Laura Chernaik (Southampton)
Imagining Change: Music as Ways of Meaning
Imagining Change: Music as Ways of Meaning
This paper is an analysis of the ways of meaning of music and poetry, focusing on two works: Verklärte Nacht, by Arnold Schoenberg, written in response to Richard Dehmel's poem of the same name, and "Morgen!", the song by Richard Strauss based on the poem by John Henry Mackay. I analyse Dehmel's use of the historical tropes of the New Woman and Free Love in his writing of "transfiguration". I argue that Schoenberg responded to this by using tonality differently, writing in a way that was not quite atonal. Mackay's poem, "Morgen!" ("Tomorrow!"), is about the future, expectation, the 'not-yet.' Strauss' encounter with Mackay's poem provoked him to write one of his most beautiful songs. The "Tomorrow!" of the poem is a future in which inter-generational male lovers can walk hand-in-hand along the beach. I argue that the ways of meaning of the poem and the Lied establish a relationship with this as-yet unrealised state. In this way, my interpretation of the ways of meaning of music and poetry ground and are grounded by ways of understanding time and history as opening, encountering, and 'linking,' in contrast to Hegelian notions of 'synthesis' or liberal notions of 'progress.'
1 Linking and the Encounter
Adult aesthetic experience is derived from and retains many of the features of children's play (Winnicott 1965; 1992; 2005). In particular, aesthetic experience is transitional, linking subjective and objective. When I listen to a song, for example, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore performing Wandrers Nachtlied II I am in a transitional relation with Fischer-Dieskau and Moore's performance.1 This performance seems real to me in the same way as a child's toy seems real to him or her.
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Like a child's experience of play, an adult's artistic experience, whether as listener, viewer, or reader, or as composer, writer, or performer, is a relation to something that is both, or that is neither, object and subject. The transitional object is a quasi-subject. Since my object relations to Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore are positive, they are, in a way, my Imaginary Friends. This particular song is part of my psyche. As an internal object, it sometimes runs through my head, audible to my internal ear. By linking culture and the arts to play, I hope to recover some of the ways that culture and the arts are vivid and full of meaning to those who love them.
Winnicott is less often drawn upon within Cultural Studies than is Lacan, despite Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's influence.2 Within Word and Music Studies, in addition, theories of mediation, especially "intermedial" approaches, are influential. Within artistic practice, intermediality often is a central element in the direction and staging of an Opera, while, within academia, links between technological mediation and textual mediation have been so influential as to constrain accounts of textual interrelations. The technological mediation of this transitional object-relationship to artistic texts and performances is particularly apparent when I am listening to digitalised media on headphones. However, live performance is equally transitional. The "realness" is auratic effect. I argue here, and throughout my work, that Winnicott and Bion's theories (Bion 1962; 1963; 1967) are useful ways to contextualise relations while not committing us to construing such relations as relations between pre-demarcated sets. Furthermore, the pun based on the different meanings of 'media' has become so naturalised as to mislead.
Thus, Wandrers Nachtlied "mediates" a number of ideas. However, mediation is not self-explanatory. It needs to be unpacked. Let us imagine that I play a recording of Wandrers Nachtlied in a lecture on the intellectual history of Romanticism. A listener who knows Schubert's song, Goethe's poem, and the intellectual history of Romanticism may well anticipate the topics I would introduce, tracing out connections from the Lied to many of the key ideas of Romanticism: for example, nature, the Sublime, transcendence, and interiority. How many listeners, though, would make these connections, on first hearing the poem or song? Mediation assumes shared knowledge, i.e. a common culture.
