Das deutsche Lied by Walter Wiora

Moseler/ Novello


Everyone knows what the lied is and how it began (or, as this book would say, its (a) Gattung und (b) Geschichtsverlauf). First, there is the musical equivalent of Archbishop Ussher's Biblical chronology; the form was created by Schubert on 19 October 1814. This even has its own Genesis-myth – “was the assemblage, by some unexampled magnetism, ... of all the fiery particles of poetry and music that were in the air”. But other faiths appeal to other works, from Beethoven to Heinrich Isaac, as the real prime movers; while for readers of German literature the lied began with Goethe, and for professors thereof with Walther von der Vogelweide. Other suggestions involve not only lutenists but Latinists (German song was never silent, not even for Tacitus - cf Germania, ii).

   Dr Wiora concentrates on essence rather than existence, as if the form were a Platonic Form. He is concerned with homology and metamorphosis. On his analysis, strophic song is the basic paradigm (Part I); and this in turn grounds a historical exegesis (Part II), which contains excellent short studies of Schubert and Wolf. Logically enough (granted the premise) the resulting monograph is mainly a meditation on melos, as its examples amply testify; they include just one piano part among over 100 vocal lines. These afford some striking parallels between folksong and artsong. One begins to won­der where the lay ends and the professional begins. No wonder Brahms could never tell folk from fake. Perhaps indeed the difference is merely one of degree. Some of the questions raised by Dr Wiora are certainly academic. “Ist Das Veilchenein Lied ?”, he begins by asking. We can look up the answer at the back of the book (p.172): yes, it is, although (sic) it presents the incident dramatically – “obgleich es den Vorgang dramatisch darstellt”. The last of Wolf's Mörike-Lieder goes too far; “[es] ist kein Lied”. Thus Abschied receives its congé, and is dismissed from the form.

   Similarly the whole book smacks of the school­room. Even the examples take a hundred lines. Categories are spelt out; (a), (b), (c). The arguments go 1, 2, 3, 4, as if they were beating time or forming fours. Every point has been trained to leap fully armed on to the blackboard in defence of a doctoral thesis. But by a long chalk this book is top of its scholarship class.

   In a few trifling respects it might have done better. The extensive bibliography has odd lacunae (e.g. Capell on Schubert). Wolf's title Gedichte for a volume of songs surely did not originate with Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder; Schumann had used it 20 years earlier still. Again, Brahms's admonition that German song was sailing on the wrong course could hardly have been intended to apply to Wolf, who (to preserve the same metaphor) was still in wet dock at the time. But in general one can say that here is a framework of expert reference which no pundit will wish to be without, even at this price, and no amateur will wish to be within, at any price.


The Musical Times, Oct. 1971 (p. 971) © the estate of eric sams