Glenn Gould’s Uncommon Approach to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata

By Michael Thibodeau (University of Toronto)

Author’s note:  The following adapts material from the second chapter of my dissertation, which can be found here.

Glenn Gould’s relationship with Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata is often overlooked.  Indeed, he recorded the work eight times between 1952 and 1974 in a variety of circumstances:  live and studio recordings, radio and television broadcasts, and a documentary.

ThibodeauTable

Glenn Gould’s recordings of Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata

As I will show, these recordings bear witness to significant shifts in the pianist’s aesthetic.  This post focuses on Gould’s uncommon approach to manual asynchrony and tempo in these recordings, with the hope of encouraging further discussion about performance practice.

Most pianists are familiar with the stigma surrounding what is colloquially known as ‘breaking’:  the vertical separation of harmonic and melodic material in performance.  I can recall one instance in graduate school where I was cautioned for using it.  My teacher reminded me that it was not 1940 and told me a story about an old pedagogue who warned against its occurrence more than once during a lifetime.  This position may seem extreme (and it is), but it reflects current fashion in performance.  In the introduction to Neal Peres da Costa’s monograph Off the Record, musicologist Clive Brown argues that the device’s scarcity in contemporary practice is symptomatic of a modern misunderstanding:  “an extreme example of the ways in which the implicit meaning of the notation fell victim to an unhistorical conviction that fidelity to the composer’s intentions required the most scrupulous literal observance of the notated text.”

Many instances of manual asynchrony in Gould’s recordings flout common practice.  A particularly noteworthy example occurs in his 1974 Chemins de la musique performance during the development section.  In measure 101, Gould sounds the melody’s opening pitch twice:  first with the bass and then as the final note of the (notated) arpeggio.

Thibodeau1

Berg, Piano Sonata, mm. 100–102 annotated to show Gould’s manual asynchrony (the caesura and arpeggio are marked in Berg’s score)

Gould’s motivation likely stems from the dominant-function harmony in the preceding measure.  Despite the notated caesura, Gould is compelled to continue the melody upwards so that it sounds at the same time as the left hand’s tonic.  Gould is consistent with this decision later in measures 103, 105, and 106 where variations of the same material occur.

In measure 102 (see score above), Gould again chooses an unconventional asynchrony.  Of the three numbered pitches (C/A/D#), the middle note is sounded last, resulting in the performance order:  C/D#/A. The purpose of this choice is to highlight the inner voice which begins on A, repeats, and then continues upwards to F# and F♮.  Alfred Brendel’s more conventional performance allows us to put Gould’s creative approach into context.

Gould’s use of manual asynchrony allows him to articulate contrapuntal material with great flexibility.  His recordings demonstrate, in practice, how the work is underdetermined by its score.  Pianists could learn from Gould’s novel applications of manual asynchrony, which represent compelling solutions for highlighting contrapuntal lines.

Gould had a penchant for reconsidering tempos, as is well known from his 1955 and 1981 recordings of the Goldberg Variations.  But a remarkable increase in length also occurs across Gould’s recordings of Berg’s sonata, with the opening theme witnessing the greatest change.  On CBC radio in 1952 Gould plays the phrase in 12.36 seconds.  A notable increase occurs through his next four recordings, until 1958 in Stockholm where it is completed in 25.10 seconds.  Gould’s final recording, from 1974, is the longest at 28.57 seconds.  The total increase between the first and last recording is a dramatic 131.15 percent—more than double the initial length.  To situate Gould’s performances alongside common practice, here is Murray Perahia’s 1987 recording.  The aggressive nature of the first phrase’s growth displays Gould’s search for the limit of possibility.  Indeed, the expansion is non-linear and displays a logarithmic trend, meaning that it is inversely exponential:

Thibodeau2

The increasing length of Gould’s first phrase displayed as a logarithmic trend.

To spur discussion on these topics, I advance the following questions:

First, what should we think about the disappearance of manual asynchrony from common practice?  Have we lost the full expressive potency of revered works?  While the application of the device in Gould’s performance is undoubtedly brilliant, could we ever tolerate again a performance style that involves the dislocation of harmony and melody?

Second, Gould’s continuous reassessment of the work’s tempo demonstrates a restless interpretative search and a dissatisfaction with the habitual.  Should students be encouraged to reconsider their approach when revisiting a work, and can these interpretations reside safely inside of common practice?