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In addition, Wandrers Nachtlied is a good Lied to introduce questions concerning relations between words and music. Goethe, while romantic in the way he drew on Kant, was classicist (to use the literary category of his time) in the way he theorised the work of art. Poetry, for Goethe, posits some sort of relation to unity, grasped in poetic form. He referred back to earlier, classical models when developing his poetics. Later Modernist theorists like Georg Lukács shifted focus from poetry to fiction, but continued to suggest that what a writer wrote about was apprehended by him as a whole. Thus, Lukács (Lukács 1970; 1971) and Benjamin (1970: 83-110) would both distinguish the novel, where an entire fictive world is described, from storytelling, in which a teacher-like figure offers thoughts with a moral. Building on their reading of Kafka, both Benjamin and Lukács argued that a storyteller, offering a moral for a community to apply, provides a useful model for study and interpretation as opposed to didacticism. Modernist writers, for Lukács and Benjamin, use an ironic mode when grasping a whole world in their novel-writing. Thus, while novel-writing is different to story-telling, modernist irony calls for multiple interpretations. For Goethe, in contrast, wholeness is evoked with love and longing, not irony.
Goethe preferred traditional strophic settings of poems, that is, settings that repeat verse and chorus, to the newer, through-composed settings. He also disliked the way that some composers depict the tropes of the poems in the music. He argued that the best settings evoke the ideas that the listener would have experienced when reading the poem. We think of Schubert as someone with a remarkable ability to describe the tropes—to babble like a brook, swim like a trout. However, he also evoked the ideas. Or, perhaps, it is better to say, Schubert wrote musically about ideas, in ways that gave new insight into these ideas.
Two or more things are linked; if you recognise both, this may interest you. If you recognise neither, this will bore you or strike you as pretentious. "Mediation" is just a fancy word for linking. Capitalised, Linking is one of W.R. Bion's key words; the psychoanalyst used the word to analyse the beginnings of thought in pre-conceptual mental processes. These pre-conceptual processes are, if all goes well, built upon, developing into the primary processes (condensation and displacement), logic, and concepts. I suggest in my work3 that the joy we feel when creating, or playing, or fully interacting with, i.e. using works of art, is as closely allied to the joy with which, Winnicott says, a child greets the object that has survived his play—"Hello object!"—as it is to the jouissance analysed by Barthes or the fragile, divided subjectivities theorised by Lacan.
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It may well be useful to distinguish between the different sorts of Linking in our texts, as Steven Scher (Scher 1997; 2004) suggests. However, if we develop this into a specific typology for the relations of music and words, as Werner Wolf (Wolf 1997; 1999), does, I think we miss the point. We already have many ways of classifying these links, from compendious lists of the names of a huge variety of tropes to the symbols of formal logic. Bion's point, that we use Linking to think, and that thinking and thus Linking are sometimes pre-conceptual, is useful. A typology, however, hypostasises a static, synchronic structure, fixing it in ways that strictly limit its usefulness for diachronic, historical argument. A post-structuralist argument that focuses on what exceeds each type can, in contrast, be used to analyse dynamic processes.
If Bion and Winnicott are the main sources of my psychoanalytic theory, my aesthetic theory comes from a number of other sources: Theodor Adorno (Adorno 2007), Walter Benjamin (Benjamin 1996; 1999; 2002; 2003), Paul Ricoeur (Ricoeur 1984; 1985; 1988), and Hans-Georg Gadamer (Gadamer 1989).
The notion of "ways of meaning" I use is based on Walter Benjamin's notion of the "Art des Meinens".4 Figurative language is understood, in this way of thought, as the heart of meaning. The strand on which the lovers walk, in "Morgen!", is not an illustration, an image of the future. It is the figure that, in this poem, makes the future thinkable. According to this Spinozan philosophy of language, words do not refer to extra-linguistic meanings. Meanings turn on figures; re-turn to words; overturn our expectations. Tropes do more than just posit connections. Tropes realise concepts that until the act that is the poem, have been part of the virtual possibilities of language. These concepts are realised in this particular poem, this particular Lied. Other poems and other songs realise other meanings. My estranging use of "turn" for "trope" is intended to call attention to the ways in which troping realises meaning. This is a strange and disturbing philosophy of language. I deliberately disturb and estrange my readers, using 'turn' for 'trope' in order to encourage my readers to keep this philosophy of language in mind.
