Friday, September 21, 2007

Mountains and Song Cycles

The most remarkable part of Rosen's The Romantic Generation must be the chapter called Mountains and Song Cycles. It's 120 pages long and filled with examples of writing about scenery and music by Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. He has expanded his period somewhat to include the previous generation in order to relate changes in literature and painting to the new form of the song cycle.

Earlier painters such as Giotto, Piero and Leonardo all include landscapes in their paintings, so what is so different about Constable when he comes along? The earlier painters are providing a setting for the story they are painting; they are putting their subjects into an idealized landscape to give us an environment for the action. Constable is painting the place where he is, making art out of the ordinary, creating what is called the portrait landscape.

We can see from the Leaping Horse pictures that he moves objects around for effect, but he means to create beauty from ordinary objects--and he succeeds.

Writers and poets write about the landscape in a new way--the landscape is used to evoke memories and emotions.

I confess I have always wondered why the song should suddenly become this wonderful thing that it is with Schubert and Schumann. Why is it suddenly so much more?

Rosen suggests that the Romantic turn toward natural landscape and memory permeates the music that is composed to accompany the feeling of landscape and emotion in the poetry--that the Romantic Lied requires the Romantic poem and the Romantic soul to give it life.

"The time of this song cycle is that of Romantic landscape: not the successive events of narrative but a succession of images, of lyrical reflections which recall the traces of past and future within the present."

"The song cycle is the most original musical form created in the first half of the nineteenth century. It most clearly embodies the Romantic conception of experience as a gradual unfolding and illumination of reality in place of the Classical insistence on an initial clarity."

He discusses Beethoven's An die Ferne Geliebte, Schubert's Schoene Muellerin and Winterreise, and Schumann's Dichterliebe and Liederkreis cycles at great length.

Then he talks about the song cycles without words, Schumann's unique contribution to music for piano. He places this chapter about song cycles at the heart of his book--where it belongs.

No comments: