The Analysis of Song
Music Department

Music 450
The Analysis of Song

Lawrence Zbikowski
University of Chicago, Department of Music
Seminar, Spring 1998: The Analysis of Song
Tuesday, 2:00 - 4:50, JRL 264

Description of the seminar

Seminar participants: E. Bodek, Y. Choi, R. Cook, G. DeSorbo, P. Goedicke, R. Janda, J. Johnson, S. Kumer, Y. Malin, J. A. Martins, R. Minor, D. Smooke, A. Topielski, B. Vaughn, C. Webb

Summary notes for each meeting of the seminar:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11

Projects by seminar participants
Additional resources

Notes on 3/31 meeting
Assigned material

We began an initial exploration of the analytical problems presented by song, using the essays by Edward T. Cone and Kofi Agawu as points of departure. Two key issues arose:

We reviewed the four competing models for song analysis discussed by Agawu, and began a discussion of the first song from Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben. The latter was framed relative to the analytical approach outlined by Agawu in his essay. We also considered the place of Agawu's approach within the history of song analysis. Remaining work for the next meeting of the seminar will be a fuller discussion of "Seit ich ihn gesehen" and Agawu's analysis of it, as well as a consideration of the last song from the cycle ("Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz gethan"). In preparation for these, you may find it useful to consider how the narrator is represented in these songs. What sort of person is she? Based on her portrayal in the songs, how might she act in various situations?

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Notes on 4/7 meeting
Assigned material

We began (after some opening remarks on methodology) with a reprise of Schumann's "Seit ich ihn gesehen" and Agawu's analysis of it. We noted some issues raised by the Schenkerian graph Agawu presented towards the end of his essay, but left most of them hanging in the interest of further exploring the problems posed by song analysis.

We then turned to "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz gethan," and considered (not necessarily in this order) how the character of the narrator developed (or didn't) over the course of the song cycle, the relationship of the piano postlude to the song and the cycle as a whole, and the basic domain of meaning the song inhabited. I raised the issue presented by the tonal language of the song, together with the postlude. The latter two-thirds of the song proper (measures 6-19) is a long approach to the dominant of mm. 20-21, which then dissolves into the Bb of the postlude. It would seem, then, that the song is not tonally complete at the point that the words stop, and what completion there is is provided by the meditations of the piano in a third-related key, with the music of the opening song.

Frauenliebe und Leben raises a number of interesting issues, not the least of which is the character granted the narrator and her relationship to the character behind the piano (whether that be Schumann or a modern actor). However, I tried to put an emphasis on the discourse structures provided by the text and music, with the idea that these supplied, but did not determine (in a simple way), the dramatic possibilities that might be attributed to the "actors" of the song (whether these be actual performers or imagined personalities). It was this perspective that we gradually developed in our consideration of Schubert's "Auf dem Flusse" and David Lewin's article on the song. The possibility emerged that seemingly inexplicable aspects of the music (and especially the piano accompaniment) started to make sense if they were viewed as a narrative parallel to, and in some ways anticipatory of, the narrative of the text. This then returned us to Lewin's analysis, and gave us another perspective on his interpretation of the background structure of the song.

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Notes on 4/14 meeting
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We began by considering the account Charles Rosen gives of Dichterliebe in chapter 2 of The romantic generation. There Rosen argues that the songs constitutive of the cycle are fragments (in the early nineteenth-century sense). Rosen's analysis, and the historical context within which it is embedded, is compelling, but it does fall prey to one of the difficulties of song analysis we've noted in earlier meetings: while the music is dealt with in convincing detail, the text of the songs is not explicitly analyzed. In consequence, the degree to which the songs are fragmentary can be called into question, since the cycle as a whole provides a sort of musical unity (if not of the over-arching sort argued for by Komar in his analytical essay in the Norton score for Dichterliebe, then at least as an illusion of style, which can be thought of as the compositional strategy common to all of the songs). That the songs are indeed fragments seems highly probable, but what is needed to make the case is some account of the text, and how it interacts with the music. Missing from Rosen's trenchant account is a balanced analysis of both text and music, and some account of the process each engages.

It is this slender but significant bit of territory -- where text and music interact, to create the effect that we recognize as "song" -- that most interests me at present. It seems the processes involved don't so much stand outside of music history as they provide what seems an inevitable focus for that history. Considering the territory occupied by both text and musical processes led to my recent analytical work that makes use of the theory of conceptual blending to give an account of how text and music interact in the sixth song from Dichterliebe. In "Conceptual blending and song" I analyze "Im Rhein" in terms of two conceptual blends, and argue for an interpretation of the narrative strategies of both text and music in terms of these blends. Our consideration of this analysis led us to a more general discussion of the process of blending, which will be continued as we take up the twelfth and thirteenth songs from the cycle next week.

