You are on page 1of 12

alican amc Cyclical Elements in the Six Heine Settings of Franz Schubert

Those who have nowhere to retreat from their traumatic experience, so that they cannot even claim that, long after the trauma hit, they were haunted by its specter: what remains is not the traumas specter, but the trauma itself? Slavoj iek, from Descartes and the Post-Traumatic Subject

In his short essay on Schubert Adorno writes: it is in Schuberts finales that the fragmentary character of his music becomes a material reality. 1 Especially putting the emphasis on its fragmentary quality, he positions Schuberts music with that of Beethoven. In the music of Beethoven, there is constant development, developing variation and an almost linear discourse whereas in Schubert principal element of form-building is that of dnouement, a turn of events or a dramaturgical twist that in an instant puts everything together. For example the coda of the last movement of the Quintet in C-Major, D. 956 is an example of this. What we may call a disjunctive ending 2 also in one instance falsifies the atmosphere built before in the music and puts everything into a new perspective. Therefore the music takes on an eschatological quality -it is as if Schubert composes directly to that point- as this moment of delivering is created as a rupture rather than a Beethovenian climax through accumulation.

1 2

Theodor W. Adorno, Schubert (1928), 19th Century Music, Vol. 29, No. 1, Summer 2005, 12. John M. Gingerich, Rememberance and Consciousness in Schuberts C-Major String Quintet, D. 956, Music Quarterly Vol. 84, No. 4, Winter 2000, 619.

The six Heine settings by Schubert is perhaps one of the clearest examples of this. The cyclical nature (or lack thereof) of these songs have had quite a bit of theoretical scrutiny; however, much of the effort seems center around extracting and/or sketching out a hovering plot or narrative to Schuberts selection of these poems. While whether Schubert had a clear idea of a narrative plot or not is beyond the scope of this paper, I intend to look at the problem of cyclicism in this work from a point that takes into account the specific dramatic trajectory together with the use of motivic and sonoric function as well as key relationships. Similar to the D. 956 Quintet, my reading of the Heine songs focuses on a discursive rupture, or perhaps an interruption of cyclicism for the sake of its completion. I will first try to propose a framework form what a cycle can be, and then proceed on to analyze the Heine settings within this framework.

I. If we go by the idea that a cycle implies a kind of organicism, a sort of particular unity that gives its parts the freedom of extractability, but in their assemblage creating a greater experience (whatever this experience may be) we may turn to the idea of organicism as proposed by the Finnish Semiotician Eero Tarasti:

... Music has to progress towards some goal or telos; music must be directional. As a temporal art, all music has finality of course. But here we do not mean the common temporality of music but temporality as marked (cf. Hatten 1994). In organic music, musical time is organized towards a certain goal. (Italics and quotation marks by Tarasti.)3

Eero Tarasti, Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002, 95.

I would like to argue first that what constitutes cyclicism in a collection of songs is not an archetypal key structure or mere referentiality through recurrence of motivic content. Rather it is a very particular (and perhaps abnormal) use of these devices to delineate a dramatic structure. In other words, what shapes a cycle is directionality towards a musical goal and the use of musical materials in a singular way in driving towards this goal. Similarly, in the poetic content (and this is evident even from cycles such as Winterreise) instead of a clear narrative, what creates the drive forward in the cycle is a sort of trajectory4, or narrativizing discourse5. Therefore I would like to replace the idea of narrative in cycle with that of trajectory, a sort of abstract gesture that defines the musical and poetic destiny of the cycle in its totality.

The idea of absence of narrative in cycles is also suggested by Richard Kramer; however, his work mainly focuses on an abstraction based on the musical material without clearly suggesting a path in the cycle. What is perhaps missing is a sort of necessity, implying that reshuffling (or even reordering) of the songs in this collection will serve to create a vague narrative. Rather than a clear progression, according to Kramer, the cyclical elements can result from just sharing of similar themes, as long as there is musical justification such cyclicism (here in reference to Kosengarten settings):

The Kosengarten songs enjoy a common language, even a distinct

Eero Tarasti, A Theory of Musical Semiotics, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994, 23. 5 Richad Kramer, Distant Cycles: Schubert and the Conceiving of the Song, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994, 10.

dialect. [...] Conversely, to speak here of incipient song cycle, stressing the concept to its limits, means only to suggest that in his reading of Kosengarten, Schubert caught in his music the accents of a poetic dialect.6

Also with regards to the Heine songs, he writes: [...] it is how the poems play against one another, individually and in all those various subsets and strata that together constitute the lucid, dense texture of the collection. 7

Against this position, I will try to establish that in what we may call Schuberts Heine cycle, the cyclical elements come about from a dramatic ordering of musical material and the careful positioning of a poetic (and musical) rupture taking place in the last song, Der Doppelgnger. Both envelope of a tonal plan and the motivic recurrences, references and manipulations, in one way or another correspond to this dramatic trajectory.


