’s innovative and prac-
ticable definition of 1970, according to which Comparative Literature
is “any study of literature involving at least two different media of
expression”1, more and more colleagues today view scholarly investi-
gations of literature and the other arts – when firmly based in the liter-
ary realm – as legitimate comparatist activity. It is an eloquent testi-
mony to the continuing health and vigor of these endeavors that they
were selected for discussion at this conference.
In an essay on “Literature and Music”, included in the recently
published Interrelations of Literature2, I presented a systematic and
comprehensive overview of the field. Here I shall focus on two
broader theoretical and methodological concerns that appear to be
topical enough to remain with us for some time, namely,
(1) consideration of the tenuous but potentially fruitful correlation
between musicology and literary study. To what extent, if at all, do
they reflect the contemporary debate about aesthetics and critical the-
ory? In what way do they affect today’s state and status of musico-
literary criticism? Are there analogous or comparable tendencies, di-
rections, and points of contact between the two disciplines and their

Calvin S. Brown, “The Relations Between Music and Literature as a Field of
Study,” Comparative Literature, 22 (1970), 102.
Steven P. Scher, “Literature and Music,” in Jean-Pierre Barricelli and Joseph
Gibaldi, eds., Interrelations of Literature (New York: Modern Language Association
of America, 1982), 225-50.

methodologies? Are there real possibilities of contact and cooperation;

and, if so, are they profitable or even desirable? And
(2) closer scrutiny of some recent post-structuralist, particularly semi-
otic, attempts at interdisciplinary theorizing that pertain to musico-
literary relations.
Ernst Behler’s timely reflections in a recent study on the “Origins
of Romantic Aesthetics in Friedrich Schlegel”3 seem to me to suggest
the overall aesthetic context indispensable for any current interdisci-
plinary inquiry. Circumspectly, Behler raises “some of the questions
stimulating today’s debate about aesthetics [...] when the occupation
with the timeless value of a work of art in its classical sense of perfec-
tion has been all but replaced by the consideration of its function
within society and when the classical model of the predominance of
the work of art over its contemplator has been substituted [sic] by the
pre-eminence of its experience through the recipient”. Continuing in
this vein, Behler asks:

[...] are we experiencing new collective encounters with art, not only in forms of a
traditionally collective reception such as architecture, theatre, and painting, but
also in the realms of commercial literature and music which have become increas-
ingly accessible through electronic technology? Has the reception of art changed
from its classical model of empathy and emulation to that of distraction and cas-
ual perception [...]? Is it the goal of art to be a luxurious and relaxing element
within industrial society, or is art still the reservoir of freedom [...]? (p. 52)

The sociological implications here are obvious. But Behler’s ques-

tions also point to the prominent issue that lies at the core of modern
thinking in both musical and literary theory and interpretation: the
changed status of the work of art in relation to its critical reception.
Not surprisingly, this notion can be traced back to Friedrich Schlegel,
who first contended that a work of criticism was itself a work of art
and thus accorded the critical act the privileged position many distin-

Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 7 (1980), 47-66.

guished critics, particularly literary critics, claim it occupies today. As

Charles Rosen puts it in a review article on Walter Benjamin:

Placing criticism at the heart of literature (or, for that matter, music and the visual
arts) was an inevitable step for the early Romantic generation in Germany, those
poets and writers whose youth had coincided with the French Revolution. Their
exaltation of the critical process was necessary to their rejection of earlier stan-
dards, to their invention of ‘modernism’ .

It would be attractive to contemplate further Rosen’s insight that

Schlegel’s placing “the critical act at the center of the work of art [...]
was, with one stroke, to turn criticism from an act of judgement into
an act of understanding” (p. 32) and to assess its implications for what
Jonathan Culler terms “the threat of recent critical theory”5. Suffice it
to say that Rosen’s article – like most of his writings, including his
brilliant study of The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
(1971) – exemplifies how, on the level of general aesthetics, concerns
of a musicologist can fruitfully intersect with, and illuminate, funda-
mental issues of literary theory.
Obviously, Rosen’s expertise, which extends well beyond music
history, theory, and criticism, is rare among musicians. But is erudi-
tion that encompasses more than the narrow confines of specialized
knowledge more common, or even indispensable, among musical than
among literary scholars? According to Claude V. Palisca, “the study
of music, of all the arts, is the most difficult to circumscribe as a dis-
cipline. As soon as scholars probe its problems with any depth, it
spills into neighboring fields – social and physical sciences, philoso-
phy, literature, and history. It is easier to identify musicologists than

Charles Rosen, “The Ruins of Walter Benjamin,” New York Review of Books,
October 27, 1977, 32.
Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982), 10.

to define musicology.”6 Clearly, true competence in musicology re-

quires a great deal. Conversely, may we assume a diversity of interests
and an expertise similar to musical competence on the part of the liter-
ary scholar? If we listen to Jonathan Culler’s heart-warming charac-
terization of the supposedly open-minded contemporary literary theo-
rist, the answer is an emphatic yes:

Literary theorists may be particularly receptive to new theoretical developments

in other fields because they lack the particular disciplinary commitments of work-
ers in those fields. Though they have commitments of their own that will produce
resistance to certain types of unusual thinking, they are able to welcome theories
that challenge the assumptions of orthodox contemporary psychology, anthropol-
ogy, psychoanalysis, philosophy, sociology, or historiography, and this makes
theory – or literary theory – an arena of lively debate.7

Culler conspicuously omits any mention of receptivity to theoretical

developments in the other arts. Except for rare individual instances,
the same lack of curiosity (or outright indifference) prevails in the
silent majority of non-theorist literary scholars. But Palisca’s qualifier
“with any depth” should console us that evidently the general situation
in musicology is not all that different.
As students of literature, we are no doubt familiar with the current
debates that characterize the chaotic state of affairs in literary theory
and have precipitated what has been termed the crisis of “professing
literature”8. At issue is, of course, the unprecedented proliferation of
critical directions and approaches that have emerged in the wake of
the publicly acclaimed demise of New Criticism and continue to

Claude V. Palisca, “Reflections on Musical Scholarship in the 1960s,” in D. Kern
Holoman and Claude V. Palisca, eds., Musicology in the 1980s: Methods, Goals,
Opportunities (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982), 15.
Culler, 11.
See, for example, W. Jackson Bate’s much debated “The Crisis in English Stud-
ies,” Harvard Magazine, September-October 1982, 46-53, and the recent symposium
on “Professing Literature,” Times Literary Supplement, December 10, 1982, 1355-63,
with statements by Paul de Man, René Wellek, Anthony Burgess, Iain McGilchrist, E.
D. Hirsch, Jr., Ian Donaldson, George Watson, Raymond Williams, and Stanley Fish.

clamor for attention and applause: structuralism, Rezeptionsästhetik,

hermeneutics, semiotics, deconstructionism, Marxist criticism, and
psychoanalytic criticism, to mention only a few.
How do we explain the recently attained primacy of ‘criticism of
criticism’ in literary study, the triumph of theory over the practice of
criticism as value judgment and interpretation? Is it that Schlegel’s
dictum about the critical act being itself a work of art has finally come
true? Is the proliferation of critical approaches simply a faint reflec-
tion of the phenomenon of rapidly changing styles and fads masquer-
ading as innovations familiar from, say, the fashion industry and elec-
tronic technology? Or, in Geoffrey Hartman’s words, is it “that criti-
cism has been affected, like everything else, by a market economy,
and so is less intellectual than it is entrepreneurial: academic critics
want a piece of the action or a method to increase their ‘rate of pro-
duction’”9? Obviously, there are no neat answers to these questions. It
may be helpful to know, however, that excessive preoccupation with
theory is not exclusively the favorite pastime of literati10; with notable
differences, it has also been a clearly discernible trend in the field of
“How We Got into Analysis, and How to Get Out” is the suggest-
ive title of Joseph Kerman’s recent diagnosis of the current crisis in
Critical Inquiry11. Author of Opera as Drama (1956) and The Beet-
hoven Quartets (1967) and thoroughly at home in literature and the
arts, Kerman proved to be an invaluable guide for my foray into the

Geoffrey Hartman, “How Creative Should Literary Criticism Be?,” The New York
Times Book Review, April 5, 1981, 11.
As G. S. Rousseau correctly observes, “the same development is occurring in all
other fields as well: history, the social sciences, the natural sciences,” and “satisfac-
tory explanation of the development will require sociologists and anthropologists,
rather than literary critics, who will eventually explain why academics went crazy
over theory in late twentieth-century America.” Times Literary Supplement, January
28, 1983, 85.
Critical lnquiry, 7 (1980-81), 311-31. Page references to Kerman’s article appear
in the text.

maze of musicology, especially since in his writings he is ever atten-

tive to parallel developments in the neighboring disciplines.
Quirky nomenclature, a perennial predicament also in musico-
literary studies, makes initial orientation in musical scholarship par-
ticularly difficult. It is hard to grasp, for example, why more academic
prestige is accorded to those scholars who do musical analysis than to
those who do criticism. Why are the ‘analysts’ so reluctant to call
themselves critics? An explanation for this seemingly unbridgeable
schism that divides today’s musicologists may be that the term ‘criti-
cism’ in music commonly connotes music reviewing:

When people say ‘music criticism’, they almost invariably mean daily or weekly
journalistic writing, writing which is prohibited from extended, detailed, and
complex mulling over the matter at hand that is taken for granted in criticism of
art and especially of literature. [...] The music critic’s stock-in-trade consists of
the aesthetic question begged, the critical aphorism undeveloped, the snap judge-
ment. (p. 311)

No wonder, then, that those ‘serious’ academics who do mostly analy-

sis do not want to be caught practicing this kind of criticism. But is the
‘analysts’’ aversion to criticism as such really justifiable? According
to Edward T. Cone, “when description evolves into interpretation,
when summary judgement gives way to reasoned evaluation, review-
ing becomes criticism”12. And how does this broader, more traditional
perception of the concept of criticism differ from Kerman’s under-
standing of analysis as “a body of less ephemeral, more accountable
professional criticism” (p. 311)? What, in fact, is what musicians to-
day call analysis? Can analysis be subsumed under criticism? Is it in
any way analogous to the increasingly esoteric preoccupation with
theory in literary study?
In retrospect, Kerman’s 1965 conspectus of critical trends in musi-
cology certainly sounds prophetic:

Journal of the American Musicological Society, 34 (1981), 1.

Criticism does not exist yet on the American music-academic scene, but some-
thing does exist which may feel rather like it, theory and analysis [...] Analysis
seems too occupied with its own inner techniques, too fascinated by its own
“logic,” and too sorely tempted by its own private pedantries, to confront the
work of art in its proper aesthetic terms. Theory and analysis are not equivalent to
criticism, then, but they are pursuing techniques of vital importance to criticism.
They represent a force and a positive one in the academic climate of music.13

Fifteen years later, Kerman feels compelled to admit, though not

without a touch of caustic wit, that things seem to be getting out of

It is only in more recent times that analysts have avoided value judgements and
adapted their work to a format of strictly corrigible propositions, mathematical
equations, set-theory formulations, and the like – all this, apparently, in an effort
to achieve the objective status and hence the authority of scientific inquiry. Arti-
cles on music composed after 1950, in particular, appear sometimes to mimic sci-
entific papers in the way that South American bugs and flies will mimic the
dreaded carpenter wasp. (p. 313)

How Kerman concludes, after a fascinating historical detour, that “the

true intellectual milieu of analysis is not science but ideology” (p.
314) cannot be rehearsed here in all its persuasive detail. Of more
immediate interest to us is the parallel he draws between musical
analysis and the New Criticism that arose in the 1930s. Analysis
seems to have emerged as a more intellectually charged critical alter-
native to positivistic musicology, comprised chiefly of historiography
and quasi-scientific scholarly research in music. “It is precisely be-
cause and only because analysis is a kind of criticism”, Kerman main-
tains, “that it has gained its considerable force and authority on the
American academic scene” (p. 319).
The crucial question, then, could not be clearer: What kind of criti-
cism is musical analysis and whence its appeal? To put it succinctly, it
is a seductive mode of criticism, perhaps because it is reductionist and
formalist in the extreme:

Kerman, 312. He is quoting from his “A Profile for American Musicology,”
Journal of the American Musicological Society, 18 (Spring 1965), 65.

“Its methods are so straightforward, its results so automatic, and its conclusions so
easily tested and communicated that every important American critic at the pre-
sent time has involved himself or implicated himself centrally with analysis” (p.

Leo Treitler sees five typical features of musical analysis as it is prac-

ticed today: (l) “the work must be explicable in terms of a single prin-
ciple, and every detail must be derivable from the idea of the whole”;
(2) “the focus is mainly on pitch structures”; (3) “music is appre-
hended as synchronic structure”; (4) “analysis tends to be of an a pri-
ori, rationalist nature [and] seeks to discover how music works”; and
(5) “prevailing modes of structural analysis are anti-historical”14.
Treitler is quite explicit on the “blind spots”:

Formenlehre in abundance, but little attention to time-process and time-sense; so-

phisticated theories of tonality, but little interest in the qualitative side of key rela-
tions [...] [which] have a sequential, narrative order that has to be played out in
real time, even conceptually. That means that what is a gain in theoretical under-
standing is a loss in historical understanding. (p. 75)

Responsible for developing the methodological principles of this

analytical system is the Viennese music theorist Heinrich Schenker
(1868-1935), whose ideas – rooted in Hegelian metaphysics – have
dominated twentieth-century academic criticism to such an extent that
musical analysis today is virtually synonymous with “Schenkerism”,
for, as Kerman puts it, Schenker, in his “famous series of formalized
reductions, [...] analysed music on ‘foreground’, ‘middleground’, and
‘background’ levels – the latter comprising the Urlinie and the Ursatz,
a drastically simple horizontalization of the vertical sonority of the
tonic triad” (p. 317). Astonishingly enough, until recently Schenker’s
organicist theory had not been subjected to rigorous critical scrutiny
and attack. Rigidly exclusive analytical focus on the great masters of
tonal music (Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and espe-

Leo Treitler, “Structural and Critical Analysis,” in Holoman and Palisca, 73. Page
references to Treitler’s article appear in the text.

cially Beethoven) has been recognized as one of Schenker’s severest

limitations. Music outside of this traditional canon, such as Gregorian
chant or Wagner and beyond, he simply dismissed as incoherent.
Despite Schenker’s oppressive shadow, there have been other sys-
tematic attempts to account for the phenomenon of modern music and
what we call ‘New Music’, notably Rudolph Réti’s thematic process
analysis and Milton Babbitt’s serial analysis. At its most extreme,
musical analysis can even become a nonverbal exercise, a reductio ad
absurdum. According to Hans Keller, the enfant terrible of British
musicology who invented what he called “Wordless Functional
Analysis” (FA), “the act of music criticism [...] does not, in fact, exist.
(The art of literary criticism does, because it is words about words.)”15
Consequently, Keller claims that FA, “in which nothing is said or
read, everything is played, is the one ideal way of writing about mu-
sic. It is notes about notes, as literary criticism is words about words”
(p. 1150).
More seriously, the growing sense of urgency, prevalent today
among musicologists, to go beyond Schenkerism is best expressed in
Eugene Narmour’s recent book Beyond Schenkerism: The Need for
Alternatives in Musical Analysis16. A scathing and persuasive attack, it
offers a new alternative called the “implication-realization model”.
Narmour’s provocative study waxes highly technical at times, but its
scope is broad and carries implications far beyond the field of music.
Arguing against the view popular today among Schenkerians that
music theory and linguistics are analogous as disciplines (and that a
synchronic theory of tonal music may be fashioned on the model of
Chomsky’s theory of transformational grammar), Narmour avers that
“the nature of music demands that all theorists involve themselves

Hans Keller, “Problems in Writing About Music,” Times Literary Supplement,
September 10, 1969, 1150.
Eugene Narmour, Beyond Schenkerism: The Need for Alternatives in Musical
Analysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).

with diachrony in a real sense. A Hegelian (or Marxist) attitude to-

ward history will not do. The temporal aspect within a piece of music
has to be treated as a virtual characteristic, untrammeled by rational-
ism” (p. x). Narmour devotes several chapters of his essentially ana-
lytical study to substantiating his bold prefatory claim that “Hegelian-
ism in history, Gestaltism in psychology, Lamarckism in evolutionary
theory, Chomskyism in linguistics, and Schenkerism in music theory
are all similarly defective” (p. x).
The implications for our topic of the hegemony of theory and
analysis in musical studies are by now obvious. “Who would really
want to write a long book of what current jargon might well call meta-
meta-meta-criticism?” asks Wayne Booth in a 1979 book that itself
qualifies as meta-criticism17. In view of such recent titles as Beyond
Formalism (Hartman), Beyond Genre (Paul Hernadi), Beyond Modern
Sculpture (Jack Burnham), and Metahistory (Hayden White), Booth’s
question strikes one as rhetorical and apologetic. Yet another analyti-
cal work, David Epstein’s Beyond Orpheus: Studies in Musical Struc-
ture (1979), was published only two years after Narmour’s Beyond
Schenkerism. Evidently, Kerman’s wistful suggestion that “where we
should be looking is not only Beyond Schenkerism but also Beyond
Narmourism” – in other words, his plea for “a broader alternative to
analysis itself” (Kerman, p. 323), for a “more comprehensive, ‘hu-
mane’, and [...] practical criticism” (p. 331) – is yet to be heeded.
Viewing the alternatives in perspective and from a healthy distance
would certainly be helpful at this point. Significantly, constructive
insight comes from neutral critical territory. It is Stanley Cavell, a
philosopher with a profound understanding of aesthetics and art criti-
cism, who laments the conspicuous lack of humane, that is, more uni-
versally accessible and down-to-earth, criticism of music:

Wayne Booth, Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), xii.

While the history of literary criticism is a part of the history of literature, and
while the history of visual art is written by theorists and connoisseurs of art for
whom an effort at accurate phenomenology can be as natural as the deciphering
of iconography, histories of music contain virtually no criticism or assessment of
their objects, but concentrate on details of its notation or its instruments or the oc-
casion of its performance. The serious attempt to articulate a response to a piece
of music, where more than reverie, has characteristically stimulated mathematics
or metaphysics – as though music has never quite become one of the facts of life,
but shunts between an overwhelming directness and an overweening mystery. Is
this because music, as we know it, is the newest of the great arts and just has not
had the time to learn how to criticise itself; or because it inherently resists verbal
transcriptions? [...] Whatever the cause, the absence of humane music criticism
(of course there are isolated instances) seems particularly striking against the fact
that music has, among the arts, the most, perhaps the only, systematic and precise
vocabulary for the description and analysis of its objects. Somehow that posses-
sion must itself be a liability; as though one now undertook to criticise a poem or
a novel armed with complete control of medieval rhetoric but ignorant of the
modes of criticism developed in the past two centuries.18

Clearly, Cavell recognizes the esoteric nature and origin as well as the
powerful spell and potential of analysis as a critical enterprise. But
implicit in his insight is also the mediating notion that the great poten-
tial for precision inherent in musical vocabulary, if prudently realized,
could foster a meaningful integration of analysis and criticism. (Inci-
dentally, Cavell’s remark about the precise nature of musical vocabu-
lary might explain the irresistible temptation on the part of literary
critics to resort to musical terms on occasion, even if what they apply
them to has nothing, or precious little, to do with actual music.)
Marshall Brown’s recent interdisciplinary study “Mozart and Af-
ter: The Revolution in Musical Consciousness”19 may be cited as ex-
emplary for paving the way toward what Cavell envisions as humane
criticism of music (or, for that matter, literature). Brown, a literary
critic well versed in music, bases his daring and ultimately persuasive
contribution “toward laying bare the emotional and psychological
foundations of the Romantic consciousness” (p. 706) on a close tech-

Stanley Cavell, “Music Discomposed,” in his Must We Mean What We Say?
(Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 185-86.
Critical lnquiry, 7 (l980-81), 689-706.

nical analysis of the introduction to Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet in C

Major (K. 465). Methodologically, he maintains a sober balance be-
tween philosophical and historical discourse, literary criticism, and
musical analysis. Brown’s general conclusion offers important hints
for the possibility of bridging the gap between understanding nonver-
bal and verbal media:

The special challenge of analyzing a nonverbal medium [...] is to recognize that

no special challenge is involved. All explanation is transference or metaphor
(nothing much different is meant when certain literary critics contend that all
reading is misreading), for understanding depends on finding a convincing media-
tion between what is actually present in the text and something which, in an im-
portant sense, is not so present. Explanation never remains within the charmed
circle of what is to be explained; the essential thing is to find mediations which
are sufficiently precise and well articulated. (p. 706)

When it comes to contemplating viable alternatives to the dangerously

narrow confines of musical analysis, whether Schenkerian or post-
Schenkerian, Kerman sees definite potential in circumspect musico-
literary inquiry treating opera, the lied, and other musical genres con-
nected with words and programs: “Musico-poetic analysis is not nec-
essarily less insightful than strictly musical analysis” (p. 327). After
all, it is Kerman’s model analysis of a song from Schumann’s Dichter-
liebe along more comprehensive, humane lines that demonstrates the
possibility of “dealing responsibly with other kinds of aesthetic value
in music besides organicism” and allows him to end his stimulating
essay on an optimistic note: “I do not really think we need to get out
of analysis, then, only out from under” (p. 331).
Can Kerman’s positive attitude be taken as representative? Can it
eventually lead to active cooperation between literary scholars and
musicologists, and to a fruitful, regular exchange of ideas and meth-
odologies, perhaps even in the form of conferences that would bring
together scholars with equal or near-equal competence in both disci-
plines? Is there enough real interest among musicologists, be they
analysts or critics or both, to meet us literary critics half-way? I defi-
nitely think so. Treitler, for example, sounds encouragingly open-

minded when he advises musical analysts to derive “methodologies as

needed from the coordinated study of music, music theory and criti-
cism, reception and transmission, performance practices, aesthetics,
and semiotics” (p. 77); and he might just as well have included the
not-so-remote border area of musico-literary relations. Semiotics, in
fact, may be one of the pressing concerns common to both disciplines
that could provide an impulse for collaborative exploration.
This brings me to my second point. As far as I know, the waves of
deconstruction have not yet hit the shores of musico-literary relations.
But there have been some recent attempts to apply semiotic principles
to the combined study of music and literature that deserve closer scru-
tiny. When, at the 1979 ICLA meeting in Innsbruck, I once again ex-
pressed my skepticism concerning the usefulness of the semiotic ap-
proach for comparing literature and music, I nevertheless quoted Pro-
fessor György Vajda’s optimistic prognosis:

[An] area to which semiotics can perhaps direct us is the elaboration of the shared
language of meaning-overlaps between literature and the other arts. This would be
one of the most attractive and rewarding fields of comparative studies, as it would
further the establishment of a solid foundation for the unified study of literature
and the other arts, the objectification of such unified investigations, and the explo-
ration of deeper inner relations among the arts.20

But I must confess that without further elaboration I still do not quite
understand what Vajda means by “the shared language of meaning-
Seeking more concrete illumination, I turned to the 1981 volume
The Sign in Music and Literature, edited by Wendy Steiner, a collec-
tion of papers delivered at the International Conference on the Semiot-
ics of Art held in May, 1978, at the University of Michigan21. Despite

György M. Vajda, “Present Perspectives on Comparative Literature,” Neohelicon,
5 (1977), 279.
Wendy Steiner, ed., The Sign in Music and Literature (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1981). Page references to this volume appear in the text.

the promising title, the collection disappoints the musico-literary com-

paratist in several respects. While the essays do treat semiotic aspects
of either music or literature (or, more accurately, language), the con-
tributors do not even attempt, except for occasional remarks, to con-
sider possible semiotic implications of music and literature combined.
Nor are there any items concerning music and literature to be found in
the bibliography. The individual contributions are either too general,
basic, and vague, or they wax much too technical and analytical, mu-
sicologically as well as linguistically. Those on musical semiology,
after the obligatory analytical excursions, only echo Nicholas Ruwet’s
skepticism: “[...] I don’t really see what one gains by considering mu-
sic as a system of signs or of communication, by speaking of musical
signifiers and signifieds or of musical semantics” (p. 139). Thus the
musicologist Henry Orlov concludes:

Relying on particular metadescriptions, which themselves should have to be criti-

cally examined, and developing its theory on the basis of other theories, musical
semiotics runs the risk of replacing its object, getting lost in sheer speculation,
and diverging from its proper course – which is to proceed from and rely fully on
only the primary reality of the text, that is, music as sound. (p. 137)

Ultimately, Steiner’s axiomatic introductory formulations, fraught

with a diction of orphic significance, remain unsubstantiated:

The essence of music is in its structure; the essence of music is in its performance.
[...] The essence of literary aesthesis is pan-structural oscillations; the essence of
literary aesthesis is the oscillation between each level’s functioning as a signifier
and as a signified. Literature is like language and music in the imperfect ‘fit’ of its
notational system; literature is oral in essence because typography renders it im-
perfectly. (p. 9)

Perhaps Mihály Szegedy-Maszák’s balanced assessment of the non-

viability of linguistically based sign systems for interart comparisons
accounts most clearly for the persisting aporia in matters of a semiot-
ics of art:

The basic units of the sign system are not perceptible directly, the addressee must
construct them. Since sound as the smallest unit can be considered to be relatively

equivalent to the phoneme; indeed, the function of the musical sound can be
equated with the signifié, we might think that the structure of the artistic sign sys-
tem could be conceived as analogous to language. In reality, only most elements
of the sign system of literature coincide with language; the rules of the combina-
tion of elements differ essentially from the syntactic laws of language. Drama,
opera or film differ from language to an even greater extent due to the fact that
they employ a multiple sign system. Drama is the combined effect of text and
theatre; opera is text, theatre and music; film is text, image, music and noise. In
an easily understandable way, language is a role-model only in literature. For this
reason, we consider the comparative study of the sign systems of various artistic
forms based on a linguistic foundation to be unworkable because the divergence
even in terms of duration is fundamental even in music and literature which are
most closely related to each other. Connotative meaning is much more basic to
the sign system of music however, polyphony is lacking in literature.22

This statement may be unequivocal, but it should not deter us from

welcoming new propositions for critical consideration.
Claudia S. Stanger’s “Literary and Musical Structuralism: An Ap-
proach to Interdisciplinary Criticism” – a paper also delivered at the
Innsbruck congress – stands out as one of the most interesting recent
attempts to inquire into the potential usefulness of a structuralist per-
spective for musico-literary study23. Stanger feels that modern musico-
literary criticism has been unduly narrow chiefly because of a tradi-
tional bias of critical negativism shared by its practitioners. She
blames the proliferation of influence studies for the self-limiting,
apologetic nature of most of the work done in this field. To remedy
the situation, Stanger proposes to “explore the ways music and litera-
ture as sign systems interact” and to “work toward the conceptualiza-
tion of an interdisciplinary sign which combines music and literature”
(p. 224). She arrives at such a conceptualization by ingeniously com-

Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, “One of the Basic Concepts of Research in Historical
Poetics in Hungary: Repetition,” in John Odmark, ed., Language, Literature & Mean-
ing II: Current Trends in Literary Research (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1979-80), 374.
In Zoran Konstantinović, Steven P. Scher, and Ulrich Weisstein, eds., Proceed-
ings of the IXth Congress of the ICLA, Innsbruck, 1979. Vol. III: Literature and the
Other Arts (Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag, 1981), 223-27. Page references to Stan-
ger’s paper appear in the text.

bining terminology and concepts derived from the work of Jakobson,

Saussure, Leonard B. Meyer, Derrida, and Barthes.
Stanger finds that it is along Jakobson’s horizontal or metonymic
axis of combination that “truly musical elements can find their way
into the literary text” and that a real “association and combination of
music and literature” can be accomplished (p. 224). While her argu-
mentation seems plausible, the loose, undefined, and logically incon-
sistent use of basic terminology must not go undetected. What, for
example, is meant by the “truly musical elements” that “can find their
way into the literary text”? Indeed, what kind of text is this “literary
text”? For if it is a truly literary text, how can it embody a hidden code
that contains “truly musical elements”? We must also question what
Stanger means by “musicoliterary text” and how this text differs from
the “literary” or “written” text she refers to earlier. Is she making a
distinction between a metonymic musico-literary text that is one ho-
mogeneous aesthetic construct and a metaphorical musico-literary text
in which we would have musical texture and literary text side by side?
Here is how Stanger perceives the nature of the metonymic use of
music in literature: “The literary text becomes infused with, rather
than a referent for, music, so that at each moment the possibility exists
that the text could perhaps become more musical than it is literary” (p.
225). Particularly the latter part of this contention strikes me as para-
doxical, if not altogether untenable. Perhaps when one embarks on
such elevated flights of speculative fancy, one must resort to paradox.
Still it is astonishing to find support for Stanger’s paradoxical formu-
lation in a most unlikely source: New Criticism. Back in 1950 ad-
dressing himself to the question “Is a General Theory of the Arts of
Any Practical Value in the Study of Literature?”, W. K. Wimsatt, Jr.,
used a similar formulation but arrived at a more convincing conclu-

It is necessary to expose oneself to the charge of being paradoxical. For poetry

approximates the intuitive sensuous condition of paint and music not by being
less verbal, less characteristic of verbal expression, but actually by being more

than usually verbal, by being hyperverbal [...], the interrelational density of words
taken in their fullest, most inclusive and symbolic character.24

Next Stanger enlists Saussure’s aid (p. 225):

Signified Music
–––––––– = –––––––– = Interdisciplinary Sign
Signifier Literature

She identifies the top half of the equation (music = signified) as

Leonard B. Meyer’s “concept that music is a signified without a strict
signifier” and, with the help of Derrida’s “sliding signifier”, combines
the two entities of the bottom half of the equation (literature = signi-
fier) to infer that “literature is equivalent to pure signification without
the necessity of a specific referent” (p. 225). Stanger claims that in her
scheme “the musico-literary sign can shift emphasis from moment to
moment, depending on whether the presence of the musical element in
the text outweighs the presence of the literary one” (pp. 225-26). Now
all of a sudden, though we do not quite know how, “the musico-
literary text is neither music nor literature, but rather their combina-
tion” (p. 226). Once again, we have to ask: what is the nature of this
text? But Stanger continues: “This conceptualization of a musico-
literary sign allows for the study of relationships in all musical litera-
ture, including song, ballad, and opera” (p. 226). One wonders what
she means by “all musical literature” or, a little further on, by “the
musical piece of literature”.
As a final twist, Stanger introduces Barthes’s familiar distinction
between readerly and writerly text. Predictably, it is the concept be-
hind the writerly text that she finds useful. Though her reasoning gets
progressively more opaque, somehow it does make sense:

In Barthesian terms, the operation of the musico-literary text uses the signified of
literature to point outward. But rather than extending outward in an endless chain
of rewriting or sliding signification, the literary text is caught in the web of pure

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 8 (1950), 220.

signification that is music. Just as it begins to realize the potential of infinite

meaning, the musico-literary text is caught in the presence of absent music. (p.