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Improvisation Experience Predicts How Musicians Categorize Musical Structures

by Andrew Goldman (Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia University)

[CLICK THIS LINK TO VIEW A SHORT VIDEO (DURATION 3:40)]

This video explains a recent research project on musical improvisation published in Psychology of Music. It shows that more experienced improvisers, compared with less experienced improvisers but otherwise skilled musicians, categorize harmonies with similar functions as being more similar than those with different functions. We argue that this aids the ability to make appropriate substitutions, and shows a difference in the way improvisers structure their musical knowledge that facilitates their abilities to improvise.

For more information about this research project, please view this article in the journal Psychology of Music.

Beginning in Fall 2018, Andrew Goldman will be based at the University of Western Ontario, where he will work with Jonathan De Souza on the Music, Cognition, and the Brain Initiative.

Form-Functional Ambiguity: The Issue of Closure in Performance

By Ellen Bakulina (University of North Texas)

Last fall, I taught an undergraduate form analysis course at UNT.  I did not initially plan to focus on performance issues, but, as the semester went on, I got caught up in them more and more, partly thanks to the large number of performance majors in the class.

Among the various aspects of form, I find questions of closure the most obviously relevant to performance.  In the classroom, I particularly value two aspects of relating cadence analysis to performance choices:  (1) it is an effective way to show connections between a theory course and the students’ daily performance practice; and (2) it develops their musical thinking.  Indeed, cadence identification carries crucial performance implications, inviting such questions as:  Where is this passage going, and why?  How can one decide what is and what isn’t a phrase ending—and, therefore, how long is the phrase?  How do these endings (punctuation, to use H.C. Koch’s term) partition the larger whole?  And perhaps more difficult: should one project that a certain point is a goal, and if so, how?  Directly showing the result of one’s analysis in performance may be a naïve idea; as William Rothstein suggests, sometimes underplaying an important structural event has greater value than “forcing” it upon the listener.  (His remark, in fact, refers to melodic material, but it can be applied to many other musical dimensions.)

None of the thoughts here are original or new in the field.  The concept of cadence has been, and continues to be, thoroughly explored by theorists, one of the most recent contributions being the book What Is a Cadence, edited by Neuwirth and Bergé.  My goal is to use existing concepts to offer performance-related suggestions about a specific passage that could be demonstrated in class.  (Of course, the opposite process is often useful as well:  existing performances influence one’s analysis, whether consciously or not.)  I also provide my own performance of the passage in three different versions.  The piece is the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E, Op. 14, No. 1.

Beethoven s 9 mt

In my class, which used the theory of William Caplin, I gave this movement for the final analysis project; the wealth of cadence-related interpretations the students came up with enriched my own understanding of the piece.  Here, I focus on the main theme, which offers a truly ambiguous cadential situation with interesting performance implications.  The issue involves both the location of the cadence and its type.  I analyze with the presumption that m. 13 begins the transition, with the main theme ending at this point or shortly before.  The theme is written in a (somewhat loose-knit) sentence form.

Here, I should give some conceptual background.  According to Caplin’s theory, a sentence consists of three phrase functions:  presentation, continuation, and cadential phrases.  The latter two functions are the most likely to be destabilized, or loosened, which is exactly what happens in our theme.  “Problems” here begin in mm. 7–8, whose six-four chord suggests a cadential function.  By m. 9, it becomes clear that the cadence has been delayed, causing an expansion of a supposed underlying 8-measure structure.  The expansion lasts until m. 13 and consists of a cadential progression (the bass line G#–A–A#–B–E) stated twice, finally reaching a true cadence in m. 13 that elides with the transition.  My performance (Recording 1) attempts to represent this analysis.  What kind of cadence is it?  An IAC, one would probably presume at first glance, since ^1 is avoided in the upper part.  But a closer look reveals that this initial analysis misses many musical nuances.