The first of the six songs, Der Atlas, is perhaps the most dynamic of all of these settings. The second stanza, in which Schubert moves from the tonic G minor to major key of the raised mediant, B major. This clear division of the two sections (also by means of texture) is quite remarkable. At this point Atlas addresses his heart (You proud heart). The common phenomenon of the major interjection in minor context as a remembrance of the past (or even a nostalgia for an imaginary past) is at play here. This is the first
6 7

Ibid, 20. Ibid, 126.

presentation of the theme of the division of the self that will become more apparent throughout the piece. Here the speaker talks directly to his heart in a kind of almost nave distance to his own misery, or a satisfactorily heroic self-regard8. The music, in really creating a contrast between the first stanza and the second delineates this idea of division. The recapitulation through the reduplication of the first stanza is, in my opinion there to isolate even further this peculiar middle section.

In Ihr Bild, the gaze of the speaker shifts from his heart to her portrait. The two non-functional B-flats that represent for Schenker a literal Augenmusik9, the eyes is a musical device that in my opinion sheds light to what I will call sonoric function in the latter part of the cycle. These two notes not only introduce key but they stare at what is coming after with their hollow echoes after the clearance of a majestic and tragically resonant G-minor chord. Susan Youenss lenghty explanation10 for this particular song also continues the thread of self-division as the staring on the portrait really becomes a staring on ones own face (...Erglnzte ihr Augenpaar // Auch meine Trnen flossen ...). Thus there is almost a logical continuation to the poets gaze from Der Atlas to Ihr Bild. The idea of inspection is again amplified in the form as Schubert brings back the eye-figuration in full harmony (if we take the analogy further, the harmony becomes the tears flowing down from the octave B-flats) and mirrors exactly the first section (leaving out the b section in the submediant), similar to the small-ternary construction of Der Atlas. This formula is used in the next song, Das Fischermdchen, as well. This setting follows basically every
8 9

Gingerich, 629-30. Heinrich Schenker, Schuberts Ihr Bild, from Der Tonwille Vol. 1 (1921-23), trans. Robert Snarrenberg, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, 41 10 Susan Youens, Heinrich Heine and the Lied, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 22-34.

possible convention that is characteristic of Schubert, a flat(ter) mediant key for the second section and an insistent recurring pattern in the piano part that sort of echoes an aspect of the poetry (the undulating gondola-rhythm, or according to Youens, a barcarolle). Within the context of Schuberts output, there is nothing that is remarkable about this song. Within the context of Heine songs, this particular piece sticks out in its normative quality. According to Youens, a double-play on the part of Schubert is in question here: Is the song innocent or not? Sincere or mocking?11 Schubert definitely sets it in a very calm and peaceful texture with playful lines of the singer on top of the small waves of the accompaniment. However, it is at the same time a very cold, almost objective setting. According to Youens the speaker here is, like the music both sincere and mocking. This is the double face of Janus, at once kind-hearted and ironic.

This also marks the end of the first half of the cycle. Poets gaze shifts from the fishermaiden to the town in fog. Die Stadt opens with a repetitive figure of a diminished seven chord. This is a diminished chord that never resolves the tension it embodies. It purely fulfills a coloristic or sonoric function, and more over it is rooted in the tonic key of C of this song. Schuberts indication of sustain pedal with this figure adds more to the understanding this passage as a resonating gesture. It does not follow tonal syntax because its presence is justified purely by its acoustical property in isolation. This is a very common phenomenon in Schuberts late style. Robert Hatten claims that in the Piano Sonata in AMajor, D. 959, resonance becomes an "idea" that is worked out in each movement, to varying degrees. [...] the grounding of resonance into its generative source is thematically appropriate as a means of closing the thematic premise of overtone resonance unique to this

Ibid, 46.

work.12 Also the second movement of the Quintet in C-Major features these long, radiant and resonant sonorities that [...] [promote] contemplation of the pure string chord of the inner trio and, over a longer san of time, of Akkordfarben-of the contrasts of modal color and function [...]13 This idea of a non-syntactical sonoric function becomes a development of the two B-flats of Ihr Bild and reaches its obsessive climax (and integration into syntax) in Der Doppelgnger. It becomes also a representation of the division of the self, the composer divided between the subject and object of sound production. The auto-erotic gaze of Narcissus takes the form of a sonic allegory in these contemplative, static soundmasses.

Schubert still sticks to the idea of a tripartite form here again, and the opening gesture here constructs the setting for the second stanza. Here the vocal line composes-out the same diminished-seventh chord, without going anywhere. The first and the third stanzas are set in C-minor, without any logical connection with this auxiliary diminished figuration. The ending of Die Stadt, a long held C, provides the pedal for the penultimate song. The opening of Am Meer features an augmented sixth chord moving directly to the tonic chord, alluding both to the opening and the concluding song of the set. This is yet another asyntactical figuration that implies a sonoric function. The song extends the tripartite form with replicating the second stanza also in the fourth one. Am Meer establishes the suspicious key center C of Die Stadt firmly. At the end Schubert brings back the framing upper neighbor appogiatura figure (augmented sixth to tonic progression). This gesture is also represented in a greater level as the key of these two pieces becomes an

Robert S. Hatten, Schubert the Progressive: The Role of Resonance and Gesture in the Piano Sonata in A, D. 959, Intgral, Vol. 7, 1993, 44. 13 Gingerich, 621.

upper-neighbor (as a long-term gesture) to the B-minor of the last song of the set.