As John Bayley sensibly surmises, “semiotics is hardly likely to catch

on as a spectator sport. Its higher flights still remain both arduous and
abstract; it is still committed ultimately not to the appreciation of lit-
erature but to the epistemologization of criticism”25. When in the last
sentence of her paper Stanger states that she is dealing with a “com-
plexity that traditional interdisciplinary criticism has failed to realize,
and a complexity that warrants further study” (p. 227), I can only
agree. I seriously doubt, however, that one could refine or improve
upon such a strained theoretical construct, even if one re-wrote it sev-
eral times over. Despite some useful implications, the entire exercise
in its speculative details is so devoid of concrete examples (musical or
literary) that it seems to be of little value for future musico-literary
critical practice. Still, l find it symptomatic of the honest and promis-
ing but as yet abortive attempts at post-structuralist interart theorizing.
Potentially more promising for practical application seem to me the
methodological speculations Nicholas Zurbrugg presented, also at the
1979 Innsbruck congress, in a paper entitled “Quantitative or Qualita-
tive? Toward a Definition of Interdisciplinary Problems”26. Endorsing
David H. Malone’s plea for “new interdisciplinary, or trans-
disciplinary, methodologies” that might reveal “new kinds of relation-
ships”27, Zurbrugg calls attention to the undeniable fact that “the ap-
parently unchangeable materials of the arts have changed and have at
times combined to create new dimensions of artistic language” (p.
341). What he means is that new technology has created new possi-

Times Literary Supplement, January 1, 1982, 3.
1nnsbruck Proceedings, Vol. III, 339-43. Page references to Zurbrugg’s paper
appear in the text.
David H. Malone, “Comparative Literature and Interdisciplinary Research,”
Synthesis, I (1974), 22 and 24.

bilities for combining media of expression that László Moholy-Nagy

predicted in 1969 would permit “man to experience and express ‘new
relationships’ in a ‘new dimension’”28, notably photographic printing
of verbal-visual compositions, tape-recorded text-sound compositions,
and the diverse manifestations of contemporary cinema. As a result of
what Claudio Guillén calls “multi-dimensional” creativity29, we have
witnessed a breakdown of traditional genres: radically new media of
expression were formed that Renée Riese Hubert (with reference to
literature and the visual arts) termed “undefinable art forms combining
literariness with plasticity”30.
Consequently, Zurbrugg believes that future methods of interdisci-
plinary inquiry must be commensurate with and must evolve along
with the diverse novel manifestations of multidimensional creativity:
“the task of the interdisciplinary comparatist seems precisely that of
extending his conception of the relationships between the arts so as to
formulate ‘extended’ analytical methodologies commensurate with
qualitatively interdisciplinary creativity” (p. 342). This is where Zur-
brugg stops; but there is every reason to believe that he will continue
to develop and substantiate his premise.
Beside the two larger topics I have been able to consider in some
detail, there are, of course, many other major and minor aspects of the
interrelation that await the attention of literary and musical scholars.
For example, important and fascinating work is being done in opera
and lied theory31 that will provide the much-needed impetus for fur-

László Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1969), 351.
Claudio Guillén, Literature as System: Essays Toward the Theory of Literary
History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 365.
Renée Riese Hubert, “Literature and the Fine Arts,” Yearbook of Comparative
and General Literature, 24 (1975), 43.
See for example: Joseph Kerman, “Opera, Novel, Drama: The Case of La
Traviata,” Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, 27 (1978), 44-53; Her-
bert Lindenberger, “Towards a Theory of Musical Drama,” Yearbook of Comparative

ther, more sophisticated study of word-tone relations and performance

practices concerning the Literaturoper (old or new, contemporary or
avant-garde), the latest experiments with various forms of musical
theater, and the complex interplay of text and music when employed
simultaneously as constituents of the multidimensional medium of
film. Especially in view of unprecedented developments in technol-
ogy, the possibilities for creating new musico-literary media appear to
be endless. Clearly, academic criticism, in both music and literature,
has a great deal of catching up to do; and some of it can and ought to
be done in collaboration32. Ultimately it is on the common ground of
aesthetics, I believe, that musicologists and literary critics may enter
into and sustain mutually rewarding scholarly exchange. To conclude
with a pseudo-Schenkerian organicist metaphor, general aesthetics is
the most congenial ground for selected seeds of literary and musical
theory, criticism, and analysis, and of the semiotics of both arts, to
grow, commingle, and prosper.

and General Literature, 29 (1980), 5-9; Carolyn R. Finlay, “Literary Analysis of

Opera: Three Recent Publications”, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 8
(1981), 523-33; Derrick Puffett, “Some Reflections on ‘Literaturoper,’” German Life
and Letters, 35 (1981-82), 238-40; Edward T. Cone, The Composer’s Voice (Berke-
ley: University of California Press, 1974); and J. W. Smeed, “The Composer as Inter-
preter,” German Life and Letters, 35 (1981-82), 221-28.
According to Rose R. Subotnik, it is in musicology where more groundwork
needs to be done:
[...] just as the critical works of even such leading American musical scholars as
Rosen, Kerman, Meyer, Cone, Treitler, and Lippman, not to mention those of
such non-musicologists as E. D. Hirsch, Roland Barthes, or Harold Bloom, have
individually exerted far less influence than it seems to me they should, so too,
collectively they have had relatively little impact on the character and direction of
American musicology as an institutional whole. Unlike its counterparts in litera-
ture and the visual arts, American musicology has yet to devote substantial energy
or support either to the intellectual issues of criticism or to the definition and
study of any extant body of critical investigation or theory.
Rose R. Subotnik, “Musicology and Criticism,” in Holoman and Palisca, 146-7.
Comparing Poetry and Music
Beethoven’s Goethe Lieder as Composed Reading*

Kommen Sie an die alten Ruinen,

so denken sie, daß dort Beethoven
oft verweilt, durchirren Sie die
heimlichen Tannenwälder, so denken
sie, daß da Beethoven oft gedichtet,
oder wie man sagt componirt...
(Beethoven to Nanette Streicher, July 20, 1817)

If a musical setting is able to vitalize and vivify one among the many aspects of
the total form of a poem, by so doing it presents a unique interpretation of the
poem’s meaning […]. Ultimately there can be only one justification for the seri-
ous composition of a song: it must be an attempt to increase our understanding of
the poem.

This poignant view of lied composition comes from Princeton musi-

cologist Edward T. Cone, who has written with authority and rare
literary sensitivity on the theoretical and practical aspects of this elu-
sive topic1. That Cone sees as the aim of songwriting a unique inter-
pretation and increased understanding of the poem may appear star-
tling at first. But in fact what he infers here ought to be of consider-
able interest as we inquire into the complex and intricate process of
setting poetic texts to music, especially in this day and age of the
Reader and reader-response criticism.

* The three words “as Composed Reading” in the title of this essay were inadver-
tently omitted from the published version. Here they are reinstated as they should
have appeared in the original printing.
Edward T. Cone, “Words into Music: The Composer’s Approach to the Text,” in:
Sound and Poetry, ed. Northrop Frye, New York 1957, p. 15.

Recognizing certain parallels in interpretive perception between

the act of reading texts on the one hand and beholding painting or
sculpture, viewing film, and listening to music on the other, critics in
recent years have begun to examine similarities and divergences in the
aesthetic and psychological responses of the reader, beholder, viewer,
and listener concerning their particular reception of works of art. My
focus here will be on the composer as reader: I am interested specifi-
cally in the so far largely unexplored nature of the song composer’s
interpretive activity and response.
The composer engaged in the process of setting poetic texts oper-
ates not unlike the linguistically and literarily competent reader en-
gaged in the art of reading poetry. Yet I would argue that the com-
poser’s reading performance is also significantly different: the com-
poser as reader commands a special ‘musical competence’ that is over
and above the literary competence ordinary readers bring to the read-
ing process. Since he aims at ‘translating’ his reading of the poem of
his choice into song, the composer becomes a special kind of reader
whose interpretive perception of the text is charged with an additional
creative-artistic dimension. As musicologist Gary Tomlinson ob-

Which particular textual characteristics the composer chooses to emphasize will

depend on much beyond the text itself: on his view of the nature and capabilities
of musical discourse, shaped internally by musical procedures developed from the
canon of his predecessors, externally by general expectations and aspirations of
his culture; and on his equally rich conception of tradition behind his text.2

It is this musical competence – here broadly defined – that enables the

composer to perceive in his reading certain structural, semantic, and
emotive features and properties which possess for him signifying po-
tential well beyond the text’s inherent literariness. Recognition and
internalization of these features and properties engender compositional

Gary Tomlinson, “Music and the Claims of the Text: Monteverdi, Rinuccini, and
Marino,” in: Critical Inquiry, 8, 1982, p. 565.

strategies that make the musical realization of the reading experience

possible. The musical setting is thus the direct result of a specially
charged reading process. By placing the poetic text into a musical
context, the composer-reader performs a generic transformation. The
poem as set to music is no longer the poet’s alone; appropriated by the
composer it becomes but a part, however integral, of the newly fash-
ioned, predominantly musical work of art. In this new, symbiotic con-
struct that comprises both verbal and musical components, the words
of the poem merge with and are shaped into the vocal line which, to-
gether with the instrumental (predominantly piano) accompaniment,
constitutes the larger musical framework. To attempt a working defi-
nition: song composition may be viewed as the act of the composer’s
assimilative reading of the original poem, as a “compenetration” (to
borrow Louise Rosenblatt’s term)3 of the composing reader and his
text, as the cumulative process of a series of interpretive insights and
operations and particularized compositional strategies called forth by
the composer’s reading; it is this process I call ‘composed reading’. In
a recent study on music and poetry, Lawrence Kramer arrives at a
definition of song that seems to endorse such a notion of ‘composed
reading’: “A song, we might say, does not use a reading; it is a read-
ing, in the critical as well as the performative sense of the term: an
activity of interpretation that works through a text without being
bound by authorial intentions.”4
When we think of the major figures in the history of the lied, Beet-
hoven’s name does not readily come to mind. Only specialists and lied
enthusiasts know that this is a serious omission: leaving behind the
eighteenth-century ideal (which was also Goethe’s) that the musical
setting must be subservient to the poem and pointing the way to a

Quoted by Jane P. Tompkins in Tompkins, ed., Reader-Response Criticism: From
Formalism to Post-Structuralism, Baltimore 1980, p. 259.
Lawrence Kramer, Music and Poetry: The Nineteenth Century and After, Berke-
ley 1984, p. 127.

more independent piano accompaniment that came into prominence in

full splendor with Schumann and Hugo Wolf, “in the world of Lieder
Beethoven rather than Schubert was the pioneer, groping towards a
satisfactory solution with few precedents to build on”5. Justifiably, it
is above all for his genius in the instrumental field, for his sympho-
nies, chamber works, and piano compositions, that posterity regards
Beethoven as one of the all-time greats in Western music. But such an
assessment, however valid in general, leaves unfocused a decisive trait
that pervades virtually all of his works: the fundamental interdepend-
ence of his instrumental and vocal music which is perhaps most trans-
parent and best accessible for analysis in the some eighty songs he
wrote for voice and piano6. From his early, modest experiments in
song-writing still in the eighteenth-century manner through An die
ferne Geliebte, the first song cycle in lied history, to the exalted ver-
sion of Schiller’s “Ode an die Freude” for solo voices, chorus, and
orchestra in the finale of the Ninth Symphony, the formidable chal-
lenge of text-setting accompanied Beethoven in his compositional
practice throughout his creative life.
Beethoven was no ordinary reader of poetry. Though he “was not a
composer who knew his Sophocles better than harmony”7, he certainly
knew his Goethe whose poetry he adored and considered ideally
suited to his own, rather exacting requirements of song composition.
As Beethoven is said to have confided to Bettina Brentano:

Goethes Gedichte behaupten nicht allein durch den Inhalt, auch durch den
Rhythmus eine große Gewalt über mich. Ich werde gestimmt und aufgeregt zum

Leslie Orrey, “The Songs,” in: The Beethoven Companion, eds. Denis Arnold and
Nigel Fortune, London 1971, p. 411.
Cf. Steven P. Scher, “Beethoven and the Word: Literary Affinity or Artistic Ne-
cessity?,” in: Jahrbuch des Wiener Goethe-Vereins, 84/85, l980/81, p. 130 [reprinted
in this volume].
A. W. Ambros, Die Grenzen der Musik und Poesie: eine Studie zur Ästhetik der
Tonkunst, Leipzig 1855, p. ii, referred to in Giorgio Pestelli, The Age of Mozart and
Beethoven, Cambridge 1984, p. 223.

Komponieren durch diese Sprache, die wie durch Geister zu höherer Ordnung
sich aufbaut und das Geheimnis der Harmonien schon in sich trägt.8

Clearly, Beethoven looked for and found in Goethe poetic texts which
in a vague, general sense already contained some potential rhythmic
contours and declamatory ingredients but which could still be en-
hanced through his musical treatment. Not only was Beethoven ever
mindful of the practical exigencies of lied composition; in each text he
subjected to his ‘composed reading’ he also had to find some corre-
spondence with his own mood or existential situation to which he
could respond emotionally. Beethoven set about a dozen of Goethe’s
lyrics, among them some of the best-known ones9. It is typical of his
indefatigable experimental spirit and perennial dissatisfaction with the
products of his interpretive intelligence that he made four different
settings of the famous Mignon poem “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt”
and published them under the same cover. On the autograph he wrote:
“Ich hatte nicht Zeit genug, um ein Gutes hervorzubringen, daher
mehrere Versuche.”10
As a representative example for closer scrutiny, I have chosen
Beethoven’s 1809 setting of Goethe’s “Neue Liebe, neues Leben”, an
effervescent love poem which captures the young poet’s passionate
yet self-consciously restrained involvement in 1775 with Frankfurt
society beauty Lili Schönemann. In the dilemma of the poem’s ambi-
tious young man in love trying to set himself free, Beethoven must
have perceived a parallel to his own predicament: at the time of com-
position he was about to terminate his hopeless affair with Therese

Martin Hürlimann, ed., Beethoven. Briefe und Gespräche, Zürich 1944, p. 145.
For example, “Mailied” (op. 52, Nr. 4), “Marmotte” (op. 52, Nr. 7), “Mignon”
(op. 75, No. 1), “Neue Liebe, neues Leben” (op. 75, No. 2), “Flohlied” (op. 75, No.
3), “Wonne der Wehmut” (op. 83, No. 1), “Sehnsucht” (op. 83, No. 2), “Mit einem
gemalten Band” (op. 83, No. 3).
Quoted in Joseph Müller-Blattau, Goethe und die Meister der Musik, Stuttgart
1959, p. 50.

Malfatti who rejected his marriage proposal. What interests us here is

how the musician Beethoven integrated his perception of the poem’s
emotional content into his approximation of the form and meaning of
Goethe’s text.
More crucial is the composer’s choice of a single organizing prin-
ciple that governs his entire process of composed reading. In the case
of “Neue Liebe, neues Leben” Beethoven’s choice was unique: he
opted to experiment with the classical sonata form11 so familiar from
his instrumental music because in it he recognized the ideal musical
design that would unobtrusively accentuate the poem’s inherent struc-
ture and would also allow him to give shape to his own self-reflective
interpretation. A juxtaposition of Goethe’s original poem with the
strikingly expanded version of Goethe’s text Beethoven fashioned for
his musical setting, followed by the resulting fusion of poetry and
music in the actual song composition, should prove illuminating for
purposes of comparison:


1 Herz, mein Herz, was soll das geben,

Was bedränget dich so sehr?
Welch ein fremdes neues Leben –
Ich erkenne dich nicht mehr.
5 Weg ist alles, was du liebtest,
Weg, worum du dich betrübtest,
Weg dein Fleiss und deine Ruh –
Ach, wie kamst du nur dazu?

Fesselt dich die Jugendblüte,

10 Diese liebliche Gestalt,
Dieser Blick voll Treu und Güte
Mit unendlicher Gewalt?
Will ich rasch mich ihr entziehen,
Mich ermannen, ihr entfliehen,

The sonata form structure in this song was first recognized by Ernst Bücken in his
“Die Lieder Beethovens. Eine stilkritische Studie,” in: Neues Beethoven-Jahrbuch, 2,
1925, pp. 33-42. Hans Boettcher, in his definitive study Beethoven als Liederkompon-
ist, Augsburg 1928, treats the song as simply through-composed, with a structure “a b
a ˘b˘ c” (p. 60).

15 Führet mich im Augenblick

– Ach – mein Weg zu ihr zurück.

Und an diesem Zauberfädchen,

das sich nicht zerreissen lässt,
Hält das liebe lose Mädchen
20 Mich so wider Willen fest.
Muss in ihrem Zauberkreise
Leben nun auf ihre Weise;
Die Veränderung, ach, wie gross!
24 Liebe, Liebe, lass mich los.
Goethe (1775)


1 Herz, mein Herz, was soll das geben? Exposition

was bedränget dich so sehr? – first theme
welch ein fremdes neues Leben!
ich erkenne dich nicht mehr.
5 Weg ist alles, was du liebtest,
weg warum du dich betrübtest,
weg dein Fleiss und deine Ruh’.
Ach, wie kamst du nur dazu!
wie kamst du nur dazu!

10 Fesselt dich die Jugendblüthe, – second theme

diese liebliche Gestalt,
dieser Blick voll Treu’ und Güte
mit unendlicher Gewalt?
Will ich rasch mich ihr entziehen, – third theme
15 mich ermannen, ihr entfliehen,
führet mich im Augenblick,
ach, mein Weg zu ihr zurück,
zu ihr, zu ihr mein Weg zurück.

Herz, mein Herz, was soll das geben? Development

20 Herz, mein Herz, was soll das geben? Recapitulation

was bedränget dich so sehr? – first theme
welch ein fremdes neues Leben!
ich erkenne dich nicht mehr.
Weg ist alles, was du liebtest,
25 weg warum du dich betrübtest,
weg dein Fleiss und deine Ruh’.
Ach, wie kamst du nur dazu!
wie kamst du nur dazu!

Fesselt dich die Jugendblüthe – second theme

30 diese liebliche Gestalt,
dieser Blick voll Treu’ und Güte
mit unendlicher Gewalt?
Will ich rasch mich ihr entziehen, – third theme
mich ermannen, ihr entfliehen,
35 führet mich im Augenblick,
ach, mein Weg zu ihr zurück,
führet mich im Augenblick
zu ihr, zu ihr mein Weg zurück.

Und an diesem Zauberfädchen, Coda

40 das sich nicht zerreissen lässt,
hält das liebe lose Mädchen
mich so wider Willen fest;
muss in ihrem Zauberkreise
leben nun auf ihre Weise.
45 Die Veränd’rung, ach, wie gross!
Liebe! Liebe! lass mich los!
lass, lass, lass mich los!
48 lass, lass mich los!
Beethoven (1809)
Op. 75, No. 2

Beethoven’s through-composed reading shows his keen awareness

of the principle of polarity underlying the poem’s structure, of the
pronounced contrast, for example, between the young man’s ‘heart
condition’ in the first stanza and the lovely appearance of his beloved
in the second. It is this insight that must have prompted Beethoven to
turn to the sonata form, the exposition section of which requires pre-
cisely this kind of compositional strategy, namely the contrasting of
the distinctly different melodic material introduced in the various
themes. Goethe’s treatment of the third stanza as a more or less sepa-
rate entity, a summing up of the preceding two stanzas in the form of a
moral, also lends itself effortlessly to a musical parallel in the coda
section concluding the sonata movement. Substantial deviation from
the customary sonata form was necessary only for the development
section which had to be drastically shortened. Here Beethoven’s solu-
tion is genuinely interpretive. In a mere five measures set to the very
first line of the poem (line 19), he not only provides the obligatory
harmonic transition from the exposition to the recapitulation but also
manages to intimate the poem’s emotional and ideational content –
not, however, without a touch of tonal irony in the piano part suggest-
ing the agitated heartbeat of the perplexed young man. For the rest, the
repeated first two stanzas form a perfect alliance with the standard
recapitulation section.
I think that even on the basis of this brief exercise in comparing
poetry and music we can concur with Edward T. Cone when he urges
that “once in a while we should try to derive from the structural analy-
sis of a composition an account of its expressive content”12. Couched
unobtrusively in sonata form, Beethoven’s musical setting of “Neue
Liebe, neues Leben” gives us a unique interpretation that does indeed
enhance the expressive content of Goethe’s poem. That the text Beet-
hoven set contains twice as many lines as the original poem seems

Edward T. Cone, “Schubert’s Promissory Note: An Exercise in Musical Herme-
neutics,” in: Nineteenth-Century Music, 5, Spring 1982, p. 235.

excessive and idiosyncratic only if we look at the words without the

music. But if we consider it as a verbal score to be realized in song, as
documentary record of a hermeneutic activity that generates a new,
composite work of art fusing poetry and music, then the special nature
of the composer’s reading response becomes evident. For Beethoven’s
considerable expansion and structural revamping of Goethe’s poem
through well-contemplated repetition of certain words, phrases, lines,
or entire stanzas closely parallels what may transpire in the mind of
the reader engaged in interpreting the poem. The crucial difference is,
of course, that the ordinary reader will simply not emerge from the
reading process with a gem like Beethoven’s “Neue Liebe, neues Le-
ben” which, with each performance, reflects anew the song com-
poser’s interpretive operation as composed reading.
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The Strauss-Hofmannsthal Operatic Experiment
Tradition, Modernity, or Avant-Garde?1 (1987)

Collaboration between creative individuals to fashion joint works of

art has rarely been free of misunderstandings, personal antagonisms,
and crippling crises; the case of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hof-
mannsthal was no exception. As reflected in the published correspon-
dence2, the celebrated Strauss-Hofmannsthal partnership – even in its
most harmonious moments – was far indeed from congenial serenity
and meek concord. Still it is unfortunate that the antagonism between
poet and composer has been magnified out of proportion. As a result,
from early on critical reception of this unique collaboration has been
colored (if not altogether dominated) by the notion that the two men
were patently mismatched.3 There is, of course, some truth in this
notion. Apocryphal or not, Alma Mahler’s so typically Viennese
reminiscence, if understood in the proper context, manages to convey
indirectly more of the aura of this strained relationship than hundreds
of pages of learned commentary:

Wir nahmen einst in Wien Hugo von Hofmannsthal mit uns zum “Libellentanz”
von Franz Léhar. Hofmannsthal war so angetan von der Musik, dass er sagte:
“Gott, wie schön wäre es, wenn Léhar doch die Musik zum ‘Rosenkavalier’ ge-

N.D.L.R.: Conformément à la politique de la R.L.C., les citations allemandes de
plus de deux ou trois lignes ont été traduites dans la langue de redaction de l’article.
Richard Strauss – Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Briefwechsel: Gesamtausgabe, ed.
Willi Schuh, fourth edition (Zurich: Atlantis, 1970).
For a good recent selected bibliography on this topic, see Karen Forsyth,
“Ariadne auf Naxos” by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss: Its Genesis
and Meaning (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1982), pp. 282-87. See also the bibliography
in Alan Jefferson’s Richard Strauss “Der Rosenkavalier” (Cambridge: Cambridge U.
Press, 1985), pp. 142-45.

macht hätte statt Richard Strauss.” Ich erzählte diesen Ausspruch meinem Freund
Egon Friedell, und er sagte: “Und wenn dann noch ein anderer das Libretto ge-
schrieben hätte – wie schön wäre dann die Oper erst geworden!”4

It is obviously unfair to judge Hofmannsthal’s comprehension of

musical matters in general and of Strauss’s music in particular on the
basis of such anecdotal evidence, as even responsible scholars have
repeatedly done. But it is equally misleading to overestimate the criti-
cal validity of, say, Thomas Mann’s highly subjective (and on several
counts simply mistaken) perception of the oppressive effect of
Strauss’s musical idiom on Hofmannsthal’s text to Der Rosenkavalier.
In a little known and unusually outspoken letter (dated February 5,
1911, shortly after he saw the Munich première of the opera), Mann
wrote to Hofmannsthal:

Aber wie, um Gottes Willen, verhalten denn Sie sich nun eigentlich zu der Art, in
der Richard Strauss Ihr leichtes Gebilde belastet und in die Länge gezogen hat?!
Vier Stunden Getöse um einen reizenden Scherz! Und wenn dieses Missverständ-
nis die einzige Stilwidrigkeit bei der Sache wäre! Wo ist Wien, wo ist achtzehntes
Jarhundert in dieser Musik? Doch nicht in den Walzern? Sie sind anachronistisch
und stempeln also das Ganze zur Operette. Wäre es nur eine. Aber es ist Musik-
drama anspruchsvollsten Kalibers. Dabei ist, da Strauss von Wagners Kunst, die
Deklamation mit dem Riesenorchester nicht zuzudecken, garnichts versteht, kein
Wort verständlich. Aber die tausend sprachlichen Delikatessen und Kuriositäten
des Buches werden erdrückt und verschlungen, und das ist am Ende gut, denn sie
stehen in schreiendem stilistischen Widerspruch zu dem raffinierten Lärm, in dem
sie untergehen, und wo noch zweimal so raffiniert, aber viel weniger Lärm hätte
sein dürfen. Kurz, ich war recht verstimmt und finde, dass Strauss nicht wie ein
Künstler an Ihrem Werk gehandelt hat.5

“One day, in Vienna, we took Hugo von Hofmannsthal with us to Franz Lehár’s
Libellentanz. Hofmannsthal was so taken with the music that he said: ‘My God, how
beautiful it would be if only the Rosenkavalier music had been done by Léhar instead
of Richard Strauss’. I reported this pronouncement to my friend Egon Friedell, and he
said: ‘And if yet another had written the libretto – then how fine the opera would have
been!’” – Alma Mahler-Werfel, Mein Leben (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1969).
Quoted here from the paperback edition, p. 299.
“But how, for God’s sake, do you react to the way in which Richard Strauss
loaded your light sketch and drew it into length?! Four hours of din about a charming
piece of fun! And if this misunderstanding was the only sin against style in the affair!
Where is Vienna, where is the eighteenth century in this music? Surely not in the
waltzes? They are anachronic, and put the stamp of operetta upon the whole. If there

However extreme in formulation, in substance Thomas Mann’s re-

action is typical of the pro-Hofmannsthal critics. In his recent, contro-
versial book on Romantic Opera and Literary Form, Peter Conrad still
echoes this view: “The correspondence between Strauss and Hof-
mannsthal reveals the poet manœuvring to preserve his texts from
violation by uncomprehending music”6. Representing the other side of
the debate are those critics who maintain – with T.S. Eliot – that “‘dis-
tinction as a poet’ is not necessarily an asset in a librettist”7: they be-
stow unconditional praise on the musician Strauss as the practical
partner in the affair with an infallible dramatic instinct and condemn
the poet Hofmannsthal for his uncompromising idealism and lack of
sound theatrical sense. Recently published evidence, even if taken
with a grain of salt, seems to substantiate the latter view. Harry Graf
Kessler, Hofmannsthal’s acknowledged co-author for the original
Rosenkavalier-scenario, wrote to Eberhard von Bodenhausen in a
letter dated March 24, 1912:

Du wunderst Dich, dass ich überhaupt auf diese Form der Mitarbeit mit Hof-
mannsthal eingegangen sei und nicht lieber allein Stücke oder Ballets verfasst ha-
be. Die Erklärung liegt in einer durchaus klaren Erkenntnis der Grenzen sowohl
von Hofmannsthal wie von meiner dichterischen Begabung. Hofmannsthal fehlt

was just one. But it is highfaluting music drama. And with that, Strauss having simply
no idea of the art proper to Wagner of not covering the declamation under a gigantic
orchestra – one does not understand a word. The thousand delicate and curious verbal
touches of the book are crushed and swamped, which in the end is a good thing, since
they stand in crying stylistic contradiction with the refined noise in which they perish
– and where we could have twice the refinement, but much less noise. In short, I was
properly peeved, and find that Strauss has not handled your work as an artist should.”
– Quoted in Andreas Razumovsky, “Über den Text des Rosenkavalier”, in Zeugnisse.
Theodor W. Adorno zum sechzigsten Geburtstag, ed. Max Horkheimer (Frankfurt am
Main: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1963), p. 238.
Peter Conrad, Romantic Opera and Literary Form (Berkeley: U. of California
Press, 1977), p. 5.
Quoted in Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Docu-
ments (New York, 1978), pp. 539-40. See also Steven Paul Scher, “Hofmannsthal as
Librettist to Richard Strauss: Some Aspects of Their Collaboration”, J.I.A.S.R.A.
(Journal of the International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association), 5, No. 2
(Summer 1966), 29-35.

ganz genau das zu einem dramatischen Dichter, was ich besitze, und umgekehrt.
Hofmannsthal hat gar kein konstruktives Talent, er hat nur ein sehr geringes Ta-
lent sogar zur Auswicklung und dramatisch wirksamen Ordnung eines schon ge-
gebenen Stoffes; deshalb hat er sich immer, ausser in bloss lyrischen Dramen, an
vorhandene Szenarien angelehnt. Ist aber ein wirksames Scenario da, so kann er
es in wunderbarer Weise lyrisch beleben, den Figuren und Situationen auf dem
Umwege über die Lyrik Leben einhauchen.8

Even without such explicit confirmation there is enough evidence,

I think, that in the last analysis the composer was a better opera-
dramatist than the aloof poet-librettist. Surely, it would be tempting to
probe further along these lines and collect and evaluate new as well as
old evidence about the respective merits and flaws of the two partners.
But today, at a safe distance of well over half a century after the poet’s
death and after several decades of intensive and impressive Hof-
mannsthal research, we ought to turn to more central issues. The time
has come, I believe, to ask larger questions; to attempt a critical over-
view of the collaboration in a broader historical framework. After all,
our methods of diachronic and synchronic critical inquiry in musico-
literary scholarship have become discriminating enough9 so that in-
stead of viewing the Strauss-Hofmannsthal co-productions one-
sidedly, with either a literary or a musicological bias (as has been pre-
dominantly the case so far), we can now assess them comprehensively

“You are surprised that in the first place I engaged in this sort of collaboration
with Hofmannsthal, and did not rather compose pieces of ballets alone. The explana-
tion lies in a perfectly clear knowledge of the limits both of Hofmannsthal’s and of
my own poetic gifts. Hofmannsthal lacks precisely, to be a dramatic composer, just
what I possess, and vice versa. Hofmannsthal has no constructive talent whatsoever,
he has only a very meagre talent for developing and organizing into cogent drama a
given subject-matter; for this reason he has always, except in the case of actual lyrical
drama, relied on pre-existing scenarios. But once you have a powerful scenario, he is
wonderful at giving it life as a lyric, and at breathing life into the characters and
situations on the way.” – Eberhard von Bodenhausen, Harry Graf Kessler, Ein Brief-
wechsel, 1894-1918, ed. Hans Ulrich Simon. Marbacher Schriften, No. 16 (Marbach
am Neckar, 1978), p. 93. See also Dirk Hoffmann, “Zu Harry Graf Kesslers Mitarbeit
am ‘Rosenkavalier’,” Hofmannsthal-Blätter, 21-22 (1979), 153-60.
Cf. Steven Paul Scher, “Literature and Music,” in Interrelations of Literature,
eds. Jean-Pierre Barricelli and Joseph Gibaldi (New York: M.L.A., 1982), pp. 225-50.

as exemplary instances of operatic word-tone synthesis, of “Dichtung-

cum-Musik” (to use Hofmannsthal’s own designation). In his
“Ungeschriebenes Nachwort zum ‘Rosenkavalier’” (1911), the poet
himself endorsed this approach as the only appropriate one:

Ein Werk ist ein Ganzes und auch zweier Menschen Werk kann ein Ganzes wer-
den. Vieles ist den Gleichzeitig-Lebenden gemeinsam, auch vom Eigensten. Fä-
den laufen hin und wider, verwandte Elemente laufen zusammen. Wer sondert,
wird unrecht tun. Wer eines heraushebt, vergisst, dass unbemerkt immer das Gan-
ze mitklingt. Die Musik soll nicht vom Text gerissen werden, das Wort nicht vom
belebten Bild. Für die Bühne ist dies gemacht, nicht für das Buch oder für den
einzelnen an seinem Klavier.10

When we attempt to reconsider this remarkable and singularly pro-

ductive collaboration in a broader context, the crucial question arises:
to what extent are we justified in claiming that Strauss and Hof-
mannsthal created a new operatic genre superior in artistic quality and
musico-poetic integrity to what had been attained before in the history
of opera? Or, to phrase the complex question somewhat more mod-
estly, what were the decisive factors that brought the two men together
and held them together in a tempestuous, yet on the whole successful,
working relationship that lasted over twenty years, despite frequent
disagreements and undercurrents of personal antagonism? Contem-
plating the artistic physiognomies of the two partners, the answer
seems surprisingly transparent: we must remember that both Strauss
and Hofmannsthal started out as sensational innovators in their respec-
tive fields and turned increasingly conservative later on; that both
were sincerely and passionately preoccupied throughout their careers

