Poetry and music have in common various ways of structuring sound. In both, one can speak of rhythm, meter, loudness (e.g., accent), and pitch. Beyond sound in the narrow sense, one can also speak of syntax in that both language and Western tonal music create expectations that are satisfied or not in a variety of ways. These material aspects of poetry and music can be the basis for exploring how poetry and music fit together in vocal music in general and in individual works. The study of poetry in these terms came to prominence in the work of Roman Jakobson and others beginning in 1960 and has more recently been taken up by Marjorie Perloff and colleagues. The study of music with words has in general not considered the materiality that they share, especially not in the analysis of individual works. Writers on music have generally placed emphasis on expression of the semantic content of texts instead, privileging texts that can be read in relation to Romantic lyric theory. This has led to the search for word painting of one kind or another that has shaped the understanding of whole periods in the history of music and that is very much with us still, though this semantic domain cannot ultimately be separated from the material aspect of language.
This article analyzes Songs 1, 2, 4, and 6 of Schumann's Dichterliebe in terms of this materiality with a view to showing how closely congruent poetry and music can be in their own terms in individual works without dwelling first on what they might be thought to express. This is to speak not at first about meaning but rather about the means by which meaning is created. Analysis of this kind in no way precludes hermeneutics. It is but one starting point and one that bears directly on the act of listening and perhaps performance.