This colloquy originated as an evening discussion panel held at the National Meeting of the American Musicological Society in 2012. We wish to thank Mary Ann Smart for her significant contributions to this project in its early stages. We are also grateful for the assistance that we have received in developing the text into its present version from Ralph Locke, Alexander Stefaniak, Daniel Barolsky, Rob Fallon, Oghenetoja Okoh, and Gina Martino-Trutor. Special thanks also to David Egyud, who prepared the video clip associated with this colloquy.
The study of the German lied has long been locked within a set of hermeneutic traditions. Work-centered scholarship on German art song has primarily shown how musical devices represent or come into conflict with poetic materials and meanings. This state of affairs has prevailed whether a study interprets a song without significant reference to cultural context or brings heavy contextual clues involving the composition or reception of a song to bear on a reading.1 Such hermeneutic operations are so central to lied studies that the subdiscipline has acted as a privileged laboratory for the hermeneutic project within music study as a whole.2
There are several reasons why the lied has been a favored site for hermeneutic work. To begin with, lied poetry itself begs to be read closely for layers of meaning. While at times lied poetry is quite conventional, very often it commands considerable literary prestige, leading scholars to consider the poetic text as an object that must be accounted for in detail.3 Additionally, the concentrated nature of many songs entices analysts to look at musico-poetic relationships with a microscope. Franz Schubert's “Der Doppelgänger,” for example, is a masterpiece of economy of means that has inspired numerous, often lengthy hermeneutic accounts. The longer one stares into something as brief, dense, and captivating as Heine's and Schubert's “wilderness of doubles”—to borrow from Richard Kurth's virtuosic consideration of the poem and song—the more alluring a hermeneutic approach to the seemingly endless semiotic wealth of such a musico-poetic work becomes.4
Until recently, there has thus been little room within the subdiscipline to think extensively about performance. When scholars have done so, apart from pragmatic discussions of performance practice, it has usually been as an afterthought to the above hermeneutic process. One simply adds a speculative or more concrete layer concerning how a performance may demonstrate or further complicate the range of meanings already inherent in the musico-poetic work.5 Current lied performance practices, which favor reserved recital settings, have likely influenced this tendency. Looking at this common practice, we are liable to assume that performances of lieder, in contrast to those of opera or more explicitly theatrical vocal genres, serve to enliven relatively fixed works without fundamentally altering them.
Yet discussions within musicology and music theory, opera studies, and the interdisciplinary field of performance studies imply that the study of music, poetry, and other elements in performance should require much more than “adding on” to the explication of the musico-poetic work. In the case of the lied, to focus fully on performance—to take it as the starting and ending points of an investigation and not just a potential layer that may be added to the work—is inherently to challenge the assumptions and techniques at the heart of the hermeneutic traditions governing the study of the genre. It is to challenge the taking of musical works as one's object of study. And it is also to question the centrality of texts, in both the literal sense of a written poem or composed score, as well as the Barthesian sense of a “textuality” set loose from the figure of the author and available to the poststructural sensibilities of the analyst. I choose “challenge” here, and not any more demanding term, however, to indicate that we hardly need insist that our hermeneutic ways of dealing with the genre be fully overthrown in order to focus on performance. The hermeneutic impulse to read meaning (including the traditional focus on the musico-poetic relationship) may still have an important (if significantly revised) role to play in a performance-centered study of the lied. This colloquy in fact proposes that the lied's status as a favorite hermeneutic object makes it an ideal site within which to explore the myriad conflicts that exist between performance-centered and hermeneutic approaches in musicology and music theory in general. By so doing, we also aim to join burgeoning conversations concerning how the study of musical performance may or may not align with the broader interdisciplinary field of performance studies.
The field of performance studies includes scholars from very diverse home disciplines; however, some of its most important roots lie in the efforts of theater scholar Richard Schechner and anthropologist Victor Turner.6 The two men came together to foster what Schechner would call a “broad spectrum approach” towards performance, embracing topics extending beyond the traditional study of theater or ritual. Schechner's legacy continues actively not only in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University, which he founded, but also on the pages of The Drama Review, for which he serves as editor. Contributors to this journal typically focus on events as opposed to works or texts. Though canonical plays and other traditional varieties of theater are discussed, more favored subjects have ranged recently from community participation in theatrical, dance, and other performative events in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to a tourist attraction in Mexico that provides the opportunity to play at being a migrant attempting illegally to cross the border into the United States.7 As these examples suggest, this event-oriented posture generally corresponds with notably political aims and emphasizes the liminal and often liberatory nature of performance.8
A homegrown “musical” performance studies has been gaining prominence in musicology and music theory (particularly in opera studies), but many of its proponents have been notably hesitant to embrace extensively the interdisciplinary field of performance studies.9 For example, Carolyn Abbate argued in 2004 in favor of attending to ineffable, fleeting musical performances and expressed a distrust of the domestication of experience that arises from hermeneutic approaches to works. She engaged notably little of interdisciplinary performance studies scholarship, however, despite the affinity of her theoretical posture with the field.10 Other opera scholars have similarly sought increasingly to study opera as event. Researchers have addressed issues such as ephemerality, embodiment, materiality, liveness, mediatization, and contingency.11 At times, such scholarship has taken direct stock of the larger performance studies enterprise. A good deal of work in opera studies, however, has either implied or overtly stated that opera studies's engagement with performance is qualitatively different from that of the larger performance studies enterprise. For example, in a 2011 double issue of The Opera Quarterly, Clemens Risi embarks on a “search” for “new analytical approaches” to opera performance. To do so, however, Risi gestures only briefly towards performance studies as an existing interdisciplinary field, deriving the key points of his proposed methodology from Abbate and phenomenological texts in the continental philosophical tradition.12 In contrast, the Cambridge Opera Journal dedicated a full issue in 2004 to exploring intersections between opera studies and performance studies.13 At that time, however, Mary Ann Smart expressed significant doubt in her published response that opera studies could fully embrace the performance-studies attitude towards events, observing that the focus of opera studies on a barely expanding canon of works makes the alliance a shaky one.14
Actually, though, performance studies offers many ways to approach the performance of canonic works or texts. Our efforts to study performance need not be seen as fundamentally apart from the concerns of performance studies—a field that cannot ignore Shakespeare entirely, after all. Despite its taste for events, the field consistently deals with works and texts, as well as the perpetual question of where hermeneutic operations (if no longer author-centered ones) belong in the study of performance in the broadest sense of the term.15 In fact, foundational and more recent work in performance studies scholarship has recognized that repeating, rehearsing, citing, and playing within pre-existing rules, texts, structures of language, or discourses are as essential to the concepts of “performance,” “performing,” and “performativity” as is any tendency to want to diminish the power of such works, texts or other pre-existing factors when tipping the balance towards events. Though there is no one, all-applicable definition of performance within such work, the most satisfying definitions insist that something quite resembling a work, or at least a background text, must be in operation for us to understand performance at all as performance. As Marvin Carlson explains, building on the work of Richard Baumann, “All performance involves a consciousness of doubleness … the actual execution of an action is placed in mental comparison with … an ideal.”16 Substitute any performing canon, including the lied canon, and the analytical and performing traditions that attend it, and one is in a position to embark on a musical performance studies project that takes into account the complex field of action that is a singular performance, as well as its cultural, ideological, or philosophical valences at any given moment.