“A work is a whole, and the work of two men can also become a whole. People
living in the same age have much in common, even much of what is their own.
Threads run in and out, related elements run together. Who severs, will do wrong.
Who takes out one item, forgets, that, unnoticed, the whole always rings in tune.
Music must not be wrenched from the text, nor the word from the animated picture.
This was made for the stage, not for the book or for a man sitting at his piano.” –
Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gesammelte Werke in zehn Einzelbänden, eds. Bernd
Schoeller und Rudolf Hirsch (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Tachenbuch Verlag, 1979),
Vol. 5 (Dramen V – Operndichtungen), p. 146.

with the elusive problem of word-tone synthesis in theory and prac-

tice; and last but not least, that they openly shared a sense of acute
awareness of their own stature as first-rate artists and of the prominent
place their collaborative efforts were to occupy in operatic history.
These, I believe, are the major factors that provided a common ground
upon which these otherwise so dissimilar artists could sustain what
W.H. Auden – himself a prominent librettist – called a “marriage of
true minds”.11
Characteristically, there was never any disagreement between
Strauss and Hofmannsthal concerning their mutually conscious readi-
ness to respond to the formidable challenge represented by past oper-
atic peaks like Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Zauberflöte, and Die Mei-
stersinger von Nürnberg and the desire to eclipse them through the
creation of a new, higher standard for contemporary opera, especially
through their joint effort to achieve what they regarded as the ideal,
productive tension between text and musical setting. They instinc-
tively realized that words and music can be felicitously united by crea-
tive antagonism – which was precisely the case in Der Rosenkavalier.
Strauss knew well that in Hofmannsthal he was fortunate to have a
poet with an established reputation who was willing and able to write
libretti of quality and who could elevate the much maligned operatic
form to a new level of literary integrity and perhaps even break the
ground for a new operatic genre altogether. Also, Strauss was gener-
ally sensitive to the poetic value of Hofmannsthal’s texts, though he
could not always translate the poetry into his music. Paradoxically,
none of the texts Hofmannsthal wrote specifically as libretti ever ap-
proached the dramatic idiom of Elektra, which first attracted Strauss
and met his compositional needs so well. Nor would Hofmannsthal
ever really consider writing a “second” Rosenkavalier: for all its sur-
face similarities to Rosenkavalier, the world of Arabella is much more

W.H. Auden, “A Marriage of True Minds”, T.L.S. (Times Literary Supplement),
No. 3115, November 10, 1961, pp. 797-98.

closely related to that of Der Schwierige. It was no doubt the lasting

success of Rosenkavalier which gave the poet confidence that he
could continue to tread new ground as a librettist. This conscious re-
alization, however, was also the primary cause of the divergence
which ensued in the partnership for a good many years after World
War I: Hofmannsthal’s well-meant ambition to revolutionize the con-
cept of the libretto led him far beyond the successful forms he had less
selfconsciously created.
From a historical perspective, Strauss’s decline as a composer also
inhibited the further development of the collaboration. This “decline”
should not be exaggerated; it is relative to the extremely rapid evolu-
tion of modern music during the latter part of Strauss’s lifetime.
Amusing as it may be to read Ernest Newman’s 1908 biography of
Strauss, which portrays him as the foremost musical revolutionary and
leader of the avantgarde, it also serves to remind us of the extraordi-
nary advances he made as a composer before even turning to opera.
With the major exception of Wagner, opera has rarely been the har-
binger of musical revolution, perhaps due to its economic dependence
on some kind of public success. At any rate, Strauss virtually ceased
to alter his compositional style after Rosenkavalier, not so much out of
a desire to pander to public taste, but simply because he had arrived at
an idiom which was “comfortable” for him: he felt that this harmonic
vocabulary was sufficient for everything he wished to express. At this
point he had unofficially allied himself with the passing generation:
Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) received its premiere
while be began to work on Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919). Strauss
became relatively immune to the new kinds of musical theater that
were emerging even during his collaboration with Hofmannsthal:
Hindemith’s Cardillac (1926), Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf (1927), and
the Brecht-Weill Dreigroschenoper (1928) were first staged in the
twenties, while Schönberg’s avantgardistic works, Erwartung and Die
glückliche Hand, though first performed in 1924, were composed in
1909 and 1913 respectively and were thus almost exactly contempo-

rary with Rosenkavalier and Ariadne. British critic Cecil Gray’s as-
sessment of 1924 rings true indeed:

Hailed on his appearance as the successor of Wagner – Richard the Second – only
some ten years ago still, for most people the most commanding figure in modern
music, he [Strauss] is today, apart from Germany and Austria, almost ignored by
the leaders of progressive musical opinion.12

Strauss’s position as an opera composer, then, may be defined as a

summing up of a long tradition from Mozart to Wagner and beyond:
in his own way he achieved a certain reconciliation of these two di-
verse giants of “German” art (in the broadest sense). His work with
Hofmannsthal, a first-rate literary figure, points forward to a modern,
twentieth-century approach to literature-in-music, as manifest in such
dissimilar partnerships as Brecht and Weill or Dessau, Stravinsky and
Cocteau or W. H. Auden. The British composers, Benjamin Britten,
Vaughan Williams, and Michael Tippett, also typify a similar “liter-
ary” approach, coming as they do from a country more famous for its
men of letters than its composers. In this respect, the Strauss-
Hofmannsthal collaboration is surely more “transitional” than it is
generally regarded.
When asked late in life why opera was his medium of expression,
Hofmannsthal answered:

– in der Oper, das heisst natürlich besonders in meiner Oper, kann ich das Bedeu-
tende, das worauf es ankommt, das Eigentliche, nicht aus einem Brauch, sondern
aus dem rein gefühlten, tieferen Zustand der Dinge hervorgehen lassen –13 ...

Quoted in Joseph Kerman, Opera as Drama (New York: Random House, 1956),
p. 261.
“– in opera, that is to say of course, particularly in my opera, I can call forth the
significant, what it is all about, the distinctive, bringing it out, not of any practice, but
of the deeper condition of things, felt in all its purity.” Walther Brecht, “Gespräch
über ‘Die Ägyptische Helena’,” in Hugo von Hofmannsthal, ed. Helmut Fiechtner
(Vienna, 1949), p. 339.

Because Der Rosenkavalier deals with themes immediate and uni-

versal through the “purely emotional” experiences of its characters,
more so than any other of Hofmannsthal’s libretti, it is qualified to
achieve this ideal. With some of his most inspired and perceptive mu-
sic, Strauss was able to mold the comic and noble elements of the
poet’s vision into a persuasive whole: a world in which purpose and
necessity govern the fates of the characters and at some point reflect
our own. The dissonances which carry the plot are ultimately resolved
in the harmony of the configuration. Music intensifies the transcen-
dent concept of reality as it is presented on stage. It fills the space
between the characters with an additional dimension of meaning and
creates a fuller sense of the dramatic moment. The words provide
space for music and the music defines this space with its emotional
content, thus defining the essence of the words themselves in a still
more complete and satisfying way. Or, as Hofmannsthal put it in his
“Ungeschriebenes Nachtwort zum ‘Rosenkavalier’”:

So stehen Gruppen gegen Gruppen, die Verbundenen sind getrennt, die Getrenn-
ten verbunden. Sie gehören alle zueinander, und was das Beste ist, liegt zwischen
ihnen: es ist augenblicklich und ewig, und hier ist Raum für Musik.14

In that it was uniquely literary, the Strauss-Hofmannsthal operatic

experiment was modern perhaps, indeed even innovative. But it was
certainly not avant-gardistic.

“So stand groups against groups, those who were linked are separated, those
separated are linked. They all belong to each other, and what is best is there between
them: it is momentary and eternal, and this is where music has its place.” – Hof-
mannsthal (see note 2), p. 146.
This page intentionally left blank
E. T. A. Hoffmann:
Der Dichter als Komponist (1987)

E. T. A. Hoffmanns schöpferische Jahre waren von der unnachgiebi-

gen Suche nach künstlerischer Identität bestimmt. Es war eines der
zahlreichen Paradoxe dieser gefährdeten Künstlerexistenz, dass er sich
sein ganzes Leben lang als Komponist und Musiker einen Namen zu
machen hoffte. Als ihm in seinen letzten Jahren endlich doch breite
Anerkennung zuteil wurde, feierte sein Publikum in ihm nicht den
Musiker und Musikkritiker, sondern den vielseitigen und fruchtbaren
humoristischen Prosaautor. Hoffmanns Wendung von der Musik zur
Literatur kam aber keineswegs unerwartet oder zufällig. Von frühester
Jugend an hatte er auch die dichterische Laufbahn erwogen, obwohl er
diese Neigung lange Zeit sogar vor sich selbst verbarg. Außer den
beiden Romanen, die er veröffentlichte – Die Elixiere des Teufels
(1815-1816) und Kater Murr (1820-1822) – hatte er sieben weitere
geplant und teilweise auch geschrieben; erhalten sind allerdings nur
Bruchstücke oder Skizzen. Bereits im Alter von 18 Jahren arbeitete er
gewissenhaft an seinem ersten Roman Cornaro, und ein Jahr später
begann er seinen zweiten. Es ist dieses früh bewusstgewordene,
grundsätzlich zur Prosa neigende Dichtertemperament, das mir der
entscheidende Zug in Hoffmanns Entwicklung zum großen Erzähler
zu sein scheint; es durchdringt all seine literarischen Arbeiten, ein-
schließlich seiner Briefe, Tagebucheintragungen und Musikkritiken.
Im besonderen lassen viele seiner Dichtungen – auch wenn er sie als
„Märchen“, „Erzählungen“ oder ähnlich bezeichnete – die Haltung
eines Romanschriftstellers erkennen, der bewusst Erzählstrategien
verwendet, die aus der großen europäischen Tradition der Linie Rabe-
lais, Cervantes, Grimmelshausen, Sterne, Wieland, Rousseau und

Goethe abzuleiten sind. Hoffmanns Erzählkunst ist außerdem von

romantheoretischer Bedeutung als die vielleicht überzeugendste –
wenn auch nicht unbedingt bewusste – Verwirklichung charakteristi-
scher Auffassungen des Romans und des Romanhaften, wie sie in den
kritischen Schriften von Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis, Schelling und
Jean-Paul entwickelt wurden.
Ich will mich aber nicht mit der literarischen Bedeutung Hoff-
manns befassen und auch nicht mit der Tradition, die er in vielen Län-
dern und Literaturen (insbesondere in Frankreich) prägte und die noch
heute eine überraschende Lebendigkeit hat. Vielmehr möchte ich auf
einige Aspekte seiner sicherlich nicht geringen Leistungen auf musi-
kalischem Gebiet etwas näher eingehen; ein Gebiet seiner vielfältigen
schöpferischen Tätigkeit, welches am wenigsten bekannt ist, aber
gerade daher vielleicht die größte Möglichkeit zu neuen Einblicken
auch in sein Gesamtschaffen bietet. Besonders nach der 1984 erschie-
nenen grundlegenden – und meines Erachtens bisher einzig wirklich
ertragreichen und interpretatorisches Neuland eröffnenden – musikli-
terarischen Studie von Klaus-Dieter Dobat1 bleibt heute kein Zweifel
mehr, dass eine kritische Betrachtung Hoffmanns als Musiker, Kom-
ponist und Musikkritiker ohne Bezug auf sein literarisches Werk (und
umgekehrt) einfach nicht zu denken ist.
Der Dichter als Komponist also; das klingt beinahe wie der Titel
„Der Dichter und der Komponist“. Zwar sind in Hoffmanns berühm-
tem Dialog von 1813 – eine brilliant entworfene Ästhetik der romanti-
schen Oper en miniature, die auf Weber und Wagner vorausweist und
der Opernpraxis dieser Meister nachweisbar Modell gestanden hat –
Ludwig, der Komponist, und Ferdinand, der Dichter, klar unterscheid-
bare Künstlerpersönlichkeiten mit eigenen ästhetischen Ansichten,
welche ihren verschiedenen Medien entsprechen. Sie sind jedoch bei-
de gleichzeitig Projektionen des Dichter-Komponisten Hoffmann. Ihre

Klaus-Dieter Dobat. Musik als romantische Illusion. Eine Untersuchung zur
Bedeutung der Musikvorstellung E. T. A. Hoffmanns für sein literarisches Werk.
Tübingen 1984.

Nebeneinanderstellung im fiktiven Rahmen bezeugt beispielhaft, dass

bei dem doppelbegabten Hoffmann kunsttheoretische Überlegung und
künstlerische Praxis ständig von der schöpferischen Dialektik seines
dichterischen und musikalischen Temperaments bestimmt sind.
Nun aber zu Hoffmanns Musik! „His [Hoffmann’s] work as a com-
poser, which he himself regarded highly, has been neglected but
shows a certain verve and originality“. So lapidar urteilt Gerhard All-
roggen, der heute vielleicht beste Kenner Hoffmannscher Musik, im
New Grove Dictionary of Music2. Schon eine flüchtige Betrachtung
ausgewählter Hoffmannscher Kompositionen genügt, um mit Sicher-
heit feststellen zu dürfen, glaube ich, dass sie nicht Werke eines blo-
ßen Dilettanten sind. Er braucht also keine Ehrenrettung. Eines ist
jedoch klar: Es ist wenig charakteristisch Hoffmannsches oder ‚Hoff-
manneskes’ in dieser Musik, wie es für fast eine jede Seite seiner Pro-
sa typisch wäre. Hoffmanns Musik ist eine merkwürdige Mischung
verschiedener Anklänge, hauptsächlich der Wiener Klassik, und weist
keinen eigenständigen musikalischen Stil auf. Diese Unzulänglichkeit
ist genau das, was man als das lebenslange Dilemma des Komponisten
Hoffmann bezeichnen kann. Doch eine ähnliche Unzulänglichkeit
belastete auch andere zeitgenössische Komponisten wie z. B. Cheru-
bini, Paer, Spohr, Mehul, Stamitz, Spontini, Salieri, Hummel, Cle-
menti und viele sogar mindere Talente, die, wie Hoffmann, im Schat-
ten Haydns, Mozarts und Beethovens lebten und wirkten; doch sie
haben wenigstens eine gewisse Anerkennung für ihre Leistungen ge-
funden. Nicht aber Hoffmann: als Komponist ist er bis heute im Grun-
de unbekannt.
Ist die fast völlige Vernachlässigung, die die Nachwelt seinen
Kompositionen angedeihen lässt, gerechtfertigt? Ich glaube kaum,
wenn von einem Künstler von Hoffmanns Format die Rede ist. Ein
solcher Mangel an Ansehen für einen Bereich, der für sein Schöpfer-

Stanley Sadie, Hg. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London 1980.
Bd. 8, S. 618.

tum so wichtig war, ist besonders bemerkenswert, wenn man bedenkt,

dass Hoffmanns künstlerisches Werk bis 1809, als er 33 Jahre alt war,
fast ausschließlich aus musikalischen Kompositionen bestand, und
dass er selbst vor allem nicht als Dichter, sondern als Komponist an-
erkannt werden wollte. Noch im Jahre 1813 bat er seinen Freund,
Weinhändler und Verleger Kunz, die Fantasiestücke in Callots Ma-
nier anonym zu drucken: „Ich mag mich nicht nennen, indem mein
Name nicht anders als durch eine gelungene musikalische Compositi-
on der Welt bekannt werden soll“3. Hoffmann hielt an diesem Vorsatz
mit bewundernswerter Zähigkeit fest: Sogar als er schon ein Bestsel-
ler-Autor geworden war, erschien keines seiner literarischen Werke
unter seinem eigenen Namen bis 1816, als sein bedeutendstes musika-
lisches Werk, die Oper Undine, erfolgreich in Berlin aufgeführt wor-
den war und ihm die lang ersehnte öffentliche Anerkennung als Kom-
ponist brachte. Trotz der Tatsache, dass er sich nach der Vollendung
der Undine im Jahre 1814 immer mehr dem Dichten zuwandte, gab
Hoffmann das Komponieren nicht gänzlich auf. Noch 1820, zwei Jah-
re vor seinem Tod, begann er u.a. die Komposition einer neuen Oper,
einer Bearbeitung von Calderons El Galan Fantasma, die das komi-
sche Gegenstück zu seiner Undine werden sollte, aber nie über das
Planungsstadium hinauswuchs.
Im Grunde umspannt die intensive Komponistentätigkeit nicht viel
mehr als ein Jahrzehnt in Hoffmanns Leben, von ca. 1800 bis 1814. Es
ist ein Zeugnis für seine erstaunliche Vielseitigkeit und sein vorzügli-
ches technisches Können, dass er sich während dieser Zeit in nahezu
allen musikalischen Genres versuchte: Instrumental- und Kammermu-
sik und diverse Vokalmusik. Mit der Veröffentlichung seiner Musik
hatte er wenig Glück. Nur vier seiner kleineren Kompositionen er-
schienen zu seinen Lebzeiten in Druck, darunter die Klaviersonate in
A-Dur (1805). Eine andere, betitelt Trois canzonettes à 2 et à 3 voix,

Brief an C.F. Kunz vom 20. Juli 1813 in E. T. A. Hoffmann. Briefwechsel. Hg.
Friedrich Schnapp. Bd 1. München 1967, S. 399.

paroles italiennes et allemandes avec accompagnement de pianoforte

(1808), wurde sogar von Friedrich Rochlitz, dem einflussreichen Re-
dakteur der Allgemeinen musikalischen Zeitung, besprochen. Da diese
kurze Besprechung treffend den Ton der zeitgenössischen Musikkritik
vermittelt, verdient sie es, hier vollständig zitiert zu werden:

Männer, die daher, wie Hr. Hoffmann Musikdirektor in Bamberg, außerdem, dass
sie gute Komponisten überhaupt sind, auch die Singkunst gründlich verstehen,
erwerben sich durch Werkchen, wie das angezeigte, womit sie diesen Geschmack
nähren und leiten, den Dank aller Verständigen. Es beweiset unverkennbar, dass
der Verf. der eben genannten Vorzüge sich in nicht gewöhnlichem Grade zu er-
freuen hat. Alle drey Stücke, vorzüglich aber das zweyte und dritte, haben leichte,
fließende, angenehme Melodieen, die aber auch darum nicht verbraucht, flach,
und nichts sagend sind; diese Melodieen sind mit Sorgfalt verschlungen, ohne da-
durch schwer, gesucht oder unnatürlich zu werden; und das dritte Stück hat in
seinem naiven, etwas komischen Tone noch einen besonderen Reiz. Das Accom-
pagnement ist weder leer, noch überladen; es unterstützt, gerade wie es in dieser
Gattung am besten ist, zugleich die Sänger und den Effekt des Ganzen; und die
deutsche Unterlegung, neben dem italienischen Texte, ist artig und gut angepasst.
Was will man mehr von solchen kleinen Blumen am Wege?4

Wir würden Hoffmann sicherlich ein Unrecht tun, wenn wir ihn als
Komponisten nur auf Grund dieser hübschen kleinen Lieder und ande-
rer ähnlicher Gelegenheitswerke zu rehabilitieren suchten. Seltsamer-
weise schuf er selbst, obwohl er in seinen kritischen Schriften konse-
quent den unbedingten Vorrang der Instrumentalmusik verkündete,
seine beste Musik in den dramatischen Gattungen, in Opern, Singspie-
len, Balletten und Bühnenmusik. Selbst wenn er nichts Anderes kom-
poniert hätte, würde ihm seine Oper Undine allein einen achtbaren
Platz in der Musikgeschichte gesichert haben; unter Musikologen
herrscht heute im allgemeinen die Meinung, dass Undine die erste
wahrhaft romantische Oper sei und unbestritten ein Vorläufer von We-
bers Der Freischütz, dem sie um fünf Jahre vorausgeht. Doch die Tat-
sache ist, dass Hoffmann noch mehrere andere Werke komponierte,

Friedrich Rochlitz in der AMZ (Leipzig), 23. Juni 1808. Zitiert in E. T. A. Hoff-
mann in Aufzeichnungen seiner Freunde und Bekannten. Eine Sammlung von Fried-
rich Schnapp. München 1974, S. 125.

die ebenfalls nähere Betrachtung und gebührende Anerkennung ver-

Ich halte z. B. unter Hoffmanns Bühnenmusiken seine Ballettsuite
Arléquin, die er 1808 in Bamberg zu einer typischen commedia
dell’arte-Textvorlage von einem gewissen Carl Macco komponierte,
für eine seiner einfallsreichsten und gelungensten – sicherlich reizvoll
genug, um eine Neubelebung auf der Bühne zu erfahren5. Die Präg-
nanz und der Erfindungsreichtum musikalischer Charakterisierung der
skurrilen Typenfiguren und der aus ihren Groteskerien entstehenden
Situationskomik mutet manchmal sogar echt hoffmannesk an. Be-
zeichnenderweise wird Arléquin in der Hoffmann-Forschung kaum
zur Kenntnis genommen. Wenn überhaupt erwähnt, wird das faszinie-
rende kleine Werk bloß registriert, wie z. B. zuletzt 1979 von Fried-
rich Schnapp:

Die meisten Bamberger Gelegenheitskompositionen – d.h. der Schauspielmusiken

– sind verschollen. Was sich davon erhalten hat, wie z.B. die Ballettmusik Arlé-
quin, verrät die große Gewandtheit, mit der Hoffmann solche Aufträge zu erledi-
gen wusste [...]

Einen treffenden Eindruck vom musikalisch-szenischen Geschehen

vermittelt dagegen Franz Bertholds zeitgenössische Minirezension der
einzigen Neuaufführung (oder Uraufführung?) des Balletts am 21.
Mai 1927 in Bamberg:

Nach einem wild daherwirbelnden Einleitungssatz, Furien genannt, offenbar dem

böhmischen Schnelltanz „Furiant“ nachgebildet, muten einige ganz kurz abgeris-
sene, thematisch scharf kontrastierend gezeichnete Sätzchen wie ein musikali-
sches Programm der im Ballett auftretenden Personen, des Arlequin, des Pierrot,
und der Colombine an, die dann der Reihe nach in fein charakterisierender Entfal-
tung des melodischen und rhythmischen Ausdruckes ihre Tänze einzeln ausfüh-

Vgl. Gerhard Allroggen. E. T. A. Hoffmanns Kompositionen. Ein chronologisch-
thematisches Verzeichnis seiner musikalischen Werke mit einer Einführung. Regens-
burg 1970, S. 60-64.
Friedrich Schnapp. „Der Musiker E. T. A. Hoffmann“. Mitteilungen der E. T. A.
Hoffmann-Gesellschaft 25, 1979, S. 12.

ren, um sich am Schluß in den hämmernden Rhythmen und von wechselnder

Taktart getragenen scharfen Akzenten eines „Pantalon“ in wilder Ekstase zusam-
menzufinden. Die reizvolle Musik vereinigt markante Rhythmik, formale Ge-
schlossenheit und melodische Stimmungskraft und entbehrt vor allem jenes Man-
gels an konzentriertem Gestaltungsvermögen, der sonst der Hoffmannschen Mu-
sik gerne anhaftet.

Allein die Tatsache, dass Hoffmanns geniale, obwohl für den Rest
seiner Kompositionen kaum typische, Arléquin-Musik existiert, ist
Grund genug, der Frage, warum der Komponist Hoffmann nicht bes-
ser bekannt ist, weiter nachzugehen. Eine halbwegs einleuchtende
Antwort, wenn es sie überhaupt gibt, muss aus einem einfühlenden
Verständnis der komplexen Gründe für die traditionsgebundenen sti-
listischen Züge seiner eigenen Kompositionen abgeleitet werden, die
deutlich von seiner einzigartigen Musikauffassung geprägt sind. Nur
wenn man sich ernstlich bemüht nachzuempfinden, was Hoffmann
unter „romantisch“ eigentlich verstanden haben mochte, ist es viel-
leicht möglich, die Bedeutung seiner eigentümlichen Tonsprache zu
erkennen, nur dann wird sich der eigenartige Reiz, oder besser gesagt,
die besondere Originalität seiner Musik offenbaren.

Die Beziehung zwischen den Begriffen „klassisch“ und „romantisch“ in Hoff-

manns Sprache ist zwiespältig und verwickelt. Die Termini stehen einerseits zu-
sammenhanglos nebeneinander und bilden andererseits eine Antithese.8

Trotz dieser von Carl Dahlhaus schlicht formulierten Tatsache ha-

ben sich bekanntlich unzählige Interpreten mit Hoffmanns Romantik-
begriff auseinandergesetzt. Ich kann hier auf die verschiedenen Deu-
tungsversuche nicht näher eingehen, neige aber dazu, den Schlüssel zu
Hoffmanns verwirrender Terminologie vor allem darin zu sehen, dass
für ihn „romantisch“ und „klassisch“ auf keinen Fall ausgesprochen

Franz Berthold. „E. T. A. Hoffmanns «Arlequino». Uraufführung im Kaisersaal
der Residenz zu Bamberg“. Neue Musik-Zeitung 48, 1927, S. 452-53.
Carl Dahlhaus. „Romantische Musikästhetik und Wiener Klassik“. Archiv für
Musikwissenschaft 29, 1972, S. 178.

antithetische Begriffe sind, wenn auch – wie Klaus-Dieter Dobat plau-

sibel argumentiert – für Hoffmann „die bruchlose Übereinstimmung
beider Vorstellungsbereiche eher eine Wunschvorstellung ist“9. Ich
stimme also mit Dobats Behauptung überein,

daß die „Romantik“ der Musik, soll ihre Intention adäquat ausgedrückt werden,
darauf angewiesen ist, in formvollendeter „klassischer“ Gestalt zu erscheinen.
Beide Komponenten sind in Hoffmanns Kunstanschauung wechselseitig vonein-
ander abhängig.10

Trotzdem bin ich überzeugt, dass wir eine eindeutige Auslegung von
„klassisch“ und „romantisch“ in Hoffmanns Wortgebrauch ebensowe-
nig werden finden können, wie eine vollkommen befriedigende Ent-
schlüsselung der Identitätsfrage im absichtlich enigmatisch konzipier-
ten Schlusssatz, „Ich bin der Ritter Gluck“. Es ist eben das charakte-
ristisch Fesselnde an Hoffmanns künstlerischer Strategie, dass er –
gleichviel ob als Erzähler oder Musikkritiker – seinen Lesern nicht
widerspruchslose Deutungen oder allgemeingültige Formulierungen
liefert, sondern eher Texte für Kontemplation, Anregungen zum stän-
digen Weiterdenken seiner dichterischen und kritischen Ausführun-
gen. Wichtiger erscheint mir deshalb in unserem Kontext zu erfassen –
auf eine einfache Formel gebracht –, dass das, was wir aus heutiger
Sicht in der Musikgeschichte als ‚klassisch’ bezeichnen, Hoffmann als
‚romantisch’ empfand und interpretierte. Das echt ‚Romantische’ fand
Hoffmann in der Musik, die er – wie Dobat treffend formuliert – als
„künstliche Gegensphäre zur Wirklichkeit“11 auffasste. Für Hoffmann
war alles Dämonische, Geisterhafte und Unaussprechliche bereits in
den Werken Mozarts und Beethovens enthalten. Nur wenn wir diese
seine Auffassung von ‚romantisch’ gelten lassen und willig mit ihm

Klaus-Dieter Dobat [Anm. 1], S. 91.
Ebd, S. 90.
Ebd, S. 96.

darin übereinstimmen, gewinnt seine oft zitierte Definition der Musik


[Musik] ist die romantischste aller Künste, beinahe möchte man sagen, allein echt
romantisch, denn nur das Unendliche ist ihr Vorwurf. – [...] Die Musik schließt
dem Menschen ein unbekanntes Reich auf, eine Welt, die nichts gemein hat mit
der äußern Sinnenwelt, die ihn umgibt, und in der er alle bestimmten Gefühle zu-
rückläßt, um sich einer unaussprechlichen Sehnsucht hinzugeben.

Und nur mit dieser Definition im Sinne ist Hoffmanns differenzieren-

de Charakterisierung der großen Trias der Wiener Klassik als Roman-
tiker par excellence unserem modernen Empfinden zugänglich:

Haydn faßt das Menschliche im menschlichen Leben romantisch auf; er ist kom-
mensurabler, faßlicher für die Mehrzahl. Mozart nimmt mehr das Übermenschli-
che, das wunderbare, welches im innern Geiste wohnt in Anspruch. Beethovens
Musik bewegt die Hebel der Furcht, des Schauers, des Entsetzens, des Schmerzes,
und erweckt eben jene unendliche Sehnsucht, welche das Wesen der Romantik
ist. Er ist daher ein rein romantischer Komponist.13
Tief im Gemüte trägt Beethoven die Romantik der Musik, die er mit hoher Genia-
lität und Besonnenheit in seinen Werken ausspricht.14

„Besonnenheit“ ist hier das Schlüsselwort; es bedeutet Gelassenheit,

Kontrolle, selbstsichere Übersicht über das Ganze, und die künstleri-
sche Kraft, der chaotischen Formlosigkeit Ordnung aufzuzwingen.
Hoffmann erkannte und bewunderte diese unnachahmliche „Beson-
nenheit“ in Mozart und Beethoven; nämlich die Fähigkeit, das musi-
kalische Material, das ihrer ungezügelten Einbildungskraft entsprang,
in eine geordnete Totalität von innerer Struktur zu formen. In diesem
Wortgebrauch ist für Hoffmann „romantisch“ auch ein Wertungsbe-
griff, eine Bezeichnung für unübertreffliche Qualität. Wie fremd uns
auch immer diese Auffassung des ‚Romantischen’ zuerst anmuten

E. T. A. Hoffmann. „Beethovens Instrumental-Musik“. E. T. A. Hoffmann. Fan-
tasie- und Nachtstücke. Hg. Walter Müller-Seidel. München 1960, S. 41.
Ebd, S. 43.
E. T. A. Hoffmann. „Ludwig van Beethoven, 5. Sinfonie“. E. T. A. Hoffmann, 4
Schriften zur Musik. Nachlese. Hg. Friedrich Schapp. München 1963, S. 35.

mag, stellt sie sich doch als verwandt mit Friedrich Schlegels bekann-
tem Ausspruch heraus, dass eine perfekte Balance zwischen Selbst-
vergessen (bei Schlegel „Selbstschöpfung“) und Selbstbeschränkung
das Zeichen eines großen – d.h. echt romantischen – literarischen
Kunstwerkes ist15.
Es ist nicht lange her, dass Hoffmanns Platz in der Musikgeschich-
te noch sehr bescheiden war. In letzter Zeit mehren sich jedoch die
Meinungen, die dem Komponisten Hoffmann eine Sonderstellung als
Übergangsfigur par excellence zugestehen; eine schöpferische Gestalt
von beträchtlichem musikalischen Talent, dessen Kompositionen die
Unterschiede zwischen zwei großen Kunstepochen spiegeln. Tatsäch-
lich war er Überlieferer und Erneuerer zugleich – und darin seiner
eigenen unvergesslichen literarischen Musikergestalt Ritter Gluck
nicht unähnlich. Denn wie Ritter Gluck ist der Komponist Hoffmann
ein glühender, aber auch sachlich kompetenter Verehrer Glucks, Mo-
zarts und der alten Meister. Und er teilt Ritter Glucks tragisches
Schicksal, seinen musikalischen Vorbildern allzu treu geblieben zu
sein: Da es keine würdigen neuen Vorbilder gibt, für die er sich ein-
setzen könnte, gelangt er beim besten Willen nicht zum eigentlichen
schöpferischen Durchbruch, zu einem wahrhaft eindeutigen Komposi-
tionsstil eigener Signatur. Das ist der Grund, meine ich, weshalb wir,
wenn wir Hoffmanns Musik hören, hin und wieder glauben, Anklänge
an u.a. Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Cherubini und Spontini und
auch an frühere Meister wie Bach, Händel, Palästrina und andere ge-
ringere Vertreter der Kirchenmusik des italienischen Barock wie Du-
rante, Lotti und Leo wahrzunehmen. Hoffmanns Bewunderung, die er
für diese italienischen Meister der Vokalmusik hegte, enthüllt sich
besonders deutlich in den 1808 komponierten und wenig bekannten
sechs weltlich-religiösen Chorliedern a cappella (6 Canzoni per 4 voci
alla Capella). Nr. 1 „Ave maris stella!“ und Nr. 5 „O sanctissima, O

„Kritische Fragmente“, Nr. 37. In Friedrich Schlegel, Schriften zur Literatur. Hg.
Wolfdietrich Rasch. München 1972, S. 10-11.

piissima“ sind die beiden Chöre, welche in Kater Murr als Kreislers
Kompositionen erwähnt und geschickt so in das Romangeschehen
integriert sind, dass sie – der romantischen Vorstellung entsprechend –
als musikalische Anregung unmittelbar „den Anstoß zur dichterischen
Szene“ 16 geben.
Das zukunftweisend Eigentümliche an diesen Canzoni ist die aus-
gesprochen lyrische Grundstimmung: Hoffmanns eigene Hand ist in
dem harmonisch erfassten und emotionsgeladenen melodischen Rah-
men bemerkbar17. Ich habe zuvor, mit gutem Grund, wie ich glaube,
das Wort Anklang gebraucht. Denn in Hoffmanns Fall bedeutet An-
klang Bewunderung und das Eingeständnis einer echten Affinität, aber
keineswegs direkte Imitation. Daher ist also das, was in seiner Musik
hin und wieder als deutliches Echo der großen Meister erscheint, nie-
mals das Werk eines stümperhaften, ungeschickten Nachahmers.
Hoffmanns künstlerische Redlichkeit und solides, selbstkritisches
Musikertum sind Versicherung genug, um sogar die Möglichkeit, dass
er bloße Imitation auch je nur erwog, auszuschließen. Er blieb beson-
ders in seiner oft originellen Melodik seiner eigenen Musikästhetik
treu. Er glaubte nämlich, dass die Melodie schlicht und ungekünstelt
dem tiefsten Gemüt des Komponisten entströmen müsse, denn nur
ohne jede grelle Ausweichungen vermag sie die Kraft zu besitzen, ihre
übersinnliche Schönheit zu entfalten, um somit den Zuhörer zu ent-

Jürgen Kindermann. „Romantische Aspekte in E. T. A. Hoffmanns Musikan-
schauung“. In Beiträge zur Geschichte der Musikanschauung im 19. Jahrhundert. Hg.
Walter Salmen. Regensburg 1965, S. 54.
E. T. A. Hoffmann. Musikalische Werke. Hg. Gustav Becking. Bd. IV No 1.
Sechs geistliche Chöre a cappella für gemischten Chor. Partitur und Stimmen. Leip-
zig 1927, S. 5 und S. 9.
Solche und ähnliche Formulierungen findet man überall in Hoffmanns musika-
lischen Schriften, insbesondere aber in den beiden „Kreisleriana“-Zyklen.

