In her 1997 study Schubert, Müller, and Die schöne Müllerin, Youens describes the collaborative Liederspiel (song play) that served as Wilhelm Müller's model for his poetic cycle Die schöne Müllerin and Schubert's more familiar work. This study removes Schubert and his masterwork from the picture to reconsider the Liederspiel as a sociable, performative event and address persistent questions concerning the self, its expression and development, and communicative relationships between selves as mediated through singing lyric poetry. Building upon Youens's suggestion that the event constituted “serious play,” the article considers the implications of such play for understanding the event and for performance-focused analyses of the Lied generally. “Serious play” thus operates in multiple registers, referring to the playful activity of the salon participants themselves; the discourses of “Idealist play” and of “role play”; and importantly to the necessarily “playful” approach that I take to the mobile types of evidence at hand.

The first section examines the culture within the Stägemann salon in relation to Berlin salon life before and immediately after the Napoleonic Wars, with special attention to the role of gender and related cultural expectations within the salons. The second section considers Schleiermacher's theory of free sociability as inspired by Romantic salon culture and the broader question of free play as viewed through (historical) idealist and more current critical lenses. After a brief description of the events, poetry, and music of the Liederspiel, the following sections analyze how Wilhelm Müller and Luise Hensel negotiated their way through Idealist play and role play in a salon colored by the growing limitations of Biedermeier culture and particularly the gender roles attending it. By thus viewing the Liederspiel events as multifaceted “serious play,” it becomes possible to advance a new approach to the sung performance of lyric poetry that builds upon but extends the more work-centered text-music approach to the Lied that has dominated the past several decades of research on the genre.

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