One of the students in my class identified a cadence—a PAC!—in m. 11.  Although it makes harmonic sense (there is a root-position tonic), I don’t like this choice, mainly because the next two measures repeat mm. 9–10 an octave lower and thus suggest that the theme is not yet completed.  (In Caplin’s terms, mm. 11–12 represent an extension of the cadential phrase, and repetition is a defining element of phrase extension technique.)  However, this student’s answer drew my attention to the possibility of hearing the inner voice (G#–G♮–F#–E) as the true soprano line, thus rendering the B on top a non-structural cover tone both times—leading up to m. 11 and m. 13!  This connection, of course, opens up the possibility of hearing a PAC in m. 13 with an implied E3 during the ostensible rest on the downbeat of m. 13.  The descent to E would be the structural descent in a Schenkerian analysis of the theme.

How can one project such an analysis in performance, given that the melodic arrival on E in 13 is so demonstrably withheld?  The key, I think, is to emphasize the inner-voice line G#–G♮–F#–E the first time, making sure the arrival on E at m. 11 is clearly heard, but at the same time avoiding a cadential effect—avoiding making m. 11 too conclusive; and then to emphasize the same line the second time, affording the listener the greatest chance to hear the implied arrival on E at m. 13 in the middle voice.  This is not easy to do, and I’m not sure my performance (Recording 2) does full justice to my analysis.  In this alternative version, I strive to de-emphasize the top-voice B, which I brought out in the first example, illustrating an IAC.

Can one consider another possibility—a half cadence in m. 12 instead of an elided authentic one in 13?  This would mean a linear interruption of the inner voice on the F#, instead of its resolution to E.  This is the issue that Poundie Burstein engages in his recent article on half cadences.  He examines progressions where V is followed by I at phrase structural boundaries; deciding between a half and authentic cadence usually involves determining which harmony is the goal:  the V or the I?

Indeed, several of my students chose to read a half cadence in m. 12, possibly to avoid the phrase elision—of which students are sometimes inexplicably afraid—that an authentic cadence would require.  The dominant of this half cadence is a V7, what Janet Schmalfeldt calls a “nineteenth-century half cadence.”  (Burstein has recently argued that this cadence type can sometimes occur in the eighteenth century as well.)  This reading, supported by the absence of a tonic downbeat in m. 13 (though it is obviously implied), changes the phrase structure and phrase rhythm.  All phrases in the main theme are now two and four measures long, the overlap is gone, and the cadence in m. 12 is hypermetrically weak (an odd-strong hypermetrical pattern has been established from the opening).  This is an important consideration; a hypermetrically strong cadence is likely to sound more conclusive.  Although this is not my personally preferred reading, I have attempted a performance of it (Recording 3).  This version may exaggerate the break between the two sections a little; if it does, the reader will hopefully find their own way to project a half-cadential reading in performance.

I should add that Caplin himself gives the theme up to m. 13, thus implying a cadence there, rather than in 12.  Ultimately, I agree with this interpretation, whether one chooses the IAC or PAC option.  I should also add that both Caplin and Burstein are very much aware of the performance implications of the concepts I have discussed; references to performance choice appear in their work multiple times.  What I have tried to do here is to offer, in a specific situation, some specific performance suggestions for solving the problems one encounters in analysis, and to show its value in a teaching situation.

Keys, Strings, and Valves: Theorizing Instrumental Spaces

By Jonathan De Souza (University of Western Ontario)

Author’s note:  This blog post builds on my book Music at Hand: Instruments, Bodies, and Cognition (Oxford University Press, 2017).  The book examines body-instrument interaction in various musical styles, combining music theory, psychology, and phenomenology.

The hall is still.  The pianist rubs his hands, then raises them, inhaling as he prepares to strike the opening chord.  His hands drop and… laughter ripples through the audience.  Clearly, this is no ordinary recital.  The “pianist” is the comedian Rowan Atkinson.  Starting over, he launches into Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata.  The performance is full of energy, his fingers flying and his face full of expression.  Only one thing is missing:  the piano.

Atkinson is miming.  His exaggerated gestures and facial contortions supplement the sound, emphasizing theatrical or visual aspects of instrumental performance.  Yet this routine—like his invisible drum kit sketch—might also call attention to the absent instrument.  It’s easy to take instruments for granted, especially familiar ones like the piano.  But as Martin Heidegger argues, awareness of a tool can be heightened when the tool is missing or broken, when everyday expectations are interrupted.  Paradoxically, then, making instruments invisible helps show how they mediate instrumentalists’ actions.  With the “air piano,” for example, Atkinson’s hands travel along a horizontal line, sweeping left and right.  Even this virtual keyboard constitutes a space for embodied performance.