Es überrascht wenig, dass sich Parallelen zu solchen „romanti-

schen“ Überlegungen zur Theorie und Praxis der Melodiebildung
gerade in Hoffmanns Opernästhetik finden lassen. Einen der auf-
schlussreichsten opernästhetischen Grundsätze formuliert der Kompo-
nist Ludwig im Dialog „Der Dichter und der Komponist“ folgender-

„Also mein Freund, in der Oper soll die Einwirkung höherer Naturen auf uns
sichtbarlich geschehen und so vor unsern Augen sich ein romantisches Sein er-
schließen, in dem auch die Sprache höher potenziert, oder vielmehr jenem fernen
Reiche entnommen, d.h. Musik, Gesang ist, ja wo selbst Handlung und Situation
in mächtigen Tönen und Klängen schwebend, uns gewaltiger ergreift und hin-
reißt. Auf diese Art soll [...] die Musik unmittelbar und notwendig aus der Dich-
tung entspringen.“19

Was Hoffmann 1813, während seiner Arbeit an Undine, in diesem

Postulat fixiert, fußt zweifelsohne auf seiner eigenen, langjährigen
kompositorischen Praxis und bezeugt, wie entscheidend die Stoffwahl
und wie wichtig die Funktion der gewählten Dichtung für seine Musik
eigentlich waren.
Die geglückte Vertonung von Brentanos von vornherein als Sing-
spiel konzipiertem Text Die lustigen Musikanten – komponiert „von
einem hiesigen Dilettanten“, wie es so schön auf dem Theaterzettel
von 1805 heißt – ist nicht zuletzt das Ergebnis der besonderen Affini-
tät Hoffmanns mit Brentanos kleiner Dichtung: eine merkwürdige
Mischung aus commedia dell’arte-Maskenspiel, ritterlichem Pathos,
Rührstück-Atmosphäre, Mystik und Phantastik. Für mein letztes Mu-
sikbeispiel habe ich ein echt musikliterarisches Kuriosum gewählt,
welches – Dank Herrn Carl de Nys – jetzt auf einer neuen Plattenein-
spielung zu hören ist: das Duett Fabiola-Piast, betitelt „Fantasia e
Duetto“, aus den Lustigen Musikanten. Hoffmann vertont hier nämlich
das berühmte Brentanosche Gedicht „Abendständchen“, ein Parade-
beispiel romantischer Synästhesie, das in der Singspiel-Fassung auf

E. T. A. Hoffmann. „Der Dichter und der Komponist“. E. T. A. Hoffmann. Die
Serapions-Brüder. Hg. Walter Müller-Seidel. München 1963, S. 84.

zwei Rollen verteilt ist. Mit Recht wurde dieses Duett als zukunfts-
trächtiges Beispiel für romantische Elemente in Hoffmanns Musik
interpretiert20. Was Hoffmanns Vertonung dieser kleinen Szene u.a.
auszeichnet ist, dass es ihm gelingt – um den Komponisten Ludwig
noch einmal zu zitieren – „die Musik unmittelbar aus der Dichtung“
entspringen zu lassen. Mit Ramiros von Brentano vorgeschriebenen
Flötensoli ergibt sich der musikalische Rahmen von selbst: Ramiros
Liebeserklärung an Fabiola durch sein Flötenspiel allein ist für das
Publikum auch ohne sprachliche Aussage unmittelbar verständlich.
Die zuerst abwechselnd von Fabiola und Piast gesungenen Zeilen
vereinigen sich in einem Duett, das sich mit Ramiros hinzukommen-
der Flötenstimme spontan zu einem Terzett ausweitet. Zusammen mit
dem durchgehaltenen, klangmalerischen Streichertremolo, das Rau-
schen der Brunnen nachahmend, evoziert Hoffmann eine dem Brenta-
noschen Gedicht durchaus ebenbürtige, schwärmerisch-melancho-
lisch-romantische musikalische Nachtstimmung21.
Zum Schluss noch einmal kurz die Frage: Gibt es für den Kompo-
nisten Hoffmann Hoffnung und eine günstigere Zukunft? Solange wir
uns darüber einigen können, dass sein umfangreiches musikalisches
Werk zwar beachtenswert – d.h. in mancher Hinsicht interessant, weil
rückwärtig gebunden und zugleich experimentell zukunftsweisend –,
aber letzten Endes doch nicht erstrangig einzuschätzen ist, würde ich
die Frage bejahend beantworten. Schließlich scheint unsere heutige
musikalische Sensibilität geneigter denn je zuvor zu sein, im Tausch
für Neuartiges und Abwechslungsreiches die bescheideneren Beiträge
unbekannter Meister zu würdigen, sogar wenn der Preis dafür ist, de-
rivative Stile und den Mangel eines individuellen Einschlags in ihren

Vgl. Günter Wöllner. „Romantische Züge in der Partitur der Lustigen Musikann-
ten“. Mitteilungen der E. T. A. Hoffmann-Gesellschaft 12, 1966, S. 20-30, und Günter
Wöllner. „Romantik in statu nascendi: E. T. A. Hoffmanns Singspiel Die lustigen
Musikanten“. Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 128, 1967, S. 208-212.
E. T. A. Hoffmann. Die lustigen Musikanten. Singspiel in zwei Akten von Clemens
Brentano. Hg. Gerhard Allroggen. Mainz 1975, S. 57-71.

Kompositionen zu erdulden. In einem Zeitalter gedeihender Schall-

plattenklubs und -firmen mit esoterischen Interessen wie die amerika-
nische Musical Heritage Society oder Schwanns „Musica mundi“-
Serie mit den „Unbekannten Kostbarkeiten“, neigen wir dazu, uns
immer mehr an der Entdeckung und Würdigung talentierter, aber ge-
ringerer Komponisten zu erfreuen, die, weil sie Zeitgenossen der Gro-
ßen der Musikgeschichte waren, nie auch nur die Gelegenheit hatten,
ihre künstlerische Präsenz zu behaupten. Zu spät geboren, um sich zu
einem wahren Klassiker zu entwickeln (diesmal als gängiger Epo-
chenbegriff gemeint!) und zu früh, um sich die stilistische Prägung
eines ausgewachsenen Romantikers anzueignen, ist der Musiker
Hoffmann ein besonders aufschlussreicher Fall. Rilkes zeitlose Zeilen
aus den Sonetten an Orpheus fassen vielleicht am bündigsten das allzu
zeitbedingte Dilemma des Komponisten Hoffmann zusammen:

„wir zu Jungen manchmal für das Alte

und zu alt für das, was niemals war.“
This page intentionally left blank
Mignon in Music (1988)

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,

Im dunkeln Laub die Goldorangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht,
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Möcht’ ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn!

Kennst du das Haus, auf Säulen ruht sein Dach,

Es glänzt der Saal, es schimmert das Gemach,
Und Marmorbilder stehn und sehn mich an:
Was hat man dir, du armes Kind, getan?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Möcht’ ich mit dir, o mein Beschützer, ziehn!

Kennst du den Berg und seinen Wolkensteg?

Das Maultier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg,
In Höhlen wohnt der Drachen alte Brut,
Es stürzt der Fels und über ihn die Flut:
Kennst du ihn wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Geht unser Weg; o Vater, laß uns ziehn!1

Musical compositions inspired by Goethe’s Mignon have been so

numerous and generically varied that any systematic attempt to dis-
cuss them requires making choices from the outset. No wonder, there-
fore, that there has been no comprehensive scholarly treatment of Mi-
gnon in music. In the context of our symposium on “Goethe in Italy”,
my choice was obvious: Goethe’s congenial encounter with a harper
and his eleven-year-old daughter at the Italian border, which he relates
early on in his Italienische Reise (September 7, 1786), might well
have provided the original inspiration for his Mignon figure. I have

HA 7, p. 145.

decided to focus on musical realizations based on or inspired by the

most famous of the four Mignon poems from the novel Wilhelm Mei-
sters Lehrjahre: “Kennst du das Land”. Rather than reviewing the
well-known settings by Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf, to illus-
trate the diversity of Mignon’s musical physiognomy I examined a
selection of less familiar works by prominent as well as little-known
It may be appropriate to recall briefly the original narrative context
of Mignon’s song. The strategic placement of “Kennst du das Land” at
the head of Book Three in Wilhelm Meister is prominent enough. But
the truly unique feature of this placement is that the poem does not
stand there alone: Goethe includes two paragraphs of explanatory
commentary by the narrator that describe in revealing detail how
Mignon actually performed her song. The intentional ambiguity of the
diction in this only seemingly transparent analytical description helps
to establish the general aura of mystery and caprice that surrounds
Mignon’s episodic appearances in the novel:

Melodie und Ausdruck gefielen unserm Freunde besonders, ob er gleich die Wor-
te nicht alle verstehen konnte. Er ließ sich die Strophen wiederholen und erklären,
schrieb sie auf und übersetzte sie ins Deutsche. Aber die Originalität der Wen-
dungen konnte er nur von ferne nachahmen; die kindliche Unschuld des Aus-
drucks verschwand, indem die gebrochene Sprache übereinstimmend und das Un-
zusammenhängende verbunden ward. Auch konnte der Reiz der Melodie mit
nichts verglichen werden.
Sie fing jeden Vers feierlich und prächtig an, als ob sie auf etwas Sonderbares
aufmerksam machen. als ob sie etwas Wichtiges vortragen wollte. Bei der dritten
Zeile ward der Gesang dumpfer und düsterer; das “Kennst du es wohl?” drückte
sie geheimnisvoll und bedächtig aus; in dem “Dahin! Dahin!” lag eine unwider-
stehliche Sehnsucht, und ihr “Laß uns ziehn” wußte sie bei jeder Wiederholung
dergestalt zu modifizieren, daß es bald bittend und dringend, bald treibend und
vielversprechend war.2

To be sure, these analytical comments are carefully embedded in the

ongoing narrative that situates the song in the immediate context of
the plot and are, therefore, part of the overall fiction. But they also

Ibid, pp. 145-146.

function as specific instructions for an “authentic” performance à la

Mignon and thus comprise important hints for composer-readers who
might be inclined to set this poem to music. None of the other Mignon
songs are introduced in the text in this unusual manner. What we have
here, then, is significantly more than just another instance of the com-
mon practice of introducing an occasional lyric into the epic flow of
prose fiction: we are invited by the author to regard poem and inter-
pretive comments together, as one narrative unit, however episodic.
Whether in his poetry, plays, or prose fiction, Goethe had a real
talent for creating memorable characters whose larger-than-life image
immediately captured his readers’ imagination and shaped subsequent
reception of the particular works from which they arose. Friedrich
Schlegel was the first among Wilhelm Meister critics to perceive this
aspect of Goethe’s poetic genius when in his 1798 review of the novel
he wrote admiringly of the Harfner and Mignon:

Alles was die Erinnerung und die Schwermut und die Reue nur Rührendes hat,
atmet und klagt der Alte, wie aus einer unbekannten bodenlosen Tiefe von Gram
und ergreift uns mit wilder Wehmut. Noch süßere Schauer und gleichsam ein
schönes Grausen erregt das heilige Kind, mit dessen Erscheinung die innerste
Springfeder des sonderbaren Werks plötzlich frei zu werden scheint.3

It was above all Mignon’s “Kennst du das Land”, her first song in the
novel, that made an indelible impression on the reading public – first
in the German-speaking countries, of course, and then also, through-
out the nineteenth century, in the rest of Europe, especially in France
and England and even in America. To give just one example of genu-
inely comparative reception: Byron knew the poem through Madame
de Staël’s French redaction in her Corinne of 1807 and he clearly
echoes it in the opening lines of his epic poem The Bride of Abydos. A
Turkish Tale of 1813:

Friedrich Schlegel, “Über Goethes Meister”, quoted in Erläuterungen und Doku-
mente: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Stuttgart: Reclam,
1982), p. 307.

Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle

Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime,
Where the rage of the vulture – the love of the turtle –
Now melt into sorrow – now madden to crime?
Know ye the land of the cedar and vine?
Where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine,
Where the light wings of Zephyr, oppressed with perfume,
Wax faint o’er the gardens of Gúl in her bloom;
Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit,
And the voice of the nightingale never is mute; [...]4

Madame de Staël, in her influential book De 1’Allemagne of 1810,

had nothing but praise for Mignon; perhaps not uninfluenced by
Friedrich Schlegel’s opinion, she regarded this exquisite character as
the major attraction in Goethe’s novel. Her sympathetic interpretation
of Mignon’s song “Connais-tu cette terre où les citronniers fleuris-
sent” ushered in the massive Mignon-cult that swept over France and
prompted many translations and imitations of both poem and novel
and that culminated in the operatic adaptation of the Mignon-story by
Ambroise Thomas. Since its premiere in 1866, Thomas’ opera
Mignon, a veritable masterpiece of sentimental trivialization, has en-
joyed unabated popularity worldwide. According to a recent count, it
has received well over 3000 performances in Paris alone. This is a
staggering figure and it confirms that, along with Gounod’s Faust and
Bizet’s Carmen, Thomas’ Mignon remains one of the three most
popular French operas of the nineteenth century.

The manner in which the truly poetic Mignon of Goethe has been reduced to a lu-
dicrous caricature in Thomas’ opera has always so outraged my aesthetic sensi-
bilities that I could not achieve sufficient objectivity to separate the virtues of the
interpreter from the ghastly distortion offered us in the opera.5

Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1981), III, pp. 107-108.
Henry Pleasants, ed., The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf (New York: Holmes and
Meyer, 1978), p. 141.

This scathing sentence comes from Hugo Wolf who was reviewing the
opera in his capacity as music critic for the Wiener Salonblatt in 1855,
three years before he composed his own magnificent Mignon settings.
Wolf’s condemnation is certainly justified. Thanks in large measure to
Thomas’ librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, the opera pos-
sesses precious little resemblance to the plot, tone, and atmosphere of
Goethe’s novel. The final act, for example, takes place in an Italian
villa that Mignon recognizes as her long lost home. Wilhelm and
Mignon have become lovers, the Harper, Mignon’s father, is with
them sane and alive, and – needless to say – the end is a happy one.
(Incidentally, it was the same Barbier-Carré team that proceeded to
distort E.T.A. Hoffmann’s image beyond recognition in Offenbach’s
opera Les contes d’Hoffmann [1881], another perennial musical favor-
ite that became a universal success at the expense of literary authentic-
ity). Thomas’ version, Mignon’s famous aria “Connais-tu le pays”,
contains only two stanzas, with identical music for both, and features
the solo flute for birdsong imitation. The melancholy first part gives
way to the passionate outburst of the refrain, beginning with “C’est
là”, the “Dahin” of the original poem. Except for the first line, the
operatic text is wholly different. Small wonder that Hugo Wolf was
prompted to characterize this aria as “eine triviale Chansonetten-
Melodie im parfümierten Salonkleide”.
Goethe himself would have rejected such operatic representations
of his Mignon outright and would have been even more outraged at
the results than Hugo Wolf. On one occasion the poet even stated in
no uncertain terms: “Mignon kann wohl ihrem Wesen nach ein Lied,
aber keine Arie singen.”6 Not that Goethe was particularly receptive to
musical settings of his poems as such, and that with good reason. The
lamentable stories about his notorious indifference toward Beetho-
ven’s and Schubert’s settings of his poetry are all too well known.
Much has also been conjectured pro and contra Goethe’s “musicality”

Wilhelm Bode, Die Tonkunst in Goethes Leben (Berlin, 1912), II, p. 182.

and the soundness of his critical judgement in matters concerning

music. One thing is sure: Goethe had very definite ideas about the
kind of music he expected of composers who drew on his texts. He
instinctively realized that in the “contest between musical and poetic
meanings”7 that ensues during the compositional process of texted
music – elsewhere I have called this process the act of composed read-
ing8 – a freer, more expressive musical component will inevitably
overpower both poetic form and content. Goethe, therefore, tolerated
only unobtrusive strophic settings of his poetry which merely couched
the privileged text in a harmless and usually uninspired melodic and
harmonic frame – just the kind of settings that Reichardt and Zelter,
his loyal composer friends, provided for him. In other words, whether
consciously or unconsciously, it was literally in self-defense that
Goethe clung to his arch-conservative stance in musical matters and
felt compelled to dismiss lieder of progressive and original composers
who regarded themselves as musical interpreters of poetry rather than
mere text enhancers.
Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752-1814) was the first to set
“Kennst du das Land”; and he certainly followed Goethe’s exacting
prescription to the letter. The result is respectable but devoid of the
musically creative tension so characteristic of the great later settings:
Reichardt offers folklike simplicity, expressiveness, meticulously
accurate declamation, and an eminently singable melody – all in the
best tradition of eighteenth-century lied composition. In comparison
with subsequent versions, two compositional features are particularly
significant. First, in compliance with Goethe’s conception of the lied
and also most appropriate to the poem’s inherent parallelisms
(“Kennst du das Land”, “das Haus”, “den Berg” and the refrains),

Lawrence Kramer, Music and Poetry: The Nineteenth Century and After (Berke-
ley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 130.
Steven Paul Scher, “Comparing Poetry and Music: Beethoven’s Goethe-Lieder as
Composed Reading”, in Sensus communis. Festschrift for Henry Remak (Tübingen:
Narr, 1986), p. 155 f.

Reichardt’s setting is strictly strophic; he uses the same melody for all
three stanzas. Secondly, the piano accompaniment is wholly subservi-
ent to the vocal line which is composed faithfully along the text: there
is no repetition of words or phrases whatsoever. As acknowledged
musical collaborator, Reichardt enjoyed of course the rare privilege of
Goethe’s full approval of his efforts. Eight of his Wilhelm Meister
songs – more exactly, only the melodies for the vocal line – were
physically part of the novel’s first edition in 1795; they “were printed
on special oversize paper which was folded into the edition at the ap-
propriate places in the text”9.
Inexplicably, except for a 1914 reprint of the first edition, no sub-
sequent editions of Wilhelm Meister included Reichardt’s melodies.10
Reichardt published the full version of “Kennst du das Land” with
piano accompaniment, under the title “Italien” in 1809, by which time
his song was most popular. Friedrich Rochlitz, the influential editor of
the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, even called it “ein klei-
nes Meisterstück”.
Carl Friedrich Zelter’s (1758-1832) impact on Goethe’s musical
thinking was even greater than Reichardt’s. Zelter’s conservative per-
sonality and compositional style suited Goethe better and, conse-
quently, their association was more congenial and enduring. Neverthe-
less, on balance, Zelter’s Goethe settings are decidedly more pedes-
trian than Reichardt’s. Between 1795 and 1818, Zelter set “Kennst du
das Land” no less than six times and the results are not particularly
memorable. In his first version, Zelter, too, stays very close to
Goethe’s words and original performance hints, which he tries to ap-
proximate in the score through his frequent directions to the singer,
adopting at times even the poet’s descriptive adverbs such as
“bedächtig”. Musically, the overall effect of the song is lessened by

Jack M. Stein, “Musical Settings of the Songs from Wilhelm Meister”, Compara-
tive Literature, 22 (1970), p. 125.

the lackluster and overworked melody and a certain general awkward-

ness and monotony in declamation. Nevertheless, Zelter shows some
future-oriented inventiveness in compositional strategy and independ-
ence in musical characterization of textual details: his setting is
strophic but slightly varied, with an amount of word repetition that is
astonishing for 1795. For example, he suggests the soft breeze (“der
sanfte Wind”) through triplet figures in the accompaniment; he in-
cludes a recognizable Italian operatic coloratura phrase toward the end
of each stanza that is quite apt for Mignon’s Southern origin; and he
takes the liberty of composing several concluding measures with addi-
tional text of his own that climactically recapitulates Mignon’s desig-
nations “Geliebter”, “Beschützer”, and “Vater” in a summarizing fash-
“Die Beethovensche Composition ausgenommen, kenne ich keine
einzige dieses Liedes, die nur im Mindesten der Wirkung, die es ohne
Musik macht, gleichkäme”11, commented Robert Schumann in 1836
on Beethoven’s setting of “Kennst du das Land”, composed in 1809
and simply entitled “Mignon”. Schumann was right, of course, though
even today, 150 years later, only a few initiates would be able to share
his enthusiasm and confirm his judgement. Ironically enough, as a lied
composer Beethoven remains little known. Eloquent proof of this is
the fact that I could only find a 1944 recording of his “Mignon”,
which is perhaps the best among his some eighty lieder.
In many ways, above all because of its transitional nature, Beetho-
ven’s version constitutes a true landmark in musical Mignon reception
as well as in the history of the lied in general: it represents a radical
departure from eighteenth-century lied composition practices and
clearly anticipates Schubert and after. Beethoven idolized Goethe and
knew his works intimately. In his composed reading of “Kennst du das
Land,” he seems to have followed the poet’s interpretive hints in the
novel quite closely and yet was also able to transcend them sui

Ibid, p. 132.

generis. Bettina Brentano recalls Beethoven as stating in a conversa-

tion that

I might say it with Goethe, if he would understand me, melody is the sensuous
life of poetry. Is not the intellectual meaning of a poem represented in sensuous
feeling by melody – is not the sensuous element in the song of Mignon realized
through the melody? and does not such emotion call forth new creations?12

The first stanza of Beethoven’s setting reveals features that point

backward to eighteenth-century lied conventions, or at least they do
not yet point ahead: the straightforward, almost folksonglike simplic-
ity of the initial melody and the consistent doubling of the vocal line
as part of the unobtrusive harmonic support provided by the piano
accompaniment. But the two-measure solo piano interlude that antici-
pates the rising pitch of the question “Kennst du es wohl?” prepares
the way for the subsequent abrupt changes in tempo, tone, mood, and
melody; and with the exuberant “Dahin, dahin” refrain the music be-
gins to eclipse the words, very much in nineteenth-century, emphati-
cally pianistic, fashion. Also, Beethoven conspicuously deviates from
earlier practice by employing excessive word repetition: in order to
convey Mignon’s “irresistible longing” for her Southern homeland, he
repeats the word “Dahin” six times while Goethe repeated it only once
in the poem.
Contrary to appearances, Beethoven’s composition is also strophic,
though with some important variations, especially in approximating
the lines “In Höhlen wohnt der Drachen alte Brut,/Es stürzt der Fels
und über ihn die Flut” in the final stanza through an effectively dra-
matic musical build-up. But while on the whole Beethoven adheres to
the strophic principle, his fundamental compositional innovation is
nevertheless a structural one: within each stanza he introduces a
two-part division which he accomplishes by differentiating in tempo,
rhythm, harmonic progression, and melody between the first part

Bettina von Arnim, “A Letter to Goethe”, in Great Composers Through the Eyes
of Their Contemporaries, ed. Otti Zoff (New York: Dutton, 1951), pp. 146-147.

(lines 1-5, “Ziemlich langsam”, 2/4 time) and the second part (lines 6
and 7, “Geschwinder”, 6/8 time). Typically, Beethoven also uses
much more music than his predecessors – fifteen measures for the first
five lines and seventeen measures for the last two lines of each stanza.
The Coda that concludes the song contains additional text repetition
and serves to compensate for this structural imbalance.
Franz Liszt belonged to that small group of initiates who could
fully appreciate Schumann’s unconditional praise for Beethoven’s
setting. Unquestionably the greatest nineteenth-century arranger of
original compositions for solo piano by earlier masters and contempo-
raries like Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, in 1840 Liszt also
made piano transcriptions of a number of Beethoven’s Goethe lieder.
His arrangement of “Kennst du das Land” is a true transcription in the
literal sense of the word. With utmost fidelity to the song, Liszt
merely incorporated the vocal line into the piano part, so that his ver-
sion displays all the more the inherently pianistic character of Beetho-
ven’s original.
That Goethe himself disapproved of Beethoven’s “Mignon” we
know from Czech composer Václav Jan Tomaschek (1774-1850) who
also made a setting, apparently more to the poet’s liking. Goethe said
to him in 1822:

Sie haben das Gedicht verstanden. Ich kann nicht begreifen, wie Beethoven und
Spohr das Lied gänzlich mißverstehen konnten, als sie es durchkomponierten; die
in jeder Strophe auf derselben Stelle vorkommenden gleichen Unterscheidungs-
zeichen wären, sollte ich glauben, für den Tondichter hinreichend, ihm anzuzei-
gen, daß ich von ihm bloß ein Lied erwarte. Mignon kann wohl ihrem Wesen
nach ein Lied, aber keine Arie singen.13

This is one of those instances when we are justified in invoking the

proverbial “Hier irrt Goethe”, for – as we have seen – Beethoven’s
composition is not through-composed but strophic. There has been
much inconclusive speculation about Goethe’s error, of course. Most

Bode (see note 6 above), p. 182.

probably he was misled by the shift from 2/4 to the faster 6/8 time for
the refrain in each stanza.
Both Louis Spohr’s and Gasparo Spontini’s settings of “Kennst du
das Land” are virtually unknown historical curiosities. Spohr (1784-
1859) was “one of the leading composers of instrumental music of the
early Romantic period, and in his operas (e.g. Faust, 1813) be made a
stylistic development that anticipated Wagner’s music dramas”14. But
as a lied composer he made no appreciable impact. Like most of his
no fewer than 99 solo songs, his Mignon version is an occasional
work, one of the Six German Songs, op. 37, that he composed in 1815
(also the year of Schubert’s “Mignon”). A unique feature of Spohr’s
varied strophic setting is that he composed it originally for guitar ac-
companiment (not a zither, but close enough!), a typically romantic
touch that lends a quaint, improvisational quality to the song. Other-
wise, Spohr’s effort clearly shows how trying to convey Goethe’s
novelistic context too faithfully can lead to serious loss in musical
value. The accumulation of all too frequent rhythmic and harmonic
shifts results in an uneven and meandering overall impression. And
what above all seems to be missing here is the essence of the poem:
Mignon’s passionate, “irresistible longing”.
Spontini’s “Mignons Lied” of 1830 is even more esoteric than
Spohr’s. The Italian-born Spontini (1774-1851) was an important but
controversial opera composer and conductor who dominated the
French operatic scene in the first two decades of the nineteenth cen-
tury. In 1820 he was lured away from Paris by the Prussian king
Friedrich Wilhelm III and appointed Generalmusikdirektor in Berlin.
Recommended warmly by Zelter, Spontini visited Goethe in Weimar
in 1830 and subsequently composed “Mignon” as a token of his admi-
ration for the “Dichterfürst”, as he put it in his dedication. The fact
that he set the original German text and not a translation is most un-

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London:
Macmillan, 1980), XVIII, p. 9.

usual; it shows his great reverence for Goethe, for Spontini never
really bothered to learn German. Even in the piano version (there ex-
ists a later orchestrated version), the setting is so thickly textured and
operatic – and thus incompatible with the poem – that it could easily
be passed off as a parody. In his review of the song for the Allgemeine
Musikalische Zeitung in 1832, editor Friedrich Rochlitz was perhaps a
bit generous when he called Spontini’s melody “äußerst trefflich”. But
he went on to say: “Alles recht schön, nur keine Mignon. Selbst im
Sonntagsstaate schmückt sich Mignon nicht so; immer ist sie einfach
und tief und seltsam. Sie spielt das Gefühl nicht her, sie hat es und ist
es.”15 It is true, in Spontini’s setting Goethe’s Mignon is hardly recog-
nizable; by the end of the song, the incessant repetition of “Kennst du
es wohl?” and the refrain becomes embarrassing, if not ludicrous. The
malicious remark that Berlioz recalled from his student days about
Spontini’s music seems to fit here too: Spontini’s “melody lay on the
accompaniment like a handful of hair on a soup”16.
As Jack Stein keenly observed in his 1970 essay on “Musical Set-
tings of the Songs from Wilhelm Meister”, after Beethoven (and
Spohr, we must add) “the connection with the novel is no longer as
close. All the nineteenth-century composers used the poems as they
appeared later in the section ‘Aus Wilhelm Meister’ of Goethe’s col-
lected lyrics”17, rather than basing their settings on the original narra-
tive context. This holds especially true for as popular a poem as
“Kennst du das Land”: particularly since its independent publication
and rapid dissemination in many languages, the poem has been syn-
onymous with – or should we say, emblematic of – the quintessen-
tially Northern European (and not just German) sentiment of “Italien-

Quoted in Hedwig M. von Asow, “Gasparo Spontinis Briefwechsel mit Wolfgang
von Goethe”, Chronik des Wiener Goethe-Vereins, 61 (1957), p. 48.
New Grove (see note 14 above), XVIII, p. 17.
Stein (see note 9 above), p. 135.