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This Spinozan philosophy of language, in which particular meanings are realised out of a pool of virtual meanings, meshes usefully with phenomenology. The phenomenological notion of the 'encounter' is central to the work of Gadamer and Ricoeur. They develop the work of Husserl in different ways. Ricoeur focuses on our relation to or encounter with time, history, and narrative. Gadamer focuses on culture and our relation to, or our encounter with the 'traditionary' texts that make up our shared, common culture.
I take the emphasis on dialogue and call-and-response from Gadamer but interpret his Wirkungsgeschichte in Benjamin's terms as auratic effect. We cannot assume that our culture is common or that the effect of the past is uniform on all subjects. The false presumption of commonality and the ascription of someone to a culture that alienates them are two of the many ways that history's victors hide their power behind the shine of an aura.
I take from Adorno a method that combines psychoanalysis with materialist analysis and a belief that "cultural studies" need not only be studies of popular culture. My reading of Ricoeur is informed by a reading of Hayden White's work and I put these two approaches together in my work, focusing, I must emphasise, on tropic readings, rather than solely on narrative readings. If the encounter and if tropic readings are key to the argument, then the central question is: in what ways does the later work, for example, the Lied, respond to and produce a different meaning from the poem? In a way, tropes work too well. We must suspend their action in order to analyse the process in which meaning is produced. A certain amount of estrangement makes this possible. Like Brecht (Brecht 1964), I argue that estrangement provokes an encounter. Like Lacan or Bion, as well as Benjamin, I write in a way that forces my reader to stop and think, rather adhering to pre-conceived notions.
In the main part of this paper I discuss two works of music, "Morgen!" (Tomorrow!), the Lied by Richard Strauss and the German naturalist poet, John Henry Mackay, and Verklärte Nacht, (Transfigured Night), Arnold Schoenberg's response to Richard Dehmel's poem of the same name. I discuss the poems and the music, both, together and separately – rather than seeing words and music as separate genres related 'intermedially' or in a way that calls for a typology.
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I analyse the meaning of the song as something new, as another interpretation of the poem. Lawrence Kramer (Kramer 2006), for example, uses this method. Carl Dahlhaus (Dahlhaus 1989) did something similar, arguing that audiences who expect the lights to be turned low in a Lieder recital are thinking in terms of a historically specific notion of absolute music. Richard Stokes, in teaching his students to understand and interpret the words, is arguing against this idea of absolute music. Or, to return from Stokes' translation and teaching to intellectual history, John Neubauer (Neubauer 1980; 1997) also focuses on meaning and the way meaning changes over time. I am also very much indebted to the writings of Walter Frisch (Frisch 1993; 2005), in particular, his detailed analyses of Schoenberg's early works.
I want to end this introduction by returning to the problem of culture and tradition and their relation to experience. As I remarked at the beginning, Wandrers Nachtlied may seem to be a fine example of the way that Romanticism draws on and exemplifies post-Kantian thought, but someone hearing the song for the first time and having read an extract from Kant's work for the first time may or may not respond to the song in the same way. E.M. Forster's 1910 novel Howards End (Foster 2000) features a well-known, often-discussed scene, a description of the thoughts of some of the audience at a performance of Beethoven's Fifth. The novel was published only a decade after the music by Strauss and Schoenberg I analyse in this paper; Forster was deeply concerned with the transition from Romanticism to Modernism, my focus here. The novel, thus, helps us understand the various implications of the different ways of interpreting music, both close to the time the music was written and in our present.
The key characters in Forster's scene are Leonard Bast, a character based on one of Forster's adult-education students, Margaret, Helen, and Tibby Schlegel, who, as their names suggest, are the well-educated daughters and son of a post-Kantian philosopher, and Mrs Munt, the Schlegels' less musical aunt. The Schlegels are partly based on the Stephens (Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and their brothers Thoby and Adrian Stephen); Margaret and Helen have £600 pounds a year each; their brother £800. Virginia Woolf suggested an independent woman would need £500 a year.
