In Winterreise, poet Wilhelm Müller frequently used apostrophe, the rhetorical device of “turning aside” to address absent, abstract, or nonhuman listeners. In his songs Schubert responded to the poet's use of this evocative figure of speech. Schubert probably studied a contemporary treatise on rhetoric, the anonymous Institutio ad eloquentiam, and his awareness of direct address and apostrophe are suggested by his use of them in his own writing. Modern literary critics have neglected apostrophe, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Jonathan Culler). Music scholars have explored the persona speaking in a poem and song, but less so who or what is being addressed. Studies of Müller ignore the poet's use of apostrophe. The most extensive discussions of Schubert's Winterreise (Feil, Youens) do not discuss literary or musical apostrophe as such.

Fourteen instances of apostrophe occur in eleven of the twenty-four poems of Winterreise. In nine of these, the wanderer turns to address nonhuman objects. In three, the wanderer speaks to himself. In two, the wanderer apostrophizes other people. In four others, Schubert's music approximates rhetorical address. In nearly every instance, Schubert's music changes significantly for the apostrophic address, e.g., in mode, melodic style, register, texture, dynamics. Apostrophe is often characterized as an intensifier, and Schubert's gestures unquestionably add musical weight to the effect of the literary conceit. Schubert's music even implies apostrophic address in some instances where none is explicit in the poetry. It is the rhetorical figure as much as the verse's affective content—the persona's vocative rather than his descriptive mode—that triggers the musical changes. Such response to apostrophe can also be heard in other Schubert's songs. Isolating apostrophe and bringing it to the foreground enriches our discourse about Schubert and the Lied.

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