Franz Liszt, for example, though not exactly a Northern European

by birth, was so captivated by Italy’s magnetic spell that in 1860 he
actually moved from Weimar to Rome. The challenge of composing
his own setting of Goethe’s poem, however, he took on earlier, shortly
after he made his piano transcription of Beethoven’s “Mignon”. His
two versions entitled “Mignons Lied” and “Mignons Gesang” date
from 1841 and 1860. The second one – being a thorough revision of
the first – also exists in orchestrated form. Typically, Liszt’s Mignon
possesses but superficial resemblance to Goethe’s: it points the way to
the richly embroidered representations by Thomas, Tchaikovsky,
Gounod, Anton Rubinstein, and others. Liszt was his own observant
critic when he remarked about his early songs that they were “mostly
too inflated and sentimental, and usually over-padded with accompa-
niment”18. His “Kennst du das Land” is a case in point. Liszt used
Goethe’s lyric chiefly as a springboard for his own compositional
purposes; he appropriated the celebrated text in order to fashion for
himself yet another pianistic showpiece – with the voice declaiming
the lines, as if it were the accompaniment. Ultimately, the song fails to
convince as a balanced composition of words and music, because the
poem is steeped in a tonebath of oversweet, gushing nostalgia that
strikes us as disingenuous.
While working on the 1860 version, Liszt considered at one point
setting it to an Italian translation of the poem: “Sai tu la terra?” My
last example was not based on an Italian text, however. It was another
rarity: Stanislaw Moniuszko’s song entitled “Znasz-li ten kraj?”, com-
posed in 1846 to Adam Mickiewicz’s Polish translation of “Kennst du
das Land”. Moniuszko (1819-1872) is known in music history as the
father of Polish national opera, the composer of the opera Halka
(1848). But as a lied composer – he wrote between 600 and 1000
songs – he is yet to be discovered. I do not hesitate to place his finely

Quoted in Christopher Headington, “The Songs”, in Franz Liszt. The Man and
His Music, ed. Alan Walker (London: Macmillan, 1970), p. 226.

wrought, text-sensitive, genuinely lyrical, and melodically beautiful

Mignon right next to the versions by Beethoven, Schubert, and Schu-
mann as one of the most successful settings of Goethe’s poem. It is an
attractively unassuming strophic setting with an undeniably Schuber-
tian flavor, especially in the brief prelude and postlude and in the sus-
tained accompaniment figuration. But the composition also displays
Moniuszko’s own, recognizably Polish-Slavic idiom.
In conclusion I will present a song by Fanny (Mendelssohn)
Hensel (1805-1847) called “Italien,” several times removed from
Goethe’s original context. It was composed sometime between 1824
and 1828 to a poem Grillparzer wrote at the beginning of his Italian
journey in 1819. Grillparzer’s original title was “Zwischen Gaeta and
Kapua”. Until 1965 this song was attributed to Felix Mendelssohn
who published it as op. 8,2 in his Sämtliche Lieder without any men-
tion that it was actually a work by his sister.

Franz Grillparzer

Schöner und schöner schmückt sich der Plan,

schmeichelnde Lüfte wehen mich an,
fort aus der Prosa Lasten und Müh’
zieh’ ich zum Lande der Poesie;
gold’ner die Sonne, blauer die Luft,
grüner die Grüne, würz’ger der Duft!

Dort an dem Maishalm, schwellend von Saft,

sträubt sich der Aloe störrische Kraft!
Oelbaum, Cypresse, blond du, du braun,
nicht ihr wie zierliche, grüßende Frau’n?
Was glänzt im Laube, funkelnd wie Gold?
Ha! Pomeranze, birgst du dich hold?

Trotz’ger Poseidon, warest du dies,

der unten scherzt und murmelt so süß?
Und dies, halb Wiese, halb Äther zu schau’n,
es war des Meeres furchtbares Grau’n?
Hier will ich wohnen, Göttliche du!
Bringst du, Parthenope, Wogen, zur Ruh?

Nun dann versuch’ es, Eden der Lust,

ebne die Wogen auch dieser Brust!19

Song text printed in program notes to the recording Komponistinnen der Roman-
tik, Musica Viva, MV 30-1104.
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The German Lied
A Genre and Its European Reception (1990)

It is a thing half tune, half text,

That passes through my heart,
I know not where, what for, what next,
It is a song, in short.
Joseph von Eichendorff, “Das Lied”1

As the end of the twentieth century draws near, historians who assess
European music in a broad cultural context tend more and more to
view the entire nineteenth century as the romantic century. For his
monumental study of Hector Berlioz, Jacques Barzun chose the title
Berlioz and the Romantic Century (1969), and Carl Dahlhaus’s magis-
terial survey Die Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts [The Music of the 19th
Century, 1980] covers the period roughly between 1814 and 1914 as
the essential span of musical romanticism. Dahlhaus’s choice of the
year 1814 to begin his survey is hardly arbitrary. He concurs with
Oskar Bie who in 1926 was the first critic to pinpoint October 16,
1814 as the birthday of the lied,2 the day on which seventeen-year-old
Franz Schubert composed his celebrated “Gretchen am Spinnrade”
[Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel] to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s
lyric monologue from Faust I. Dahlhaus argues persuasively that what
in retrospect seems to have been the glorious age of opera and instru-

Halb Worte sind’s, halb Melodie,
Was mir durch’s Herze zieht,
Weiß nicht, woher, wozu und wie,
Mit einem Wort: ein Lied. (English translation by Walter Arndt)
Oskar Bie, Das deutsche Lied (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1926), p. 18.

mental music was in fact to an even greater extent the heyday of non-
theatrical vocal music such as the lied, along with the cantata and the
oratorio;3 and he credits Schubert with “the founding of the lied with
an emphatic claim to artistic value as the genre central to musical ro-
In this essay I shall not only be concerned with the musical impli-
cations of the genre but also with the notion of the German lied as a
cultural current within a larger European context. Given this predomi-
nantly genre-oriented focus, it cannot be my aim to provide a system-
atic account of the history, typology, or aesthetic theory of lied com-
position, not even in miniature. Nor can I offer detailed interpretations
of individual lieder or discussions of the varieties of performance
practice or of the important reciprocal contacts between the lied and
the theater (opera and singspiel). These and other basic aspects of the
lied have already been studied in considerable depth, though not often
with illuminating results.5 The bulk of the vast critical literature on the
art song – with a few notable exceptions6 – amounts to little more than
descriptive chronological surveys of individual song composers’ out-

Carl Dahlhaus, Die Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden: Athenaion, 1980),
p. 4.
Ibid., p. 44.
For the best up-to-date selected bibliography, see the New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980), entries “Lied”
(vol. 10, pp. 846-47) and “Song” (vol. 17, pp. 510-21).
Prominent recent exceptions are Thrasybulos G. Georgiades, Schubert: Musik und
Lyrik (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1967); Frits R. Noske, French Song
from Berlioz to Duparc: The Origin and Development of the Mélodie (New York:
Dover, 1970); Walter Wiora, Das deutsche Lied. Zur Geschichte und Ästhetik einer
musikalischen Gattung (Wolfenbüttel and Zurich: Möseler, 1971); Walther Dürr, Das
deutsche Sololied im 19. Jahrhundert. Untersuchungen zu Sprache und Musik (Wil-
helmshafen: Heinrichshofen, 1984); Lawrence Kramer, Music and Poetry: The Nine-
teenth Century and After (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1984); Stephen Banfield,
Sensibility and English Song. Critical Studies of the Early 20th Century, 2 vols.
(Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1985); and Margaret M. Stoljar, Poetry and Song in
Late Eighteenth-Century Germany: A Study in the Musical Sturm und Drang (Lon-
don: Croom Helm, 1985).

puts according to nationality, mainly in the form of general introduc-

tions, concert guides to the lied repertory, or monographs exclusively
devoted to the German lied or the French song or to specific major
song composers. There must be compelling reasons why a compre-
hensive scholarly assessment of the genre still remains to be written.
In the context of modern European cultural history, the German
word Lied transcends linguistic boundaries and rings familiar; it signi-
fies specifically “the German art song of the 19th century as repre-
sented in the works of composers such as Schubert, Schumann,
Brahms, and Wolf”7. Both ‘the lied’ in English and le lied in French
signify an art form that is as quintessentially German as it is quintes-
sentially nineteenth-century: a particular kind of vocal composition,
usually for solo voice with piano accompaniment, that combines poem
and music to create a new, integral work of art which is no longer just
poem plus music. Clearly, then, the lied as a generic term must not be
equated with the English ‘song’ or the French chanson; and even to
speak of ‘the German lied’ or le lied allemand borders on the tauto-
logical8. More appropriate, though by no means unequivocal, is the
designation that the authoritative New Grove Dictionary of Music and
Musicians (1980) employs for nineteenth-century German vernacular
song: “the Romantic lied”9. Its chief usefulness lies in helping to es-
tablish clear-cut chronological and typological distinctions when de-
scribing the evolution of lied composition before, during, and after the
romantic century, from the polyphonic lied of the Renaissance through
the Generalbasslied of the Baroque (the continuo lied), the lieder of
the two Berlin Schools of the late 18th century, and the Romantic lied
to the orchestral lied of the late 19th and the early 20th century. Al-
ready this brief exercise in semantics indicates that the terminological

Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, ed. Don M. Randel (Cambridge: Harvard
U. Press, 1978), p. 275.
Wiora (see note 6 above), p. 64.
New Grove (see note 5 above), vol. 10, p. 838.

pitfalls surrounding the concept of the lied are difficult to avoid. That
in German the word Lied can also mean poem (Gedicht) only compli-
cates matters. Heinrich Heine, for example, called one of his collec-
tions of poems Buch der Lieder [Book of Songs, 1827]. Felix Men-
delssohn, on the other hand, composed several groups of solo piano
pieces that he collectively termed Lieder ohne Worte [Songs Without
Words, 1832-1845].
Such a variety of elusive meanings neatly corroborates Friedrich
Nietzsche’s wistful dictum that “only what does not have a history can
be defined”10. That countless attempts have failed to define satisfacto-
rily the lied as a genre (fraught with plenty of history) ought not to
deter us, however, from asking more central questions. Is it justifiable,
for example, to single out one type of lied like Schubert’s “Gretchen
am Spinnrade” and declare it to be the ideal lied type? Obviously not,
for this would deny generic legitimacy to the host of other lied types
that coexist, such as the ballad, the aria, the cavatina, or the ode.
Rather than elevate one particular lied type to model status, it seems
appropriate, especially in a European context, to acknowledge the
existence of a plurality of lied traditions that together constitute the
genre.11 Given this very multiplicity of lied types, the question
whether a certain work is a genuine lied becomes at best moot. The
really crucial questions arise from the unique symbiosis that deter-
mines the very nature of the genre itself: “compenetration”12 of two
otherwise distinct media of artistic expression. Where and how does
the verbal component intersect and interact with the musical compo-
nent? How do the formerly independent parts relate to the integral

Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bänden, ed. Karl Schlechta (Munich: Hanser,
1966), vol. 2, p. 820.
Dahlhaus (see note 3 above), p. 79.
Louise Rosenblatt’s term, quoted by Jane P. Tompkins in Tompkins, ed., Reader-
Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (Baltimore: Johns Hop-
kins U. Press, 1980), p. 259.

whole? And how does the act of conjoining word and tone affect the
subsequent fate of poetry and music as independent art forms?
At the risk of stressing the obvious, it must be kept in mind from
the outset that like opera and other kinds of vocal music such as orato-
rios, cantatas, masses, and madrigals, the lied is considered a primarily
musical genre. To be sure, without the original poem that inspired the
composer to set it to music, there would be no lied. Yet it is also true
that unlike a poetry reading, a lieder recital is first and foremost a
musical event; we go to hear Schubert’s Goethe lieder and Hugo
Wolf’s Mörike lieder, not just a recitation of poems by Goethe and
Eduard Mörike. This perception of the lied does not mean, of course,
that we are entitled to slight its literary component. But it may well
account for the fact that in the past lied scholars have been almost
exclusively musicologists who as a rule have given less than due (i.e.
equal) attention to the poetic side of the relationship.
While the word-tone problem has always been at the center of lied
aesthetics, musical settings of poetry tended to be assessed according
to the extent to which they succeeded or failed to achieve an ideal
synthesis of poem and music, whatever that criterion may mean.13
Only recently have scholars more securely at home in both literature
and music begun to realize that it is precisely the inherent and persis-
tent creative tension between the lied’s verbal and musical compo-
nents that has propelled this symbiotic construct into prominence as
the representative genre of nineteenth-century music, making it an
influential catalyst and artistic manifestation of the Romantic Move-
ment. Lawrence Kramer’s 1984 study Music and Poetry: the Nine-
teenth Century and After, with its brilliant and radically new readings
of selected lieder, is symptomatic of this innovative view of song in-
terpretation. Kramer, a literary critic and musical analyst who is also a
practicing composer, emphatically maintains that

See Jack M. Stein, Poem and Music in the German Lied from Gluck to Hugo Wolf
(Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1971).

the primary fact about song is what might be called a topological distortion of ut-
terance under the rhythmic and harmonic stress of music: a pulling, stretching,
and twisting that deforms the current of speech without negating its basic linguis-
tic shape. The art song as a genre is the exploitation of this expressive topology –
its shaping both as a primary musical experience and as a reflection of the contest
between musical and poetic meanings.14

This “contest between musical and poetic meanings” must be seen in

an evolutionary perspective to be properly understood as the funda-
mental driving force in the art song which shaped the course and
stages of the genre’s transformation throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury. Not surprisingly, pre-Schubert song exhibits virtually none of the
“pulling, stretching, and twisting” that Kramer finds so energizing in
the lieder of the “nineteenth century and after”. But the emergence of
innovative forms and techniques in the late eighteenth-century lied did
foreshadow some of the radical compositional changes that resulted in
the unprecedented flowering of the genre. More importantly, these
novel practices did not evolve in splendid isolation, but rather parallel
to, and as an integral part of, the great social, political, and economic
changes that swept over Europe and had a lasting effect on the aes-
thetic speculation and artistic creation that constituted the Romantic
Conforming to the established hierarchy of the arts in eighteenth-
century aesthetics, which regarded poetry as the highest form of art
followed at a considerable distance by painting and then music, Ger-
man song composers during the second half of that century abided by
the premise that the musical setting was to be subservient to the poem.
Song was simply not a significant genre and its chief practitioners
were lesser composers like Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788),
Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798), Johann Abraham Peter Schulz
(1747-1800), Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752-1814), and Carl Fried-
rich Zelter (1758-1832), whose works have not perdured. Opinions
such as Johann Christoph Gottsched’s of 1730 that “singing is nothing

Kramer (see note 6 above), p. 130.

more than a pleasant and emphatic reading of a poem” 15 reverberated

well into the century and were still discernible in later definitions of
the lied, such as the one given in Johann Friedrich Campe’s Wörter-
buch [Dictionary, 1809]: “a poem which is intended to be sung”16. In
his influential treatise Von der musikalischen Poesie [Of Musical Po-
esy, 1752], Christian Gottfried Krause insisted unambiguously that the
lied required strophic setting and was expected to be “folklike (volks-
tümlich), easily singable even by the non-professional, should express
the mood and meaning of the text, and should have an accompaniment
simple and independent enough for the lied to be singable without
it”17. Aiming for such folklike simplicity, expressiveness, and singa-
bility, the art song was to aspire to the condition of the folk song.
Typically, for J. A. P. Schulz – compiler of the best-selling collection
Lieder im Volkston [Songs in the Popular Style, 1782] – composing in
the “popular style” meant to capture “the appearance of not being
sought out, of artlessness, of familiarity, in a word the Volkston”18.
And he succeeded so well that several of his songs, including his
memorable setting of Matthias Claudius’s poem “Der Mond ist auf-
gegangen” [“The Moon has Risen”], have actually become folk songs.
The strong commitment in lied composition to the folk-song model
did not go unnoticed by contemporary poets and poetic theorists: “to-
ward the end of the eighteenth century composers began to look long-
ingly in the direction of the great poets, and the poets themselves,
inspired by the growing interest in folk song and balladry, thought

Johann Christoph Gottsched, Versuch einer Critischen Dichtkunst, Fourth edition
(Leipzig: 1751), p. 725.
Quoted in Walter Salmen, Haus- und Kammermusik. Privates Musizieren im
gesellschaftlichen Wandel zwischen 1600 und 1900 (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag
für Musik, 1969), p. 32.
New Grove (see note 5 above), vol. 10, p. 836.
Quoted in Raymond Monelle, “Word-Setting in the Strophic Lied”, Music and
Letters, 65 (1984), p. 230.

once more of music”19. Poets and composers alike realized that there
was much to be gained from collaboration on the common ground of
the lied. Johann Gottfried Herder’s pioneering collections of interna-
tional Volkslieder [Folk Songs, 1778-79] marked the beginning of the
exceptionally close association and cross fertilization between the lied
and the folk song which – reinforced by Achim von Arnim’s and
Clemens Brentano’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Youth’s Magic
Horn, 1806-08] and later compilations – persisted throughout the nine-
teenth century and beyond in the lieder and ballads not only of Schu-
bert and Carl Loewe (1796-1869) but also of Johannes Brahms and
Gustav Mahler.
Sustained interest in the folk song was one among several major
factors that paved the way toward the great epoch of the lied that
commenced in the early 1800s. The decisive impetus came in the
guise of a veritable poetic revolution, without which the lied as we
know it today would be inconceivable. Beginning in the early 1770s,
the stagnating German lyric – its language, form, tone, and expressive
content – underwent an unprecedented rejuvenation, initiated by
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803) and best exemplified by the
poetry of his Storm and Stress disciples Ludwig Heinrich Christoph
Hölty (1748-1776), Johann Heinrich Voss (1751-1826), and Gottfried
August Bürger (1747-1794), and above all, by the poetry of the young
Goethe. Radically new in this poetry was its primary emphasis on the
self, on personally experienced emotion, expressed in a language of
fresh immediacy, youthful impetuosity, and lyrical exuberance. For
long, lied composers had had to make do with setting texts of inferior
quality. Was this the kind of poetry they had been waiting for? Did
their compositional practice reflect the vastly improved state of con-
temporary poetry?

Edward T. Cone, “Words into Music: The Composer’s Approach to the Text”, In
Sound and Poetry, ed. Northrop Frye (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1957), p. 5.

However steeped they were in self-conscious emulation of the folk

song, most composers greeted the new lyric with great enthusiasm and
formed lasting and mutually profitable alliances with the poets. But
for the time being it was the poet who benefited more from the alli-
ance. Goethe’s close associations with Reichardt and Zelter provide an
illuminating case in point. For Goethe, an arch-conservative in musi-
cal matters, the desirable balance between poem and music in the lied
still meant the primacy of word over tone; and Reichardt and Zelter,
his loyal composer friends, supplied him with just the kind of unob-
trusive strophic settings he envisioned. But their approach was ideal
only for the poet and the poem. They merely couched the privileged
text in a harmless and usually uninspired melodic and harmonic frame
and in the process simply had to suppress (whether consciously or not)
much of their own artistic personality and compositional imprint. Here
is Zelter’s own account of his text-setting procedure, dated as late as
1824 and written no doubt with Goethe’s convictions in mind:

Above all I respect the form of the poem and try to perceive my poet therein,
since I imagine that he, in his capacity as poet, conceived a melody hovering be-
fore him. If I can enter into rapport with him, and divine his melody so well that
he himself feels at home with it, then our melody will indeed be satisfying. That
his melody should fit all strophes is a condition that is not clear even to better
composers [...] I am not in favor of the through-composed method of setting
strophic poems [...] a melody which one doesn’t enjoy hearing several times is
probably not the best.20

Zelter’s view is helpful when we try to explain Goethe’s musical

judgment. In an effort to preserve as much as possible the original
effect of his poetry, Goethe consistently preferred Reichardt’s and
Zelter’s inconsequential musical treatment of his poems and disap-
proved of, or outright dismissed, truly inspired settings by Ludwig van
Beethoven and Schubert.
Goethe had good reason to resist anything but the simplest strophic
settings for his poetry. He knew very well that more adventurous ex-

Quoted ibid.

ploration of the musical potentialities of the genre would lead to a

freer, more expressive musical component which would eventually
outshine the poetic component and even claim independence. In fact,
lied composers – including, ironically enough, Zelter and Reichardt –
had been searching for alternatives to the confining strophic principle
and experimented with modified strophic and through-composed set-
tings long before Schubert. With the growing body of fine contempo-
rary poetry at their disposal, these composers were no longer content
in their role as mere text enhancers. They began to pay closer attention
to poetic meaning and structure and proper text declamation and de-
vised new compositional techniques that enabled them to function as
musical interpreters of the poetry. Consequently, there was indeed a
mounting “tension within the Lieder of the eighteenth century which
eventually led to the abandonment of strophic form and can be seen in
the collision of simplicity and sophistication, of the accidental and the
contrived”21. Already in the 1790s the lied as a genre was well on its
way to becoming what Goethe feared it would: an act of composed
reading, comprised decidedly more of music than of poetry22.
To say that the nineteenth-century lied owes its existence to late
eighteenth-century social changes and technological progress is cer-
tainly no exaggeration. The rising German middle class provided the
new, educated reading public which could fully appreciate and iden-
tify with the emotionally charged new lyric. Musically literate as well,
the same reading public eagerly welcomed the lied as the genre ideally
suited for performance within, as Jürgen Habermas put it, the “private
sphere of small-family intimacy”23. Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breit-

Monelle (see note 18 above), p. 230.
See Steven P. Scher, “Comparing Poetry and Music: Beethoven’s Goethe-
Lieder”, in Sensus communis. Contemporary Trends in Comparative Literature.
Festschrift für Henry Remak, eds. János Riesz, Peter Boerner, and Bernhard Scholz
(Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1986), pp. 155-65.
Jürgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (Darmstadt: 1962), p. 63.
[“Sphäre kleinfamilialer Intimität”]

kopf’s invention of the system of movable musical type in the 1750s

revolutionized music printing and made wide dissemination of sheet
music, including lieder, a reality. But it was another technological
marvel becoming ubiquitous that was to be central to nineteenth-
century music-making: the newly improved fortepiano (or pianoforte).
This direct precursor of the modern piano represented a vast advance
over the infirm, delicate, and subdued clavichord and harpsichord; it
was robust and assertive, capable of producing an expressive, singing
tone, and was endowed with an expanded dynamic range and re-
markably agile mechanics. Responding to the enormous popular de-
mand, manufacture of the new instrument reached mass-production
levels in Paris, London, and Vienna, so that by the early 1800s virtu-
ally no self-respecting middle-class family was without one. Through-
out the century, the private Liederabend remained the bourgeoisie’s
preferred form of drawing-room entertainment. No wonder that “the
lied was the last of the musical genres to be received in the concert
hall”;24 the first public lieder recitals had to wait until the 1860s.
It is surely no coincidence that the great nineteenth-century com-
posers of piano music such as Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn,
Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Brahms were pianistic geniuses as
well as prominent practitioners of the lied for voice and piano accom-
paniment. Their lifelong preoccupation with the limitless expressive,
illustrative, and technical possibilities of the new keyboard instrument
resulted in an enormously diverse piano literature which, in turn, had a
direct, formative impact on the increasingly complex and sophisticated
piano part in the lied. There are indeed many parallels between well-
known solo piano works and lieder concerning, say, structure, basic
type, expressive content, mood, or characteristic tone. For example,
among the smaller “liedlike” forms are Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Schu-
bert’s Impromptus and Moments musicales [sic!], Mendelssohn’s

Edward F. Kravitt, “The Lied in 19th-Century Concert Life”, Journal of the
American Musicological Society, 18 (1965), p. 207.

Lieder ohne Worte, Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturnes and Préludes, and

Schumann’s Kinderscenen [“Scenes from Childhood”]; among the
larger structures are Beethoven’s successful integration of the sonata
form in his Goethe-lied “Neue Liebe, neues Leben” or the common
traits of cyclical works like Schumann’s Kreisleriana and his Eichen-
dorff-Liederkreis, op. 39; and there is the unique epic-dramatic tone in
Chopin’s and Brahms’s piano ballads, pretending to be ballads with-
out words. It is hardly surprising in this context that Schumann even
seems to have “thought of the Lied as a form of lyric piano piece – a
‘song without words’ but with words – and his habit of doubling the
vocal melody of his lieder on the piano bears this definition out”25. As
a matter of fact, quite a few of Schumann’s lieder are chiefly remem-
bered for their beautiful, quasi-independent piano preludes, interludes,
and postludes. We have come a long way indeed from Zelter’s ex-
pressly poetry-minded text-setting practice.
The momentous shift toward a radical ‘musicalization’ of the genre
first appeared in Beethoven’s decidedly pianistic approach to lied
composition. His some eighty lieder – including An die ferne Geliebte
[“To the Distant Beloved”, 1816], the first song cycle in music history
– exhibit virtually all of the inventive compositional devices and tech-
niques that are usually attributed to Schubert and Schumann. They
also confirm beyond doubt that “in the world of Lieder Beethoven
rather than Schubert was the pioneer, groping towards a satisfactory
solution with few precedents to build on”26. That the lied rose to be a
significant, even representative genre of the romantic century was,
however, wholly the result of Schubert’s own innovative accomplish-
ment. His was a privileged historical position in that he had a simply
inexhaustible reserve of inspiring poetry; he could (and did) draw on
the new romantic lyric of his contemporaries such as Novalis, the

Kramer (see note 6 above), p. 131.
Leslie Orrey, “The Songs”, in The Beethoven Companion, eds. Denis Arnold and
Nigel Fortune (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), p. 411.

brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Rückert,

Wilhelm Müller, and Heine as well as on Goethe, Friedrich Schiller,
and the older poets. His greatness as a lied composer may be said to
lie in his incomparable adaptability and ability to synthesize. He pos-
sessed an infallible instinct for selecting from a full spectrum of com-
positional strategies the perfect combination of appropriate musical
equivalents – be it a particularly apt melodic line, a rhythmic struc-
ture, a harmonic frame, a sequence of modulations or accompaniment
figures conveying movement or repose, mood or gesture – to match
his spontaneous perception of a poem’s basic meaning and form. Con-
sequently, from Schubert on, the typical pattern of musical foreground
versus poetic background constitutes the irreversible norm for the
nineteenth-century lied. The musical shape and mood of the lied be-
came so vivid and primary that the recollection of the poem itself,
however memorable as great poetry, pales in comparison, as, for ex-
ample, in Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s “Erlkönig” or Schumann’s
setting of Eichendorff’s “Mondnacht”. Further into the century, lied
composers yielded more and more to the genuinely romantic impulse
toward transforming the lied into pure instrumental music, as reflected
in Liszt’s famous piano transcriptions of Schubert songs or in the ten-
dency on the part of composers like Wolf, Mahler, and Richard
Strauss to score lieder for voice and symphonic orchestra.
Just how unique and influential the German lied really was be-
comes evident when we consider its impact on song composition in
other European countries. The initial impression is anticlimactic. No-
where outside of Germany do we find anything comparable to the
significance and privileged position that the lied attained and sus-
tained as the representative musical genre of the romantic century. But
on closer scrutiny there are definite parallels and points of tangency
that deserve serious attention, especially in France.
It was first and foremost the Schubertian model of the lied – with
its infinite variety of lied types, compositional innovations in form,
melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns, illustrative accompaniment

writing, and text declamation – that captured the imagination of nine-

teenth-century song composers as well as the musically literate gen-
eral public all over Europe. The French in particular, with their rich
and distinguished song heritage, were most receptive to the novel at-
tractions of the German genre. In fact, when in the early 1830s the
first Schubert lieder were introduced in Paris, they stirred up a revolu-
tion in drawing-rooms where the French romance still dominated,
even though this genre was by that time very much on the decline.
Traditionalists like the critic Henri Blanchard could express only mel-
ancholy bafflement over the new development:

What is happening to the romance? What will become of it? Will it be trans-
formed into a Lied? Will it grow longer, acquire more modulations? Or will it re-
main simple, naive, and as characteristic as it has always been of our national
taste, just as the bolero is the expression of Spanish music?27

During the two decades following the 1833 publication of the first
Six mélodies célèbres avec paroles françaises par M. Bélanger de Fr.
Schubert [Six Famous Mélodies with French Words by M. Belanger
de Fr. Schubert], literally hundreds of further translations appeared
and the immense popularity of Schubert’s lieder continued unabated.
It is obvious, however, that the French were at best marginally inter-
ested in the poetic merit of the lieder texts; what mattered was Schu-
bert’s musical setting. Here is a telling example of what happened, in
Bélanger’s “translation” (entitled “Toujours”), to the exquisite Goethe
lines that inspired Schubert’s lied “Rastlose Liebe” [Restless Love]:

Dem Schnee, dem Regen, Charmante amie,

Dem Wind entgegen, A toi ma vie,
Im Dampf der Klüfte Ma foi chérie,
Durch Nebeldüfte, Jamais trahie;
Immer zu! Immer zu! Tu seras mes amours,
Ohne Rast und ohne Ruh! Mes amours toujours!

Henri Blanchard, “Les deux romances”, Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, 6,
no. 21 (1839), p. 170, quoted in Noske (see note 6 above), p. 34.