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Notes on 4/21 meeting
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I began the meeting by making explicit a distinction implicit thus far, which recognizes two different ways to conceptualize song:

This latter possibility leads to the idea of "song" as a temporary mental construction, recruited from the text and music presented to us in performance. This approach to song requires that we think in terms of mental spaces -- that is, we are not talking simply about "language" and "music," but about mental spaces built up from these domains according to local conditions, for the purposes of meaning construction. While it is important that both text and music be performed simultaneously, shared temporal space is an insufficient condition for the sort of phenomena I am interested in. Also required is the blending of aspects of the two mental spaces in a third space -- this is the space of "song".

This approach presents unique opportunities for the analysis of music, since the process of meaning construction engaged entails restrictions on the construal of both of the source domains (i.e., the spaces recruited from the text and music of the song). Blending is a powerful and pervasive cognitive process. It is also one that places certain constraints on how mental spaces are related. Most importantly, spaces need to have a uniform topography -- the mental spaces that contribute to the blend at the center of the phenomena of "song" must be structurally similar for blending to occur: at some level, the discourse strategies for language and music must be similar, or no blend will result.

From these thoughts we turned to the thirteenth song from Dichterliebe, "Ich hab' im Traum geweinet." We started with fairly general observations about the music of the song, and proceeded to build up a relatively specific account of its attributes. These included, but were not limited to, a distinctive strategy which placed the prolongation of dominant preparation (VI, VI+, IV6 in the first two stanzas, then IV in the third) in the foreground of the musical discourse, with dominant and tonic stated in a deliberately vague (in the unaccompanied vocal part) or perfunctory (in the staccato piano chords) manner. This strategy was intensified at the dénoument of the song, when the approach to the V of IV was delayed by a marvelous chromatic prolongation of the mediant (whose local function was to prepare the V of IV).

We then placed these strategies in correspondence with those of the text of the song, which made use of a temporal scheme that was both progressive (in the gradual "awakening" of the protagonist) and regressive (in the metaphorical recovery of the beloved from a future state [im Grab] to an unrecoverable present [Mir träumte, du wärst mir noch gut]). We didn't attempt an account of possible blending, but we did note that the quasi-strophic structure of the music was in tension with the temporal progression of the poem, which suggested interesting possibilities for an interpretive blend build up from both.

After our break we turned to the twelfth song from Dichterliebe, "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen." Again, we started with an account of the discourse strategies used in the music, which led us to focus on the juxtaposition of quasi-naive materials (the texture, and the highly normative harmonic and voice-leading used for specific passages) and the, by turns, cryptic and disruptive use of augmented-sixth sonorities and chromatic voice-leading. Heine's poem is somewhat less rich than that used for Schumann's thirteenth song, but we were able to note basic tensions that seemed somewhat similar to those in evidence in the music, particularly between the idyll (bright summer morning, stroll in the garden, talking [?] flowers) and the abyss (the muteness of the protagonist, his thinly veiled and yet incapacitating anger with his beloved). Again, we did not proceed to an account of the interpretive blend generated by the correlation of these discourse strategies, although we did spend some time noting the delicate polyphony of musical detail wrought by Schumann's song, and perhaps occasioned by Heine's poem.

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Notes on 4/28 meeting
Assigned material

In this meeting we began our exploration of Franz Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin. We started with a quick review of the dramatic conceit of the cycle, and its genesis in amateur Liederspielen produced by young artists gathered together by Friedrich August Stägemann during the second decade of the nineteenth century. One among these was Wilhelm Müller, who in 1821 published the poems from which Schubert drew the texts for his cycle. We then focused on the fifth song from Schubert's cycle, "Am Feierabend." We noted that Müller's three original stanzas finish with the lovely maiden bidding all a good night. In his setting, Schubert puts both the second and third stanzas within a contrasting B section, followed by a reprise of the first stanza. Schubert's 'poem-on-a-poem' thus ends not with the ambiguous and slightly disappointing exit of das liebe Mädchen, but with the heroic (and subjunctive) posturing with which the poem started.