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As I discuss below, this is unearned income. They are rentier class intelligentsia. In a key passage in the novel, the family are whispering to each other between the movements. Tibby points out that there is an important key transition coming up, centring on a drum softly beating in C. Helen knows their aunt doesn't understand technical musical terms, even basic ones. She provides an alternative interpretation, one she thinks anyone can understand:
That is, Forster has his character, Helen, interpret Beethoven's Fifth as programme music but in a way that alludes to the "absolutes" that Beethoven's Fifth is "about", considered as "absolute music".5 Forster's Helen assumes that everyone would have read fairy stories as a child; anyone would understand what a goblin is. Folk literature and fairy stories were collected in the Romantic period, in a process related to the development of national literatures. The goblins gesture towards nineteenth century cultural history. Forster's character is the daughter of a philosopher; these goblins are Nietzschean nihilists. The other sister, Margaret, is more analytical, as if she had studied, like Forster, with G.E. Moore. And the brother, Tibby, is Forster's example of a "music theorist"—someone who knows the technical language. The narrativisations of Beethoven's Fifth are used by Forster to suggest a series of possible interpretations of the music. This is also a phenomenology, that is, an interpretation of the experience of listening to music. The phenomenology is implicitly both historical and sociological. As Gayatri Spivak shows (Spivak 1983: 169-195), Nietzsche writes about the "nothingness" beneath femininity, seen as constructed, as performance. Forster, here, develops a character who sees this panic-inducing nothingness under the complacent masculinity of the fictive Wilcoxes, prosperous capitalists, or the actual imperialist Theodor Roosevelt. In this way, Forster uses Linking to suggest an implicit analysis of gender, class, and Empire. 6 He uses musical form in doing so: the leitmotif, "Panic and emptiness" recurs at key moments in the text, each time evoking the implicit analysis of gender, class, and Empire.
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In the next parts of the concert (Brahms and Elgar) both Margaret Schlegel and Leonard Bast are distracted in different ways by worries about Leonard Bast's umbrella. Forster uses the umbrella to represent Bast's anxieties about his poverty and the precariousness of his middle-class status. Forster's intention, in his contrast between Leonard Bast and the Schlegels, is to ask a couple of questions about the acquisition of culture. Can a hard-working clerk ever be as cultured as the more leisured upper-middle classes? What is the material basis of the intelligentsia? Forster's leitmotif, "Panic and emptiness", centres on Helen's perception of the Wilcoxes. The Schlegels are rentier class intelligentsia; the Wilcoxes the capitalists on whose business success the rentier class depends. The Wilcoxes do not see the point of the arts, apart from what in Edwardian parlance was termed "character building". Nowadays, in the forms an academic must fill in, this is known as a "transferable skill". Critics have suggested that marriages in Forster's works are sometimes unmotivated. Margaret Schlegel got a house, but what did Wilcox get? The marriage, though, is symbolic—a narrative resolution of the problems of a rentier class intelligentsia. In the ensuing years, the intelligentsia has tended more to support itself by teaching and by cultural work, generally at least partly publicly funded. Cuts in the arts and education at present are motivated by an attitude reminiscent of the Wilcoxes, a belief that the arts, and for that matter, pure science, are of no intrinsic and little extrinsic importance.In contrast, my introductory discussion of E.M. Forster's Howards End lead me to draw conclusions about intellectual history (Nietzsche) and cultural studies (gender, sexuality class, and Empire) and to suggest that music and literature matter. They matter in so far as they move us; they affect and change us, psychically or philosophically. Concert-going is like the analytic encounter. The analysts' free-floating attention may encounter the unconscious of the analysand, in this case, the text or performance. Forster illustrates this by having his character's wandering attention convey the meaning not of Beethoven, Brahms, or Elgar, but of Howards End. The challenge in the next part of this paper is for me to convey the meaning, both unconscious and conscious, of "Morgen!" and of Verklärte Nacht.