[Against the snow, the [Charming friend, my life

rain, the wind, through belongs to you. So does
steamy gorges, through my treasured faith, never
fragrant fog, ever on, betrayed. You shall be my
ever on, without rest or peace.] love, my love forever more.]28

In 1834 Bélanger also translated “Erlkönig”. Nevertheless, this per-

haps most universally familiar of all of Schubert’s lieder first became
known in France in Liszt’s flamboyant piano transcription, without
initial recourse to Goethe’s memorable ballad text29.
As these questionable practices suggest, French lied reception was
far from unproblematic; it was naive and intuitive rather than critically
and philologically sound. But its enthusiastic espousal of the Schuber-
tian model was certainly indispensable as a catalyst for the new cate-
gory of French song that emerged in the 1840s: the mélodie. Although
commonly regarded as the French counterpart to the lied, the mélodie
did not directly derive from the German genre but from the late eight-
eenth-century French romance. According to Frits Noske, the popular-
ity of Schubert’s lieder was only one of three factors that together
contributed decisively to the rise of the mélodie, the other two being
“the decline in the artistic level of the romance, with the resultant need
for a substitute vocal genre” and “the impact of the new Romantic
poetry, supplying composers with inspiration and with literary texts
that forced a renunciation of earlier compositional styles and tech-
The parallels between the evolution of the lied and the mélodie are
striking. For example, the eighteenth-century German folk-song
model which required folklike simplicity, expressiveness, and singa-

Texts and translations quoted in Noske (see note 6 above), p. 30 and p. 320.
See Alan Walker, “Liszt and the Schubert Song Transcriptions,” Musical Quar-
terly, 67 (1981), pp. 50-63.
Noske (see note 6 above), p. 1.

bility (as outlined by Krause in 1752), closely corresponds to Jean-

Jacques Rousseau’s 1767 definition of the romance:

As the romance is written in a simple, touching style, [...] the tune should be in
keeping with the words: no ornaments, nothing mannered [...] For the singing of
romances one needs no more than a clear, carefully-tuned voice, which pro-
nounces the words well, and sings simply.31

Thus the importance of the romance for nineteenth-century French

song composers is comparable to the function of the folk song as an
inexhaustible resource for nineteenth-century lied composers. Simi-
larly, as Schubert and his successors drew inspiration from the poetry
of Goethe and the Storm and Stress poets and from the new infusion
of great German romantic poetry, so did French song writers benefit
from the romantic poetry of poets such as Théophile Gautier (1811-
1872), Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-
1869), and Victor Hugo (1802-1885). Summing up the pioneering
achievement of Swiss-born composer Louis Niedermeyer (1802-1861)
– whose sole claim to fame consists in his setting of Lamartine’s poem
“Le Lac” [The Lake] – Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) characterized
the interplay of factors contributing to the rise of the mélodie suc-

Niedermeyer was above all a forerunner; the first to break the mold of the ancient
and faded French romance, and inspired by the fine poems of Lamartine and Vic-
tor Hugo, he created a new and superior type of art, analogous to the German
Lied. The resounding success of Le Lac opened up the way for Gounod and all the
others who have followed that path.32

Lack of terminological clarity is just as typical of the mélodie as it

is of the lied. The generic term mélodie acquired wide currency from
the start as the French translation for the Schubert-type lied in particu-

Quoted in Denis Stevens, ed., A History of Song (New York: Norton, 1970), p.
Quoted in Stevens (see note 31 above), p. 400.

lar, and later, when Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf became better
known in France, for the nineteenth-century German lied in general. It
would be misleading to assume, however, that the two terms are iden-
tical in meaning; after all, French song represents a world quite unlike
the German lied. Hector Berlioz – in his Mélodies irlandaises (1829),
inspired by Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies (1807-1834) – was the
first French composer to call his songs mélodies, chiefly to differenti-
ate them from the qualitatively inferior new products of the romance.
But Berlioz was careful to stress that his mélodies had precious little
in common with Schubert’s lieder.
Creative affinity with the German genre is demonstrable, though
never predominant, in the mélodies of prolific song composers like
Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), Charles Gounod (1818-1893), and
Jules Massenet (1842-1912). Both Gounod and Massenet were great
champions of Schumann’s songs. Consequently, their mélodies are
still much indebted to the intimate lyricism and pronounced pianistic
orientation of the mid-nineteenth-century German lied. By the 1870s,
however, emancipation of the mélodie from the lied had been fully
accomplished and French song composers had finally come into their
own. There is virtually no trace of German influence left in the quin-
tessentially French songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Henri Duparc
(1848-1933), and Claude Debussy (1862-1918). The designation mé-
lodie still persists, but only in contradistinction to le lied, which is
now used exclusively to signify the exemplars of the German genre.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, serious song-writing in
most European countries showed a certain basic awareness, if not
always actual resonance, of the German lied. Outside of France, crea-
tive assimilation of the German tradition remained on the whole spo-
radic; it was restricted to individual composers who were striving to
rise above the stifling confines of musical nationalism so that they
could become part of the European mainstream. In England, for ex-
ample, home of the popular Victorian drawing-room ballad, there was
before 1900 a particularly conspicuous lack of any serious art-song

tradition: “a vast and facile productivity is amply evident, and, by

comparison with the Lieder of Schumann, Brahms and Wolf, the mé-
lodies of Bizet, Fauré, Duparc and Debussy, and the songs of Grieg,
the overall impression is one of worthlessness”33. How could the Brit-
ish know and understand the German lied when – as Stephen Banfield
argues – “England, until about 1880, had lacked a musical response to
almost the entire Romantic movement”?34 Charles W. Stanford’s 1877
setting of John Keats’s famous romantic poem “La belle dame sans
merci”, with echoes of Schubert’s “Erlkönig”, was a rare exception.
Reception of the lied by Russian and Scandinavian composers, on
the other hand, despite their strong roots in indigenous folk-song tradi-
tions, proved to be productive and lasting. Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky
(1840-1893) and Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), to mention only the two
most prominent ones, were markedly influenced by the German genre
and even set dozens of their songs to poems by Goethe, Heine and
others in the original German. At the other extreme, it is understand-
able that a country like nineteenth-century Italy, so utterly dominated
by opera, would have little affinity with the tradition represented by
the German lied. Even so, Giuseppe Verdi’s curious but effective set-
ting of Goethe’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade” in Italian translation [“Per-
duta ho la pace”, 1838] affords an instructive stylistic comparison
between the Schubertian model and the Italian approach to song-
writing as operatic by-product.
On balance, Europe responded to the lied in diverse ways. In
France the German genre profoundly permeated song composition,
while it scarcely touched England. Interestingly enough, it is in the
songs of Franz Liszt – the supranational, quintessentially European
cult figure of the romantic century, who was not primarily a song
composer – that we find perhaps best exemplified the kind of cos-
mopolitanism that the lied,which embraced a plurality of lied tradi-

Banfield (see note 6 above), p. 3.
Ibid., p. 12.

tions, was capable of achieving. Liszt composed more than seventy

songs in five languages: there are fifty-seven settings of German texts
(mainly by Goethe and Heine) and eleven mélodies (most of them to
texts by Victor Hugo), as well as five songs in Italian, three in Hun-
garian, and one each in English and Russian. Typically, his non-
German songs exhibit a sovereign command of the various national
idioms. In stylistic orientation, however, his song-writing was pre-
dominantly German. “The lied is, poetically as well as musically, an
intrinsic product of the Germanic Muse”, he wrote in an 1855 essay
on lied composer Robert Franz35.
It was in no small measure through Liszt that the lied became an
important artistic current in the mainstream of nineteenth-century
European culture. As a virtuoso performer of his piano transcriptions
and arrangements of lieder by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and
Mendelssohn (as well as his own), as a frequent accompanist in lieder
recitals all over Europe, and later as a celebrated conductor of orches-
tral lieder, Liszt was no doubt the chief propagator of the genre. Due
to his relentless efforts, the lied remained no longer confined to the
drawing room but was channelled into the concert hall. Ironically, as it
gained unprecedented public acceptance, the genre seems to have lost
precisely that appeal of intimacy and lyrical expressiveness which
made it initially so central to the evolution of musical romanticism.
Not surprisingly, in the twentieth century serious song has been a de-
cidedly marginal form of artistic expression. Today the lied as a genre
is merely remembered and preserved as one of the glorious manifesta-
tions of European romanticism.

Franz Liszt, Schriften zur Tonkunst (Leipzig: Reclam, 1981), p. 253.
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“Tutto nel mondo è burla”*
Humor in Music? (1991)

Musical humor? There is no such thing, of course. What an outlandish

proposition, especially when we encounter it unawares, in its bald
immediacy: an anomaly at best. In literature and the visual arts, paint-
ing and sculpture, we need not strain our imagination. There is much
that strikes us as comic or humorous, though not without qualifica-
tion.1 But humor in music? Precious little comes readily to mind, ex-
cept perhaps a few fleeting instances here and there. That is, if we
believe the professional ‘comicologists’ who – when not altogether
silent on the topic, which is most of the time – virtually deny music’s
ability to convey humor intelligibly, without enlisting the aid of other
media, particularly verbal and visual ones. In fact, theoreticians of the
comic, of wit, humor, and laughter – among them noted philosophers,
aestheticians, and psychologists – have been, on the whole, conspicu-
ously uninterested and noncommittal in matters musical.2 Most disap-

* The phrase “Tutto nel mondo è burla” in my title is the opening line of the final
fugue ensemble concluding Verdi’s opera Falstaff; the Shakespeare-inspired text is
by librettist Arrigo Boito.
The finest recent critical treatment of this topic is Paul Barolsky’s Infinite Jest:
Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art (Columbia, Mo., 1978). According to
Barolsky, “from the art of antiquity to the satire of Dada, surrealism, and more re-
cently, pop art, there is an extensive history of humor and wit in Western art.” But he
also confirms the “curious fact that while scores of books have been written about the
history of criticism of humorous or comic literature, considerably less attention has
been paid to wit and humor in art” (p. 1). For the handful of relevant titles, see Barol-
sky’s bibliography, pp. 217-22.
The literature exploring the phenomenon of comicality is vast and cuts across
disciplinary boundaries. Traditionally, it seems, theorists of the comic – from Aris-
totle through Kant, Flögel, Jean Paul, Meredith, Theodor Lipps, Bergson, Freud, and
Johannes Volkelt to Heinrich Lützeler, Elder Olson, Wolfgang Preisendanz, and

pointing of all, musicologists, who perhaps ought to know better, have

also failed to overwhelm us with illuminating insights on the subject.3
Admittedly, we are dealing here with a gray area of aesthetics: the
notion of musical humor not only sounds but is elusive. Yet it is a
notion that deserves a hearing. It may be useful to begin exploring the
potential richness of this notion with a motley assortment of brief il-

Norman N. Holland, to mention only a prominent several – either omit consideration

of the realm of music altogether or register serious doubts concerning the plausibility
of musical comicality, broadly defined. For a characteristic sampling of general dis-
regard as well as negative opinions, see Zofia Lissa, “Über das Komische in der
Musik,” in her Aufsätze zur Musikästhetik: Eine Auswahl (Berlin, 1969), pp. 93-137.
A rare exception is Werner R. Schweizer, who in his comprehensive psychological
study Der Witz (Bern, 1964) devotes a separate section to “Der musikalische Witz”,
pp. 87-99. For initial orientation on comic theory, see Paul Lauter, ed., Theories of
Comedy (New York, 1964); E. H. Mikhail, Comedy and Tragedy: A Bibliography of
Critical Studies (Troy, N.Y., 1972); Reinhold Grimm and Klaus L. Berghahn, eds.,
Wesen und Formen des Komischen im Drama (Darmstadt, 1975); Wolfgang Preisen-
danz and Rainer Warning, eds., Das Komische (Munich, 1976); and Reinhold Grimm,
“Kapriolen des Komischen: Zur Rezeptionsgeschichte seiner Theorie seit Hegel,
Marx und Vischer”, in Reinhold Grimm and Walter Hinck, eds., Zwischen Satire und
Utopie: Zur Komiktheorie und zur Geschichte der europäischen Komödie (Frank-
furt/Main, 1982), pp. 20-125.
Specific treatments by musicologists and musicians of the diverse aspects of
musical comicality have been few indeed. The following is a representative selection:
K. Stein, “Versuch über das Komische in der Musik”, Caecilia 10 (1833): 221-67;
Robert Schumann, “On the Comic Spirit in Music” (1835), in On Music and Musi-
cians: Robert Schumann, ed. Konrad Wolff (New York, 1946), pp. 57-59; Paul Du-
kas, “Comedy in Music” (1894), in Composers on Music: An Anthology of Compos-
ers’ Writings, ed. Sam Morgenstern (London, 1956), pp. 344-47; Karl Storck, Musik
und Musiker in Karikatur und Satire (Oldenburg, 1913); Anton Penkert, “Die musika-
lische Forschung von Witz und Humor”, in Kongreß für Ästhetik und allgemeine
Kunstwissenschaft, 1913 (Stuttgart, 1914), pp. 482-89; Richard Hohenemser, “Über
Komik und Humor in der Musik”, Jahrbuch Peters (1917): 65-83; Henry F. Gilbert,
“Humor in Music”, Musical Quarterly 12 (1926): 40-55; Theodor Veidl, Der musika-
lische Humor bei Beethoven (Leipzig, 1929); Wolfgang Steinecke, Die Parodie in der
Musik (Wolfenbüttel, 1934); Hans H. Eggebrecht, “Der Begriff des Komischen in der
Musikästhetik des 18. Jahrhunderts”, Die Musikforschung 4 (1951): 144-52; Norman
Cazden, “Humor in the Music of Stravinsky and Prokofiev”, Science and Society 18
(1954): 52-74; Ferruccio Busoni, “Beethoven and Musical Humor”, in his The Es-
sence of Music and Other Papers, trans. Rosamond Ley (New York, 1957), pp. 134-
37; John Kucaba, “Beethoven as Buffoon”, Musical Review 41 (1980): 103-20; and
Hubert Daschner, Humor in der Musik (Wiesbaden, 1986).

lustrations while keeping theoretical reflection to a minimum. As a

classic example of harmless musical fun, the unadulterated banal hu-
mor that emanates from the celebrated “Duetto buffo di due gatti”, at-
tributed to Rossini,4 is easily identifiable. Composed for two meowing
operatic singers (usually sopranos) with piano accompaniment, this
amusing trifle is so memorable because it is so unsubtle. And its in-
tended parodistic effect is unmistakable.5
To be sure, Rossini was an inimitable master of skillfully crafted
scenic situations imbued with genuine humor, a lone monument of
sustained comicality in 19th-century music. Indeed, none of his en-
sembles is better suited to provide musical justification for the title of
the present volume than the zany, effervescent septet concluding act 1
of his comic opera L’Italiana in Algeri (1813), which never fails to
bring down the house in ‘laughter unlimited’. In this final tableau, the
characters are so utterly confused about the newest plot developments
that they can no longer sing a coherent text. Spellbound, they start
singing nonsense syllables that imitate the various noises they imagine
hearing. The ladies hear bells ringing in their ears and the men hear a
cock crowing, hammer strokes, cannon shots, and the like: din-din,
cra-cra, tac-tac, bum-bum.


Nella testa ho un campanello In my head a bell is ringing,
Che suonando fa din din. [...] Ding, ding, ding, ding!

Nella testa ho un gran martello In my head a clock is ticking,
Mi percuote e fa tac tac ever going tock tick tock!

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1980) 16:249 lists
this duet under Rossini’s works “of uncertain authenticity.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach must have had something like this duet in mind
when she quipped: “Die Katzen halten keinen für eloquent, der nicht miauen kann.”
(“Cats consider no one eloquent who cannot meow.”). Quoted in Heinrich Lützeler,
Über den Humor (Zurich, 1966) p. 13.

Sono come una cornacchia I am like a dizzy raven
Che spennata fa cra cra Crowing, cawing, caw caw caw!

Nella testa ho un gran martello In my head I have a hammer
Mi percuote e fa tac tac. Ever pounding knock, knock, knock!

Come scoppio di cannone Like a mighty cannon roaring,
La mia testa fa bum bum. So my head goes boom, boom, boom!6

Perhaps Joseph Addison hit upon the truth when he claimed in the
Spectator that “nothing is capable of being well set to music that is not
Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter, a single-movement mini-
concerto scored for typewriter and orchestra and assisted by a triangle
and a ratchet to signal carriage returns, exemplifies an altogether dif-
ferent species of musical humor. Though intriguing, the kind of acous-
tic mimesis in this typical product of mid-20th-century American
popular music is likely to induce mild amusement at best.
John Cage’s 1942 composition entitled CREDO IN US, decidedly
more serious in intention, is likewise at a safe distance from ‘laughter
unlimited’: that Cage spells the title in capital letters points to the in-
herent ambiguity of the word ‘US’. The score calls for muted gongs,
tin cans, an electric buzzer, tom-toms, piano, hands on wood, and
radio or phonograph; in his performance instructions, Cage even
specifies that “(if radio is used, avoid news programs during national
or international emergencies, if phonograph, use some classic: e.g.
Dvořák, Beethoven, Sibelius or Shostakovich).”8 The recorded per-

Gioacchino Rossini, L’Italiana in Algeri, libretto by Angelo Anelli (New York,
1966), p. 11.
Quoted in Wim Tigges, ed., Explorations in the Field of Nonsense (Amsterdam,
1987), p. 6.
John Cage, CREDO IN US (score) (New York, 1962) p. 1.

formance, for example, uses excerpts from Dvořák’s New World Sym-
phony. As we shall soon see in more analytical detail, Cage’s unusu-
ally scored piece demonstrates the mechanics of a rather transparent
strategy composers favor when they intend to produce a comic effect
– in this case, primarily satirical – fraught with sociopolitical implica-
tions. Just before the anticipated arrival of a concluding cadence, the
original quote played on the phonograph from the well-known Dvořák
symphony suddenly fades out and gives way to a startling cacophony
that would be any percussionist’s delight; and the listener’s justifiable
expectation is so severely thwarted that the result is some sort of
laughter, however guarded, embarrassed, or angry.
The presence of intentional comicality in venerable canonic works
of the classical repertory is rarely acknowledged unequivocally. How
do we react in this context, for example, to the interminable conclud-
ing bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (fig. 5)?9
No intimate knowledge of Beethoven’s compositional habits is neces-
sary to recognize that excessive repetition is employed here as a comic
device of musical rhetoric. Beethoven certainly knows how to assure
his listeners over and over and over again about the definite finality of
his Finale’s final C-Major chords. Similarly exaggerated closures
abound in his symphonic writing, and one might wonder why he re-
sorts to this type of deliberate overstatement to make his point. The
answer is simple and well documented, even if ardent worshipers of
the Beethoven mystique10 and of the composer’s familiar, larger-than-
life image as the brooding titan may well refuse to accept it: forever a
practical joker and punster in life, Beethoven also took every musical
opportunity to express his effervescent humor, often through blunt

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, ed. Elliot Forbes (New
York, 1971), pp. 115-16.
See William S. Newman, “The Beethoven Mystique in Romantic Art, Literature,
and Music”, Musical Quarterly 69 (1983): 354-87.

Fig. 5. Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67 (movement 4:

mm. 415-44)

Fig. 6: Beethoven, “An Mälzel”, WoO 162.


self-parody.11 However hard to believe, he did compose dozens of

occasional musical gags like the choral canon entitled “An Mälzel”
(1812) (fig. 6),12 a classical companion piece to Leroy Anderson’s
typewriter music, poking fun at his friend Johann Nepomuk Mälzel,
the inventor of the metronome. The melody of this trifle became the
first theme of Beethoven’s later, more poignantly humorous tribute to
Mälzel: the second, “Allegretto scherzando,” movement of the Eighth
But accumulating diverse examples, however entertaining and in-
structive, is a temptation that must be resisted if we want to get a
firmer grasp on a subject as elusive and indeterminate as humor, espe-
cially musical humor. So let us suspend the flow of examples for ex-
ample’s sake and embark on a bit of aesthetic speculation, hoping that
a little theory, taken with a grain of salt, will not detract from proper
appreciation of the illustrations still to come. The crucial question is,
of course, whether it is possible to find some guiding principles that
may light our way through the complex labyrinth of musical comi-
cality. It is for good reason that competent scholarly attempts to do
just that have been scarce indeed; the occasional relevant dissertations
and individual treatises tend to focus on aspects too specialized and
narrow to yield more than modest illumination.13

For detailed documentation, cf. Kucaba, “Beethoven as Buffoon.”
WoO 162, in L. van Beethovens Werke: Vollständige kritisch durchgesehene
überall berechtigte Ausgabe (Leipzig, 1862-65), xxiii/256/2.
For the handful of recent dissertations, see Linda R. Lowry, Humor in Instrumen-
tal Music: A Discussion of Musical Affect, Psychological Concepts of Humor and
Identification of Musical Humor (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1974); David
Weintraub, Humor in Song (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1974); Charles E.
Troy, The Comic Intermezzo: A Study in the History of Eighteenth-Century Italian
Opera (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1979); Steven E. Paul, Wit, Comedy, and Humour in the
Instrumental Music of Franz Joseph Haydn (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge University,
1980); Günter Lafenthaler, Gedanken zum Begriff musikalischer Komik in den sin-
fonischen Dichtungen von Richard Strauss (Ph.D. diss., University of Vienna, 1980);
and Cassandra I. Carr, Wit and Humor as Dramatic Force in the Beethoven Piano
Sonatas (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1985). For further titles, see n. 3 above.

As far as I could ascertain, only the Polish Marxist musicologist

Zofia Lissa, a devout disciple of Roman Ingarden, has taken on the
considerable multidisciplinary challenge of devoting a large-scale
investigation entirely to the theoretical underpinnings of this intrigu-
ing phenomenon. Her 1938 Krakow Habilitationsschrift entitled O
istocie komizmu muzycznego (“The Essence of Musical Humor”)14 is
still the only serious study of musical humor – pun intended – that
attempts to provide a comprehensive and systematic overview in-
formed by the relevant philosophical, aesthetic, psychological, and
musical issues. Lissa’s pioneering work has gone virtually unnoticed
in the West. Under the title “Über das Komische in der Musik,” she
included what seems to be a streamlined version of her 1938 study
(unfortunately, without bringing it up to date) in a 1969 collection of
her selected essays, Aufsätze zur Musikästhetik, published in East Ber-
lin.15 It tells us something about the persistently elusive nature of our
topic that Lissa’s opening statement of 1969 still holds today: “Eine
Theorie der Komik, die sich ausschließlich auf das Komische in der
Musik stützt, gibt es bisher nicht” (“A theory of the comic that is
based exclusively on what is comic in music does not yet exist.”)16
In much of what follows, I benefited from Zofia Lissa’s thoughtful
outline of the possibilities and limitations of the field and from her
sober – sometimes all too sober – analytical remarks, though I hope
that my own approach will prove to be less cumbersome and time-
bound. Also, I intend to avoid at least some of the pitfalls that loom
large before anyone who dares to enter the slippery terrain of comic
theory. First of all, I shall heed Samuel Johnson’s wise observation
that “comedy has been particularly unpropitious to definers”17, and

Listed in the New Grove Dictionary 11:27.
Lissa, Aufsätze, pp. 93ff.
Ibid., p. 93.
Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, no. 125. Quoted in Lauter, ed., Theories of Com-
edy, p. 254.

devote only a minimum of space to terminological distinctions and

definitions. Many past comicologists have fallen victim to this under-
standable and most common of methodological errors: they start by
devising their own definitions of terms such as humor, wit, and laugh-
ter and proceed to base their speculations on these preconceived no-
tions, frozen into axiomatic formulas, which they then foist on their
empirical evidence.18 Second, I shall try to keep in mind that “we can-
not talk about what is funny, but rather what people find funny.”19
Clearly, the real problem for critics seems to be the frustratingly elu-
sive element inherent in comicality: namely, that the comic is always
subjective and highly dependent on personal taste. Critics concur only
in the obvious, characterizing the comic as “some sort of subjectively
realized contrast.”20 And third, I shall keep reminding myself that
whenever we inquire about what is comic in music, we must sharpen
our critical awareness and for each given context consider our norms
and expectations anew; we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that
musical humor – at least most of the time – turns out to be more subtle
and harder to detect than other kinds of humor. In fact, we are apt to
encounter a type of humor in music that does not strike us as funny at
all in the conventional sense, but possesses a capricious, mercurial, or
whimsical quality that will be perceived only under certain circum-
stances and by certain individuals as humorous. In such cases, the
effect can be humorous even if it does not elicit actual laughter.
Given the infinite variety of comic possibilities, I can identify, dis-
cuss, and illustrate only some salient types of specifically musical
humor. That in the course of this desultory process I shall have to
gloss over or leave unexplored many fascinating types and details

For a circumspect and informative critical discussion of some influential defini-
tions of the comic, see chapter I in Bruce Duncan, Dark Comedy in Eighteenth-
Century Germany: Lessing and Lenz (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1969).
Ibid., p. 5.
Ibid., p. 4.

needs no apology. Probing the nature and mechanics of the phenome-

non itself, I shall focus on three leading questions: (1) Why is it that
certain passages or, sometimes, even longer stretches of music strike
us as funny, amusing, droll, or comical: in other words, as humorous?
(2) What exactly is it that we find humorous in these instances? (3)
How are these musical instances constructed so that they bring about a
comic or humorous effect?
Huizinga’s brilliant interpretation of the age-old clicheé that “the
essential nature of all musical activity is play”21 alerts us to how im-
portant it is to realize at the outset that playful, light-hearted, joyous
music – like so much of, say, Haydn, Mozart, Weber, or Mendelssohn
– is usually just that, and not necessarily humorous. To be sure, it may
make us understand better why we perceive certain pieces or passages
of music as ‘happy’, if we regard specific features in such music like
the tone and register of the instruments employed, how their roles are
balanced in relation to one another, and the musical intervals used.

These features somehow remind us of the way we feel when we feel happy, they
make us imagine feeling happy, or indeed they may arouse actual emotions of
happiness. But ‘the way we feel when we feel happy’ is not readily described and
it is difficult to analyse in general terms just what features of music regularly cor-
respond to that feeling.22

What makes music ‘happy’ may not be easy to articulate. But to account
for what constitutes humorous music proves to be even more of a chal-
lenge. A few generic distinctions may be helpful at this point. It is cus-
tomary to think of music broadly in two basic categories: absolute music,
also called abstract music, which is nonreferential since it possesses no

Johan Huizinga, Homo ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston,
1955), p. 162.
Anne Sheppard, Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art (Oxford,
1988), p. 36. Curiously enough, in spite of the fact that since Aristotle the tragic has
been considered the other side of the comic, we virtually never speak of ‘tragic’
music. True, there is Brahms’s Tragic Overture. However, what is really tragic about
this piece of orchestral music other than the vague associations prompted by its title?

extramusical connotations, and texted or vocal music, which is referential

since its overall effect depends on the extramusical connotations of its
text. But there is also a third, hybrid category: namely, program music,
which is neither just absolute music nor full-fledged texted music and
which becomes particularly relevant when we consider humor in music.
It is a type of purely instrumental music inspired by, or based on, “a
nonmusical idea, which is usually indicated in the title and sometimes
described in explanatory remarks or a preface.”23 Where do we locate in
our scheme program music such as Liszt’s Faust Symphony, Berlioz’s
Harold en Italie, Dukas’s L’Apprenti sorcier, Richard Strauss’s Till
Eulenspiegel, or Ravel’s La Valse? Since both texted and program
music possess semantic connotations and absolute music is essentially
asemantic because nonreferential, it might be appropriate to distin-
guish between semantic and asemantic music.24 It is in semantic mu-
sic, of course, that we find the most obvious instances of musical hu-
mor: in opera, singspiel, oratorios, cantatas, lieder, and operettas, as
well as in titled instrumental music such as tone poems and even in
film music. When we come to asemantic music – purely instrumental
music for individual instruments, chamber ensemble, or symphonic
orchestra – the hermeneutic challenge becomes significantly more
complex and intriguing. For this reason, although the problems con-
cerning the nature of the comic in texted music and program music are
by no means uninteresting, I shall focus primarily on the phenomenon
of asemantic, or autonomous, musical humor.
What are some of the characteristic preconditions that determine
the nature of the comic experience in the diverse manifestations of
musical humor, to some extent in both asemantic and semantic music?
First of all, the comic effect must be intended, consciously devised by
the composer to elicit a specifically comic reaction from the listener.

Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, comp. Don M. Randel (Cambridge, 1978),
p. 402.
Lissa, Aufsätze, pp. 108-14.

Take, for example, Mozart’s wonderful buffo character Osmin in Die

Entführung aus dem Serail (fig. 7). Whenever he is on stage, no mat-
ter how threateningly he may rave about his awful instruments of tor-
ture and plot revenge, his musical presence exudes nothing but sheer
comic relief. Mozart exaggerates Osmin’s character traits so delight-
fully that we never take him for the avenging menace he is supposed
to be – but isn’t, of course, due largely to Mozart’s music.25
Contextual incongruity or contrast, whether in the form of an un-
predictable occurrence or a sudden deviation from the expected norm,
is a common element of musical humor.

Psychologists tell us that our sense of the comic is aroused by unexpected, incon-
gruous happenings; by unusual and sudden interruptions of the natural or custom-
ary order of things. The resulting shock to our sense of what might naturally have
been expected, if not too severe, causes us to smile or to give more boisterous
evidence of our amusement.26

The beginning of the “Andante” movement of Haydn’s well-known

Symphony No. 94 in G Major (fig. 8), composed with the narcoleptic
London audience in mind and dubbed “Surprise” for good reason, still
provides the most transparent illustration and hardly requires further
Haydn’s œuvre in particular is an inexhaustible resource for
autonomous musical humor of this sort, including the more sustained

Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (piano score) (Leipzig, n.d.), p. 29.
Gilbert, “Humor in Music”, p. 41.
Quoted in Daschner, Humor in der Musik, p. 147.

Fig. 7: Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, from act 1, no. 3 (Os-
min’s aria)

Fig. 8: Haydn, Symphony No. 94 in G Major (movement 2: mm. 1-19)

Let us now turn from the rather obvious example, based simply on
a contrast in musical dynamics, to a more esoteric and subtle case of
musical wit, the rondo-finale movement marked “Presto” of Haydn’s
String Quartet No. 30 in E Flat Major op. 33/2 (fig. 9), which earned
this work the nickname “The Joke”. Though the real jest comes only
in the coda section, we can best appreciate the humorous ingredients
by listening to the entire movement, all of which lasts barely over two
minutes. If we then focus on the coda itself and observe closely how
Haydn constructs this last sequence of musical events, we can easily
discern the underlying pattern of contextual incongruities that pro-
duces a sustained comic effect by purely musical means. After the last
episode section of the rondo, the trifling main theme recurs once more,
leading us to expect that this final repetition will conclude the move-
ment. But no! All of a sudden, out of nowhere, after a pregnant pause,

Fig. 9: Haydn, String Quartet No. 30 in E Flat Major, op. 33/2

(movement 4: mm. 97-172)

two totally unexpected, pathetic adagio snippets appear, as if things

were grinding to a halt, however implausibly. Is the piece finally
over? No, we are in for yet another surprise. After a two-bar pause, the
main theme reappears, except that this time it is broken down into four
two-bar clauses, with two-bar pauses in between clauses. And just
when we finally decide that this must be the end, the first two-bar
fragment of the theme sounds again and the movement ends, sus-
pended in midair. Or is it going to start all over again?28 No question,
this is sophisticated asemantic musical wit, the comic Haydn at his
best. Though utilizing essentially the same basic pattern, the Cage
example described earlier seems crude and simplistic in comparison.
The degree to which the comic incongruity is perceived depends
heavily, of course, on the degree of musical competence the listener
brings to the experience: familiarity with musical periods, styles, con-
ventions, genres, and forms will facilitate recognition of those in-
stances in which composers, for whatever reason, deviate from the
norm. If, for example, the listener of Cage’s CREDO IN US is not
familiar with Dvořák’s New World Symphony, most if not all of what
Cage intended with his composition will prove elusive. Nevertheless,
the technique itself of inducing a comic effect in music, always ad-
justed to the respective individual context, has remained standard
practice until today. As we have seen, it is essentially a basic pattern
of tension-relaxation that may be sketched out as follows. It usually
starts with the listener’s suddenly heightened expectation of the unex-
pected, actually with the expectation (or secret hope) that the unex-
pected will turn out to be something expected after all. But this expec-
tation is thwarted by the fact that what follows is indeed something
unexpected. In other words, the original expectation of the unexpected
is fulfilled all the more effectively, since it was not expected as such.
As a result, the initially heightened awareness, after a momentary

Haydn, String Quartet No. 30 in E Flat Major, op. 33/2, Edition Eulenburg minia-
ture score, pp. 17-18.

sensation of surprise or mild shock, dissolves into physical confirma-

tion of relief which may signify pleasure, perplexity, or indignation,
usually in the form of a smile or laughter.
It seems quite a jump from a Haydn string quartet of 1781 to Béla
Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra (fig. 10), composed in
1939. But the Bartók work is thoroughly classical in its comic spirit,
very much a musical ‘diversion’ in the 18th-century sense of the rich
connotations of the Italian verb divertire that Da Ponte was so fond of
employing in his libretti for Don Giovanni, Figaro, and Così fan tutte.
Lo and behold, Bartók’s Finale is also in rondo form and, toward the
end of the movement, the turbulent flow of a “vivacissimo” section is
unexpectedly arrested by a caustically humorous episode (“Grazioso,
scherzando, poco rubato”) which draws on the contextual incongruity
technique for parodistic purposes:

It is signalised here by the introduction of a schmaltzy pseudo-Viennese polka,

quite slow, clearly related to the main theme, with the violins playing pizzicato,
the cellos and basses plucking their polka accompaniment, and the violas com-
menting with a couple of wry glissandi.29

I invoke yet another, even more typical, Bartók work in this con-
nection, especially since it also features strategies of autonomous mu-
sical humor that I can mention here only in passing, such as the ex-
ploitation of the potential incongruity in certain harmonic and rhyth-
mic designs and instrumental and orchestral colors. The infamous
passage occurs in the fourth movement of the Concerto for Orchestra
(1943), entitled “Intermezzo interrotto” (fig. 11). While composing
the concerto in New York, Bartók heard a broadcast of Shostakovich’s
then brand-new Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony. He was so appalled
by the insipid triviality of the theme representing the Nazi invaders –
so unworthy of Shostakovich’s stature as a composer – that he decided

John McCabe, Bartók’s Orchestral Music (London, 1974), p. 56. The parodistic
allusion to Johann Strauss’s famous “Pizzicato Polka” is unmistakable.

Fig. 10: Bartók, Divertimento for String Orchestra (movement 4: mm.


to incorporate a mini-travesty of it in his own work in progress, possi-

bly without equal as a vitriolic and irreverent instance of sophisticated
musical wit. This is not humor that is funny; the effect, verging on the
burlesque, is rather shocking. Besides juxtaposing blatantly anti-
thetical moods, Bartók achieves his parodistic intent chiefly through
brilliantly orchestrated incongruities in instrumental sound and imita-
tive timbre or tone color:

Howls of laughter from the woodwind, rude noises from the lower brass, and then
a viciously swirling circus background throw the violins’ attempt to make the
theme respectable into a contemptuous light; it does not sound distinguished even
when put upside down – indeed it sounds even more ludicrous.30

Fig. 11: Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra (movement 4: mm. 61-136)

Ibid., p. 60.

