Theses Doctoral

Schubert's Mythological Mayrhofer-Lieder: Historical, Philosophical, and Psychological Contexts

Shaw, Michael

1817 is the beginning of a period in Schubert's life, called his "years of crisis," when he was forming and asserting his personal and musical autonomy. His songs from this time concentrate on mythology and on the poetry of his friend Johann Mayrhofer. Thirteen mythological Mayrhofer-songs sing through the "I" of a mythological character and address a god for aid. This dissertation analyzes seven of these songs: Freiwilliges Versinken, Memnon, Philoktet, Der zürnenden Diana, Atys, Antigone und Oedip, and Der entsühnte Orest.
Both Mayrhofer's poems and Schubert's songs present difficulties. Mayrhofer's language and treatment of myth occlude his poetry's meaning. Schubert's settings also obscure what they might communicate to readers or listeners through experimental formal, harmonic, and text-setting strategies. To discover the order and meaning behind the abstruse surfaces of the poems, music, and songs, I turn to four analytical perspectives immanent in Mayrhofer's poems. Though mythological on the surface, Mayrhofer's poems tell a Gnostic narrative of man's desire to unite with god. The poems are also masochistic: Mayrhofer's mythological heroes are all in pain, static, and devoted to a goddess. These two simultaneous subtexts exemplify the ambiguity of Mayrhofer's poetry, that it both keeps its meaning indistinct and means many things at once. Mayrhofer's use of mythology and Gnosticism direct us to Carl Jung's use of the same in his psychoanalytic researches into the self.
Gnosticism, masochism, ambiguity, and the Jungian self are elements of Schubert's songs just as they are elements of Mayrhofer's poems. Each of the dissertation's four main chapters focuses on one of these concepts. In analysis, I give the greatest attention to the music, that is, how the music is Gnostic, masochistic, ambiguous, and psychologically self-expressive. The musical analyses are largely motivic, but also involve musical form, harmony, meter, genre, and vocal style. I understand song as a multiplicity, as an interaction of individual voices. Since each of the four analytical perspectives---as distinct as they are---says something about the relationship between the self and the other, they are means to assess the relationships resulting in song, and how meaning and understanding emerge from the interaction of multiple voices.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Frisch, Walter M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014