How are instrumental spaces organized?  How are they traversed in performance?  How do they present pitches in particular locations, or according to particular dimensions?

Transformational theory offers one way to approach such questions.  In general, transformational theory uses mathematical groups to model diverse musical “spaces.”  These spaces might involve pitches or chords, but also rhythmic patterns, timbral spectra, contrapuntal permutations, textural streams, banjo picking patterns, and so on.  Near the beginning of Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations, for example, David Lewin shows how chromatic pitches resemble the integers (Z)—that is, the infinite set of all positive and negative whole numbers.  We can imagine notes, like numbers, going up and down endlessly, into regions too high and too low to hear.  And we can measure the difference between any two pitches (or integers), counting the steps between them.  Alternatively, Lewin treats the chromatic pitch classes as a twelve-element cycle (Z12), like the numbers on a clock face or the months of the year.  The huge chromatic descent from the Pathétique’s introduction would represent smooth movement through either space, with each step corresponding to the interval –1.

De Souza-PAIG Ex 1

Example 1.  Beethoven, Piano Sonata no. 8 in C minor, “Pathétique,” op. 13, mvt. i, m. 10

Piano keys resemble the set of integers, too.  Any real keyboard—from a toy piano to a concert grand—has a finite number of keys.  But conceptually it could continue indefinitely.  (This is demonstrated by another quasi-Heideggerian comedy routine, where Victor Borge keeps reaching for nonexistent high keys.)  Because each octave has the same arrangement of keys, we might also imagine a cycle of twelve “key classes” (see Example 2).  Either way, keyboard space is further defined by an asymmetrical pattern of white and black notes.  At the piano, we might say, 12 is 7 + 5.  This supports a distinctive kind of stepwise motion, since a player might move one “step” in white-key or black-key space (e.g., G-flat to E-flat would be –1 in black-key space, as shown in Example 2b).  Of course, keyboard patterns typically correlate with pitch patterns—but these associations can come apart, with prepared piano or keyboard MIDI controllers, and we can model instrumental patterns apart from their expected sounds.

De Souza-PAIG Ex 2

Example 2.  (a) Key-class space, and (b) a transformation network showing same-color adjacencies (white-key and black-key space)

Key color relates closely to fingering.  The standard “French” fingering for the chromatic scale, for example, keeps the thumb on white notes, letting the longer index and middle fingers reach for the raised black keys (see fingering in Example 1).  These finger-key associations impose kinesthetic groupings (12 as 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 3), which pianists generally hide through an even touch.  Aspects of keyboard space, though, are central to certain pieces—for example, Chopin’s Étude in G-flat major, op. 10, no. 5, where the melody floats along the black keys (see Example 3).  (Lang Lang mischievously highlights the étude’s black-keyness by playing the right hand with an apple or orange.)

De Souza-PAIG Ex 3

Example 3.  Chopin, Étude in G-flat major, “Black Keys,” op. 10, no. 5, mm. 1–4

If keyboard space is linear, other instrumental spaces can be multidimensional.  String instruments like the violin or guitar juxtapose two dimensions:  players can move along or across the strings.  When playing a chromatic scale on the violin, most finger moves travel along a single string but with occasional cross-string breaks.  For a chromatic scale in Bruch’s first Violin Concerto, the soloist’s fingers ascend along the D string and the A string, then climb further up the E string.  Soon after this scalar passage, though, the solo part features rapid, repeated string crossing.  With these two orthogonal dimensions, the fingerboard might be understood as a space of finger/string coordinates, analogous to the Cartesian plane (Z × Z, see Example 4).  Again, the topology of this space is conceptually independent of any particular tuning.

De Souza-PAIG Ex 4

Example 4.  A partial map of fingerboard/fretboard space.  Each node’s label combines a finger-position number and a string number.  Horizontal arrows move along strings, while vertical arrows move across strings.  Though real instruments have a finite number of finger-positions and strings, the theoretical space remains unbounded (for further discussion, see my forthcoming article in the Journal of Music Theory 62/1).

