Schone Mullerin and suicide

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barney
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Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by barney » Fri Jun 19, 2015 7:15 pm

I interviewed Florian Boesch, the Austrian bass-baritone, who is coming to Sydney and Melbourne and doing all three Schubert song cycles over three nights - or in fact over two days in Sydney - with Malcolm Martineau. One of the interesting things he said was that it is absolutely clear to him that the journeyer in Schone Mullerin does not kill himself in the brook , but that in fact the brook acts as the inner voice of reason. He says it is the same journeyer, perhaps 15 years older, in Winterreise - because it is the same poet, and we know that Muller was heavily influenced by autobiography in his poetry. He floated this theory in CD liner notes a couple of years ago, and it has become a little controversial in Europe.
Perhaps I am merely shallow, but I hadn't linked the two cycles in this way. Any thoughts?

John F
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by John F » Sat Jun 20, 2015 4:01 am

I think Boesch's view is intelligent but wrong. He's over-intellectualizing the cycle, and thus also Müller and Schubert. In "Trock'ne Blumen" the boy gives instructions that the dead flowers given him by the girl be laid with his body in his grave; that's with only 2 more songs to go in the cycle. In the next song, "Der Müller und der Bach," the boy's last words are "da unten die kühle Ruh," and the only kind of rest that can end his unhappiness is under the water (da unten) in death. He's at least thinking about suicide. And in the last song, "Des Baches Wiegenlied," the boy is silent and only the brook "speaks," lulling him to "sleep" and bidding him goodnight "bis alles wacht," alluding to the Last Judgment. There is really no way out of it - he's drowned himself in the brook - and that makes a fitting and artistically satisfying conclusion to the story which began so hopefully beside the same brook. Goetz's notion is inconclusive in a modern way, and doesn't fit this eminently Romantic work.

Müller's two poetic cycles both deal with the effect that rejected love can have on the lover, but they are not the same journey. That they are by the same poet does not signify; "Henry V" and "King Lear" are by the same poet, but the kings couldn't be more different. In "Schöne Müllerin" the naive lover receives a hard lesson in the ways of love, and he can't take it. In "Winterreise," there is nothing naive about the rejected lover, who acknowledges the inconstancy of love in the first song: "Die Liebe liebt das Wandern - Gott hat sie so gemacht - von einem zu dem andern." And in the fifth of the 24 songs, "Der Lindenbaum," he is tempted to commit suicide but decides not to.
John Francis

barney
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by barney » Sat Jun 20, 2015 5:55 pm

You're very persuasive, John. That too was how I assumed the case, but I hadn't really thought it through.

slofstra
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by slofstra » Wed Jul 01, 2015 9:22 am

You could take the death as the end of boyhood innocence and love, replaced by a more world-wise but less passionate sensibility. These schmaltzy Romantic poems are often much too overwrought, and Schubert had a predilection for such stuff. It's a bit much for the present day listener to take literally.
I'm not sure exactly what Boesch has in mind, but metaphorizing the death could make the cycle much more meaningful and appealing to the listener, and need not stray from the text. Everyone has had a 'first love' and usually there's nothing quite like it to follow.

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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by John F » Wed Jul 01, 2015 11:25 am

slofstra wrote:You could take the death as the end of boyhood innocence and love, replaced by a more world-wise but less passionate sensibility.
I don't think you can. There's no such thing in the poems or the music. For a more worldly-wise sensibilithy, you want "Winterreise."
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slofstra
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by slofstra » Wed Jul 01, 2015 12:38 pm

John F wrote:
slofstra wrote:You could take the death as the end of boyhood innocence and love, replaced by a more world-wise but less passionate sensibility.
I don't think you can. There's no such thing in the poems or the music. For a more worldly-wise sensibilithy, you want "Winterreise."
Good point. "Winterreise" is the sequel, as the worldly-wise sensibility emerges only at the end of Schoene Muellerin.

John F
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by John F » Wed Jul 01, 2015 1:17 pm

To the contrary, the miller boy never achieves this worldly-wise sensibility you continue to speak of. What hits him is disillusionment, so hard that he kills himself. He wouldn't have done that if he was at all worldly wise.
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barney
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by barney » Wed Jul 01, 2015 10:33 pm

slofstra wrote:
John F wrote:
slofstra wrote:You could take the death as the end of boyhood innocence and love, replaced by a more world-wise but less passionate sensibility.
I don't think you can. There's no such thing in the poems or the music. For a more worldly-wise sensibilithy, you want "Winterreise."
Good point. "Winterreise" is the sequel, as the worldly-wise sensibility emerges only at the end of Schoene Muellerin.
In this, you are thinking much as Boesch did. He was explicit that Winterreise features the same character, because Muller was extremely autobiographical in his poetry. He says it is the same character 15 years on. I found that an attractive thought, but I think John (and conventional wisdom) is probably right about the suicide. Of course in literature, suicide is no impediment to the same character appearing again.