Even when the interruption is over and the earlier nostalgic, serene
mood returns, Bartók’s disturbing episode lingers on in our con-
sciousness and recalls fictitious twelve-tone composer Adrian Lever-
kühn’s memorable comment, prompted by his own verbal Wagner
parody, in Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus (published in 1947 but
written contemporaneously with the concerto, also in American exile):

Und ich Verworfener muß lachen, namentlich bei den grunzenden Stütztönen des
Bombardons – Wum, wum, wum – Pang! – ich habe vielleicht zugleich Tränen in
den Augen, aber der Lachreiz ist übermächtig – ich [...] bin von diesem übertrie-
benen Sinn fur das Komische [bei Wagner] in die Theologie geflohen [...] um
dann eine Menge entsetzlicher Komik in ihr zu finden. Warum müssen fast alle
Dinge mir als ihre eigene Parodie erscheinen? Warum muß es mir vorkommen,
als ob fast alle, nein, alle Mittel und Konvenienzen der Kunst heute nur noch zur
Parodie taugten?31

(And I, abandoned wretch, I have to laugh, particularly in the grunting supporting

notes of the bombardone, Bum, bum, bum, bang! I may have tears in my eyes at
the same time, but the desire to laugh is irrestible [...] I fled from this exaggerated
sense of the comic [in Wagner] into theology [...] only to find there too a perfect
legion of ludicrous absurdities. Why does almost everything seem to me like its

Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus (Stockholm, 1947), pp. 208-9.

own parody? Why must I think that almost all, no, all the methods and conven-
tions of art today are good for parody only?32)

Musical quotation – that is, composers quoting from other composers

in their own compositions, whether in the original form or strategically
distorted – has also been a common source of humor in music. A cele-
brated example of this musical version of intertextuality is Mozart’s quo-
tation of his own Figaro’s famous aria “Non più andrai farfallone amor-
oso”, along with two other operatic hits of the day, in the supper scene of
Don Giovanni. The Shostakovich episode in Bartók’s concerto is only
one of many instances of the type of subtle musical humor that may also
be regarded as the composer’s private joke, shared only by the initiated
few who are familiar with the context.
But a private joke can also be innocent and accessible, just fun for
fun’s sake, as in Jacques Ibert’s delightful divertissement of 1930, which
employs compositional devices similar to Bartók’s for comic effect,
though not without a satirical sting: acoustic mimesis of nonmusical
sound like a horse laugh and the absurdly incongruous quotation of
Mendelssohn’s hackneyed “Wedding March”, which suddenly turns into
a grotesquely distorted military march. At the other extreme, a private
musical joke can be even more esoteric than Bartók’s, as in the case of
the parodistic Wagner reference buried in Debussy’s famous piano piece
“Golliwog’s Cake-Walk” from the Children’s Corner collection (fig. 12).
It is an ingenious satirical hint of the Tristan chord (the performance
instruction reads: “avec une grande émotion”), inconspicuously embed-
ded in the compositional texture.33
That in the latter part of this essay I have been talking more about
musical parody, and have used the designation ‘humor’ less fre-
quently, is no coincidence. Instances of parody are simply more com-
mon and more accessible in music (especially, if one is in the know!)

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus (New York, 1948), pp. 133-34.
Claude Debussy, “Golliwog’s Cake-Walk” (London, 1969), pp. 3-5.

than those of pure humor (whatever that may be). In fact, humor in
music seems virtually inconceivable without some element of parody
or self-parody. Both humor and parody – along with satire, irony, and
caricature as well as the burlesque and the grotesque – are subspecies
of the comic, of course. But in music the notion of parody seems to be
more encompassing; for optimal effect, it usually draws on many or
all of the basic ingredients simultaneously. This is the reason, I as-
sume, why we look in vain for distinct treatments of humor in music,
even in the relevant musical literature. The authoritative New Grove
Dictionary of Music and Musicians, for example, has no separate en-
try for humor in music, which means – for all practical purposes –
that the notion does not exist. Instead, the entire spectrum of the comic
in music is covered – with memorable British brevity – under the
heading “Parody” in a double entry of barely three pages that distin-
guishes between a narrow and a broader meaning of the term. In the
narrower sense, parody is “a technique of composition, primarily as-
sociated with the 16th century, involving the use of preexistent mate-
rial”34. So far so good. But the New Grove’s broader definition of

Fig. 12: From Debussy, “Golliwog’s Cake-Walk”

New Grove Dictionary 14:238.

parody is too much of a catchall; its broadness renders it ultimately

useless for meaningful discrimination:

A composition generally of humorous or satirical intent in which turns of phrase

or other features characteristic of another composer or type of composition are
employed and made to appear ridiculous, especially through their application to
ludicrously inappropriate subjects. Parody, in the non-technical sense of the word,
has been a frequent source of humor in music, often aimed at the correction of
stylistic idiosyncrasies or exaggeration. Some composers have even been pre-
pared to parody their own work.35

Ibid., p. 239.

I started out by claiming that there was no such thing as musical

humor. That was a rhetorical straw man, of course, a contextual in-
congruity only to be knocked down later – with some relief, I trust. I
only hope that my attempt at focusing on the nature and mechanics of
autonomous musical humor as a distinctive, not always expressly
parodistic manifestation of the comic has given more of a sense of
humor in music than mere generalizations can suggest. I shall con-
clude with a reminder of what I regard as the ultimate knockdown in
music and what by itself could be the subject of another essay: the
outrageously dissonant and therefore hilariously funny final cadence
from Mozart’s Ein musikalischer Spaß (“A Musical Joke”), K. 522,
the most often invoked but perhaps least well-known compendium of
sophisticated musical humor (fig. 13).36

Fig. 13: Mozart, Ein musikalischer Spaß, K. 522 (movement 4: mm.


W. A. Mozart, Ein musikalischer Spaß, K. 522, in W. A. Mozart: Neue Ausgabe
sämtlicher Werke (Kassel, 1955), Serie 7, Werkgruppe 18, pp. 253-54. See also Irving
Godt, “Mozart’s Real Joke”, College Music Symposium 26 (1986): 27-41.
Liszt and Literature (1991)

Dear Liszt, through the mists and beyond the rivers, in distant cities where pianos
sing your glory, and where printing presses translate your wisdom, wherever you
may be, whether surrounded by the splendors of the eternal city, or in the mists of
those dreamy countries Gambrinus consoles, improvising songs of joy and of in-
effable sorrow, or confiding to paper your abstruse meditations, singer of pleasure
and of eternal anguish, philosopher, poet, artist, I salute you in immortality!

Is this exuberant apostrophe typical of how his contemporaries

viewed Franz Liszt? Who could have written such a hyperbolic glori-
fication (in a single, breathless sentence, no less!), the grandiloquence
of which strikes our sensibility today, a good hundred years later, as
bordering on the grotesque? The author of this effusive passage is
none other than Charles Baudelaire, one of Liszt’s countless literary
acquaintances.1 Obviously, Baudelaire admired Liszt ardently and
unconditionally, just as he did Wagner.
In those days, Baudelaire’s idolatrous kind of rhetoric was any-
thing but unique, especially in French Wagnerian circles. “Hail to you,
Richard Wagner [...] who accomplished what only a few dreamed of,
the true POEM,”2 wrote the poet Paul Va1éry, articulating the senti-
ment of the many prominent literati who also happened to be con-
vinced Wagnerites. To Va1éry, as to his Symbolist predecessors, “the
true POEM” meant specifically the Gesamtkunstwerk, of course,
Wagner’s single-minded realization of the idea of the ‘total work of
art’ that encompassed drama, poetry, myth, philosophy, and music.

In section XXXII, entitled “Le Thyrse” and addressed to Liszt, of the prose poem
Le Spleen de Paris (1869). English translation by Louise Varèse, published in Charles
Baudelaire, Paris Spleen (London: Peter Owen, 1951).
Quoted in Dorothy Kauffman, “Les Wagnériens,” Opera News 50, No. 15 (April
12,1986), p. 18.

Not surprisingly, we encounter similarly exalted tone and diction

in the discourse of critic and cultural historian Theophile Gautier.
Writing in 1874 of the intellectual climate of the 1830s and 40s, Gau-
tier aptly conveys the sense of excitement over “things poetic” that
characterized the advent and also the heyday of French Romanticism:

Today’s generation have difficulty imagining the effervescence of spirits in that

epoch; it was a movement like the Renaissance. The sap of life circulated. Every-
thing germinated, burgeoned, burst out at once. Dizzying scents came from the
flowers; the air intoxicated, and one was mad with lyricism and art. One felt one
was about to rediscover the lost secret, and it was true, one had rediscovered po-

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was very much a part and product of the
epoch that Gautier describes; and from early on his intellectual orien-
tation reflects precisely what musicologist Louise Cuyler has called
“the nineteenth-century predilection for ‘the word’.”4 Still, Baude-
laire’s accolade should give us pause; after all, he hails Liszt not only
as a supreme artist (the musician, piano virtuoso, and composer that he
indeed was), but also as a philosopher and a poet. Was he really a
profound thinker and gifted writer as well? For balance, let us call to
witness another close-range observer of the contemporary Parisian
intellectual scene – keen and inimitably witty, but clearly of a some-
what different persuasion. Here is how the self-exiled German poet
Heinrich Heine – whose memorable coinage “Lisztomania”5 is still
very much with us today – assessed Liszt in 1837:

Quoted in Eleanor Perényi, Liszt: The Artist as Romantic Hero (Boston: Little,
Brown and Co., 1974), p. 28.
Louise Cuyler, The Symphony (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), p.
The coinage ‘Lisztomanie’ first appeared in Heine’s “Musikalische Saison in
Paris l,” published in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung no. 129, supplement (May 8,
1844). Reprinted in Heinrich Heine, Zeitungsberichte über Musik und Malerei, ed.
Michael Mann (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1964): 159-68, see especially p. 163. Brit-
ish film director Ken Russell entitled his 1975 biographical pop-shocker extravaganza

He [Liszt] has an eccentric [mal assis] but noble character, unselfish and guile-
less. His intellectual tendencies are most remarkable. He is strongly inclined to-
ward speculation, and the concerns of his art interest him less than do the search-
ings of the different schools which are preoccupied with finding the solution to
the great question which embraces heaven and earth. For a long time he was a fer-
vid supporter of the lovely world view of the Saint-Simonians; later he became
fogged in by the spiritualism, or perhaps I should call it vaporism, of Ballanche.
Now he is raving about the Catholic-Republican doctrines of Lamennais, who has
planted the Jacobin cap on top of the Cross ... Heaven knows in what philosophi-
cal stable he will find his next hobbyhorse!
But, still and all, this tireless thirst for enlightenment and the divine is praisewor-
thy; it testifies to his leanings toward the sacred and the religious. It goes without
saying that such a restless mind, which is torn in all directions by all the doctrines
and miseries of the day, which feels the need to worry itself about all the concerns
of humanity, which likes to poke its nose in all the kettles in which the good Lord
cooks the future of the world – it goes without saying that Franz Liszt, in short, is
no docile piano-player for peaceable burghers and good-natured sleepyheads.6

It would be tempting indeed to continue in this vein, citing from

the many revealing pronouncements made by eminent contemporaries
pro and contra Liszt the man and artist. But the foregoing testimonies
will have to suffice here for an initial glimpse, however indirect, into
the range of difficulties that impede sober critical evaluation of the
intellectual stature of this complex and influential personality, of
whom his latest biographer, Alan Walker, has written – persuasively, I
believe – that he “was the central figure of the Romantic century (Ber-
lioz and Wagner notwithstanding).”7
Considering any aspect of Liszt, be it musical, literary, philosophi-
cal, social, or political, we are dealing with a supranational, cos-
mopolitan, European phenomenon. Liszt and literature: this topic

Quoted in Ralph P. Locke, “Liszt’s Saint-Simonian Adventure,” 19th Century
Music 4 (1981), p. 222. Published as “Lettres Confidentielles,” no. 2 in Revue et
gazette musicale 5, no. 5 (February 4, 1838), p. 42. Locke’s English translation is
based on Heine’s German original, published as “Bürgerliche Oper” in Allgemeine
Theater-Revue (1837): 235-48.
Alan Walker, Franz Liszt. Volume I. The Virtuoso Years. 1811-1847 (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983; revised edition 1987), p. 29. Walker’s pro-
nouncement unmistakably echoes Bé1a Bartók’s firm conviction that Liszt’s signifi-
cance for the future of music would prove to be greater than that of Wagner.

alone is as vast as it is crucial to an understanding of nineteenth-

century European culture in general and of Liszt’s special contribution
to it in particular. Clearly, my approach here will have to be selective
and representative rather than exhaustive. For not only was Liszt the
legendary pianistic genius and, like Paganini on the violin, a traveling
superstar in our late twentieth-century sense of the word; he was also
the composer of some thirteen hundred musical works, the author or
partial author of six volumes of musico-literary writings, and an often
dazzling correspondent, of whose letters some six thousand have sur-
vived. It is hardly surprising that by now, a century after his death, he
has been the object of well over ten thousand books, monographs,
essays, and articles.
Eclecticism in the guise of a system is the paradox that perhaps
best characterizes Liszt’s lifelong fascination and preoccupation with
the world of ideas; and it is this eclecticism that permeated his life and
his art, as well as his thinking about the arts. Discussing an unsystem-
atic system systematically is difficult, if not impossible. To maintain
at least a semblance of order, I shall proceed with my assessment un-
der two broader, however inextricably intertwined, headings: Liszt
and literature and literature in Liszt. By Liszt and literature I mean his
literariness in the widest sense: his awareness of and attitude toward
literature, the nature and extent of his literary knowledge, his genuine
literary connections, and his predilection for certain authors and spe-
cific literary works, past and contemporary. By literature in Liszt I
mean the demonstrable impact of literature and literary ideas on his
music, instrumental as well as vocal music, including song. It is under
this heading that I shall also consider Liszt the writer, musical essayist
and critic, the theoretician of`his own, epoch-making programmatic
approach to composition. In this context I shall touch briefly on the
aim, representatives, and critical practice of the so-called New Ger-
man School: Liszt’s circle of intimates during his crucial Weimar
years (1848-1861). Liszt in literature, enticing at first as a possible
third heading, proved to be less promising than expected and will not

be discussed at all. Critical scrutiny of the many literary (and even

more semi-literary) representations and echoes of Franz Liszt as an
enigmatic, controversial artist figure revealed that reviewing them
would have amounted to little more than a descriptive account of
thinly veiled verbal caricatures prompted largely by jealousy or scan-
dalous intrigue and of vacuous veneration frozen into fiction or occa-
sional poetry of inferior quality.8
Young Liszt started his intellectual journey with a severe handicap:
he had no formal schooling to speak of. Consequently, from early on
his literary knowledge was totally self-acquired. This is understand-
able for a musical Wunderkind who, not unlike Mozart, already at a
tender age had to endure the arduous life of a traveling virtuoso. Ac-
companied by his father, who acted as his impresario à la Leopold
Mozart, Liszt roamed Europe in his early teens, conquering one aris-
tocratic salon after another with his spectacular piano-playing. No
wonder that he had little time left for reading and reflection. As a fur-
ther disadvantage, he was also linguistically handicapped from the
start. Although Hungarian-born, he could not speak Hungarian. As a
child he spoke only German; but after he moved to Paris at age 12, for
the rest of his life he preferred to speak, read, and write in French.
Even after spending more than a decade in Weimar, he never managed
to write proper, sophisticated German.
Here the parallel with Beethoven’s disadvantaged cultural back-
ground suggests itself. Beethoven, too, was burdened with the lifelong
predicament of the self-educated man: in spite of his tremendous de-
termination and sustained efforts, he remained seriously deficient in
languages other than his native German and could never make up fully
for his lack of formal education in areas other than music. That he was
an atrocious speller and could not perform simple multiplication is
well known. More often than not, in his choice of literary readings

For a telling survey, see Karl Theodor Bayer, “Franz Liszt in der Dichtung,”
Deutsche Musikkultur 1 (1936/1937): 226-32 and 285-96.

Beethoven had to rely on instinct or chance which explains the peren-

nial inconsistency in his judgments concerning literary value.9
By being in the right place at the right time, however, young Liszt
had a much better chance to improve upon his cultural deficiencies
than young Beethoven. Paris in the late 1820s and early 1830s was the
undisputed capital of the art world, full of intellectual ferment. It was
the ideal, sophisticated urban setting where poets, composers, painters,
philosophers, and political activists congregated from all over Europe
to work and mingle in bohemian conviviality and heated debate; they
felt privileged to be able to witness and participate in what they sensed
was artistic progress in the making: the unfolding of French Romanti-
cism with a vengeance. This effervescent intellectual scene must have
been overwhelming at first for the celebrated and ambitious but as yet
virtually illiterate young piano virtuoso. He took advantage of it none-
theless and transformed himself with admirable determination and
rapidity into the well-connected and broadly cultured cosmopolitan
artist-musician posterity remembers. He read voraciously and indis-
criminately, devouring the great Greek and Latin authors and philoso-
phers, Dante, Shakespeare, and, of course, above all the classic canon
of French literature, including Racine, Montaigne, Voltaire, and Rous-
seau. Already profoundly touched by the allure of Catholicism as a
youngster, in Paris Liszt sought out the Christian philosopher-poet
Félicité-Robert de Lamennais who became a kind of spiritual mentor
and father confessor to him and introduced him to the earlier genera-
tion of Romantic writers such as Byron, Chateaubriand, Benjamin
Constant, and Étienne Pivert de Senancourt and to religious writings.
Before long, he was personally acquainted with many members of the
literary elite of his time; and he could count among his more or less
intimate friends Victor Hugo, Balzac, Alexandre Dumas père, Lamar-
tine, Musset, George Sand, de Vigny, Mérimée, Gérard de Nerval, and

See Steven Paul Scher, “Beethoven and the Word: Literary Affinity or Artistic
Necessity?,” Jahrbuch des Wiener Goethe-Vereins 84/85 (1980/8l): 121-31.

Eugène Sue, as well as Heine and the Polish poet Mickiewicz, and the
reigning critics Saint-Beuve and Gautier, to mention only the most
prominent figures, many of whom also directly or indirectly inspired
Liszt’s piano music and orchestral compositions.
Hearing Paganini for the first time in concert in 1832 was one of
Liszt’s most formative experiences. The way he described, in a letter
to his pupil Pierre Wolff, the profound effect Paganini’s playing had
on him reflects how inseparable musical and literary pursuits were to
the 2l-year-old musician:

For a whole fortnight my mind and my fingers have been working like two lost
souls. Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand,
Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber, are all around me. I study them,
meditate on them, devour them with fury; besides this, I practice four to five
hours of exercises .... Ah! provided I don’t go mad you will find in me an artist!10

The reading habits and literary tastes Liszt acquired during his
years in Paris stayed with him for the rest of his life. In intellectual
orientation he remained quintessentially French and he retained a
strong preference for his favorite French authors: Hugo, Chateaubri-
and, Lamennais, Senancourt, and Lamartine. He particularly admired
Hugo’s poetry, Senancourt’s melancholy, Romantic novel Obermann,
and Lamartine’s poem cycles Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and
Méditations, direct echoes of which we encounter in many of his com-
In spite of Liszt’s predilection for French writing, the two works
that loomed largest in his literary consciousness and inspired him to
compose his perhaps greatest music did not belong to the French tradi-
tion: they were Goethe’s Faust and Dante’s Divine Comedy. Even if
one is only casually acquainted with Liszt’s music, these two titles
ring familiar; the Faust and Dante symphonies and the Dante Sonata

Quoted in Walker, pp. 173-74.
Cf. Léon Guichard, “Liszt et la littérature française,” Revue de musicologie 56
(1970): 3-34.

are among Liszt’s best known works. The lasting impact of these two
masterpieces of world literature on his creative production must be
stressed above all, for it best exemplifies the paramount importance
and perceptible presence of literature and literary ideas in Liszt’s mu-
It was Hector Berlioz who, upon their first meeting in 1830, the
day before the premiere of his Symphonie fantastique, introduced
Liszt to Goethe’s Faust. As Berlioz relates in his Mémoires: “I spoke
to him of Goethe’s Faust, which he was obliged to confess he had not
read, but about which he soon became as enthusiastic as myself.”12
Liszt proceeded to read Faust in Nerval’s French translation; and for
the next half century he remained preoccupied, in some form or other,
with the Faust idea. He first sketched out a plan for the Faust Sym-
phony in the mid-1840s and worked on it intermittently and somewhat
hesitantly in the early 1850s, for, as he remarked, “anything having to
do with Goethe is dangerous for me to handle.”13 When in 1852 Ber-
lioz dedicated his own La Damnation de Faust to him, Liszt took up
the composition again and completed the score for the Weimar pre-
miere in 1857, but was still improving upon it in 1880. According to
recent musicological research, Liszt even contemplated writing an
opera on the Faust theme, in collaboration with Nerval and Dumas as
librettists.14 Eventually the project was abandoned and Liszt com-
pleted instead Eine Faust-Symphonie in Drei Charakterbildern (nach
Goethe), for orchestra, tenor solo, and male chorus. As the full title of
the symphony suggests, Liszt was primarily interested in capturing in
music the essence of the personalities of the three protagonists –

Hector Berlioz, Mémoires (Paris, 1870). Translated by David Cairns (London:
Gollancz, 1969), p. 139.
Quoted in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: Macmillan,
1980), vol. 11, p. 43.
See Eric Frederick Jensen, "Liszt, Nerval, and Faust. " 19th Century Music, 6
(1982): 151-58.

Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles – to each of whom he devoted

one of the three individual movements.15 Among his other Faust com-
positions are the Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust for orchestra
(1860), the second episode of which, entitled “Dance in the Village
Inn,” is well known as the Mephisto Waltz. He also composed several
more versions of the Mephisto Waltz in the 1880s and a piano tran-
scription of Schubert’s Goethe lied “Gretchen am Spinnrade” that
dates from the late 1830s.
Just as the Faust theme, the monumental Dante projects also occu-
pied Liszt for many decades. The continuous challenge they repre-
sented was ultimately in no small measure responsible for the gradual
evolution of his theory of program music and for its more and more
sophisticated realization in his daily compositional practice. Accord-
ing to music historian Donald Jay Grout, “nearly everything Liszt
wrote either has an explicit programmatic title or can easily be imag-
ined to have one.”16 As it happens, Liszt’s Dante Sonata for solo pi-
ano has not just one but two titles: “Après une lecture du Dante” and
“Fantasia quasi sonata.” Consciously linking these two titles, Liszt
was expressing emblematically his uncompromising, lifelong com-
mitment to the grand idea of imbuing music with literature; an idea
which he described as “a renewal of music through its intimate con-
nection with poetry.”17 Indeed, the title “After a Reading of Dante”
constitutes a double tribute to poetry, to Dante’s Divina commedia and
to Hugo’s poem of the same title, while the second title beckons to the
sphere of music; it pays homage specifically to Beethoven’s two piano

For the two best exhaustive treatments, see László Somfai, “Die musikalischen
Gestaltwandlungen der Faust-Symphonie von Liszt,” Studia Musicologica Academiae
Scientiarum Hungaricae 2 (1962): 87-137 and Constantin Floros, “Die Faust-
Symphonie von Franz Liszt. Eine semantische Analyse,” Musik-Konzepte 12 (1980):
Grout, A History of Western Music (New York: Norton, 1973), p. 567.
Quoted in Gerald Abraham, A Hundred Years of Music (London: Duckworth,
1974), pp. 45-46.

sonatas op. 27, both subtitled “Sonata quasi una fantasia”, and to
Schumann’s Fantasie op. 17 for piano which Schumann dedicated to
Like the Faust project, the Dante Symphony also took a long time
to mature: the first sketches date back to 1837 and the work was com-
pleted in 1856 in Weimar. Though Liszt called it a symphony, generi-
cally it is more like a symphonic poem. In addition to the title Eine
Symphonie zu Dantes Divina commedia, the work’s programmatic
character is underscored by the Dante quotations written in the score
under the principal themes; a practice which encouraged contempo-
rary critics to describe in detail what “happens” in the symphony.
Skepticism may be fully justified when it comes to attempting to en-
dow any piece of non-texted music with specific narrative content.
Nevertheless, as reflected in the opening movement “Inferno,” for
example, it must be conceded that Liszt was quite adept at conjuring
up in musical images the despairing din of hell’s fearful whirlwind
and the condemned souls.19
Even a century after his death, confusion and misunderstanding
abound when critics try to assess Liszt’s contribution to nineteenth-
century musical aesthetics. This is all the more astonishing since the
facts are well-known; along with Berlioz and other composers before
and after him like Beethoven and Richard Strauss, Liszt was deeply
concerned with exploring the possibilities of poetic expressiveness in
music. He became a pioneering champion of program music, a desig-
nation he introduced into the critical literature. Distilled largely from
his extensive theoretical writings, the meaning of program music is
defined today – in contradistinction to “absolute” music, which pos-
sesses no extra-musical connotations – as instrumental music inspired

See Ronald Taylor, Robert Schumann: His Life and Work (London: Granada,
1982), pp. 142-44.
See Jean-Pierre Barricelli’s essay “Liszt’s Journey through Dante’s Hereafter,” in
Barricelli, Melopoiesis. Approaches to the Study of Literature and Music (New York:
New York University Press, 1988): 273-88 and 324-25.

by or based on “a nonmusical idea, which is usually indicated in the

title and sometimes described in explanatory remarks or a preface.”20
In 1854 Liszt coined the term “symphonic poem” (later also known as
“tone poem”) for what has since become the most common type of
such expressive instrumental music. Thus he can be credited with the
invention of a new genre which he also exemplified by composing no
less than thirteen symphonic poems, some of which he originally con-
ceived as traditional symphonic overtures. Tasso (after Goethe), Les
Préludes (after Lamartine), Mazeppa (after Hugo), Hamlet (after
Shakespeare), and Die Ideale (after Schiller) are among Liszt’s better
known symphonic poems inspired by specific literary works; and gen-
erically speaking we might as well include the Faust and Dante sym-
phonies in this list.
In his seminal essay entitled “Berlioz and His ‘Harold’ Symphony”
(1855), Liszt formulated many of his influential thoughts on the nature
and function of program music and on its significance for the music of
his time, namely its modernity. He did not believe that music with a
program had to be descriptive or illustrative of the poetic model; nor
did he intend that the music narrate the poetic or dramatic action. He
simply defined a program as a “preface added to a piece of instrumen-
tal music by means of which the composer intends to guard the lis-
tener against a wrong poetical interpretation, and to direct his attention
to the poetical idea of the whole or to a particular part of it.”21 By no
means was Liszt anxious or willing to divest music of its claim to the
privilege of transcendental immediacy, as his adversaries, champions
of absolute music like Eduard Hanslick, Brahms, Joseph Joachim and
others, mistakenly believed:

Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, comp. Don M. Randel (Cambridge: Har-
vard University Press, 1978), p. 402.
Franz Liszt, “Berlioz und seine ‘Harold-Symphonie’,” in Liszt, Schriften zur
Tonkunst, ed. Wolfgang Marggraf (Leipzig: Reclam, 1981), p. 188. Translation
quoted from New Grove Dictionary of Music, vol.15, p. 283.

Heaven forbid that anyone, in holding forth on the utility, validity, and advantage
of the program, should forswear the old faith and assert that the heavenly art [i.e.
music] does not exist for its own sake, is not self-sufficient, does not kindle of it-
self the divine spark, and has value only as the representative of an idea or as an
exaltation of language.22

Behind Liszt’s indefatigable efforts to introduce the poetic idea into

his compositional practice there lurks the fundamental insight – which
he never managed to articulate precisely enough and which, therefore,
is still inadequately understood – namely, that music as an auditory,
dynamic, and temporal medium of artistic expression (like literature)
forever strives to overcome the ontological restrictions of its own non-
referential mode and aspires toward the aesthetic condition of poetry.
This is perhaps what Liszt meant to convey in his often cited axio-
matic statement: “Music in its masterpieces tends more and more to
appropriate the masterpieces of literature.”23
Admittedly, Liszt’s critical prose is far from felicitous, though it is
still more readable than Wagner’s: it is turgid and flowery in style,
circuitous and often self-contradictory in logic, and opaque in diction.
Also, since virtually none of Liszt’s writings survive in manuscript,
we are not even certain that he authored any of them himself.24 But we
do know that Liszt employed and exploited his two longterm mis-
tresses, Countess Marie d’Agoult and Princess Carolyne Sayn-Witt-
genstein, as ghost writers. Bertolt Brecht had the same idea a hundred
years later, except on a grander scale; he had at least a dozen of his
blindly devoted woman friends and lovers working for him.

Ibid., p. 191. English translation in Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music
History. The Romantic Era (New York: Norton, 1965), p. 108.
Strunk, Source Readings, p. 128.
See Alexander Main, “Franz Liszt the Author, 1834-47: An Old Question An-
swered Anew,” in La Musique et le rite sacré et profane, vol. 2, eds. Marc Honegger
and Paul Prevost (Strasbourg: Association des Publications près les Universités de
Strasbourg, 1986): 637-56.

At any rate, Liszt’s ideas must have appeared crystal-clear to his

close associates and faithful disciples who chose to call their circle the
‘New German School’: talented young musicians such as Hans von
Bülow, Joachim Raff, Carl Tausig, and Peter Cornelius (who also had
poetic aspirations). They, along with a few other hangers-on, formed
Liszt’s entourage in Weimar and worshipped him as a demigod. The
‘New Germans’ – or ‘musicians of the future,’ as they were dubbed by
the enemy camp around Brahms, whom they dismissed as conserva-
tive – even found their theoretical spokesman in Franz Brendel who
helped them proclaim Liszt’s program music and music drama à la
Wagner to be the essence of musical progress. Brendel, Schumann’s
successor as the influential editor of the leading music journal Neue
Zeitschrift für Musik, was also the first critic to conjoin Wagner, Liszt
and Berlioz as the great nineteenth-century musical trinity that still
On balance, the exaggerated proselytizing efforts of the New Ger-
man School produced simply too much rhetoric of veneration and not
much else. The following, pricelessly abominable lines of occasional
poetry, written by Peter Cornelius to celebrate the Master’s birthday,
are typical of the grotesque, humorless atmosphere of adulation that
must have prevailed around Liszt in Weimar:

Liszt Ist Sporn Zur Tatentfaltung! Liszt is spur to nascent deeds!

Liszt Ist Seichten Zopftums Töter! Liszt is molding canons’ death!
Liszt Ist Seiner Zeiten Träger! Liszt, his age’s pride and power!
Liszt Ist Seines Zeichens Titan! Liszt, with Titan strength endowed!
Liszt Ist Süßen Zaubers Trunken! Liszt, with sweet enchantment drunk!
Liszt Ist Schöpfer Zarter Töne! Graceful music’s fount and donor!
Hebt das Glas ihr Musensöhne! Raise your glasses in his honor!
L – I – S – Z – T! Das ist Let that L – I – S – Z – T
Unser Wahlspruch. Vivat Liszt! Our high pledge and maxim be!26

See Franz Brendel, Die Musik der Gegenwart und die Gesamtkunst der Zukunft
(Leipzig: B. Hinze, 1852).
Quoted in Carl Maria Cornelius, Peter Cornelius. Der Wort- und Tondichter,
(Regensburg: G. Bosse, 1925), vol. 1, p. 204. Matching English translation by Walter

No portrait of the literary Liszt, however selective, would be cred-

itable without taking account of his activity as a composer of lieder; a
significant aspect of literature in Liszt that until today has remained
the least known, though undeservedly so. Throughout his career Liszt
never tired of searching for the ideal way to combine words and mu-
sic, in his songs as well as in his church music. He composed more
than seventy songs in five languages, many of which exist in more
than one version. There are 57 settings of German poems (mainly by
Goethe and Heine) and eleven mélodies (most of them to poems by
Victor Hugo), as well as five songs in Italian, three in Hungarian, and
one each in English and Russian. Liszt’s songs, admittedly uneven in
quality and seemingly lacking in generic homogeneity, are neverthe-
less particularly rewarding in that they are transparent enough indi-
vidually or in small groupings to exhibit characteristic compositional
strategies. The non-German songs display a fine sensitivity to the
various national idioms. In stylistic orientation, however, his lied
composition is predominantly German. “The lied is, poetically as well
as musically, an intrinsic product of the Germanic Muse,” Liszt re-
marked in an essay on the song composer Robert Franz.27
Liszt had a special affinity for Heinrich Heine’s poetry and was at
his best when setting poems of extreme brevity such as “Du bist wie
eine Blume,” “Vergiftet sind meine Lieder,” and “Anfangs wollt ich
fast verzagen.” The lieder inspired by these ingenious miniature love
lyrics constitute a good case in point, for they exemplify the finest
aspects of Liszt’s song-writing technique. Their range is impressive –
from intimate, melancholy lyricism to violent, dramatic portrayal of
emotional turmoil – and the musical treatment in them is subtle, spon-
taneous, direct, and disarmingly simple, matching the basic mood and
form of the poems to virtual perfection.
That such distinctive strategies are so consistently employed in
compositions belonging to a genre not usually associated with Liszt’s

Franz Liszt, Schriften zur Tonkunst (Leipzig: Reclam, 1981), p. 253.

genius confirms the need for a revaluation of Liszt’s contribution to

song repertory as a sensitive musical interpreter of contemporary po-
Also, it must be remembered that as virtuoso performer of his pi-
ano transcriptions and arrangements of lieder by Beethoven, Schubert,
Schumann, and Mendelssohn (as well as his own), as frequent accom-
panist in lieder recitals all over Europe, and later as conductor of or-
chestral lieder (including his own orchestration of Schubert’s cele-
brated setting of Goethe’s ballad “Erlkönig”), Liszt was no doubt one
of the chief propagators of the genre. Due in no small measure to his
relentless efforts, the lied remained no longer confined to the drawing
room but was channeled into the concert hall and became a prominent
genre in nineteenth-century music.