The following essays thus take up the question of what it might mean to study the lied in performance, keeping in mind how a broadly construed hermeneutics might be beneficial to the endeavor. The participating writers come to this central question from diverse disciplinary training, including musical performance, cultural history, musicology, and music theory; they are also rooted in multiple subfields. From these standpoints, the contributors address several main issues that the challenge of performance presents to the study of the lied, positing benefits that this subdisciplinary enterprise may have for music study and performance studies more broadly. In a given study of the lied in performance, what should be the status of the musico-poetic work, or at least the texts in play? What kinds of performance approaches draw our attention to the details of a song's construction, or, conversely, what approaches to song performance inevitably cause the work to recede from the investigation? How does performance context not just nuance a “given” musico-poetic meaning but determine or shape it crucially? And, lastly, what new light might be shed on the topics of mediality, vocality, embodiment, “grain,” subjectivity, and identity by focusing more thoroughly on the performance of lieder?
These and other questions that emerge in this colloquy, while specifically targeted towards lied studies, can easily yield insights applicable to a broader study of poetry and music, as well as performance more generally. Our endeavor bears more resemblance to Abbate's conciliatory hermeneutics of performance (as we might term her interpretive statements involving Laurie Anderson and Ben Heppner at the end of the above-cited essay) than it does to any more “drastic” gesture.17 Yet it is nevertheless committed to events of radical singularity, even as it must responsibly read such acts against broader social and aesthetic discursive norms or ideals, which may be anything from edifying to imprisoning. In this sense the scholarship that we present in these pages seeks alternately to embrace and question the notably resistant, liberatory, and liminal tone of much performance-studies work in general, embarking on a subdiscipline-specific variant of the soul-searching that has been going on in performance studies outside of musicology for some time.
In several recent articles and books, scholars have taken delight in catching the influential hermeneutic philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer in a moment of poetic rapture, highlighting a statement in which he momentarily equates understanding a poem with “singing” one. In the tradition of citation upon which performance depends, I would like to close here by reflecting on this provocative reverie once more. Gadamer asked near the end of his career: “Can we really assume that the reading of [poetry] is a reading exclusively concentrated on meaning? Do we not sing these texts? … Is there not, at the same time, a truth that lies in [a poem's] performance?”18 It may be that the key phrase here, for the study of sung poetry in the lied especially, is “at the same time.” At the very least, it is worth holding each perspective in hand when dealing with the similarly “double” experience of activity and ideal that is performance.
The Lied from the Inside Out
What role should the score play in an understanding of the lied as performance? Much depends on the context of that performance, as the variety of performance situations to be discussed in this colloquy makes clear. Here I want to consider the role of the score in a context for song that was still widely embraced during the first half of the nineteenth century: the performance for the performer(s) alone.
In his 1843 review of Carl Kossmaly's Sechs Gesänge, Schumann wrote that three of Kossmaly's songs “are meant to be performed in private [literally ‘under four eyes,’ those of a singer and a pianist], not without effort, but cared for and rendered with love; in front of an audience, [these songs] would become rigid and pass by, uncomprehended, like a deep-thinking man in the halls of society; their often meditative details would even awaken discomfort.”19 It is precisely the “meditative details” of certain of Schumann's own songs that have compelled musicologists to single out these songs regularly for intense critical scrutiny. Yet it also seems that Schumann believed such qualities earmarked a song for private appreciation by the performers themselves, from the inside out, rather than from the perspective of an outside listening audience, which is usually where our critical lens resides. And for these performers, the score will likely be a central component of their experience, “cared for and rendered with love” in the complex “effort” of performance.
In 2001, Nicholas Cook proposed that in a view of music as performance, we might no longer see scores as “texts” but rather as “scripts,” providing performers with “prompts to the enaction of social relationships in the real time of performance.”20 Cook's suggestion seems promising as the basis for a hands-on, inside-out critical approach to the lied, in which the score would factor as one element within “a continuum between experiencing music as process [that is, as contingent, embodied event] and as product [that is, as fixed, ideal work].”21 Cook's nuanced reconceptualization of the inextricable relationship between process and product did not go far enough for Philip Auslander, however, who in 2006 faulted Cook's notion of “script” for “maintain[ing] the idea that the musical work provides the design that underlies and thus determines the performance.”22 As a corrective, Auslander suggests that “the direct object of the verb to perform need not be something [i.e., a work]—it can also be someone, an identity rather than a text.”23 From Auslander's more anthropological perspective, a performer retains full agency in the construction of his or her “musical persona,” defined as “the version of self that a musician performs qua musician,” while the prescriptions of scores and the musical works they somehow encode are ultimately subservient to that larger enterprise.24
“Persona,” as scholars of the lied will immediately point out, has also been a central term in lied studies ever since the publication of Edward T. Cone's The Composer's Voice in 1974. Indeed, when Auslander defines musical performance as “a person's representation of self within a discursive domain of music,”25 what canonical genre comes to mind if not the lied, that quintessential vehicle of Romantic subjectivity which Cone used as the point of departure for his argument that “every composition is an utterance depending on an act of impersonation which it is the duty of the performer or performers to make clear”?26 For Cone, however, it is the “composition” which utters itself through the performer, while for Auslander it is the “person” who represents him- or herself in performance. Cone is by no means in favor of pedantic adherence to the score, but throughout The Composer's Voice he persistently reveals his indebtedness to the Romantic spiritual ideal of intersubjectivity in performance in which, according to Mary Hunter, “the job of the performer was understood to be about developing and displaying a unitary consciousness that merged [the performer's] own subjectivity with the composer's.”27 With regard to song recitals specifically, Cone identifies the “illegitimate” performance as one “in which not the vocal persona but the singer—Mr. X or Miss Y there on the stage—becomes the ‘composer,’ the experiencing subject of the song.”28 Yet the latter situation is what Auslander would put forward as the only legitimate critical perspective, one that is not beholden to narrow Romantic assumptions about what properly constitutes musical performance.
Cone's writings have been an abiding intellectual foundation for the enormous musicological literature over the past few decades devoted to teasing out the meanings of Schumann's songs as works. If we adopt Auslander's critical position instead and allow Singer X and Pianist Y to come to the foreground, would all our cherished insights into Schumann's scores have to recede into the background, if not be forgotten entirely? One might interject here (as I did above, following Schumann's lead) that most lied performers do begin their activity by trying to make sense of scores, but it is still the performances, not the scores, that ultimately form the basis of critical reflection about a given repertoire at any particular moment.29 And since performances stemming from the same score change drastically over the course of history, is it then foolish to think that we could find something in Schumann's scores that would tell us anything reliable about “the discursive domain of music” in which they were first employed?