Schubert's music has a story to tell as well. The basic structure of this story is that of the song, and its ABA' form. But this is only the beginning of the story. The first A section asserts a forceful a minor, which nonetheless yields (albeit equivocally) to A major at the mention of die schöne Müllerin in m. 16 ff. The B section moves first from a minor to C major; here Schubert re-uses the piano's opening gesture to accompany Müller's second stanza, but now with all of its sharp edges rounded off. The piano's accompaniment then becomes more mercurial, changing with each new (substantive) key area and each new aspect of the scene sketched by the narrator. The master's F major is (simply enough) magisterial; the maiden's d minor somewhat more breathy and tentative, embellished by a highly equivocal Neapolitan, which immediately dissolves into the supertonic. With the completion of this protracted dominant preparation, Schubert then returns to the first stanza with something close to a crash. The A' section is marked by an accompaniment even more forceful than that of the A section, and no relief from either the parallel or relative major.

Postponing a fuller account of the conceptual blend wrought by this conjunction of text and music, we briefly surveyed the environment of song #18 from the cycle, "Trock'ne Blumen." To this, and the preceding three songs from the cycle, we shall return next week.

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Notes on 5/5 meeting
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In this meeting of the seminar I presented a basic methodology for the analysis of song (within the context developed thus far), using Schubert's "Trock'ne Blumen" as an example. The methodology, and its application to this song, is as follows (N. B.: the order of the first two items is not fixed):

After I presented this methodology and analysis I turned to "Eifersucht und Stolz," and gave a preliminary account of the blend set up by that song. Perhaps the most important elements were the conflicting emotions suggested by the text, the complicated roles of major and minor within the song, and the way the Kopfton (which I read as D5) was supported at various points within the musical structure. After our break I answered a question about the theory of conceptual blending (in my response I emphasized the dynamic nature of mental spaces in general, and of blending in particular), and we looked briefly at "Die böse Farbe." Here the important elements were the unrealistic images entertained by the narrator, and (similar to "Trock'ne Blumen") the musical effort expended in reaching cadences on the tonic.

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Notes on 5/12 meeting
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After considering a few procedural details I offered some further reflections on applying the theory of conceptual blending to song, illustrated with diagrams for two blends associated with Schubert's "Trock'ne Blumen." Following the basic methodology outlined in the previous meeting of the seminar, this application is in three parts:

We then turned to Brahms, beginning with the beguiling, lucent "Regenlied" (WoO 23, 1872). J. Johnson and B. Vaughn were our discussants, and the seminar focused on the parallelism (or lack thereof) present in both the text and the music. Although we did not come to any profound conclusions, it soon became evident that there was an intriguing tension between the process described by the text and that described by the music: the former seemed to withhold hope, while the latter provided it through the gradual transmutation of the raindrop motif.

After our break we took up Brahms's "Kommt dir manchmal" (#7) from Zigeunerlieder Op. 103 (1887, arranged for solo voice). P. Goedicke and J. A. Martins were our discussants. Here, the seminar focused on the apparent bifurcation of text and music. However, it soon became evident (through our disputations about tonal closure from a plagal gesture) that the more-diatonic environment of the first portion of the song had hidden correspondences to the more-chromatic environment set up by the second half of the song, symbolized in part by the tonal completion provided by the latter, but also suggested by voice-leading connections between the first and second halves. We moved a bit farther towards describing a blend (or blends) for this song, centered around the ambiguity of the question posed by the opening text (was the question begging, or simply rhetorical?) and the extravagant music offered by the closing music.

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Notes on 5/19 meeting
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In this small marathon of song analysis (a harbinger of sessions to come) we sprinted through four songs, beginning with Brahms's "O Tod" (#3) from Vier ernste Gesänge Op. 121 (1896). Our discussants were D. Smooke and C. Webb. Among the points they raised were the interesting oppositions deployed by Brahms in this work: in the music, major and minor chords, keys, and intervals alternate and the melody is re-stated in inversion; in the text, life and death are reversed, the former being more or less miserable, the latter a source of hope. At the dénoument of the song (starting with the reprise of "O Tod" and 3/2 time in m. 31) these oppositions come to full flower over a relatively straightforward final descent. The generic space suggested for the conceptual integration network was that of opposition; the principle feature of the blend was the elevation of death over life. There was a fair amount of discussion about the form of the work, and its correspondence with Brahms's manipulation of the text. But then 'twas time to move on. . .

