Schubert’s Goethe Settings

Ashgate, 2003, pbk 2016

Schubert’s Goethe Settings is the first book to address the issue of Goethe’s musicality, his attitudes towards text setting and his reception of Schubertian song. The organizational framework of the book does not follow the obvious chronology of Schubert’s Goethe settings, but rather considers how Schubert responded to literary genres from the ballad to settings from Goethe’s Faust 1; from Mignon and the Harper’s songs from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre to Goethe’s sonnets and handling of the ghazal in his West-östlicher Divan. The book thereby shows the varied ways in which Schubert responded to literary genres in his text setting of Goethe’s poetry. Within this organizational framework, issues of chronology (in respect to both poem and music), multiple and comparative settings are addressed. The value of the book lies in a number of areas:  it is the first book to analyse all of Schubert’s Goethe settings. It is the first study to provide insightful readings about Goethe’s poetry as well as analysis of Schubert’s text setting. It explodes the myth of an ‘unmusical Goethe’ and contributes substantially to a change of attitude about the poet’s musical discernment. 

“In tackling one of the most widespread prejudices about Goethe – namely, his lack of musicality – Lorraine Byrne Bodley has succeeded both in correcting a common misunderstanding and in presenting a comparative reading which will engage a multidisciplinary readership.”

Roger Stephenson (William Jacks Professor of German Language and Literature, University of Glasgow)

“For a century and more, Goethe has often been harshly criticized by musicologists for his supposed lack of musical understanding and his failure to respond to Schubert’s songs. In this valuable study, Lorraine Byrne dismantles the clichés and legends to reveal a poet who cared enormously about music and a composer whose elective affinities with Goethe ran deep. In doing so, she discusses Schubert’s choice of Goethe’s poetry, his repeated revisions and recomposition of certain poems, the circle of friends who also venerated Goethe, the reasons for Goethe’s lack of response to Schubert and much more. The relationship between the literary giant and the musical one turns out to be far more complex – and more interesting – than some supposed.”

Professor Susan Youens (J.W. Van Gorkham Professor of Musicology, University of Notre Dame)

“Schubert’s Goethe Settings is magnificent – primarily because it engages with Goethe’s poems as poetry and not just as raw material for the glory of Schubert’s music. Time and again she shows how Schubert is listening to the poetry, hearing its energies, its ebb and flow. The upshot is not a song that reflects the poem but one that reflects on it, that remakes the poetry into a new text-with-music. This book is really important”

Professor Martin Swales,
Chair of German, King’s College London
General Editor of the Publications of the English Goethe Society

“Although Franz Schubert’s eighty-two musical settings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe are widely known and highly esteemed, they remain misunderstood because of entrenched misconceptions about poet and composer … Byrne Bodley’s aim is to correct the distorted understanding of Schubert’s Goethe settings that has dominated the last two centuries of scholarship. To a large degree she succeeds; her book provides a wealth of fascinating information about Goethe’s poetic development, his understanding of word-music relationships, his interactions with composers, and the array of ideas and influences that informs his verse – a welcome contribution to Lied studies. [ …]

Schubert’s Goethe Settings represents a seminal study in Schubert scholarship, especially for its wealth of information about Goethe’s poetry. It will serve as an invaluable reference book for scholars and performers alike.”

Professor Marjorie Hirsch
Author of Schubert’s Dramatic Settings (Cambridge University Press, 2002)


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