In fact, we need not fear that contemplating these questions will force us to renounce all of our hard-earned score-based interpretive insights. Placing performance at the center of our inquiry may simply require a more inclusive frame of reference and a more fluid critical strategy, much in the all-embracing spirit of performance studies itself. More recently, Cook has expanded upon his idea of the score as “social script,” ultimately focusing on solo performance as a kind of distillation of the phenomenon of Western art music performance ingeneral, in which the score “acts as a non-human agent” with which the performer interacts in a process of constant negotiation.30 Meditating on the “carnal musicology” in Elizabeth Le Guin's account of her performance of Boccherini's Cello Sonata in E flat,31 Cook observes that Le Guin is “in a relationship”—with Boccherini, with “the music,” with herself, with whatever you like—“and it is a relationship scripted by the notes on the page. There is a sense then in which you are never alone with music.”32 By respecting the intertwined agencies of both the score and the performer, Cook's position stakes out a useful middle ground between Cone and Auslander that would serve us well in understanding the early nineteenth-century lied from the inside out. If, as a critical vantage point, we exchange our seat in the audience for the piano bench of the performer who plays and sings for and as him- or herself, we may be able to refine some of our most ingrained critical habits, revealing traces of early nineteenth-century performance culture that have been hiding in the scores in plain sight.33
Consider the celebrated intricacy of the relationship between voice and piano in Schumann's songs. From the perspective of performance, we should speak not of “voice and piano” but rather of “singer and pianist,” or in the case of nineteenth-century solo performance, “singer-pianist.” Even today, however, professional lied accompanists like myself regularly occupy the roles of both singer and pianist simultaneously in the seclusion of the practice studio in order to achieve what Graham Johnson characterizes as a “complete and continuing identification with the text in front of one's eyes—experiencing each word and image not as the singer sings it, but before, the better to mirror the verbal imagery, and experience the song from within.”34 As we do this, we are to some extent retracing the steps of Clara Wieck, who wrote frequently of solitary Schwärmerei singing and playing the scores that Schumann was sending her throughout the Liederjahr of 1840.35 Cone and Auslander both work from the assumption that musical personae, however they are defined, project meaningful gestures out to an audience, but in the cases of lied performance as private Hausmusik or as the focus of an accompanist's study process, the performer's own actions of reading, singing, playing, and hearing constitute a closed system of communication. The performance is meaningful for the performer alone, and its meaning comes in the act of doing the song.
My contention is that the self-consciousness inherent in all Western art music performance (Cook's idea that “you are never alone with music”) is often thematized and intensified in Schumann's songs as a specifically Romantic self-consciousness, one which is experienced by those who perform the song and embody the relationship between voice and piano scripted by the score. For example, this is what I experience when I sit down to read, play, and sing the piano introduction and opening stanza of Schumann's “Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen,” the third song of the opus 24 Heine Liederkreis (Video Example 1).
|Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen||I was walking among the trees|
|Mit meinem Gram allein;||alone with my grief;|
|Da kam das alte Träumen,||then the old dreaming came|
|Und schlich mir ins Herz hinein.||and crept into my heart.|
|Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen||I was walking among the trees|
|Mit meinem Gram allein;||alone with my grief;|
|Da kam das alte Träumen,||then the old dreaming came|
|Und schlich mir ins Herz hinein.||and crept into my heart.|
In the introduction, Schumann's score directs me to perform the grief of dreams defeated, stirring inchoately within myself before it rises to the level of verbal articulation. In measures 2–3 I yearn for a high G♯ and for something beyond the confines of a claustrophobic B major, but while my F leading tone clings to the G♯, it lacks the strength to attain it; the energy of this attempted tonicization slowly drains away in a descending circle of fifths, and I wind up back where I began. At the end of measure 4, as I begin to externalize these sensations in words, my piano playing snaps into rhythmic lockstep with my singing, thickening my vocal delivery with chordal support. The score here dictates that singing and playing are one and inseparable for me, as are the sounds they produce. But beginning in measure 9, as I sing about the return of the “old dreaming” whose failure was the cause of my grief, my playing gradually detaches itself from my singing through rolled intervals, grace notes, and rhythmic delays. By the time I rise vocally in measure 11 to another high G♯, my playing has fully detached from my singing, sending up two luxurious imitations of my arpeggiated vocal ascent in measures 12–13 before coming to rest on that very same G♯. Because of the way that Schumann's score stages (as “script”) the gradual and deliberate blurring of my acoustic selfhood, I become caught uneasily between identities. In the act of playing and singing measures 9–13, I slowly become aware of some uncanny foreign presence lodged in the piano—the dreams of my former self slipping back into my heart, perhaps—and yet I am the one playing that piano. In hearing the G♯ that hovers in measure 13, in seeing and feeling the motion of my finger as it hits that key, I seem at once to express my Self and to observe an Other.
From this inside-out perspective, the characteristically sophisticated relationship between voice and piano notated in Schumann's score does not so much represent a crisis of Romantic self-consciousness as it encourages the enactment of this cultural phenomenon, by and for the one who plays and sings it. More generally, then, I suggest that this hallmark “meditative detail” of Schumann's lied scores demonstrates something very palpable about the composer's awareness of and active engagement with the private contexts in which his songs would often have been performed. In playing and singing from scores such as these, we recreate for ourselves a bit of the experiential flavor of those bygone contexts. I make this claim in the spirit of Auslander's more recent suggestion that “there is no … ontological or epistemological gap between music and performance that needs bridging. Music is what musicians do.”36 In the realm of lied accompanying, private performance is in fact “what musicians do” with scores, rendering these artifacts of the past with love and care over and over again, each time revisiting a lost musical praxis, however obliquely, and its attendant meaning as performance.
Reading Lieder Recordings
The impact of recording on musical practices has been discussed extensively. We routinely acknowledge that early recordings, which first documented live performances, then came to shape them; that once disks were of sufficiently high quality and cheap enough they enhanced the accessibility of many different types of music but at the same time solidified a particular canon of classical works; and, finally, that recordings deepened the divide between performers and listeners by encouraging passive, solitary consumption in place of praxis.37 Historians who rely on recorded evidence, Leon Botstein has cautioned, are akin to the archaeologist “faced with fragments not necessarily of objects but of indirect pictorial documentations of artifacts and practices.”38 The question, of course, is what we do with those fragments. Often, early recordings of singers are put on display as exotic remnants; instead of providing a bridge between centuries they open up a chasm—prompting, as Daniel Leech-Wilkinson has observed, disbelief and even laughter.39
Yet such laughter masks that it was when gramophone records began to be distributed more widely that the kind of listening practices we now associate with lieder were established. The way we understand lied performance has much less to do with continuities with and intensifications of a practice formed in an earlier age—of close links with domestic (mundane or intimate) music making—than with technology. Historians of recorded music often claim that before the age of mechanical sound reproduction music was a social activity.40 The one exception seems to be playing or singing to oneself; the kind of performance situation Benjamin Binder idealizes as achieving a turn from representation to enactment, which, he implies, tells us something about the lieder composer's subjective experience. Yet while, say, Robert Schumann may have had such an experience on playing through one of his songs, as may others who performed them in their homes, by the mid-nineteenth century lieder were frequently presented on public stages, in large halls.41 What is more, they might be sung in translation, amid opera arias, folk songs, and drawing-room ballads. Nineteenth-century performance practices suggest that lieder were treated as neither particularly social, in the sense of being a communal activity, nor solitary. Their roots in domestic music making, in other words, were overemphasised, perhaps for nostalgic purposes; for the most part, lieder were sung by professionals (or at least the trained) to a passive, if not always silent, audience.
