Goethe and Schubert: Across the Divide

Carysfort Press, 2003

“Taking the cue from Lorraine Byrne’s seminal study, Schubert’s Goethe Settings, Nicholas Boyle clearly identifies the main purpose of this volume of essays, namely to lay to rest long-held misconceptions and show that Goethe and Schubert, in spite of coming from different cultures and backgrounds ‘had more in common than the conventional assessments of either will allow’. In the ‘Afterword’, Harry White also congratulates the contributors for enriching German studies in their collective assertion that Goethe was anything but ‘profoundly unmusical’ and demonstration that both his poetry and Schubert’s vocal settings ‘provide that crucial intersection between music and language which lies at the heart of German Romanticism’ 

This interdisciplinary volume includes essays by leading Schubert scholars and Germanists which began their life as scholarly lectures which would enrich the conference’s many professional performances, The resulting volume explores aspects of reception history including Goethe’s musicality and his relationship to Schubert (Nicolas Boyle, Juergen Barkhoff, Claus Canisius, Kenneth Whitton) including an engaging reception history of Schubert in Ireland (Joachim Fischer); Schubert Lieder (Youens) Schubert’s Sacred Music (Walther Dürr, Brian Newbould) and Schubert’s Opera (Elizabeth Norman McKay) and his setting of Goethe’s Singspiel, Claudine (Lorraine Byrne Bodley, David Hill and Robert Meikle, Ursula Kramer, Francis Lamport). A companion volume of this Singspiel (with piano reduction and English translation) is also available.

Goethe’s important contribution to the German Singspiel and Schubert’s setting of Claudine von Villa Bella are both considered in Lorraine Byrne’s ‘Revisiting Claudine: Schubert’s Goethe Singspiel’. Here Byrne Bodley provides an insightful reception history of the work from 1815 until the present day, including an historic stage performance of Act 1 in English as part of the 2003 Goethe-Schubert conference in Trinity College Dublin, and makes the telling point that the understandable lack of performances ‘has clearly contributed to misunderstandings of Schubert’s and Goethe’s achievements in this field’. Although not enough of his setting of Goethe’s Singspiel survives to indicate how Schubert’s dramatic treatment of the text would have taken wing in Acts 2 and 3, what we have in Act 1 makes it sufficiently clear that, in his handling of orchestral and vocal forces, he comes very close to Goethe’s ideal of text and music going ‘hand in hand’.”

Prof. Crawford Howie, University of Manchester
Schubert Institute UK

“This remarkable event drew together so many different, even opposite fields: North and South in its collective performances of Schubert by choirs and musicians from Northern Ireland and the Republic; the practical and the academic, with performances and papers alternating and complementing each other; music and theatre in the English-language premiere of Goethe and Schubert’s Claudine, the Olympian and the tortured Romantic in the interplay between Goethe and Schubert.”

Prof. Moray McGowan 
Professor of German, Trinity College Dublin

“Schopenhauser’s view that all true knowledge is contained in direct perceptions – sensory, artistic, intellectual – from which our concepts are derived found justification in a conference where deep musical and German scholarship alternated with musical performance. It was a great pleasure for me to participate in such an undertaking and especially to have had the joy of accompanying such a consummate artist as tenor Ian Partridge.”

Seóirse Bodley 
Composer and Professor of Music, University College Dublin

“It was a real achievement to gather such a wonderful selection of experts from all over the world to show us the genius of Goethe and Schubert. There were so many highlights, but it was the inspiring paper by Susan Youens on ‘Ihr Bild’ which stands out in my memory. It was a pleasure for me to be part of this conference and to perform a selection of Goethe settings with Seóirse Bodley.”

Ian Partridge
English lyric tenor


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