Carl Zelter, Carl Loewe, Franz Schubert, and Franz Liszt all composed settings of Goethe's famous Nachtlied “Über allen Gipfeln.” Gathering multiple layers of rhyme and rhythm, Goethe's poem achieves a rare cogency that invests every syllable with musical significance. Each of the composed settings reflects this process of gathering in different ways, from Zelter's lulling rhythms and Loewe's processional harmonies to Schubert's landscape of echoes and Liszt's drama of cosmic assimilation. Thus this monad of a poem allows each composer to set afresh the temporal and spatial coordinates of human mortality.
The Stillness of Time, the Fullness of Space: Four Settings of Goethe's “Wandrers Nachtlied”
Scott Burnham is Distinguished Professor of Music at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City and Scheide Professor of Music History Emeritus at Princeton University, where he taught from 1989 to 2016. In 2014 he received the Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society for his book Mozart's Grace (Princeton, 2013).
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Scott Burnham; The Stillness of Time, the Fullness of Space: Four Settings of Goethe's “Wandrers Nachtlied”. 19th-Century Music 1 March 2017; 40 (3): 189–200. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2017.40.3.189
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