By the early twentieth century aficionados were often dismissive of the concert experience, with its rustling programmes, hacking coughs, overpowering perfumes, and inane chatter.42 “One does not read lyrical poetry to a crowd,” explained critic Richard Capell; “the habitual listener comes to the conclusion that listening, or at any rate cold-blooded listening in a crowd, is not the true approach to Schubert's songs.”43 Recordings were proposed as the better path, though they did not leave the listener alone so much as entrain him (and sometimes her): translations and liner notes served to inform and educate. A London Times reviewer of Gerhardt Hüsch's 1934 recording of Winterreise explained: “After repeated hearings in which to gauge the cumulative effect of [the cycle's] successive songs and to admire the sweep of the whole, one can return with [the notes'] help to the details of workmanship, to the points of verbal illustration, and to particularly vivid strokes of the composer's imagination.”44 If the tradition of amateur singing was weakening, there could nonetheless be a kind of informed consumption of and engagement with the poetic and musical aspects of lieder. We would not “read” songs—and their performances—so closely today were it not for such heurism.
Nicholas Cook has extrapolated from examples of solitary listening, emancipated from the concert hall through recordings, that musical performance was thereby reconceived as “a form of sounded writing.”45 This seems particularly true of lieder, the appreciation of which, as Jennifer Ronyak outlines, habitually emphasizes their poetic and musical texts, their convergence and occasional disaffiliation.46 While Lawrence Kramer's notion of “songfulness” has gained some currency, it is striking that discussions of voice in the lied have rarely ventured to look—or, better, listen—beyond what Mary Ann Smart wryly calls “the granular turn.”47 One reason for this limited purview is that critics and analysts of lieder indeed tend to treat songs primarily as texts. Studies of voice in opera, by contrast, privilege the “angel cries” of live performance that, significantly, slip the bounds of language and exist in the moment.48 As a result, the supposed high point of an opera is where the score falls from our hands and we become absorbed in the performance.
Perhaps this firm grip on scores and texts is why lieder scholars have been reluctant to do more than dip their toes into the world of performance studies. Roland Barthes complained in 1972 about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's domination of the recording industry, to the extent that to listen to Schubert was then, by default, to listen to Fischer-Dieskau (with all that implied for a particular performance style, as Barthes—and Jonathan Dunsby—detail). The baritone's reign may now be over, but Barthes's point about recordings supporting an average culture of listeners rather than practitioners (especially of an amateur variety), still holds true.49 It is through our ability to listen alone, again and again, to read over and over, that we feel we gain access to the meanings of past musical cultures.
Two examples might help explain what I mean about the extent to which we read lieder through or as recordings, as “a form of sounded writing,” even when recordings document the fragility of live performances. Lotte Lehmann ended her farewell recital at New York's Town Hall on February 16, 1951, with an encore of Schubert's “An die Musik.” She broke down before the end, leaving her accompanist Paul Ulanowsky to finish the final phrase alone (listen to Audio Example 1).
Lehmann had made fine studio recordings of “An die Musik” (in 1927 and 1947, and during a radio broadcast in 1941), but it is the record of this last concert that compels, that became infamous. The singer's presence is made clear through the absence, the breakdown, of her voice. That breakdown also highlights the familiarity of Schubert's lied; even, the familiarity of Schubert's lied as sung by Lehmann. Jason Stanyek and Benjamin Piekut have claimed that the entire history of audiovisual recording is based on a culture of synchronization; the same could be said here of the relationship between singer and song.50 What might, in the concert hall, have been remembered as a momentary lapse caused by heightened emotion becomes, through its capture on record, layered with history. Lehmann's croak can be interpreted as indicative of the demise of a generation of singers, with their particular performance practices; her singing style was disappearing from the concert stage and recording catalogues. It was also indicative of the changing status of Schubert's lied, a paean to the power of music, in postwar American concert life: the repertoire's canonisation and, perhaps, fossilization.
Sixty years later, in November 2011, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker presented 3Abschied at Sadler's Wells in London. Her starting point—and she started over several times—was the supposed impossibility of dancing to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. De Keersmaeker began by playing the famous “late” recording by Kathleen Ferrier of the final movement, “Abschied”; she then relayed how Daniel Barenboim had been horrified by the prospect of her project; then, Ensemble Ictus and Sara Fulgoni performed the movement (in Schoenberg's arrangement) live, Keersmaeker dancing between the orchestra members as they collapsed or left the stage in the manner of Haydn's Farewell Symphony (see Figs. 1 and 2). Finally, Keersmaeker danced alone, to piano accompaniment. She sang “Abschied” as she went; her voice thin, the phrases interrupted by her breathing. It was arresting: the expansive lyricism of Mahler's song reduced to a panting body. But the audience quickly grew restless, as it became clear that Keersmaeker would continue in this fashion until the very end of the song. They probably would have accepted the same dance to Ferrier's recording; being forced to listen to Keersmaeker's rendition, though, tested their patience. A recording might be acknowledged to be fragmentary evidence, as Botstein argued; an incomplete or inaccurate live version, such as the ending of 3Abschied, or Lehmann's encore, though, proves the greater challenge, for it pulls from our hands the texts on which we continue to rely as interpreters. By listening again to lieder recordings, not for what is captured thereby, but for what is lost, we can begin to tease out this complex relationship between text-based hermeneutics and performance history.
Dancing Lieder Singing
In a New York Herald Tribune review of a December 1, 1947 concert by the Little Orchestra Society, Virgil Thomson lingered on one of the program's works: Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Performed with contralto Karin Branzell, the Kindertotenlieder, Thomson elucidated, were “familiar to local audiences chiefly through Antony Tudor's ballet Dark Elegies.” Tudor's choreography of the Kindertotenlieder had been premiered in London by Ballet Rambert in 1937. Two years later, Tudor accepted an invitation as guest choreographer for the fledgling Ballet Theatre in New York, and Dark Elegies had its North American premiere on January 24, 1940. Subsequently, Tudor's ballet was programmed in New York nearly every season—and sometimes multiple times per season—over the next decade, making the Kindertotenlieder one of Mahler's most oft-heard scores of the era.51
There are several reasons why Thomson's statement about the Kindertotenlieder is striking. He opened a window onto Mahler performance history over a decade before the composer's centenary renaissance. Thomson acknowledged that Mahler's music—above all, the Kindertotenlieder—had been danced, thereby bridging the often separate cultures, histories, and historiographies of dance and music. Thomson showed no signs of principled insistence on Werktreue performances when referencing an unorthodox performance context for Mahler's songs, or lieder overall. Moreover, by invoking Tudor's Dark Elegies as the reference point for the Kindertotenlieder, Thomson effectively framed the straight performance at hand (a chamber orchestra with contralto soloist) as an adaptation.
My focus here is on twentieth-century choreographies of lieder—“song-ballets,” I term them—as overlooked contexts for lied performance. Song-ballets offer insights on what dance and performance might bring to lied studies as well as to musicology more broadly. Undoubtedly, dance studies has witnessed more overlap with performance studies than has musicology, given the fundamental concerns of performance studies with embodiment, with human action and reaction (performers and audience, the “entire ensemble of social relations”52), and with non-text-based knowledge (“In performance studies,” writes Tracy C. Davis, “‘bodies’ are corporeal not merely textual, and ‘speech’ emanates from people with corporeality as well as identities”53). I am not, however, advocating for total displacement of the score-/text-based study of song but rather for a relaxing and refreshing of the lied's fundamental textualism (historical, hermeneutic, and/or analytical) with perspectives garnered from performance, consonant with the view outlined by Jennifer Ronyak. Indeed, the texts associated with any dance work take a backseat to dancing itself, and even when choreography is notated, said notation is generally regarded as a record of movement patterns for the purpose of future performances rather than as a masterpiece in the abstract.
