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Wenn in Time: Linguistic Moments in Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe

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AbstractThat song is both a concrete musical entity and an abstract metaphor for romantic subjectivity is the central paradox of musical lyricism. This paradox lends the lyric mode in music a self-consciousness that is, I believe, linguistic in character. It invites the listener to hear musical gestures both as signs that participate in the teleology of tonal discourse, and as sounds; and such sounds, in turn, are experienced viscerally at the same time that they serve as an abstract ideal of pure, natural expression. The present article examines, with reference to Schumann’s Dichterliebe, the aesthetic and discursive bases for lyricism’s engagement with temporality. Two “linguistic moments” from Schumann’s Dichterliebe illustrate how the dialectic between sign and sound plays with the various parameters of musical discourse, reflects or comments upon its own artifice, and breaks the illusion that music is a transparent medium of expression. Finally, the semiotic implications of lyricism’s engagement with temporality are explored with reference to Nietzsche’s conception of the Augenblick.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Music, The Chinese University of Hong


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