- Goethe und die Musik ed. by Walter Hettche, Rolf Selbmann
“Yet another book on Goethe and music?” Hermann Abert asked almost a century ago in the preface to his study also entitled Goethe und die Musik ([Stuttgart, 1922], 5). Many publications bearing the same title (e.g., Hans John [Langensalza, 1927], Friedrich Blume [Kassel, 1948], Samuel Fisch [Frauenfeld, 1949], Hans Joachim Moser [Leipzig, 1949], Claus Canisius [Munich, 1998]), and numerous studies related to this very topic (such as Musik in Goethes Werk—Goethes Werk in der Musik [Schliengen, 2003], Goethe: Musical Poet, Musical Catalyst [Dublin, 2004]) have appeared since then. The preface to the volume under review alludes to one of the motives for the continuing scholarly interest in Goethe and music: the need to question the persistent assumption that Goethe had been primarily an “Augenmensch” (7). While Abert approached the topic as a music historian, more recent studies strive to present a more interdisciplinary view. Goethe und die Musik assembles papers by prominent German scholars from various disciplines, evidencing the importance of music for Goethe, for his works, or for reception history.
Egon Voss opens the volume by addressing Goethe’s most important legacy for composers throughout the nineteenth century: Lieder and ballads. Although Voss limits his investigation to some of the most famous examples (e.g. Heidenröslein, Erlkönig, “Kennst Du das Land,” Gretchen am Spinnrade), he includes less well-studied composers (e.g. Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Carl Friedrich Zelter) in his comparisons. Beethoven’s setting of Mignon’s “Kennst Du das Land” (rejected by Goethe due to his aversion to through-composed song), is more closely analyzed in Helga Lühning’s contribution on Bettina von Arnim’s role in introducing Beethoven to Goethe. Lühning examines Bettina’s claim to have owned manuscripts of three of the most prolific Beethoven songs (among them the autograph of Mignon’s “Kennst Du das Land”), and convincingly proposes political reasons for Beethoven’s sudden departure from Teplitz, where he and Goethe met for the first time.
“Kennst Du das Land” recurs in Rolf Selbmann’s study of the Lieder in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Selbmann focuses on the Lied texts themselves in the context of the novel, and concludes that neither Mignon nor the harp player embody the concepts of divine inspiration, the cult of genius, or poetic imagination any longer; they merely sing about them. The meaning of the songs is, ultimately, in the eye of the beholder, or rather, the listener. [End Page 177]
Gabriele Brandstetter explores Mignon’s Eiertanz in the context of discourses of genius and virtuosity. The public display of technical skills typical of a virtuoso has become an intimate gesture of giving, as Mignon refuses to dance for any other audience but Wilhelm. Thus transformed from a theatrical into a social act, Mignon’s Eiertanz forms a choreographic representation of Wilhelm Meister’s own educational journey. Brandstetter also addresses the diverging poetics of Eiertänze in literary works by the Romantics and in modern dance choreographies.
Gerhard Neumann calls attention to the time span between the conception and the final version of Goethe’s Novelle (1797/1826), which marks the time between revolution and restoration and points to a central theme of the text: the conflict between the aggressive drive (Aggressionstrieb) and the art drive (Kunsttrieb) in the formation of culture, subjectivity, and eroticism. In the first part of the novella, the telescope represents the realms of visual perception and science, while the flute, featured in the second part, stands for art, myth, and especially music. Surprisingly for the “Augenmensch” Goethe, the novella asserts the power of music to calm down aggression and overcome conflict. The insight that music can be both medium of renunciation and sublimation Neumann attributes to Goethe’s personal experiences, namely his frustrations with contemporary art, politics, and his unsuccessful courtship of Ulrike von Levetzow.
In a biographical sketch, Edit Zehm shows how the extensive correspondence (1799–1832) between Goethe and Carl Friedrich Zelter bears witness to their friendship as...