Admittedly, my musicological curiosity in Thomson's review, and choreographies of lieder generally, was sparked by the very idea of dancing to Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder, Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, or Dichterliebe, Schubert's “Wiegenlied,” “Ständchen,” and “Erlkönig,” et cetera.54 One of the traditional musicological avenues of inquiry that has performance (albeit not “performance studies”) in its purview is reception, and I can imagine a study of lieder that highlights the changing meaning of a composer and her/his work through diverse choreographies. After all, Tudor's Mahler in the 1930s and 1940s was a very different composer than that of Pina Bausch—a very different choreographer—in 1974. While expanding the spotlight, reception scholarship is tethered to authors and works as well as performance(s). In the case of song-ballets, a reception approach could highlight choreographers, scenic and costume designers, audiences, and hopefully dancers, with the dance “work” constituting an enunciated text whose meanings are gauged against, but not limited to, musical or poetic texts.
Arguably, any musicologically based approach to song-ballets would still circle around performance studies at least at the same degree of remove as most opera studies. As Mary Ann Smart soberly articulates, while opera studies routinely deals with performance via staging, “The very idea of restaging is antithetical to the definition of performance studies, since it assumes a stable text that exists to be reinterpreted.”55 Resisting what Smart terms musicology's “discipline envy,”56 a phenomenon that characterizes interdisciplinarity in many disciplines but might be viewed healthily as its impetus, I follow Jonathan Hicks's proposal for opera studies that are open to a “pick-and-mix approach to performance studies,”57 which can keep works-as-texts in its purview alongside performance, in the inclusive and fluid ways also advocated for by Benjamin Binder. This methodology could be criticized as sidestepping committed engagement with performance scholars' theoretical discourses. Such discourses are, however, often productively eclectic themselves, and a “pick-and-mix approach” seems to have a spiritual affinity with the openness of performance studies and its rejection of disciplinary purity. As formulated by Dwight Conquergood in language that captures the self-consciously progressive imperative of performance studies, “promiscuous traffic between different ways of knowing carries the most radical promise.”58 Clenching a score hardly seems “promiscuous”; so, in W. B. Worthen's more musicologically relatable terms: “no simple opposition between text and performance—or … between the ‘paradigms’ we constitute to frame them—will be sufficient to capture the rich, contradictory, incommensurable ways that they engage one another.”59 Ballet or modern dance set to a lied can be a textual animal: the music and dances are created in response to a score and choreography which, along with their authors, are often canonical, at least in certain circles. Still, it is not necessarily the mark of an uncritical lapse into idealist reveries about dance's (or music's) ephemerality to emphasize that choreographies of lieder can be richly destabilizing to rigid conceptions of texts.
What, for example, were Tudor's Kindertotenlieder? Until he arrived in New York, Tudor employed a piano quintet version of Mahler's score for Dark Elegies, which he had originally choreographed to an arrangement for two pianos, four hands. Experiencing this music in an alternate sounding reality stands to nuance or alter analytical and hermeneutic observations on the musico-poetic nexus. Around the time of the American premiere of Dark Elegies, the Kindertotenlieder went through at least one more arrangement for augmented chamber ensemble before Mahler's full score became the standard for Tudor's ballet.60 And all this before even acknowledging the dancing bodies, which enliven the interplay between texts when movement responds to—or even when it does not respond to—music and/or words, thereby also inflecting musico-poetic relationships.
The ostensibly most stable of texts, a musical score, is thus anything but stable in dance and song-ballets. In addition to score arrangement and ordering, song-ballets present a range of lied performance practices that can lend fresh, performance-contingent perspectives to the study of lieder. The placement of the piano becomes a question; orchestral musicians are obviously destined for the pit. And what about the singer? Should s/he go into the pit? Or stay on the stage when there is a piano, the lieder recital colliding with the ballet? Practical, financial, aesthetic, dramaturgical, and acoustic considerations all inform these decisions, which open new sonic frontiers for lieder. The openness of song-ballets regarding scores and performance conventions manifests itself between productions as well as in individual performances during a production's run. Tudor's Dark Elegies had been conceived with the singer (baritone) sitting on a bench at the side of the stage—onstage, clothed like the dancers in peasant costume. Thus costumed, the singer reinforced the commonplace assumption that a song's singer represents the subject in the song. This practice, however, ceased in 1941 when, under Tudor's direction, the singer was relocated to the pit to clean up the visual field and also to reunite him with the orchestra for acoustic balance. Another option for singer placement—or displacement—in choreographed lieder performance is observable in Rudi Van Dantzig's Vier letzte Lieder (1977) as revived by the Dutch National Ballet.61 What was their solution? Apropos of textual flexibility, Van Dantzig choreographed through the silences between Strauss's songs. Prior to the entry of the voice in “Beim Schlafengehen,” the camera pans to reveal soprano Miranda van Kralingen deep down-stage left and across the proscenium, elevated above the low brass and strings. (Imagine the pit orchestra as an oversized piano with the conductor at the “keys” and singer in the “crook.”)
In fact, Van Dantzig's compulsion to choreograph the Vier letzte Lieder arose from a performance, albeit a recorded one: Gundula Janowitz, 1974, with the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, which accompanied the 1977 Amsterdam premiere (listen to Audio Example 2). Thrift and consistency of timing were surely advantages, but it was Janowitz's voice just as much as Strauss's songs that bore Van Dantzig's dances. This circumstance points to another oft-discussed discrepancy between performance studies and performance-attentive musicology: does the mediation of recording transform the performance event into text? Experiencing a song-ballet with recorded music via a video recording is already multiple moves away from a musical performance's liveness—is it a performance anymore? It seems realistic and fruitful to engage with the strain between presence and mediation; to cultivate, as Hicks argues for opera, a shrewd awareness of what performance is as well as what it is not.62 The tension is certainly relevant to Van Dantzig's Vier letzte Lieder. After the Amsterdam premiere, Janowitz sang live for the Viennese premiere, and to a certain extent the choreography and staging required that she parrot her own earlier performance, i.e., perform her performance. Subsequent revivals that featured non-Janowitz, in-the-flesh singers presented the problem of the singers having to channel Janowitz as well as Strauss for the sake of the ballet.63
Addressing the specificity of a voice in the context of a body, or bodies, inevitably opens the door for Roland Barthes. First, an obligatory précis: as an adjunct to his theory of vocal “grain,” Barthes located the origins of Romantic song in “the singer's—and hence the listener's—body,”64 whereby “singing” is understood metaphorically as physical responses that are triggered by melody and mediate listening. How conspicuous might a body's/bodies' engagement with song be? Might dancing to lieder be regarded as a manifestation of their embodied intimacy?