That is, on to the complexities offered by Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch, beginning with "Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen" (#22). Our discussants were Y. Choi and A. Topielski. They presented an admirably clear account of the text and music, and suggested that the song involved two blends, one of which introduced the various characters (the suitor, the daughter's father and [ever-absent], the daughter herself), the second of which embroiled the first two in a somewhat tense conflict. In the course of our discussion it was noted that the cadential 'arrival' on a C dominant-seventh in m. 87 was quite effective in undercutting closure on C, and that the ensuing headlong rush through highly syncopated terrain seemed somewhat quizzical. This suggested that the whole song might best be viewed in terms of comedy: the odd juxtapositions of key in the first portion of the song (coinciding with the introduction of the various characters), the comically overheated 'singing' of the serenade to the master of the house, and the negation-of-success suggested by the abrupt non-cadence of m. 87 would then all work together to portray this comedy. However, we didn't work out the blend for this interpretation, for we were long overdue for a break. After which we proceeded to. . .

"Wie soll ich fröhlich sein" (#31), which featured a trio of discussants -- G. DeSorbo, S. Kumer, and Y. Malin. Lest we grow complacent about the apparent unanimity of interpretation that has followed from the application of conceptual blending to song, it should be noted that there was almost no aggreement about this song, either among the discussants or the seminar participants. To put it mildly, Wolf was not very helpful: possible keys include G minor, and Bb and D major; possible interpretations of the poem included everything from a spurned yet complacent lover, to a lover who threatens to bring the wrath of heaven down upon the uncaring 'beloved,' to the lamentations of Mom on Mother's Day. The discussion was rich, vibrant, and generally inconclusive. For my part, I suggested that the fractured musical language Wolf used was deliberate, and could actually be used to explicate the poem. But then it was time to move on to. . .

"Wenn Du, mein Liebster, steigst zum Himmel auf" (#36), and our discussants E. Bodek and R. Minor. It may be that the warped vision of love wrought so exquistely by Schumann and Schubert has permanently occluded our vision, but the initial best guess about this piece was that it was a parody of love. The overblown emotions expressed by the text ("zu Einem Herzen fügt er zwei zusammen, im Paradies, umglänzt von Himmelsflammen"); the decidedly slow harmonic rhythm of the whole, with its omnipresent dominant-seventh chords; and the over-the-top ending all suggested that this couldn't be serious. For my part, I offered to the jaded assemblage this interpretation: given the long pedal of the opening (five and a half measures on Gb, out of a total of 20 for the whole song), the slow harmonic rhythm, and the sudden rushing-forward to cadence on Gb (over the course of mm. 14 through 17), this could be read as an enactment of the vision of love's heavenly consummation related by the text. In other words, this song was pretty much what it seemed to be on the surface, although Wolf worked mightly to bring off the effect. Which perhaps says more about the late nineteenth century than about Wolf or this song.

Next week we begin with presentations on individual projects.

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Notes on 5/26 meeting
Assigned material

Our first presentation was on Wolf's "Das verlassene Mägdlein" (text: E. Mörike). The general character of the song provided the starting focus: the song seems enigmatic, inconclusive, a hermetic tomb erected by the composer that refers to a process that leads nowhere. Confusions of time and event were also noted: it is unclear, from the poem, whether the maiden actually lights the hearth fire upon which she meditates, or if the flame is totally within her mind and imagination (and thus analogous to her feelings for the "treuloser Knabe"). Although it is easy enough to construct a quaint tableau for the maiden kneeling before the fire (as Schumann seems to do in his 1847 setting of the poem), Wolf seems to resist this, and give us at least the possibility that the maiden still lies in her bed, tears coursing down her face, unable to move under the weight of her grief. Subtle details of the music suggest that the recollection of the dream effected in the third stanza of the poem creates an agitation that does not coordinate, in a simple way, with the stasis of the maiden's grief and meditations. These come to fruition in Wolf's ending, where "o ging' er wieder!" is set off by both the piano's momentary silence and by joining of the two rhythmic motives that have provided much of the forward motion in the song.

Our second presentation (after a brief break for photocopying and coffee) was on Barber's"The desire for hermitage" from The hermit songs (Op. 29/10, text: 8th-9th century, tr. Sean O'Faolain). The basic form of the song is ABA', and the interpretation focused on the transformation of the sense of the A' section when it returned. The text for this section (in both cases) is occupied with a meditation on the solitary life of the hermit. In the A section, seclusion seems seductive: "beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to death." In the A' section, seclusion seems both more sober ("Alone I came into the world, alone I shall go from it") and more ecstatic. This transformation is wrought by the B section, and its catalog (both textual and musical) of gentle distractions, things that pull away from the focused center of aloneness at the heart of the hermit's craft. Here voice-leading graphs provided a way to illustrate the musical process behind these distractions: the pull from the G of the A section up to the C# at the middle of the B section, and the gradual return to G#/Ab, which acts as a Phrygian upper leading tone to the G of the A' section.