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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by John F » Thu Jul 02, 2015 2:54 am

Well, if the miller boy kills himself, then he can hardly also be the traveller in "Winterreise," can he? All they have in common is that both are rejected lovers. That is surely a common enough experience that it doesn't require that both of Müller's personae are the same persons, or that either or both are autobiographical. The two fictional personalities are quite different from each other, and whether either actually is autobiographical is really extraneous to understanding the cycles. Just as we don't need to know that Stephen Dedalus in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Ulysses" is in some ways like the author, James Joyce. That tells us nothing useful about the fictional character, though it may tell us something about Joyce.
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barney
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by barney » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:31 am

John F wrote:Well, if the miller boy kills himself, then he can hardly also be the traveller in "Winterreise," can he? All they have in common is that both are rejected lovers. That is surely a common enough experience that it doesn't require that both of Müller's personae are the same persons, or that either or both are autobiographical. The two fictional personalities are quite different from each other, and whether either actually is autobiographical is really extraneous to understanding the cycles. Just as we don't need to know that Stephen Dedalus in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Ulysses" is in some ways like the author, James Joyce. That tells us nothing useful about the fictional character, though it may tell us something about Joyce.
Well, that's the thing about fiction. You can write one novel in which you kill off, say, Sherlock Holmes at 45, and you can write another, separate novel about Holmes at 80. The two ideas do not have to cohere; they are separate books. So Muller's hero could be the same traveller in both cycles. Mullerin is literary possibility 1; Winterreise literary possibility 2. But I speak as a matter of logical possibility; I do not advocate that view. I agree with you that the non-suicide thesis is less plausible.

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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by slofstra » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:02 pm

barney wrote:
John F wrote:Well, if the miller boy kills himself, then he can hardly also be the traveller in "Winterreise," can he? All they have in common is that both are rejected lovers. That is surely a common enough experience that it doesn't require that both of Müller's personae are the same persons, or that either or both are autobiographical. The two fictional personalities are quite different from each other, and whether either actually is autobiographical is really extraneous to understanding the cycles. Just as we don't need to know that Stephen Dedalus in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Ulysses" is in some ways like the author, James Joyce. That tells us nothing useful about the fictional character, though it may tell us something about Joyce.
Well, that's the thing about fiction. You can write one novel in which you kill off, say, Sherlock Holmes at 45, and you can write another, separate novel about Holmes at 80. The two ideas do not have to cohere; they are separate books. So Muller's hero could be the same traveller in both cycles. Mullerin is literary possibility 1; Winterreise literary possibility 2. But I speak as a matter of logical possibility; I do not advocate that view. I agree with you that the non-suicide thesis is less plausible.
It's a question of trying to breath new life into old lieder. If it's only "naive, trusting youth" that dies, then the person lives on; there is no suicide at all, just the "something inside of me died" trope. It's just a question of whether this new idea can be made workable or consistent with the text. There is no actual 'mullerin', after all.

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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by John F » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:21 pm

barney wrote:Well, that's the thing about fiction. You can write one novel in which you kill off, say, Sherlock Holmes at 45, and you can write another, separate novel about Holmes at 80. The two ideas do not have to cohere; they are separate books. So Muller's hero could be the same traveller in both cycles. Mullerin is literary possibility 1; Winterreise literary possibility 2. But I speak as a matter of logical possibility; I do not advocate that view. I agree with you that the non-suicide thesis is less plausible.
Conan Doyle did kill off Sherlock Holmes in "The Final Problem," but when he brought Holmes back to life in "The Empty House," he had to provide an elaborate explanation why Holmes wasn't really dead, and account for the long period when he was believed dead. And there we're talking about a very specific character with a name and personal history; there's no question but that "The Empty House" was intended as a sequel. Müller's poems do not fill that bill.

I take it nobody claims that Müller intended "Winterreise" as a sequel to "Die schöne Müllerin." The later cycle begins with a very different back story: the traveler's beloved spoke of love, her mother even of marriage, then suddenly it was over, we aren't told why. No mention of brooks or watermills or rivals wearing green. The unnamed miller boy is driven to suicide by his rejection, the unnamed traveler in "Winterreise" just walks away from the former beloved's house, leaving a sardonic note pinned to her door saying "Good night." How, then, could Müller's antihero be the same person? Generalizations aside, it's not a logical possibility at all.

Why do you believe that a character does not have to "cohere" across more than one story or book in which he/she appears? If the first book has any readership at all, the public will demand that its sequel cohere with its popular characters and well-known story. I don't know of any exception, from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to Beaumarchais's Figaro plays to Updike's Rabbit novels to "Star Wars."
Last edited by John F on Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Schone Mullerin and suicide

Post by John F » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:36 pm

slofstra wrote:It's a question of trying to breath new life into old lieder. If it's only "naive, trusting youth" that dies, then the person lives on; there is no suicide at all, just the "something inside of me died" trope. It's just a question of whether this new idea can be made workable or consistent with the text. There is no actual 'mullerin', after all.
No, it's trying to avoid the harsh ending of a love gone wrong. There is plenty of life in "Müllerin," but there is also death, and you apparently want to avoid that; instead of tragedy, you want a Bildungszyklus. But "Die schöne Müllerin" isn't it. The suggestion that these "old Lieder" are lifeless and need to be resuscitated by a makeover into something they are not, is akin to Eurotrash productions of operas. Sorry, but I call 'em as I see 'em.

Incidentally, where do you get the idea that "there is no actual mullerin"? That isn't "consistent with the text." In the fifth song, "Am Feierabend," the girl speaks: "Und das liebe Mädchen sagt / Allen eine gute Nacht."
John Francis

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