“In dance,” declared dancer-choreographer Doris Humphrey, “words are rarely used and movements and music carry all the responsibility of communication.”65 Humphrey's synopsis reflected the period before song-ballets came into bloom in the 1960s and 1970s (though they remained relatively rare and special). Nonetheless, her statement is relevant to most choreographies of lieder, in that movement tends toward contrapuntal relations with music and especially the voice; words are present, but only occasionally are they “used” in the sense of having direct expression in movement. To choreograph song is to enact “songfulness,” which, as contemplated by Lawrence Kramer, “does not exactly constitute a resistance to or escape from the symbolic, but an interlude of imperviousness to it.”66 The affinity between vocally motivated dancing and Mahler, whose songs are central to the song-ballet repertory, is not accidental: as Julian Johnson demonstrates, “Vocality is … everywhere in Mahler's music, whether or not a singer is present … [H]is music moves backward and forward across a liminal area located between sung text and instrumental melody, working at the border between the linguistic and the purely musical, the thetic and the semiotic.”67 Instances of characteristically lyrical, non-representational choreography can be observed in Maurice Béjart's Le chant du compagnon errant (1971).68 In “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht,” voice and dance are enmeshed: movement intensifies as a response to vocal tides—in pitch, dynamic, articulation, rhythm—rather than merely responding to, much less miming lexical utterances. This fusion reveals a chicken-and-egg situation: singing, which propelled the dance, almost seems to be breathed by the onstage movement that models and mirrors vocal physicality. Here, I do not mean to reduce dancing to a crude metaphor for or enactment of the “grain of the voice.” Rather, dance, through its somewhat redundant bodily lyricism, serves to refocus our attention away from the linguistic, even phonemic, aspects of the grain, towards the pure “line” of the voice.
Nor am I implying that song-ballets are conveniently Barthesian: a theory of song phenomenology retranslated into performance. On one level, song-ballets might seem to be a perversion of the lied's intimacy—a bitterly honest perversion, in that the sense of corruption implies an ideal performance that is subjective, contingent, elusive. Glossing on Barthes: the dancers' bodies—ballet dancers—denature “my” body and abusively substitute themselves for it, stealing and exposing “my” listening space (a private domain that has become central to the lied experience, as Laura Tunbridge demonstrates). It is intriguing that the rise of song-ballets was contemporary with Barthes. In Béjart's Gesellen ballet, the wayfarer has a double; the double is, of course, central to Barthes as the “lied's interlocutor.”69 Béjart stages Barthes's (and our) double, a co-wanderer who also watches (or sometimes chooses to look away) and listens, but whose affective experience is traced by dancing. Even when still, Béjart's double is dancing in the song-ballet sense of absorbing and embodying song. He is an externalization of interiority, but a “cracked mirror” in that neither dancing, nor listening, nor writing can ever adequately represent or exhaust it. In this, we might rightly question if lieder really are so special, so “extreme” as Barthes put it, more than any other music we play, hear, sing, study, record—or dance.
The German Lied and the Songs of Black Volk
African American baritone Aubrey Pankey balked at the review he had received from the Norddeutsche Zeitung in February 1961 after his Liederabend in Rostock, East Germany. Why, the critic wondered, had this African American singer devoted so much of his concert program to lieder? Shouldn't he have performed traditional African American spirituals instead? In a frosty letter to the Norddeutsche Zeitung, Pankey replied, “Had [the critic] constricted his criticisms to my voice, my interpretation, and technique, there would be no reason for this letter.”70 But, he continued, “Your reporter has assigned himself the task of politically analyzing my [concert] program. His ideas regarding my political and cultural obligations towards my people are actually and effectively racist.”71 In the lengthy, outraged letter, Pankey accused the Norddeutsche Zeitung of misunderstanding African American history and its relationship to the lied.
As a historian invested in uncovering the ways in which musical performances have participated in historical and transnational processes of identity formation, I would like to demonstrate to historians and musicologists alike how lied studies might engage with transnational history and ethnic studies to forge new pathways in scholarship. Indeed, we may find points of convergence as scholars when we ask the following questions: What might we discover when we look for historical performances of lieder in places we might not expect? How might our understanding of the lied as an object of hermeneutic study and a historical subject of inquiry change when we turn our gaze to who is singing it?
I offer two suggestions towards an answer to these questions. First, that scholars can find fascinating histories of local performance practices and invented cultural traditions when we take the lied and transplant it outside of a “pure” German context.72 Second, that performances of the lied reveal historical moments when race has been performed, debated, negated, dismissed, and/or challenged. In discussing performances of lieder by non-German singers such as Aubrey Pankey, I hope to encourage historians and musicologists to reconsider how classical music, which is often coded as white and Eurocentric, might have played a role in shaping global conversations on race and ethnicity.73
As Celia Applegate and Pamela Potter have already demonstrated, one of the most important ways in which Germans have historically established their identity has been through music.74 And one of the genres that successfully contributed to this ongoing process of identity formation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the lied. If music is the most German of the arts, then the lied is arguably the most German of genres in music history. “The fact is,” Richard Taruskin reminds us, “that only two important musical genres were actually German in origin, and one of them was vocal.”75 Moreover, the lied is “so German that it has retained its German name in English writing.”76 Composing lieder, performing them, and attending Liederabende were part of what it meant to be culturally German in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Because of the lied's ties to German national identity, listeners in Europe and the United States have been continually surprised to see and hear African American musicians perform this music. More than instrumental solo music, more than chamber music, the genre of western art music that African Americans performed the most (in addition to opera) in the twentieth century was the lied. Since the 1920s, African American singers such as Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, Ellabelle Davis, Aubrey Pankey, Kenneth Spencer, Leontyne Price, Simon Estes, William Warfield, Grace Bumbry, Reri Grist, Kathleen Battle, and Jessye Norman have performed lieder with astonishing regularity, familiarity, and mastery. Why did African Americans, an ethnic group that many people tend to believe is far removed from German culture, perform this particular genre throughout the twentieth century? Why did the lied, like the African American spiritual, become a staple on these singers' concert programs?
The lied, I argue, offered African Americans the opportunity to participate in a transatlantic and white high culture to which they had historically been denied access. In so doing, their performances launched black singers onto a stage of equality during times when this equality did not otherwise exist. Their performances of lieder and, as a result, their participation in high culture negated transatlantic attempts to relegate black talent to the worlds of jazz and black popular music, music that white audiences throughout the twentieth century had continually deemed inferior.
In her monograph on performance in Latino communities, The Archive and the Repertoire, Diana Taylor argues that performances, when we choose to see them anthropologically, offer scholars a way to understand how ethnic groups have transmitted knowledge and managed their lives.77 Moreover, performances have also historically functioned as a way to sustain organizational infrastructures, local practices, or politics that lie outside the topic of the performance itself.78 Using Taylor's line of reasoning permits us to see black performances of lieder as belonging to a separate historical tradition, one in which African Americans used German music to assert their own agency. Eric Lott, in his work on blackface minstrelsy in nineteenth-century America, Love and Theft, also agrees that performances have much to tell us about the creation, perpetuation, and denial of racial categories. To Lott, blackface performances have less to say about black stereotyping and more about how “white working people lived their whiteness.”79 He posits that blackface minstrelsy illuminates how historical processes of racial formation were stitched together, thus making “possible the formation of a self-consciously white working class.”80 Black performances of lieder show us a history of African Americans asserting their blackness through performances of German music and encouraging listeners to acknowledge a fuller spectrum of black expression.
Unlike opera, which relies on costumes, makeup, and set design (in addition to the music and libretto) to create characters, the lied repertoire has many nameless and purportedly universal or raceless characters that African Americans could play. By hosting Liederabende, singers could avoid the politics of typecasting that had historically limited their careers and circumvent the politics of segregation that dogged American (and some European) opera houses throughout the twentieth century.81 Simply put, solo performances of the lied offered singers a relative oasis from the ugly racial politics that opera could not avoid. Alone on the stage, black singers such as Marian Anderson need not worry about being part of a racially integrated musical ensemble and the controversy that might cause. Alone on the stage, black musicians made the case that they were excellent musicians based on the purity of their performance alone, not on the particular character (Aida, Otello) they had been assigned to perform.
