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Home | 2015

Die schöne Müllerin

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-12-03 16:15.


If you are one of those people who might be troubled by the idea of a young man having a stream as his best friend and indulging in long, musical conversations with it and even with little blue flowers, then, perhaps, Romantic poetry is really not your thing and you should move on from this post to something more suitable to your temperament.

If, however, you can cope with such devices, if you can keep your head when all about you are wallowing in the pathetic fallacy then you may be ready to face this post without throwing things at the screen.

We are going to carry out a textual analysis of the song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin (Op. 25, D. 795), words by the German poet Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) [1] and music by the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Müller's poems were published in 1820 and Schubert set them to music sometime between autumn 1823 and spring 1824.

This analysis is not a musical analysis –  there are plenty of those around  – but a textual analysis. Because the original text is in German it is obviously difficult for non-German speakers to appreciate the highs and lows of Müller's text. Although much of Schubert's music for Die schöne Müllerin is delightful and easily accessible, it is enriched by a deeper understanding of the text. We are therefore going to look at Müller's text as poetry and particularly the larger structure that makes it a poetic cycle and thus, in Schubert's hands, a song-cycle. [2]

This blog holds to an iron principle of text analysis: read the text that is there and do not project things into it that are merely in the mind of the reader. Having stated this iron principle we now seemingly break it straight away, because we have to start with two important texts that are actually NOT there in the musical text: the title and the 'Poet's Prologue'.


  1. ^ If you are interested in Müller's work you will need a good understanding of German, strong nerves and plenty of time on your hands: he was one of the most obsessive scribblers of the 19th century in Germany. By the time of his death at only thirty-three he had scribbled around 350 closely printed pages of poetry. The quality of his work is nowadays generally considered to be mediocre. His star had already begun to set before his death in 1827.
    A six volume set of Müller's work, diaries and letters was published with due piety in 1994, the 200th anniversary of his birth, together with a few spin-off biographies based on his link to the Schubert cycles. There is also an International Wilhelm Müller Society that twitches into life about once a year. Otherwise, that's it: he would have sunk completely without trace were it not for Schubert.
  2. ^ The text of Die schöne Müllerin is available online in a compact form at Die schöne Müllerin