Poetry and Song in Late Eighteenth Century Germany by Margaret Mahon Stolijar

A Study in the Musical Sturm and Drang

Croom Helm (London, 1985)


This is really two books, and one of them is rather over-priced. As the blurb says, this compact volume is “as much a work of social history as of musicology”. But the latter hat suns the author's style much better; the former is more of a mortarboard. The reader is harangued in classroom tones; “there should be no need to point out”, and so forth. Those same scissors should have snipped away much of the preliminary and background material, which is both heavy and diffuse. No doubt it derives from a doctoral thesis, and one of unusual academic distinction. But the first 58 pages impose patience, as they spiral front a stratosphere of portentous polysyllables via the monodic Greek lyric and the aesthetic of Rousseau to touch eventually on the actual detailed topics entailed by the title. Then everything is transformed. The prose become more precise, even sprightly; it can at last communicate the wide learning and deep feeling that have informed this book from the first. Here is a literate musi­cian who understands and loves the poetry of Klopstock, Hölty and their contemporaries in the settings by Gluck, Neefe and theirs. A whole neglected field is thus reclaimed and cultivated. The so-called precursors of the lied enjoy a rich harvest festival all their own. As an aftermath, even the lifelong lied specialist can learn a lot about what Brahms admired in Reichardt, Beethoven in Neefe, and Schubert in the lyrics of the Empfindsamkeit. Late 18th-century German song is perceptively expounded at a level of scholarly competence entirely comparable with the pioneer work of Max Friedländer (1902). The apparatus is impressive and the bibliography exemplary.         


The Musical Times, Sept. 1986 (p. 500) © the estate of eric sams