In tackling the difficult genre of the lied, with its dangerous linguistic and performative pitfalls and its heavily charged societal and cultural expectations, African American singers contested the notion of black inferiority. Singers such as Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, Simon Estes, and Jessye Norman spent years learning German diction and reading German poetry in central Europe, studying vocal training with central European teachers, and repeatedly listening to and practicing lieder. Through hard work and intense dedication to the poem and score, black singers proved repeatedly throughout the twentieth century that they could pronounce like Germans, sing Schubert just as well as a Viennese, and capture the German Romantic sentiment of Innigkeit. African American singers transformed into Gretchens on the spinning wheel or lonely wanderers searching for their beloveds, thus permitting them to defy societal and cultural expectations anchored in their blackness. Their temporary transformations challenged those who often made the mistake of accepting “appearances for essence.”82
Ultimately, the lied represented possibilities to black singers that stood outside of any meaning thought to reside predominantly in either the poem or score of any given song. For example, in May of 1924, African American tenor Roland Hayes wooed an angry crowd at the Beethovensaal in Berlin with the music of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, and Brahms. Days before his appearance, Berliners had traveled to the American embassy in protest against having a black man perform in the city. Yet following his opening performance of Schubert's “Du bist die Ruh,” the crowd burst into applause. By the time he left central Europe to return to the United States, European presses had dubbed Roland Hayes “a Negro with a white soul.”83
Years later, African American contralto Marian Anderson ignored the Salzburg Festival's race-based rejection of her petition to perform in Salzburg in August 1935, and offered a concert program to the city's musical elites that included Schubert's “Der Tod und das Mädchen,” Brahms's “Die Mainacht,” and Mahler's “Urlicht” and “Rheinlegendchen.” And it was Schubert again that Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to protest against racial discrimination in the city of Washington, DC, that Easter Sunday in 1939. Condemning the lack of racial progress during the cold war, Paul Robeson sang the music of communist composer Hanns Eisler during his visit to East Germany in 1960, thus offering an alternative reading of racial and national identity that the US government at the time found uncomfortable.
By the end of the twentieth century, the historical tradition of African Americans performing lieder had become institutionalized. Beginning in 1980, African American musicians Raoul Abdul and Kelley Wyatt hosted an annual “Liedklasse” for African American students in New York City. Created as a way to encourage African American musicians to sing lieder, the yearly master class also promoted networking, collaboration, and community building among African Americans in the classical music world.84 Serving Viennese pastries and coffee “mit Schlag” and hosting lectures on German poetry, the Liedklasse strove to immerse students in German musical culture.85 The master class offered a variety of programs to its participants throughout its twenty-year history: in 1993, students partook in a Schubertiade, for example, and in 1991, the Liedklasse focused on Mozart and included a lecture entitled, “Mozart and the Black Experience.”86
This special “affinity of Black singers to German Lieder,” Abdul believed, “goes back to the pioneering efforts of Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson, who astounded critics and audiences in the great musical centers of Salzburg, Vienna, and Berlin. This tradition has been carried on to this generation by such artists as Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and others.”87 African American singers, the founders contended, had a “burning passion” for the repertoire of lieder and, more importantly, had a special relationship with the music of Austro-German composers. These musical gatherings featured guest performances and instruction from prominent African American singers such as Anne Wiggins Brown, Grace Bumbry, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Robert McFerrin, Jessye Norman, and Shirley Verrett (who had all “distinguished themselves as outstanding singers of German Lieder”88). Through this Liedklasse, young African American singers interacted with musical mentors and fostered black pride in the name of lieder.
In his contribution to this colloquy, Benjamin Binder asks us to consider a now unusual performing context, in which the traditional art song audience disappears and unexpected meanings emerge.89 The history of black performances of lieder offers a similar scenario, albeit an arguably more charged one: these classically trained singers participated in transatlantic racial politics, strikingly recontextualizing the lied canon simply by singing it. This history demonstrates the value of thinking transnationally about the lied and what we stand to gain in looking for the lied around the world.90 But perhaps African American singers also reinforced the fidelity to German art songs as “texts” that the hermeneutic tradition assumes above all else. Black singers' performances of lieder, with their dedication to precision and their faithfulness to the score, may have shored up the very things that have made the lied seem unshakable, unalterable, and timeless, despite the otherwise “resistant” political nature of such performances.
The Lied Itself
For good reason, I begin here with an autobiographical tale. I want to call it a parable, yet it is true, if Saramago-like, sparsely punctuated, written in time rather than wrought in tranquility:
I once put a scenario to a musician friend of mine asking how weird this is, you shower, wear nice clean clothes, drive for maybe an hour and pay to park, join a crowd of people slowly walking into a big room, sit and wait, gradually sink into communal silence at a consensual time, maybe the lights dim, then this man appears in carefully pressed dark clothes and stands alone on a stage for a while looking at you, but he doesn't talk to anybody, he won't say hello, he draws breath, opens his mouth, and suddenly it spews out, all over the audience, drenching them, dichterliebe.
Wayne Heisler's tales of the song-ballet, alongside Benjamin Binder's notion of enactment, put me in mind of that: in contrast to scholarly argument, a performed response, in order to cultivate an image of the lied as not quite being itself. Is the lied in performance doing something, generally, like what the parable tries to tell of how that Liederabend began? You may not think so, but the lied surely is an unusual experience. Schumann considered that “music is the higher potential of poetry,” so we had better listen.91
The scholarly argument might be that not-itself-ness reflects a normal condition of performed music—and towards the conclusions here I shall home in on some lessons from music theory about that statement, though theory is implicit throughout. Such a statement perhaps raises the conditions of lied performance into the sphere of Aristotelian appearances, all not being what it seems. Mainly, however, it says simply that the experienced song does not intersect exactly with the composed song; and nor is experiencing song musical in the same way as experiencing “music alone” (Peter Kivy's concept92), because a song entails what I want to call vocality, and also perhaps what Lawrence Kramer calls “songfulness.”93 But here's the rub: Roland Barthes taught us about “obtuse meaning,” where a first and obvious meaning (perhaps the Liederabend as begun to be witnessed above) carries a second, symbolic one (which might include our teardrop when the Dichterliebe's singer's closing submediant tone dies), and a third, the obtuse meaning, beyond language, persistent but ineffable, and which I would like to ascribe to Dichterliebe in performance fully absorbed. Obtuse meaning, the thing in itself that we cannot quite grasp but which does seize us, has barely been reflected in musicology's view of the lied as a complex musico-poetic work.94 The full absorbed performance is not only, as some will argue, a subjective and ephemeral experience, but a vital component for musicians of their intersubjective knowledge of the work of art.