Our third presentation was on Berg's "Liebesode" (text: Otto Erich Hartleben), in its 1928 orchestral version. The textual analysis highlighted the transition into sleep announced in the first line of the poem, and the transparent, airy dream-world that is then entered (and which provides surcease from the passions of love, even as it interrupts those passions). This is a world of rhythmic exhalation and inhalation, and of dreams that compel a return to wakefulness and to passion ("Träume des Rausches, so reich an Sehnsucht"). The musical analysis was still at a preliminary state, but Berg's use of motivic cells to unify the whole was noted, as was his sensitive orchestration.

Our final presentation was on Schubert's "Erstarrung," the fourth song from Die Winterreise (Op. 89, text: Müller). The analysis began with an account of the profound psychological conflict represented in the text, and the process through which the narrator becomes aware of the futility of reclaiming the green meadows and flowers of his love affair. This process is also worked out, in a somewhat different way, in the music. The first stanza of the poem is set in C minor, the second in G minor; a close study of the voice leading shows that the funtion of the latter key is to prolong C minor. The contrasting section, which sets the third stanza ("Wo find' ich eine Blüte, wo find' ich grünes Gras?" usw.), moves to Ab major. However, just as these questions are futile, so is the move to Ab, for waiting in the wings is a strong dominant of C minor, and a return to the barren landscape, devoid of mementos, empty of the love with which they were once filled. This provides the scenery for the final two stanzas, and for the narrator's claim that his heart is as dead (but not that it is dead). The detailed analysis of the voice leading of the song was also supported by a durational reduction which clarified how structural arrivals were reinforced by hypermetrical accents.

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Notes on 6/2 meeting
Assigned material

Our first presentation was on Schubert's "Rückblick," the eighth song from Die Winterreise (Op. 89, text: Müller). Consideration of this song returned us to a few of the points mentioned in connection with "Erstarrung," the fourth song from the cycle, but more particularly "Auf dem Flusse," which directly precedes "Rückblick." In both "Rückblick" and "Auf dem Flusse" the present-day, wintery circumstances of the narrator frame a reminiscence of happier times, which leads to a self-reflective last stanza. In the interpretation offered in the presentation, the first two stanzas (and their accompanying music) offer an image of flight -- the singer feverishly rushes to get all the words out, the piano alternately drives him forward and chases after his stumbling retreat. The second two stanzas are occupied with memories, some almost painfully intense ("zwei Mädchenaugen glüten!"), sung in poignant, nostalgic melodic phrases that yield, at climax, to a chromatic darkening. There is then a reprise of the opening music, which here provides a background for the reflection offered by the text. Again, the details of the music support this interpretation at nearly every turn. However, it can be observed that niceties of voice leading also support the notion of "looking back," and provide a representation of the empty hope such a gesture embodies within the song. A strong argument can be made for D4 as the Kopfton, achieved in the singer's opening ascent from D3. The note is left more-or-less hanging by the A section -- the singer makes no firm, clear descent to G3, although there is a covert descent in the piano in mm. 23-24. In contrast, the B section provides an opportunity for a rather dramatic local descent from 5 to 1. After the D#4s of mm. 40 and 44 -- the maiden's glowing eyes -- the singer makes two attempts to descend from 5. On the first attempt the line comes back to 3 (in m. 43; "da war's gescheh'n um dich, Gesell!"[?]), but the second time the line achieves its goal, arriving on 1 in m. 47 ("da war's gescheh'n um dich, Gesell!"[!]). Nonetheless, completion of this sort is not the main business of the song. Although the narrator longs to recapture the memory of the love affair, to 'stand in silence outside her house,' the music again denies the possibility. The Rückblick is towards a sort of wholeness, a sort of consonance between the outer and inner, that is no longer possible. What closure there is must be achieved not on the surface, but covertly, echoing with doubt and longing.