A comprehensive and up-to-date critical assessment of Liszt’s song composition
has been long overdue. For sporadic earlier studies, see J. Wenz, Franz Liszt als
Liederkomponist (diss., Frankfurt am Main, 1921); Martin Cooper, “Liszt as a Song
Writer,” Music and Letters 19 (1938): 171-81; and Christopher Headington, “The
Songs,” in Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music, ed. Alan Walker (London: Barrie &
Jenkins,1970): 221-47.
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Musicopoetics or Melomania
Is There a Theory behind Music in German Literature?

Committing sacrilege as a Germanist, but also hoping for instant abso-

lution as a comparatist, I begin by calling attention to a recent work of
literature that is decidedly non-German:

But what about [his] music?

It doesn’t get very good marks, because musicians don’t like dabblers, and liter-
ary men don’t like people who cross boundaries – especially musical boundaries.
If you’re a writer, you’re a writer, and if you’re a composer, you’re a composer –
and no scabbing.1

This allusive passage comes from Canadian novelist Robertson Da-

vies’s delightful new book The Lyre of Orpheus (1988); and the dab-
bler whose music “doesn’t get very good marks” – and whose pres-
ence in a piece of contemporary Anglo-Saxon fiction comes as a
pleasant surprise – is none other than the German romantic writer and
composer E. T. A. Hoffmann! As a matter of fact, Davies’s novel
abounds in true delights for the initiated; for example, his title The
Lyre of Orpheus derives directly from Hoffmann’s celebrated 1810
critique of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which, along with his other
reviews of Beethoven’s music, was recast as fiction and, under the
title “Beethoven’s Instrumentalmusik”, then became part of Hoff-
mann’s first published collection of narratives, the Fantasiestücke in
Callot’s Manier (1814).
To be sure, this essay will not trace the quaint details of Hoff-
mann’s late-twentieth-century reincarnation from limbo in Robertson

Robertson Davies, The Lyre of Orpheus (New York: Viking, 1988), p. 36.

Davies’s novel, however tempting such a critical task might be. That I
shall not be rehearsing here the many concrete instances where music
and German literature intersect needs no apology, I think, especially in
view of the panorama of the relevant authors, composers, and topics
explored in considerable detail throughout the present volume. The
fact alone that a splendid international conference could be organized
on “Music and German Literature” confirms that there is no dearth of
enduring musically inspired literary works and literarily inspired mu-
sical works. My concern here, as intimated in my quizzical title, is
more comprehensive and general and thus more open to speculation:
Is it possible to discern and articulate, however tentatively, certain
currents and tendencies in aesthetic theorizing that underlie the evi-
dently symbiotic relations between the two arts? In other words, I am
interested in contemplating rather sweeping questions such as: What is
the role of poetic and music theory, if any, in bringing about the recip-
rocal interaction that results in musico-literary practice? To what ex-
tent is the symbiotic relationship between music and literature some-
thing typically German? Is this latter question legitimate at all? To put
it another way, how profitable – or even justifiable – would it have
been to hold a symposium comparable to ours on “Music and French
Literature” or “Music and English Literature”? What is it, then, that
makes our topic a matter of course, a topic that needs no apology, nor
elaborate explanation? Could it be perhaps the plain fact that music as
an art form has traditionally been taken more seriously in the German-
speaking lands than in other countries – especially by poets, writers,
and critics, but also by the art-consuming public at large? Or would it
be too simplistic to assert that since the German mind-set has always
been more aesthetically inclined, the influential German philosophers
like, say, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and
Adorno – or even Lukács – have all made a special, if not always fe-
licitous effort to integrate closer scrutiny of the phenomenon of music
into their aesthetic speculations, more so than thinkers of other na-

Clearly, there are no easy answers to such complex questions, but

they do provide the larger philosophical and socio-political framework
for our rather hermeneutically determined context. In the exploratory
remarks that follow, inspired by the fine recent critical work on the
subject, I shall try to be more specific. I am particularly indebted to
the stimulating books and articles by the late Carl Dahlhaus, Lawrence
Kramer, Norbert Miller, John Neubauer, and Ulrich Weisstein.2
Above all, I share with them – and intend to substantiate further –
their conviction, stated succinctly by John Neubauer in the concluding
paragraph of his 1986 study The Emancipation of Music from Lan-
guage, that “reflections on literature and music are interdependent.”3

Each of these five scholars has written widely on musico-literary topics relevant
to this essay, so I shall only mention here the studies that I found most directly useful.
By Carl Dahlhaus: Musikästhetik (Cologne: Gerig, 1967); Die Idee der absoluten
Musik (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1978); “Musik und Text”, in Dichtung und Musik: Kalei-
doskop ihrer Beziehungen, ed. Günter Schnitzler (Stuttgart: Klett, 1979), pp. 11-28;
“E. T. A. Hoffmanns Beethoven-Kritik und die Ästhetik des Erhabenen”, Archiv für
Musikwissenschaft 33 (1981): 79-92; Musikalischer Realismus: Zur Musikgeschichte
des 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Piper, 1982); “Kleists Wort uber den Generalbass”,
Kleist Jahrbuch (1984): 13-24; and Klassische und romantische Musikästhetik (Laa-
ber: Laaber Verlag, 1988). By Lawrence Kramer: Music and Poetry: The Nineteenth
Century and After (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984) and “Expressive Dou-
bling: Beethoven’s Two-Movement Piano Sonatas and Romantic Literature”, Studies
in Romanticism 27 (1988): 175-201. By Norbert Miller: “Musik als Sprache: Zur
Vorgeschichte von Liszts Symphonischen Dichtungen”, in Beiträge zur musikali-
schen Hermeneutik, ed. Carl Dahlhaus (Regensburg: Bosse, 1975), pp. 223-87;
“Hoffmann und Spontini: Vorüberlegungen zu einer Ästhetik der romantischen opera
seria”, in Wissen aus Erfahrungen: Werkbegriff und Interpretation heute. Festschrift
für Herman Meyer zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Alexander von Bormann (Tübingen:
Niemeyer, 1976), pp. 402-26 and “E. T. A. Hoffmann und die Musik”, Akzente 24
(1977): 114-35. By John Neubauer: The Emancipation of Music from Language:
Departure from Mimesis in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics (New Haven and London:
Yale Univ. Press, 1986) and “Die Sprache des Unaussprechlichen: Hoffmanns Rezen-
sion von Beethovens 5. Symphonie”, in E T. A. Hoffmann et la musique, ed. Alain
Montandon (Bern: Lang, 1987), pp. 25-34. By Ulrich Weisstein: “Librettology: The
Fine Art of Coping with a Chinese Twin”, Komparatistische Hefte 5/6 (1982): 23-42
and “Was ist die romantische Oper?: Versuch einer musiko-literarischen Begriffsbe-
stimmung”, in Einheit in der Vielfalt: Festschrift für Peter Lang zum 60. Geburtstag,
ed. Gisela Quast (Bern: Lang, 1988), pp. 568-88.
Neubauer, Emancipation, p. 210.

This notion is certainly not new. But it needs to be stressed and reas-
serted, particularly in literary circles, for many literary critics and
theorists who are not actively involved in musico-literary scholarship
are still skeptical (because insufficiently aware) of the substantial
cross-disciplinary connections that exist – implicitly as well as explic-
itly – between musical and literary aesthetics. To demonstrate at least
partially that there is indeed a theoretical dimension to our field, with
considerable consequences also for literary theory, I would like to call
special attention to one of these cross-literary connections which, as
an influential theoretical construct, has been central to aesthetic de-
bates for the last two centuries. The connection I mean is in fact a
dichotomy; it is the perdurable conflict between absolute music (i.e.,
pure instrumental music) and vocal music (i.e., texted or text-
dependent music). More precisely I mean the radically polarized, mid-
eighteenth century version of the age-old word-tone dichotomy that
found an extraordinary poetological echo in romantic aesthetics.
Critics generally agree that modern music theory is rooted in the
literary and philosophical traditions of the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries, that it evolved together with the momentous
changes in the longstanding hierarchy of the arts, and that it culmi-
nated around 1800 in the conceptualization of a poetically inspired
“metaphysics of instrumental music” (to borrow Carl Dahlhaus’s
phrase)4 – in the articulation of a new, romantic aesthetics of music
which in expressive content was more literary than musical. Here is
how Norbert Miller posits the essence of this development:

Die Apotheose der reinen Musik (und damit die Ablösung der Oper durch die
Symphonie als richtungweisender Gattung innerhalb der Musik) wird außerhalb

“Die ‘eigentliche’ romantische Musikästhetik ist eine Metaphysik der Instrumen-
talmusik.” (The “truly” romantic aesthetics of music is a metaphysics of instrumental
music); Dahlhaus, Die Idee der absoluten Musik, p. 68.

der Musikästhetik vorbereitet: in der Dichtung der Empfindsamkeit und der frü-
hen Romantik.5

A new language was created to talk about music, and the inventors (as
well as the avid first practitioners) of this new discourse were for the
most part “melomaniacs”, writers such as Jean Paul, Wackenroder,
Tieck Novalis, Kleist, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. The term “meloma-
niac” is not meant here pejoratively, even though it does have a ring of
the amateurish about it. On the contrary! It is true that, except for
Hoffmann (who was a professional musician) and possibly Wacken-
roder (who studied music and might have become one, had he lived
longer), these writers were musical amateurs.6 But they were music
lovers in the best sense of the word, for whom experiencing and con-
templating a symphony bordered on religious devotion and who sin-
cerely believed that music – and only music – could express the inex-
pressible.7 They were melomaniacs, because they were – each in his
own, distinctively individual way, yet remarkably interdependent in
their musico-poetic diction – “enamored with the expressive power of
pure instrumental music and firmly convinced of the supremacy of

The apotheosis of pure music (which also meant that the symphony replaced
opera as the leading musical genre) occurred outside of musical aesthetics: in the
literature of the Age of Sensibility (“Empfindsamkeit”) and early romanticism;
Miller, “Musik als Sprache”, 268-69.
Cf. Steven Paul Scher, “Temporality and Mediation: W. H. Wackenroder and E.
T. A. Hoffmann as Literary Historicists of Music”, JEGP 75 (1976): 492-502.
“Die romantische Musikästhetik ist aus dem dichterischen Unsagbarkeits-Topos
hervorgegangen: Musik drückt aus, was Worte nicht einmal zu stammeln vermögen
[...] Die Entdeckung, daß die Musik, und zwar als gegenstands- und begriffslose
Instrumentalmusik, eine Sprache ‘über’ der Sprache sei, ereignete sich, paradox ge-
nug, ‘in’ der Sprache: in der Dichtung” (Romantic aesthetics of music originated from
the poetic topos of the unsayable: music expresses what words are not capable of
expressing, not even when stammered [...] Paradoxically enough, the discovery that
music – specifically instrumental music which cannot be objectified or conceptual-
ized – was a language “above” language occurred “in” language itself: in literature);
Dahlhaus, Die Idee der absoluten Musik, p. 66.

music over the other arts, including poetry.”8 Their genuine, infectious
enthusiasm for music enabled them to create a literature about music
that corresponded to their conception of an ultimately unattainable
literary semblance of music, of a literature as if it were music. As M.
H. Abrams in his classic 1953 study The Mirror and the Lamp: Ro-
mantic Theory and the Critical Tradition perceptively observes, “the
attempt to make literature aspire to the condition of music motivated
the description by German writers of sounding forms, musical fra-
grance, and the harmony of colors [...]”9 These melomaniacs’ prede-
cessor was none other than Johann Gottfried Herder, the first in the
long line of writer-cum-critic literati in the modern sense, who
claimed, as early as 1769, that poetry, unlike painting and sculpture,

is the music of the soul. A sequence of thoughts, pictures, words, tones is the es-
sence of its expression; in this does it resemble music [...] Ode and idyll, fable
and the speech of passion, are a melody of thoughts [...]10

Abrams concludes this seminal subchapter entitled “Expressive The-

ory in Germany: Ut Musica Poesis” by stating that

literature was made to emulate music by substituting a symphonic form – a mel-

ody of ideas and images, a thematic organization, a harmony of moods – for the
structural principles of plot, argument, or exposition.11

And Thomas Mann – musical connoisseur and Wagnerite par excel-

lence, for whom music constituted “das reinste Paradigma” of his
novelistic universe and who said about his own works in retrospect,
“urteilt darüber wie ihr wollt und müßt, aber gute Partituren waren sie

Steven Paul Scher, Verbal Music in German Literature (New Haven and London:
Yale Univ. Press, 1968), p. 159.
M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical
Tradition (New York: Norton, 1958), p. 94.
Quoted by Abrams, ibid., p. 93.
Ibid., p. 94.

immer”12 – is no doubt the most representative twentieth-century liter-

ary heir to this melomaniacal romantic disposition – whether or not we
judge his pro domo sincerity to be genuine.
Valid, historically substantiated critical insights of such a straight-
forward, descriptive nature abound in scholarly treatments of our
topic. But to my mind the real challenge lies in contemplating the
possibility of a coherent theoretical construct or unifying principle
which would account for the mutually fruitful interplay of the inher-
ently contradictory thought patterns and aesthetic utterances that com-
prise the realm of musicopoetics. Within the last decade, two impor-
tant studies have taken up precisely this challenge, albeit in very dif-
ferent ways: Carl Dahlhaus’s Die Idee der absoluten Musik (1978) and
John Neubauer’s The Emancipation of Music from Language (1986).13
As their titles intimate, both the musicologist Dahlhaus and the liter-
ary critic Neubauer are primarily concerned with the ideational back-
ground of instrumental music’s newly gained autonomy and its impact
on subsequent aesthetic theorizing. Neubauer persuasively claims that
it was above all the continuous tradition of mathematical and Pythago-
rean approaches to music that prepared the ground for the triumph of
autonomous instrumental music in the eighteenth century and beyond
and that, in turn, this “instrumental music aided the resurgence of cer-
tain mathematical and Pythagorean notions of music that formed the
basis of a new aesthetics in Romanticism.’’14 Dahlhaus, in a magiste-
rial anatomy of the idea of absolute music, traces the complex origins
of what he calls the “metaphysical prestige” of absolute music15 back
to specific late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century philosophical

The purest paradigm and however you may want to and must judge them, they
were always good scores. Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke in 13 Bänden (Frankfurt
am Main: S. Fischer, 1974), 12:319.
See note 2 above.
Neubauer, Emancipation, p. 8.
Dahlhaus, Die Idee der absoluten Musik, p. 144.

and poetological utterances. When it comes to literary sources to sup-

port his argument, Dahlhaus invariably invokes the melomaniacs
named earlier: Jean Paul, Wackenroder, Tieck, Novalis, Kleist, and
most often E. T. A. Hoffmann. For Neubauer’s mathematical orienta-
tion Novalis serves as chief German literary witness.
I find these two studies to be complementary rather than mutually
exclusive; and while I endorse their solid conceptual framework and
convincing critical insights, I should like to venture a step beyond and
propose that we entertain a related, and perhaps no less rewarding
notion which requires only a slight shift in critical emphasis. I believe
that the potential aesthetic relevance for musical and poetic theory and
practice of the dichotomy between instrumental music and vocal mu-
sic has yet to be fully assessed and appreciated. I suggest therefore,
that instead of focusing more or less exclusively on the idea of abso-
lute music as “das ästhetische Paradigma der deutschen Musikkultur
des 19. Jahrhunderts”16 – as Dahlhaus has done with such inimitable
aplomb – we now focus on both components of the dichotomy to-
gether as a dialectic entity: on wordless instrumental music together
with its counterpart, which is never far away, word-dependent vocal
music. For ultimately, the persistent creative tension in this dichotomy
is always between music without and music with language, where
language connotes referentiality and can mean, of course, both poetic
language or literature in general (“Dichtung”). Once we begin to con-
template the meaning and nature of this dichotomy, we find it omni-
present in aesthetic theorizing from the middle of the eighteenth cen-
tury to the present. In its capacity as an influential theoretical con-
struct or paradigm, it also helps to explain and interpret the motivating
forces behind the subtle changes in musical and literary genres around
1800 that signal the advent of modernism. Dahlhaus himself is surely

The aesthetic paradigm of nineteenth-century German musical culture; ibid., p.

aware of the far-reaching implications of the dichotomy for the history

of aesthetics when he maintains:

War die Instrumentalmusik zunächst, im 18. Jahrhundert, für die Common-sense-

Ästhetiker ein “angenehmes Geräusch” unter der Sprache gewesen, so wurde sie
in der romantischen Metaphysik der Kunst zu einer Sprache über der Sprache er-
klärt. Der Drang aber, sie in die mittlere Sphäre der Sprache hineinzuziehen, ließ
sich nicht unterdrücken.17

This model statement defines in bold strokes the three phases occa-
sioned by the two crucial transformations that the dichotomy under-
went until the end of the last century. It first changed from a mid-
eighteenth-century instrumental music still subservient to textual
dominance (as reflected in opera, oratorios, and early lied composi-
tion) to an instrumental music that – thanks largely to poetic media-
tion – shed its word-dependence and reigned supreme. This second
phase is exemplified by the classical symphony. The third phase re-
sulted from the irrepressible urge of nineteenth-century composers of
symphonic music to reintegrate poetic content into instrumental music
in the form of program music; an urge that is latently present even in
Wagner’s through-composed music dramas, which Nietzsche still
conceived of as symphonic music.18 For Nietzsche, Tristan und Isolde

If instrumental music had been a ‘pleasant noise’ beneath language to the com-
mon-sense aestheticians of the eighteenth century, then the romantic metaphysics of
art declared it a language above language. The urge to draw it into the middle sphere
of language could not be suppressed; ibid.
“Nietzsche hörte das Musikdrama als Symphonie; der Rest ist ‘Gaukelei’ oder
Schutzwehr. Er übertrug also die – von Wackenroder, Tieck und E. T. A. Hoffmann
über Schopenhauer tradierte – These, daß die Instrumentalmusik die ‘eigentliche’
Musik sei, auf Wagners Musikdrama (wie Schopenhauer sie auf Rossinis Opern
übertragen hatte)” (Nietzsche heard the music drama as a symphony; the rest is ‘tri-
ckery,’ or defenses. Thus he applied the thesis that instrumental music was the true
music – as transmitted by Wackenroder, Tieck, and E. T. A. Hoffmann via Schopen-
hauer – to Wagner’s music drama [as Schopenhauer had applied it to Rossini’s op-
eras]); ibid., p. 38.

constituted “das eigentliche opus metaphysicum aller Kunst.”19

Focusing on the continuous struggle between the two components
of our dichotomy provides illumination for aesthetic problems where
we least expect it. For example, it may put into question the hitherto
obvious assumption that clearly mixed genres comprising music and
literature like opera and other kinds of vocal music like oratorios,
cantatas, masses, madrigals, and the lied are considered primarily mu-
sical. But in all honesty, will, say, librettology – a relatively recent
branch of musico-literary study20 – eventually be able to correct this
perceptual imbalance convincingly enough so that we will conceive of
opera spontaneously as a musico-literary genre? I wouldn’t count on
it; the original pull of autonomous instrumental music in the dichot-
omy remains just too strong. Also, most likely, a recital of, say, Hugo
Wolf’s Mörike lieder will always be regarded first and foremost as a
musical event.
To take another example, even a cursory glance at the evolution of
the lied – according to Liszt the most characteristically “intrinsic
product of the Germanic Muse”21 – suffices to bear out the validity of
focusing on the dichotomy as a dialectic entity. Only recently have
scholars more securely at home in both literature and music begun to
realize that it is precisely the inherent and persistent creative tension
between the lied’s musical and verbal components – reflecting in
miniature the relentless conflict within our dichotomy between abso-
lute music and vocal music – that has propelled this symbiotic con-

The true opus metaphysicum of all art; Friedrich Nietzsche, “Richard Wagner in
Bayreuth”, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, Viertes Stück, in Nietzsche, Werke in drei
Bänden, ed. Karl Schlechta (Munich: Hanser, 1966), 1:408.
For initial orientation, see Patrick J. Smith, The Tenth Muse: A Historical Study of
the Opera Libretto (New York: Knopf, 1970); Klaus Günther Just, “Das deutsche
Opernlibretto”, Poetica 7 (1975): 203-20; and Ulrich Weisstein, “Librettology”.
“Das Lied ist poetisch wie musikalisch ein der germanischen Muse angehöriges
Erzeugnis” (The lied is, poetically as well as musically, an intrinsic product of the
Germanic Muse); Franz Liszt, “Robert Franz” (1855), in Liszt, Schriften zur Tonkunst
(Leipzig: Reclam, 1981), p. 253.

struct into prominence as the representative German genre of nine-

teenth-century music (thus Dahlhaus),22 making it an influential cata-
lyst and artistic manifestation of the Romantic movement. Lawrence
Kramer’s 1984 study Music and Poetry: The Nineteenth Century and
After is symptomatic of this innovative view of song interpretation.
Kramer, a literary critic and musical analyst who is also a practicing
composer, persuasively argues that

the primary fact about song is what might be called a topological distortion of ut-
terance under the rhythmic and harmonic stress of music: a pulling, stretching,
and twisting that deforms the current of speech without negating its basic linguis-
tic shape. The art song as a genre is the exploitation of this expressive topology –
its shaping both as a primary musical experience and as a reflection of the contest
between musical and poetic meaning.23

To be properly understood as the fundamental driving force in the lied

which shaped the course and stages of the genre’s transformation
throughout the nineteenth century, this “contest between musical and
poetic meanings” must be seen in an evolutionary perspective.24 Not
surprisingly, pre-Schubert song exhibits virtually none of the “pulling,
stretching, and twisting” that Kramer finds so energizing in the lieder
of the “nineteenth century and after”. Echoing Gottsched’s opinion of
1730 that “singing is nothing more than a pleasant and emphatic read-
ing of a poem”25, Johann Friedrich Campe’s Wörterbuch of 1809 still

Cf. Carl Dahlhaus, Die Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden: Athenaion,
1980), pp. 4, 44.
Kramer, Music and Poetry, p. 130.
For a more detailed critical treatment of this topic, see Steven Paul Scher, “The
German Lied: A Genre and Its European Reception”, in European Romanticism:
Literary Cross Currents, Modes, and Models, ed. Gerhart Hoffmeister (Detroit: Way-
ne State Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 127-41.
Johann Christoph Gottsched, Versuch einer Critischen Dichtkunst, 4th ed. (Leip-
zig, 1751), p. 725.

defined the lied as “a poem which is intended to be sung.”26 It is well

known that for Goethe, an archconservative in musical matters, the
desirable balance between poem and music in the lied still meant the
primacy of word over tone; and Reichardt and Zelter, his loyal com-
poser friends, supplied him with just the kind of unobtrusive strophic
settings he envisioned. Goethe had good reason to resist, or outright
dismiss, truly inspired settings of his poetry by Beethoven and Schu-
bert. He realized instinctively that more adventurous exploration of
the musical potentialities of the genre would lead to a freer, more ex-
pressive musical component which would eventually outshine the
poetic component and even claim independence. By the end of the
eighteenth century the lied as a genre was well on its way to becoming
what Goethe feared it would: an act of “composed reading”, com-
prised decidedly more of music than of poetry.27 Indeed, from Schu-
bert on, the typical pattern of musical foreground versus poetic back-
ground constituted the irreversible norm for the nineteenth-century
lied. The musical shape and mood of the lied became so vivid and
primary that the recollection of the poem itself, however memorable
as great poetry, pales in comparison, as, for example, in Schubert’s
setting of Goethe’s “Erlkönig” or Schumann’s setting of Eichendorff’s
“Mondnacht”. Schumann even seems to have “thought of the Lied as a
form of lyric piano piece – a ‘song without words’ but with words –
and his habit of doubling the vocal melody of his lieder on the piano
bears this definition out.”28 Further into the century, lied composers
yielded more and more to the genuinely romantic impulse of trans-

Quoted in Walter Salmen, Haus- und Kammermusik: Privates Musizieren im
gesellschaftlichen Wandel zwischen 1600 und 1900 (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag
für Musik, 1969), p. 32.
See Steven Paul Scher, “Comparing Poetry and Music: Beethoven’s Goethe-
Lieder”, in Sensus communis: Contemporary Trends in Comparative Literature.
Festschrift für Henry Remak, ed. János Riesz, Peter Boerner, and Bernhard Scholz
(Tübingen: Gunther Narr, 1986), pp. 155-65.
Kramer, Music and Poetry, p. 131.

forming the lied into pure instrumental music, as reflected in Liszt’s

famous piano transcriptions of Schubert songs or in the tendency on
the part of composers like Wolf, Mahler, and Richard Strauss to score
lieder for voice and symphonic orchestra.
The complexities of the theory and practice of nineteenth-century
lied composition provide perhaps the most telling illustration for the
presence of a creative tension between instrumental and vocal music, a
notion central to musico-literary study which continues to be profita-
bly explored by musicologists as well as literary critics. Another lar-
ger topic of related interest, which holds fascinating implications for
genre theory in particular and late twentieth-century literary theory in
general, also merits closer scrutiny: the elevation of the critical act by
the melomaniac German romantic writers around 800 to a status com-
parable to the privileged status occupied by the creative act of produc-
ing works of art and Friedrich Schlegel’s pivotal mediating role in this
privileging process. Specifically in this context, Schlegel’s few and
scattered musings on music promise to yield important new insights:
no matter how diffuse, dilettantish, and inconsequential they seem at
first, they are very much in line with contemporary mainstream aes-
thetic theorizing and also cut to the core of his own, unsystematic
philosophical system. The creative artist who emerges alongside
Schlegel as the other prominent mediator in the privileging process is
the multiply talented storyteller, composer, and music critic E. T. A.
Hoffmann. His music criticism and music-inspired fiction possess a
self-referential coherence that exemplifies the unifying theoretical
foundation upon which interdependence of reflections on music and
literature rests. Looking back to eighteenth-century and earlier musi-
cal and poetic theories as well as pointing forward to later (both nine-
teenth- and twentieth-century) ideas, Hoffmann’s musical writings
occupy a seminal mediating position in the history of aesthetics: they
successfully conjoin romantic musical and poetic theory and practice.
Thus it is only fitting that Hoffmann was chosen as the model for the
quintessential dabbler and conscious violator of the myopic, com-

partmentalized thinking code that Robertson Davies’s succinct phrase

“no scabbing” – in the passage quoted earlier from his novel The Lyre
of Orpheus – so aptly captures. After all, more often than not, it is
creative dabblers like Hoffmann – practicing artists and theorists in
one – who function as prime catalysts of innovation and progress in
the arts and art criticism and, as it happens, also in charting the course
of musicopoetics and melomania that underlies modern German litera-
Hoffmann, Weber, Wagner
The Birth of Romantic Opera from the
Spirit of Literature? (1992)

Musicians will be interested by the fullness with which the Author’s [Hoff-
mann’s] views on musical subjects – so much in advance of his age, and so just
and accurate – are developed in many places, such as the dialogue called “The
Poet and the Composer,” and the conversation which precedes the tale “Master
Martin.” It would be of much interest could any of Hoffmann’s numerous musical
compositions be brought to light at the present day; they appear to have been con-
siderably in advance of their period, although Weber’s criticism on one of Hoff-
mann’s operas is full of high praise.1

This allusive comment comes from the translator’s Preface to the only
complete English version so far of Die Serapions-Brüder (“The
Serapion Brethren”), Hoffmann’s largest collection of narratives,
originally published in 1819-21. Considering that he was writing in
1886, before serious Hoffmann research began with Georg Ellinger’s
critical biography of 1894, British translator Major Alex Ewing ap-
pears to be remarkably well informed about Hoffmann’s merits as
music critic and composer. Or is it, as I rather suspect, Major Ewing’s
intelligent reader’s response that prompted him to alert the Anglo-
Saxon public also to storyteller Hoffmann’s accomplishment in the
field of music? Whatever the case may be, Ewing does single out two
of Hoffmann’s most important critical treatises concerning musical
aesthetics and history, both of which appeared first in the Leipzig
music journal Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: “Der Dichter und der
Komponist” (“The Poet and the Composer”), 1813, and “Alte und

E. T. A. Hoffmann, The Serapion Brethren, trans. Major Alex Ewing. 2 vols.
(London: George Bell and Sons, 1886 and 1892), I, iv.

neue Kirchenmusik” (“Ancient and Modern Church Music”), 1814.2

The opera he refers to is obviously Undine, Hoffmann’s best musical
opus, composed to Fouqué’s text in the years 1813-14 in Dresden and
Leipzig and premiered in 1816 in Berlin.3 Weber’s enthusiastic 1817
review of Undine must also have been known in England as an impor-
tant document of Romantic music criticism.4 But it is clear that Major
Ewing and his contemporaries were unacquainted with any of Hoff-
mann’s music.
The sad fact is that until today, even in musicological circles, Hoff-
mann’s music is not much better known than a hundred years ago. A
few representative works like the Piano Trio, the Harp Quintet, his
only symphony, the Miserere in B-flat minor, and excerpts from the
singspiel Die lustigen Musikanten have been recorded in the last dec-
ade or so, on obscure labels.5 But there is still no recording of Undine,
let alone any of his other operas or Singspiele. A curious state of af-
fairs, to say the least – at a time when a commercial recording of
eleven-year-old Mendelssohn’s accomplished but trifling singspiel
Die beiden Pädagogen (1821) is readily available, with none other
than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the role of Dorfschullehrer Kinder-
schreck ...

Hoffmann later included both of these treatises in his Die Serapions-Brüder. See
E. T. A. Hoffmann, Sämtliche Werke in fünf Einzelbänden, ed. Walter Müller-Seidel
et al. (Munich: Winkler, 1960-65), III, 76-96 and 406-14, respectively. Hereafter
quoted as Die Serapions-Brüder.
The piano score of Undine was published by Hans Pfitzner (Leipzig: Peters,
1906). The full orchestral score is available in E. T. A. Hoffmann, Ausgewählte musi-
kalische Werke, vols. 1-3, ed. Jürgen Kindermann (Mainz: Schott, 1971-72).
Weber’s review was first published in the AMZ, 29 (1817), 201-208. Hereafter
quoted as “Über die Oper Undine” from E. T. A. Hoffmann in Aufzeichnungen seiner
Freunde und Bekannten, ed. Friedrich Schnapp (Munich: Winkler, 1974), pp. 382-88.
An Engli