Trumpet valves offer a different kind of space.  While piano keys activate a sound when pressed, valves—whether up or down—help facilitate sounds produced by breath and lips.  And where each piano key is associated with a single pitch, a valve combination opens up a field of sonic possibilities.  Mathematically, this valve space combines three two-element cycles (Z2 × Z2 × Z2).  There are eight possible valve patterns here, in four inversionally related pairs (e.g., ●●● inverts to ◦◦◦, ●◦◦ inverts to ◦●●, etc.).  Moreover, these patterns also parallel eight valve-changing operations, moves or intervals in valve space.  Each operation can be represented by three plus or minus signs, which either keep (+) or change (−) each valve’s position:  (+ + +) keeps all valve positions the same, (− − −) changes all of them, (+ − +) changes only the middle valve, and so on.  These possibilities can be laid out in a table (Example 5), or a spatial network (Example 6).

De Souza-PAIG Ex 5

Example 5.  Table of valve combinations and operations.  While this is an exhaustive list of valve patterns, it is possible to define other transformations in valve space (e.g., a rotation transformation could take ●◦◦ to ◦●◦, etc.; or a retrograde transformation could take ●●◦ to ◦●●).

De Souza-PAIG Ex 6

Example 6.  A network for valve space, showing selected operations.  Dashed arrows correspond to inversion (− − −).

Again, formalizing this space can help us analyze instrumental patterns that might be inaudible or deliberately concealed.  The open valve position, somewhat like a violin’s open strings, often has a distinctive position here.  For example, a descending chromatic scale from a high G (◦◦◦) involves an interesting additive process (12 as 3 + 4 + 5).

De Souza-PAIG Ex 7

Example 7.  Transformation network showing valve positions (and transformations) for a descending chromatic scale on trumpet

This pattern appears without the A-flat in Jean-Baptiste Arban’s variations on “The Carnival of Venice” (Var. 1, m. 12), making the sequence of valve operations slightly more consistent (see Example 8).  The passage uses four valve patterns, but (with one early exception) only two valve operations:  change-2nd-valve (+ − +) and keep-3rd-valve (− − +).  Alternating between (+ − +) and (− − +) creates a four-element cycle (see Example 9).  Repeating both operations twice, that is, returns to the starting valve pattern (i.e., (+ − +)(− − +)(+ − +)(− − +) = (+ + +)).

De Souza-PAIG Ex 8

Example 8.  Transformation network for Arban, “The Carnival of Venice,” Var. 1, m. 12

De Souza-PAIG Ex 9

Example 9.  Network showing two (+ − +)(− − +) cycles, related by inversion (dashed arrows).  The cycle on the left relates to the preceding example.  Such cycles can be created by alternating any two valve operations (not including (+ + +)).  For example, (+ − +)(− − −) and (− − +)(− − −) cycles are also implicit in this network.

Such patterns help make Arban’s showpiece highly idiomatic, despite its difficulty.  In the final variation, every other note has the open valve position (◦◦◦).  Each operation is repeated twice in a row, immediately undoing itself.  The variation, in fact, can be played with a single finger!  This break with conventional technique directs attention to the valves, to the instrument itself.

A transformational approach to instrumental space, of course, has its limits.  It is productively supplemented by ethnographic, organological, or phenomenological methods, since it models instruments and performative actions in a relatively abstract or idealized way.  Formalized keyboard space, in a sense, is just as imaginary as Atkinson’s air piano.  Still, transformational thinking can support analysis of characteristic instrumental moves and stimulate reflection on instrumental topology.  And at the same time, these explorations continue Lewin’s own interest in bringing performative perspectives into music theory, and his desire to theorize musical space from the inside.

SMT Preview

By Edward Klorman (McGill University) and Nathan Pell (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

As we look forward to the upcoming SMT meeting in Arlington, PAIG has surveyed the program and abstracts to identify papers that pertain to performance topics, including those involving the analysis of recorded performances.  Below is a list of the papers we were able to identify; if you know of any we overlooked, please let us know.

In a future blog post, we will share some reflections on the papers listed below.  If you attend any of these papers and are inclined to share a few thoughts (even just a sentence or two), please email Nathan Pell by November 15.