Der Doppelgnger is by all means an antithesis of Western concert music. Its tormenting patience is the logical extreme of what I have been calling the sonoric function. Although they are included in the syntax, most of these are just two note verticalities that insistently come back to themselves. Lawrence Kramer suggests that this repetition is emblematic of the narrator in these songs: The speakers in the Heine poems that Schubert set in 1828 are victims of compulsive repetition who return endlessly to the scene of their worst loss.14 Aside from the remnants of this repetitive progression, there is nothing here: no counterpoint, no sectional division just the basic elements, almost a specter of music rather than an actual musical utterance.

This is the moment of the rupture. Der Doppelgnger does not embody any contrast in form, and in this regard it rejects the idea of dialectic structure that is a fundamental trait in Western music. This is the only poem in the set that does not deal with the division of the self, even though it explicitly refers to seeing oneself. The ghostly double is not the narrator, it is not a division of the self, but a division from it. This is almost an out of body experience in which the past is not represented by a different key or mode (e.g. major) but is incorporated constantly in the implied chord progression (i-V6-III-V64). This reversal is reflected in the music in two explicit events in reference to the other songs.

The first offsetting is in reference to the framing gesture of Am Meer and takes

Lawrence Kramer, The Schubert Lied: Romantic Form and Romantic Consciousness, in Schubert: Critical and Analytical Studies, ed. Walter Frisch, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

place in the reprise of the introduction at the very end of Der Doppelgnger. The spacing of the chords is exactly the same, with the only difference being the C-B motion:

Figure 1: Am Meer, mm. 44-45.

Figure 2: Der Doppelgnger, mm. 57-63.

The same harmonic motion of Am Meer that refers to both Der Atlas and Der Doppelgnger is the next example, and one that hints at a possible reversal of trajectory in the cycle:

Figure 3: Der Atlas, mm. 49-52.

Here the flat-2 is established and then resolved quickly both in the voice and the piano part. This root Neapolitan chord, while being not uncommon to Schuberts vocabulary, still appears out of nowhere in this instance as a quick disruption and in an instant it is brought back to an immediate release.

Figure 4: Der Doppelgnger, mm. 39-41.

Here we have a very similar progression from tonic to a root position Neapolitan and back. The only difference is, here the established dissonance (the G in the vocal line) is not resolved and left howling. While both the piano parts completion of the same line and a registral resolution that occurs ten bars later may explain the situation theoretically, the

immediate effect of this resonating high G is without doubt quite remarkable. In contrast with Der Atlas, Schubert creates an unresolved dissonance that sets off the song yet again from the whole cycle. The rupture in the tonal logic in the voice leading serves as a metaphor for poetic rupture.

According to John Gingerich, what constitutes the cycle in the Heine settings is the loss of innocence that comes through facing the ghostly double as a representation of the inevitably divided self of self-consciousness, of what happens when we return to ourselves15 I would like to argue here that the rupture comes out of the deliverance is even more dramatic. The last gaze of the poet is on him-self. The neologism is necessary for the separation of the self as this is no longer a division of the same self, but as mentioned before it is a transcendental experience through which one comes to the extreme of selfconsciousness, realization of a new, now unrecognizable self. In the form, the absence of the dialectic counterpart is an evidence of this: Self-regard through gazing on external and internal reality that was a thread throughout the cycle (the heart/himself-her portrait/himself-the fishermaiden-the town in fog-the sea/poisonous tears of the beloved) transforms into an ontological paradox.

To bring back Adornos formulation of the finales role as putting the fragmentary sections into a totality, we can understand why the Heine settings do not form an immediate cycle, or why there really isnt an inevitability or necessity to the specific ordering of the inner movements (although there is a logical pattern to the specific ordering). These fragmentary gazes are put into context only in the dnouement, and with

Gingerich, 630.

this deliverance we are made aware of a problem set forth by Der Atlas left unresolved by Der Doppelgnger. This final instance brings the whole set into a new perspective. In the same article with the epigram, Slavoj iek claims that After the trauma, ANOTHER subject emerges, we are talking to a stranger. This new subject outside of dialectic, who continues to live after its psychic death is the post-traumatic, who is beyond consciousness16. Here, instead of a division of the self, we are dealing with a duplication of it.


Slavoj iek, Descartes and the Post-Traumatic Subject, Filozofski vestnik Vol. 29, No. 2, 2008, 23.