The Rhine as Musical Metaphor: Cultural Identity in German Romantic Music

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Northeastern University Press, 1996 - Music - 322 pages
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The image of the Rhine River as a symbol of German national and cultural identity was a central theme in nearly four hundred lieder published during the turbulent Vormarz decade of the 1840s. In this highly original work Cecelia Hopkins Porter offers a penetrating study of this rich body of nineteenth-century German music, including the Rheinlieder of Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, and Richard Wagner. Porter begins by examining the ideological and political foundations of the Rheinlieder. She discusses various aspects of the Romantic ideal that contributed to emerging movements of cultural nationalism in nineteenth-century Germany. Porter then reviews the international machinations that provoked France's threat to take the Rhine, a political crisis that led to an explosion of compositions using the Rhine as a metaphor for the German nationalistic spirit. The author thoroughly examines music journals of the period to assess how leading critics judged the patriotic meaning and aesthetic worth of this burgeoning body of music. An insightful discussion of related images in Rheinlieder poems, including Vater Rhein, knights, wayfarers, pilgrimage towns, elves, water sprites, and the Loreley and Nibelung figures, demonstrates how composers used the Rhine metaphor to manifest a common ancestral past and a national collective identity. The folksong musical style of the Rheinlieder, from the simplest examples to the lieder of major German Romantic composers, is discussed within the context of the art song genre. Porter concludes with an investigation of the public musical life in Dusseldorf and the Lower Rhine Music Festivals to show how performance practices of the period, patronage of the arts, and the emergence of a middle-class audience mirrored many of the underlying social and political aspects of the Rheinlieder themselves.

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