 

Thursday 2:00–5:00 pm
Notation and Performance:  Influence, Intersection, and Interpretation (Studio D)

  • Solomon Guhl-Miller (Temple University), “The Early History of Modal Rhythm: What Theory Tells us about Practice”
  • Heather J. Holmquest (Buena Vista University), “Choosing Musica Ficta: The Modern Tradition of Historically Informed Performance Practice”
  • Carolann Buff (Indiana University), “In Search of the Ars Magis Subtiliter
  • Adam Knight Gilbert (University of Southern California), “Juxta artem conficiendi: Notating and Performing Polyphony in Solmization”
  • Megan Kaes Long (Oberlin College Conservatory), “The Mensural Ambivalence of Repeat Signs”
  • Karen Cook (University of Hartford), Loren Ludwig (Independent Scholar), Valerie Horst (Independent Scholar) Respondent Panel

Thursday 2:45–3:30 pm
Revisiting Prolongation and Dissonance in Jazz (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Joon Park (University of Arkansas), “Theorizing Outside Playing in the Improvised Jazz Solo”

Thursday 3:30–5:00 pm
Instruments and Transformations (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Jonathan De Souza (University of Western Ontario), “Instrumental Transformations in Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas”
  • Toru Momii (Columbia University), “Sounds of the Cosmos:  A Transformational Approach to Gesture in Shō Performance”

Thursday 9:45–10:30 pm
Rhythm and Meter in Popular Genres (Studio E)

  • Mitchell Ohriner (University of Denver), “(Why) Does Talib Kweli Rhyme Off-Beat?”

Friday 12:15–1:45 pm
SMT Performance and Analysis Interest Group (Studio A)

  • Bonnie McAlvin (The Graduate Center, CUNY), “Using Embodiment Schema to Help Student Performers Relate to Their Theory Work”
  • Jonathan Dunsby (Eastman School of Music), “Three Case Studies In Search of Holistic Performance Research”
  • Wing Lau (University of Arkansas), “Paradox of Interpretation and the Resolved(?) Dualism”

Friday 2:00–5:00 pm
Special Invited Session:  Models in Improvisation, Performance, and Composition (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Philippe Canguilhem (Université de Toulouse), “The Teaching and Practice of Improvised Counterpoint in the Renaissance”
  • Giorgio Sanguinetti (University of Rome–Tor Vergata), “Who Invented Partimenti? Newly Discovered Evidences of Partimento Practices in Rome and Naples”
  • Elaine Chew (Queen Mary University of London), “Notating the Performed and (usually) Unseen”

Friday 8:00–9:30, 10:00–10:30 pm
Considering Coltrane:  Analytical Perspectives after Fifty Years (Studio E)

  • Barry Long (Bucknell University), “‘The Black Blower of the Now’:  Coltrane, King, and Crossing Rhetorical Boundaries”
  • Brian Levy (New England Conservatory of Music), “‘Pursuance’ and ‘Miles’ Mode’:  Untangling the Complex Harmonic and Rhythmic Interactions of John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet”
  • Milton Mermikides (University of Surrey), “Changes over Time: The Analysis, Modeling, and Development of Micro-Rhythmic Expression through Digital Technology”

Saturday 10:30–11:15 am
Theorizing Musicality (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis (University of Arkansas), “Theory, Analysis, and Characterizations of the Musical”

Saturday 10:30 am–11:15 pm
The Music of George Friedrich Haas (Studio E)

  • Landon Morrison (McGill University/Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technologies), “Playing with Shadows:  The Reinjection Loop in Georg Friedrich Haas’s Live-Elektronische Musik

Lost in Translation, starring David Lewin and Four Singers; or, What Happens at the End of Schubert’s “Morgengruss”?

Benjamin Binder (Duquesne University)

David Lewin’s legendary 1974 monograph-length analysis of Schubert’s “Morgengruss” (Morning Greeting)—the eighth song of Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795 (1823)—has at long last been published (posthumously, in 2015), and I’ve recently written an extensive review (forthcoming in Nineteenth-Century Music Review).  The analysis is magnificent:  engaging, insightful, provocative—everything we’d expect from Lewin writing on music and text.  But, in my review, I express some concerns about the relationship in his argument between analysis, performance, and interpretation, particularly when it comes to understanding the song’s conclusion.  Here I’d like to go a little farther with that critique.

