Scholars have traditionally analyzed Lieder from a perspective of relative objectivity, despite a longstanding recognition of the situated character of hermeneutic work within musicology and music theory. This research essentially suppresses the personal aspects that may condition it: for example, a scholar’s background in performance and tendency toward co-performance, or repeated encounters with a song, recording, and a specific singer’s voice. There has been one additional omission resulting from this tendency to project objectivity in Anglo-American scholarship. Native Anglophones have neglected to explore how our varied but pervasive roles as second-language readers or speakers inflect the way that we hear and write about German song.
In response to these lacunae, this article offers a close reading of the song “Am Feierabend” from Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795) in relationship to a 1971 recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. I examine the role that my linguistic identity—as an Anglophone who enjoys an unsteady fluency in German—plays in an essentially co-performing understanding of the song’s poem, musical details, and the particular vocal decisions of Fischer-Dieskau. Beginning in conversation with Roland Barthes’s “The Grain of the Voice,” the essay introduces perspectives from literary theorists, linguists, musicologists, and music theorists to clarify the issues of materiality, meaning, linguistic identity, and rhythm that correspond to the experience of sung German poetry that the analysis traces. The analysis then focuses on the prominence of the German word “merkte” in Müller’s poem, Schubert’s setting, and Fischer-Dieskau’s rendering of the song. This account reevaluates traditional analytical practices concerning song, as well as past scholarship on Barthes’s claims within the “Grain” essay, by focusing on the issues of identity, linguistic materiality, meaning, and the love of the foreign in listening to Lieder.
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