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My approach to music draws on my own experience of listening to both live and recorded performances7. My understanding of music and of musicology and music theory8 is filtered by what I have read. That includes fiction about music and music theory. Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (Mann 1999) is based on many sources, all transmuted by Mann's fictive approach. The imaginary composer Leverkühn's musical theory is based closely on Mann's reading of Schoenberg's Harmonielehre, as well as on the work of Theodor Adorno (Adorno 1947, 2007). Mann also draws on Nietzsche, particularly for the opposition between Apollo and Dionysius that runs through this novel, as through all of Mann's work, as well as for biographical details, including Nietzsche's syphilis. Syphilis was epidemic in the nineteenth century and many well-known writers, composers, and artists suffered from it. Schumann was hospitalised for the last part of his short life and the interpretation of his last works is controversial. Were Schumann's last works a radical, new, modern departure or were they sadly marred by the dreadful effects of tertiary-stage syphilis? Did the fictive Leverkühn make a pact with the Devil, as a modern-day Faust? Was he deluded by tertiary-stage syphilis, or is his character readable allegorically as an exploration by Mann of the problem outlined by Benjamin (Benjamin 1970: 264-265): "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism"? The point of undecidability is that all of the undecidable readings are possible, coexisting unless and until a decision of writing or reading is made, narrowing the possibilities of the text. Schoenberg's motivation for writing, given these ambiguities and undecidabilities, was fury. He was insulted by Mann's use of his work, partly because of the lack of formal attribution and thanks, "Thomas Mann has taken advantage of my literary property"; this, Schoenberg wrote, gave Mann "the ugly aspect of a pirate." The Dionysian aspects of Leverkühn, especially the syphilis, deeply offended Schoenberg: "I have never acquired the disease from which this insanity stems. I consider this an insult, and I might have to draw consequences" (Saturday Review, January 1st, 1949). Mann's reply can only have made matters worse. He summed up Schoenberg's career to date in patronising terms. He used this patronising summing-up to psychoanalyse Schoenberg as "a man of great worth, whose all-too-understandable hypersensitivity grows out of a life suspended between glorification and neglect". Mann even called attention to the way that Schoenberg troped on himself as an object of sexual violence, "Schoenberg regards it as an act of rape and insult" (Saturday Review, January 1st, 1949).
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Mann's presentation and transformation of Schoenberg's musical theory in Doctor Faustus, heavily reliant, as it is, upon Adorno, has affected the way I understand Schoenberg. I cannot have an innocent approach to Schoenberg; any encounter is shaped by earlier listening and reading. This wider listening and reading can be used to show the ways in which these musical texts, like Benjamin's objects of analysis, are analysable as documents of both "civilisation" and "barbarism". In the next section, "civilisation" consists of the new gender and sexual possibilities evoked tropically by the figure of the New Woman. In the last section "civilisation" is the future in which the poet Mackay imagines he could walk hand-in-hand with his boyfriend. In both cases, "barbarism" is the old-fashioned gender and sexual pattern that both poets condemn and yet, in some ways, still adhere to secretly.
2 Scandal and transfiguration of meaning: the unloved husband's child as "stranger's child"
Arnold Schoenberg's 1899 Verklärte Nacht is a string sextet later arranged for orchestra, a tone-poem, or setting-without-words of a poem. At first reading, the poem seems ludicrously romantic. It seems odd that it should have provoked such wonderful music. It might seem best to listen with closed eyes, reacting to the sublime experience of absolute music. Any programmatic elements in the music would seem a distraction. However, I will argue that a richer understanding of the music can be reached if we interpret both the poem and the music. The music, I suggest, can be understood as a response to the poem, as an encounter. As such, it is not necessarily understood as wholly programmatic or wholly absolute.