“Morgengruss” opens with the miller lad greeting the object of his desire from beneath her window, at which point she immediately turns away; thereafter, he stands from afar and cajoles her to reappear.  The final lines of the song cap off his urgent plea, but the precise meaning of Müller’s words is impossible to pin down:

Die Lerche wirbelt in der Luft,
Und aus dem tiefen Herzen ruft
Die Liebe Leid und Sorgen.

For the first line, I would give, as most translations do, something like “the lark warbles in the air.”[1]  For the final two lines, the grammatical subject has to be “die Liebe,” since the verb “ruft” is singular.[2]  One could simplify the word order as follows:

Und die Liebe ruft Leid und Sorgen aus dem tiefen Herzen.

“And love calls pain and sorrow from the depths of the heart,” more or less.  But two unanswerable questions remain.  First, whose love and heart are we talking about—the miller lad’s, or the maiden’s?  Second, is this love calling forth pain and sorrow (that is, bringing them into existence), or is it calling those feelings away (that is, getting rid of them)?

As I discuss in my review, there are many plausible interpretations and translations here.  Lewin, however, doesn’t draw any attention to the ambiguity of the lines and presents his own translation as definitive:  “and, from the heart’s depths, call love’s pain and cares.”[3]  For Lewin, the whole point of the song is for the miller lad to finally recognize that the turbulent pain and cares that he bears within his loving but unrequited heart are what might have scared the maiden away at the beginning of the song.  To greatly oversimplify Lewin’s analytical argument:  on our first hearing of Schubert’s strophic setting, the moments in the melody that grab our attention most are the striking high F in m. 9 and the E in m. 16 to which it ultimately resolves, as the miller lad agrees (temporarily) to leave the maiden’s window.  But by the time we hear the final strophe, our attention to the F–E connection fades, and we focus more on the D that concludes the first phrase of the song in m. 10, not to be resolved definitively until the C in m. 17 (on “Sorgen”).  In Lewin’s reading, then, Schubert’s miller lad comes to realize by the end that his own “Leid und Sorgen” indeed pulled him toward the maiden’s window in the first place.

Morgengruss Score

Singers performing this song have to decide for themselves how to translate the final two lines and express their own dramatic conception of the song’s conclusion.  As Lewin himself reminded us many times, a performance is itself an analysis, an interpretation, and can articulate musical and dramatic insights and perceptions at least as well as the written word.  So I find it striking that Lewin never mentions any performances that might have influenced his own particular hearing of the song, especially its ending.  That leads me to wonder how Lewin’s interpretation might sound in performance, and moreover, what performances Lewin might have had in his ear when he drafted the Morgengruss essay in 1974.

It turns out that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore released a recording of Die schöne Müllerin in 1972, and to my mind, that performance translates the end of the song in much the same way that Lewin does.  Fischer-Dieskau makes a clear contrast between the bright, tremulous energy of the lark in mm. 12–13 and the languorous depths of the heart in mm. 14–15.  By connecting mm. 14–15 to mm. 16–17 without a breath, and making a gradual crescendo of volume and expressive intensity through all four bars that climaxes on “Sorgen,” Fischer-Dieskau’s miller lad releases the anguish stored within his loving heart as it now cries out to the maiden—“and, from the heart’s depths, call love’s pain and cares,” as Lewin would have it.

But there are also other ways of translating the ending, and performers can show us the way.  Consider Olaf Bär’s 1986 recording with Geoffrey Parsons.  Bär’s lark also “warbles” with vitality, and he infuses a bit of plangent despair into his rendering of “tiefen Herzen.”  But by taking a breath before “die Liebe,” Bär highlights the importance of that word and its function as the subject (and perhaps even the goal) of the sentence.  There is no crescendo into “Sorgen,” and most crucially of all, Bär and Parsons treat the repeat of the phrase in mm. 18–19 as a gentle echo.  Here I cannot help but hear the echo as a tender, inward lullaby—“trust in love, for it will sing the heart’s pain and sorrow to sleep,” Bär’s miller lad seems to say, perhaps to himself, perhaps to the maiden.  By returning to a fuller sound for mm. 19–21, Bär ruefully acknowledges the existence of the heart’s “Leid und Sorgen,” but this doesn’t invalidate his basic message:  love will call pain and sorrow away from the heart.  This is rather the opposite of Lewin and Fischer-Dieskau’s translation.