Our second presentation was on Brahms's "Wie rafft ich mich auf in der Nacht" (Op. 32/1, text: A. von Platen). The contrast here is between the unsettled thoughts of the narrator -- thoughts that drive him out from the watched-over streets into the landscape without the city walls. Here, in the embrace of nature, there is peace and softness, but remoteness as well -- nature recedes from the narrator, without return. It is, of course, not nature, or even unsettling thoughts, but the night itself with which the narrator is obsessed: in every stanza (and twice in the first and last) he repeats "In der Nacht, in der Nacht." There is the literal night in which he roams, and also the night within him that haunts even his days. As with other Brahms songs that we have looked at, the setting is far from simple, Brahms preferring to fill his tonal environment with elegant complexities. Here, he works carefully to project restlessness in the first stanza (tonic arriving only in m. 13), a quasi-idyllic world for the second and third ("Nature") stanzas (which are nonetheless tinged by chromatic peregrinations), and then returns to restless thoughts and music (which now disturb not the narrator's sleep, but his ruminations beside the millstream) for the final stanza. In this way he projects an opposition between the inner and outer worlds, both literally (within and without the city) and figuratively (within and without the narrator).

Our third presentation was on three Schubert songs for men's choir. The first song discussed was "Widerspruch" (Op. 105/1, text: J. G. Seidl), with special attention to the interesting tensions created by setting the exploration of the topic of contradiction with a chorus of voices. In general, the song presents the naming of a problem rather than its solution; within the context, the problem seems to be a specifically communal one. "Nachthelle" (Op. posth. 134, text: J. G. Seidl) presents a different range of interpretive challenges, for here a high solo voice both leads, and struggles against, the chorus. Oftentimes the path to the climax of a section within this song is a circuitous one, suggesting a struggle both emotional and social. The focal work of the presentation, the serenade "Ständchen" (1827, text: F. Grillparzer), combines the interpretive challenges presented by "Widerspruch" and "Nachthelle" and adds its own. Schubert's setting seeks to underline the manifold incongruities of the text (a somewhat out-of-date serenade, which is sung by a male chorus and alto soloist, which is addressed to a young woman, which includes allusions to Classical tableaux) and produces a parody of the situation rather than a genuine "serenade." In all three songs the social aspect of music -- as socially constructed, and (in these choral songs) socially performed -- is implicated in fundamental and irrevocable ways, and thus becomes central to the interpretation of "song" as a musical phenomenon.

Our final presentation was on Schubert's "Daß sie hier gewesen" (Op. 59/2). Rückert's text is one of fundamental ambiguity, constructing an image of absence by replacing representation with allusion, giving concrete reference only to the ephemeral. The song begins with a series of "arrivals" on a C# fully-diminished seventh chord, cascading downward to a supertonic which leads, through an F# fully-diminished seventh, to the dominant G. The tonic arrives only in m. 14, and then in mid-phrase. When this same phrase concludes in m. 17, it is on a G dominant-seventh. Throughout the song Schubert provides an aural image equal to that of Rückert's text -- shifting, ephemeral, centrally concerned with absence. At mid-point, the longing evoked (but never explicitly stated) by the text is instantiated by an extended prolongation of the dominant; the hollowness of absence is summoned by the deflection towards Ab that follows. When C finally reappears, it is with the repetition of "Düfte tun es und Tränen kund" -- the proclamations of fragrant scents and tears indeed.

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Notes on 6/9 meeting
Assigned material

Our first presentation was on Wolf's "Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag" (Mörike Lieder, 1888), a rather intriguing if not often heard song that typifies Wolf's compositional style and all of the problems it represents for analysis. The presentation first focused on the text and its tightly organized rhyme scheme, the pattern of which frames active elements with passive ones. The text also suggests a process of awakening, both to the day and to the realization of betrayal by the narrator's beloved.

We then moved to the music, and an overview of its relatively simple structure. A short introduction provides two of the basic motives of the work, one melodic (an [0134] pitch collection -- let's call it x), the other harmonic (an augmented-sixth chord); this leads to the dominant of G minor. The voice begins with a chromatic motive that seems vaguely reminiscent of the [0134] motive, but that ultimately becomes an [01235] collection (let's call it y). The new motive is repeated to the text "ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag," which establishes an association between these textual and musical motives, both of which recur throughout the song.

The strongly chromatic environment of the first eight measures yields to a rather straightforward diatonic F minor. This concludes with the y motive at T10, echoed by the x motive also at T10. The music for the next stanza transposes all of this up a half step, and the music for the last stanza begins yet another half step higher. However, with "Flieg' ab, flieg' ab von meinem Baum!" the music changes: what would have been a diminished chord on the last beat of m. 31 is now major (and the dominant of G minor); what would have been a minor chord on the downbeat of m. 32 (G minor, in fact) is now major (Eb to be exact), which is prolonged into m. 34 (not as its own key area, but as the VI of G minor). This leads to the dominant of G minor (in m. 35), which then (duplicitously) returns to an Ebmaj 7th that supports the reprise of the y motive at T0. And so the music never quite gets back to G minor (although the large-scale pattern of transposition suggests the return), and ends with a Phrygian cadence on the dominant.