For example, I have complained about Aaron Ridley's Werkkonzept, vocal or otherwise, in his The Philosophy of Music (2006),95 because it does not seem to allow for obtuse meaning at all. To me, a test statement such as “it was fine singing but you can't really say it was Dichterliebe” is epistemologically valid. I take it that Ridley would contest that validity, and yet my statement is typical of the discourse of expert performers and other kinds of expert listeners, even if it might seem puzzling to that ordinary listener without whom the music cognitionists would be out of work. We need to explore expertly not only the lied as a virtual object—often referred to in shorthand as the musical score when it comes to Western art music of many kinds—but also the nature of the lied's virtuality. We often read nowadays in musical performance studies about the value of analyzing not scores but real performances. Scores are also virtual objects, as has been observed over the ages.96 Jennifer Ronyak nevertheless rightly reminds us in her essay that the performance is an event “of radical singularity.” Pragmatically, musicologists and theorists alike should be explicit about what it is they believe they are working on “in performance”: their own internal “performance,” or an ideal performance, or an aggregate of performances, and so on, including a recording contingent on particular times and landscapes, and which in truth can never truly happen more than once, in that well-known sense of our not being able to dip a hand into the same river twice.
This virtual object throws out what Ronyak calls “heavy contextual clues,” and some of the most suggestive are also the most obtuse or resistive. Imagine this: A Schubert whose live lieder had not missed the advent of audio recording, by a mere half century as it was. Imagine if we could hear Schubert not iconically accompanying at the piano, but singing one of his lieder to his own accompaniment; or perhaps hear one of Schubert's intimate male circle, who was a truly fine singer, accompanying himself, with all the interpretive freedom that solo music making enables?97 Then perhaps we would have a substantial idea of what strophic variation in performance meant at the time, of precisely how Schubert and his great contemporaneous performers ideally rendered, as we believe they did, his same musical verses soloistically in different ways depending (thoroughly? or only selectively?) on the meanings in each stanza of the text. Thus Laura Tunbridge's complementary warning about the limitations inherent in talking about any lieder at all of olden days, because music that once sprang onto the page replete with contemporaneous performance expectations now carries a patina, even an opaque veil, of the subsequent history of its interpretation: our perception of the lied itself is driven by technology and the relatively newfound ability to “listen alone, again and again”; and what we are listening to usually does not even count as—to use Richard Taruskin's memorable term— authentistic.98
Tunbridge rightly observes in her essay that early recordings may well “open up a chasm.” Along with Barthes, we may have a concrete, sonic, aesthetic concept of this or that lied, a concept which arose long after the composer first imagined the original, and which for us makes it the real thing, the lied itself. Along with Barthes, we may well use this concept evaluatively. In discussing the grain of Panzéra's voice elsewhere I deliberately chose to reflect on his interpretation, not of mélodie or chanson or Pelléas, when in his métier, but—again—Dichterliebe, or a bit of it.99 The goal was to compare Panzéra with Fischer-Dieskau, as Barthes meant to do, but now on the same musical ground. Good comparison, discussed by Cook in respect of music theory,100 is after all the Achilles' heel of so much modern performance-studies research. Examining the differences between ten interpretations of a piece, even when we can be convinced of their obtusely intersubjective reality, may be a fool's errand unless we have a refined view of their relative validity as interpretations—and music research in an aesthetic vacuum is almost an Aristotelian contradiction.101 Barthes, on the contrary, asserted, to the consternation of some readers then and now, that there are superior qualities in Panzéra not to be heard in Fischer-Dieskau, and it was not only in Barthes' Proustianly replete memory of his beloved singing teacher that he remembered this, but precisely also in listening to recordings. The voice in modern and postmodern lied interpretation entails a “pheno-song” authority, above all a recorded authority, part of the reception history of a lied that can transform its identity.102 In this we include the language of the singer, by which I mean specifically the singer's diction. In a radio broadcast Barthes was more explicit about this than in his writings, or so I feel.103 Ironically when he is critiquing Fischer-Diskau, it is Panzéra's pronunciation of French that Barthes really values: beyond or behind the musical fabric and the way it is reproduced, he hears the interplay of consonants and vowels expressing a cultural aesthetic which, in my words, may seem minisculely different from one singer to the next while both categorically stamp themselves into our memory. Barthes is implicitly referencing the Proustian madeleine, naturally, the phenomenon of involuntary memory where the slightest encounter in the present can release a flood of fantastically rich past realities. It is not that when hearing a lied we may seem to remember vaguely someone singing it differently in the past, as is rather implied by Leon Botstein's essay concerning the history of recording.104
Involuntary memory is a key mechanism, a substrate, for Kira Thurman's interwar Austro-German Liederabend audiences transfixed by the alienating experience of black musicians singing like Germans. What could be more exemplary of the authentic lied that is somehow not itself? Black singers venturing into so foreign an arena had to immerse themselves in the Heimat culture, particularly the subcutaneous inflections of sung German language, in order to simulate the kind of native naturalness that would make the illusion holistic. The overwhelming power of involuntary memory cuts both ways, not only flooding our responses where it is wanted, but also potentially disrupting the entire lied-ness of a performance: an accidentally substituted but properly pronounced syllable can be a trivial error, but an incorrectly inflected voiceless velar fricative (in German linguistics the ich- and ach-lauts) can destroy all at once the illusion of linguistic innateness, screaming foreign. On the one hand assimilation serves to underline otherness, which may be the central message of the history of the lied in black musician performance. Yet on the other hand otherness is in the nature of the lied itself—obviously, we do not really imagine that Fischer Dieskau ever became Schubert's actual wanderer, who never existed or needed to exist anyway105—and studying cultural assimilation in the history of the lied in performance is ultimately a study of the authenticity of simulation.
What is being talked about in all such considerations is, roughly, the psychology of lied encounter, and musicology and music theory are well primed to tolerate the necessary individuation involved, the concern with personas, and more abstractly with actants.106 Personal accounts do not necessarily need to retain the integrity of the person, as demonstrated in Janet Schmalfeldt's much-vaunted inscription of herself into Beethoven-performer in dialogue with Beethoven-analyst.107 Some may feel that there was a degree of hubris in Schmalfeldt's ruminations, for her pianist self can seem as guileless as her inner theory associate is defensive. She did, though, persuade many music theorists (to judge from the many citations) to think about musical interpretation psychologically as observers rather than as musical lawmakers. With the lied, there is an obviously strong case for maintaining the integrity of the observer since the genre is itself an inherently dissociated one, much as we marvel at the unity of experience when our perfect singer is musically at one with what is sometimes called the voice of the piano. Binder argues that in lied performance in the Schumann household, back in 1840, the two performers are importantly separate, doing something for each other, listening to each other—and the persuasive implication is that Schumann composed lieder reflecting just that duality where the piano may ‘detach’ itself from the song. And what if we were to drill deep inside the minds of each of those two performers? That is what Dai Griffiths offered in his essay “So Who Are You? Webern's Op. 3 no. 1,” in which the piano-analyst—psychoanalyst, that is—tries to figure out from the point of view of pitch what the singer is singing about structurally, in 1908.108 This goes far beyond the mere parsing of foreground pitch relationships; Griffiths explores what the singer-patient's unconscious musico-poetic drives are, in internalizing and responding to the pitches of the piano part. As a written, scrutable example of living out an experience of the lied, Griffiths' innovative study was emblematic of how we might probe the very concept of performance to investigate what the performers might be—in fact ought to be—aware of.
If the challenge of performance may not be specific to the lied, nevertheless the importance of that challenge is heightened in this multivalent genre. As we continue in modern musicology, bolstered by intense focuses that may wish to be characterized as more theoretical than historical, to explore the vocality of the lied, it will be important to continue to explore it as a performed experience. Probably what Schumann meant by the “higher potential of poetry” was being drenched in the actuality of the lied itself.