The most striking thing about Michael Schade and Malcolm Martineau’s 2005 recording is the way they handle that fermata on “ruft,” just before “die Liebe.”  Like Bär, Schade takes a breath, but it is animated by a sudden, vigorous impulse that leads purposefully into “die Liebe” in m. 16.  The shift to flowing triplets in the piano also contrasts more sharply with Martineau’s hushed, hesitant duplet eighths in mm. 14–15, lending a new energy and an optimistic shine to “die Liebe Leid und Sorgen.”  Even more than Bär and Parsons, Schade and Martineau make “die Liebe” into the focal point of the song’s conclusion, rather than “Sorgen.”

Jonas Kaufmann brings an entirely different sort of vocal instrument to “Morgengruss” in this performance with Helmut Deutsch from 2009.  Kaufmann doesn’t use the full intensity of his Heldentenor here, but there’s still something of the suave operatic leading man in the way he handles “die Liebe Leid und Sorgen”:  a kind of heroic, ringing quality throughout the entire phrase that makes me feel as though this miller lad is singing directly to the Müllerin here, promising to take away all her pain and sorrow if she would only give in to the promptings of love and fall into his arms.  Kaufmann doesn’t take a breath before “die Liebe,” but he blooms on that word after restraining himself in the previous phrase, and the way he lingers on the “L” in “Leid” creates a certain resistance which he can then valiantly overcome by the time he gets to the end of the phrase at “Sorgen.”  Kaufmann’s final “Leid und Sorgen” in mm. 19–21, like Bär’s mm. 18–19, are quieter and more inward, and I can’t quite decide if his miller lad is briefly retreating back into his own pain or imagining and depicting for the maiden the way that both of them will feel their pain dissolve once their love is consummated.  Like all of these performers, then, Kaufmann shows (to me at least) that more than one reading is possible, and multiple, even contradictory emotional and dramatic meanings can emerge from the same performance.

To finish up, let’s return to Fischer-Dieskau, still with Gerald Moore but this time back in 1951 when he was about 26 years old.  Fischer-Dieskau seems to be the only one of these performers who sides strongly with Lewin’s translation.  Did he always read the words that way?  From this performance, I’d say yes.  Certainly Fischer-Dieskau’s younger voice conjures up the dewy, tender Jüngling here, rather than the more adult and assertive vocal persona of the 1972 recording.  But as in the later performance, the focus is on “Sorgen.”  Fischer-Dieskau again takes no break before “die Liebe,” and while there is no crescendo into “Sorgen” in mm. 16–17, there is a hint of delay before that word, and the phrase moves steadily towards it, with no lingering or special emphasis on “Liebe.”  Instead, the young Fischer-Dieskau saves the crescendo for the repeat of the phrase in mm. 18–19, releasing onto “Sorgen” after a great deal of anxious vibrato.  His treatment of the final “Leid und Sorgen” in mm. 19–21 is the quietest and most inward of all these performances.  I see the miller lad just standing there, immobilized by his pain and loneliness, with no Müllerin anywhere to be seen—for Fischer-Dieskau, this moment isn’t really about her.

These are just my reactions to these performances, of course.  No performance can be translated definitively, just as no text can, musical or poetic, especially the texts of Müller and Schubert’s “Morgengruss” that I’ve been considering.  My little point is that performers and performances ought to be in the conversation from the get-go when we’re translating or explicating song lyrics, especially ones that are particularly ambiguous.

 


 

[1] A more contemporary meaning of “wirbeln” is “to circle,” but given the simile between the lark’s warbling—a morning call like the poet’s “Morgengruss”—and the heart’s call, both acoustic events, I’m inclined to stick with “warbles.”  Contemporary support is found in J.C. Adelung’s 1811 Wörterbuch.

[2] If “die Lerche” were the subject, we would expect the word “sie” in the second line and commas in the third:  “Die Liebe, Leid, und Sorgen.”

[3] Problematically, Lewin’s version of the text gives “der Liebe” instead of “die Liebe,” a reading with very little, if any, philological support.  In fact, “der Liebe” is ungrammatical; for “Leid und Sorgen” to be the grammatical subject of the final two lines would require a plural verb:  “rufen,” not “ruft.”  However, Lewin’s translation is still plausible even if the words are “die Liebe” instead of “der Liebe.”