It was suggested that the song could be read in terms of a blend generated from a basic mapping between temporal state and emotional state, an interpretation that certainly seems possible. Another, somewhat more direct reading is also possible, one that derives from the music. Throughout the song diatonic areas are chimeras -- dreams, not unlike the notion of unproblematic, uncontested love and fidelity. The apparent reality of these chimeras is key to their seductive power: the bird that sings to the narrator, the betrayal of the beloved, are also, in their ways, simple, almost soothing, faux-realities that nonetheless must fade before the hard and confusing light of day. In the song, the hour before day hovers between dream and reality, between diatonic euphony and hyper-chromatic cacaphony. That is, the chromaticism of the song that is associated with the x and y motives, while disturbing, is actually quite orderly and predictable. However, this chromaticism also suggests dissolution (as does the absence of G minor), and the unordered, chaotic environment without. Within the blend (structured by a simplistic and unviable opposition between the concrete and the abstract) we are left uncertain of everything except that uncertainty will continue -- that resolutions of complicated situations are deceptions. Love and fidelity are like a dream an hour before day, not so much because they will vanish with the sunrise, but that they will once again be enormously complicated as we wake to their uncertainties.

Our second presentation was on Brahms's "Geistliches Wiegenlied" (Op. 91/2, text: Lope de Vega). The presentation began by establishing the context for this 1884 work, most importantly, that it was dedicated as a conciliatory gesture to Joseph Joachim and his wife, the singer Amalie Weiß. It was also established that there are numerous doubles in both the text and the music. Those of the text are mostly extra-textual: the Spanish Catholic poet Lope de Vega is linked to the German Lutheran composer Brahms; the Mary of the poem proper is linked to the Joseph of the recurring hymntune. Those of the music are more direct: F major is paired with F minor; viola is paired with singer, and so on. These suggest an integration network in which such pairings are the main structural feature; for each element in the blended space, there then needs to be an "other" that is its structural pair.

Another interpretation, here suggested by the way the hymntune is used as a lullaby within the 'spiritual' lullaby, is to think of the composition as enacting conciliation. The hymntune/lullaby thus becomes an active agent that reins in musical development. This can almost be felt in the song as a whole -- it seems constantly at the verge of expansion, called back from the centripetal forces that would spin its components off into space time and again by the soothing influence of the lullaby. Musical logic here is governed not so much by internal syntax as by external compositional program, itself in the service of an extra-musical program. Under this interpretation Mary's refrain "stillet die Wipfel!" can be heard as a sort of plaint that rises above the tumult only after the possibility of lullabying has been introduced by the hymntune.

Our third presentation was on Schumann's "Widmung," from Myrthen (Op. 25/1, text: F. Rückert). The presentation began by noting the lack of dramatic linearity presented by this collection of songs (which really doesn't seem to constitute a cycle in the strong sense), emblematized quite clearly in this opening song. However, this is not to say that there is no sense of progression within the song. The narrator's world seems represented clearly in the first stanza, and by Schumann's Ab music; the beloved by the second stanza, and E major music (which nonetheless retains strong melodic and harmonic associations with the Ab music), approached through an Ab-G# seam. Schumann then brings the Ab music back through a C#-Db seam, and uses it to set a modified reprise of the first stanza, which drops the stanza's last two lines and substitutes the closing line of the second stanza. This suggests a type of cyclic return, but in the form of a spiral rather than a closed circle: the narrator returns transfigured; the two lovers have become inseparable. Details of the voice leading support this interpretation, especially in the relationship between F, Fb/E, and Eb throughout the song, which culminates at the point of textual adjustment to the reprised first stanza (at m. 37).

Our fourth presentation was not, as previously advertised, on Mahler's "Von der Schönheit" from Das Lied von der Erde, but instead on the preceding "Von der Jugend" from the same work (1908, text: Li-Tai-Po). The presentation began by establishing the rather difficult conditions under which Mahler wrote the work (his ersatz 'ninth symphony'). It was noted that the poetry, focused on an idyllic pavilion separated from the world by a reflecting pool, suggests curious disruptions of time. While not specifically invoking the past it nonetheless seems to evoke it quite clearly. Mahler's music does something similar through the use of carefully deployed diatonic material within the movement. This diatonic material is almost always contingent: a Bb harmony is stated emphatically at the opening of the A section, but in second inversion; there are numerous shifts to third-related keys (G minor in mm. 23-24; from G to E major in mm. 55-58), which here tend to undermine the putative stability of diatonic areas; the ending for the whole is rather abrupt, and seems more an interruption than a formal necessity. All of these suggest nostalgic longing for the past, which is constructed through reference to this peculiar textual and musical present.

In the discussion, a slight modification of this interpretation developed. It appears that, with this movement, Mahler intends to construct an image of youth. Mahler titles the movement "Von der Jugend," but this ascription finds no motivation in the text (whose original title is simply "Der Pavillon aus Porzellan"). "Youth" is rendered as something removed, exotic, isolated from the present, a direct analogue for the porcelain pavilion. Similarly, the opening and closing Bb major music (which sets the stanzas that directly evoke the pavilion and its geographical -- and perhaps historical/idyllic -- isolation) is insulated from the G major/minor music that sets the middle three stanzas (which summon the characters inside the pavilion, and hold them apart from the rest of the world) by a sudden shift in motivic material and in orchestration. (The modest triangle is one of the major players here, its repeated notes seeming to drive the figuration of the clarinets.) "Youth" then is not a past that is somehow relived in the present (the pervasive trope of marketing in the late-twentieth-century U.S.) but an Other who we can never know, and yet who offers some pale reflection -- or distortion -- of our present selves.

Our fifth (and absolutely final) presentation was on George Crumb's "Come lovely and soothing death," from Apparition (1979, text: Walt Whitman). The presentation began with a sketch of the cycle as a whole (with special attention to the circular aspects of the cycle) and the specific portion of Whitman's poem set in this song. The text here is an invocation of death as a maternal force that 'undulates round the world,' but that also arrives 'to each, to all.' The musical structure is organic, grounded in a limited amount of material, but also mutable, never returning in quite the same form. Within the work there are eight basic types of material, all of which recur (although some with more frequency than others). These materials are distinguished by their timbral aspects, dynamics, and intervallic make-up, and, to a lesser extent, by rhythmic and melodic figuration.

The blend suggested for the work takes the notion of invocation as basic to the network. The text accomplishes this in two ways: first, it calls forth death (and, in the text repetitions used by Crumb, does so in an incantatory fashion); second, death is actively constructed as a slightly uncommon image -- death as maternal and (with the repeated "mm" vocalizations) soothing. The music accomplishes this with materials that undulate and envelope, through a structure that is processual, but which does not make use of obvious variational or developmental techniques. The music also suggests an inner conflict (culminating in aggregate-completing appassionato figures) that dissolves into a sort of acceptance: death summoned; death arrived. The blend can then be understood as a specific and curious sort of invocation: because death is part of life (part of its cycle), life 'calls forth' death; being calls forth non-being. Within the blend, this seeming paradox is not only inevitable, but it becomes, somehow, comprehensible; if not comfortable, somehow comforting.


And so the (more or less) public portion of this seminar comes to its end. Final papers remain, although they too shall have their end -- if a somewhat less visible one -- come mid-September. In the course of the seminar we have considered some thirty songs. Most were from a relatively restricted repertoire (all but two with German texts), and yet some notion of the challenges of song analysis did develop. Perhaps most important among these was the challenge of the music itself, which time and again had the power to shape the interpretation of the text. This shaping was accomplished not simply by music's ability to constrain the temporal organization of the text, or through simplistic word-painting, but by music's ability to offer a parallel narrative that conditioned and transformed our understanding of the text and, for that matter, of the music that effected this change.

Conceptual blending offered one way to account for this transformation. Blending has its source in correlations between textual and musical events, which in turn point to structural correspondences between the two domains. It is not simply that the text mentions something sad at a particular point, and that the music that sets the text touches on minor. The emotion to which the text refers must play some part within the larger story being told; specific pitch relations ("minor chord") must also have a function within the story told by the music. Numerous such correspondences combine to form the outline of a general principle of correlation between the two domains; this is the structure of the generic space. This structure is also that of the blended space, in which elements of the textual domain and the musical domain combine and suggest a world of rich imagery that draws upon both domains and extends beyond them. This is the domain of song, at least of song as something that has the potential to move and transform us.

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