The poem is from Richard Dehmel's collection, Weib und Welt (Dehmel 1896). This is an autobiographical series of poems about the poet's relationship with Ida Coblenz Auerbach and of the breakup of Dehmel's marriage to Paula Oppenheimer and of Ida's marriage to Leopold Auerbach. Richard and Ida Dehmel married in 1901 after having lived together for several years. The publication of the poems led to a court case for blasphemy and immorality. Dehmel wrote a well-known open letter about the case, arguing:
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The letter clearly states the main concerns of the Naturalist writers and the bohemian sub-culture of the time: the opposition to religiously derived notions of morality, the concern to write in a way that was frank but not lewd, the importance of sensuality to both life and poetry, and the drive to depict as well as to experience the full range of human emotions, especially the "bestial", natural, animal-like ones. We also see here, in this open letter, Naturalism's tendency to exaggerate: Dehmel's persona is "driven...to a disgraceful death". In real life, Dehmel went on to become one of the best, and best-known, poets of his day.
The poem describes a moonlit walk in which a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant by her husband. As she loves the poet, not the husband, the child is a "stranger's child." The lover forgives her. The scene enacts a kind of transfiguration, as you should expect, given the title of the poem, Verklärte Nacht:
Now, it may partly be because I am an American brought up in Britain, a country with a somewhat buttoned-up, reserved culture, but, to me, this poem is terribly over the top. At first reading this seems to me to be ludicrous, bad, sentimental, overblown Romantic poetry. However, if we bring in information from the poet's life, this very excess of sentiment becomes readable as an evocation of an overwrought state of mind, faced with a soap-opera-like, tangled relationship. At the time Ida Coblenz Auerbach and Richard Dehmel began their relationship, Ida was already pregnant with a child conceived with her husband, Leopold Auerbach. This situation, not surprisingly, led to great anguish, described at length in the poem.
My interpretation differs, thus, from Walter Frisch's. Frisch argues that the poet imagines the woman and the man making love in the moonlight, an encounter in which she falls pregnant. Perhaps he interprets the 'arm' around her 'strong hips' as a discreet metaphor for penetrative sex rather than a revaluation of her fertility. But, if the woman falls pregnant in the moonlight by the man she loves, it would not be a strange man's child. In terms of the ideology of Free Love, a Love Child would have been sinless; an unloved husband's child is a stranger's, conceived in a sin against Love. In 1895 Ida Coblenz married Leopold Auerbach, had a son named Heinz-Lux, and met Richard Dehmel. Weib und Welt was published in 1896. A pregnancy lasts nine months; it is therefore likely that Ida was already pregnant when her relationship with Richard began.
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Their moonlit encounter "transfigures" the child she already bears. The "warmth...from you in me, from me in you" could, thus, be a description of mutual orgasm, transforming the "stranger's child" to a Love Child, but this is a metaphorical and ethical transformation, not some kind of science fictional genetic change.
Dehmel is responding, as a poet, to the social changes of modernity and, in particular, to the rise of the New Woman and the development of a wider range of sexual possibilities and opportunities for greater human happiness. As E.M. Forster suggests, these times of political uncertainty can be occasions for personal anguish. "Muddles", to use Forster's term for concatenations of complex affect and difficult circumstance, arise when people have more choices, some of which are complicated.9 What makes Dehmel's Verklärte Nacht a post-romantic, more modern poem is the emphasis on transfiguration. Rather than being didactic and preachy, the poem evokes the emotional "muddle" experienced by the protagonists.
In this interpretation, the poem is understood as a response, the poet's own encounter with his self, an encounter with something outside poetry, yet provoking poetry. Dehmel is, quite frankly, muddled; this acknowledgement of muddle is what makes naturalism move towards modernism. It is not yet irony as in Mann, but it is that which Mann ironizes.
As a poet, Dehmel describes the muddle. The male persona blames the woman for falling pregnant by someone else. He reacts according to traditional morality. And, as a poet, Dehmel describes how the situation of the man and woman gives them a distressing but challenging opportunity to develop a new, Modern morality. The encounter of the "Mann" and "Weib" in the poem shifts between a more Modern intersubjective encounter between individuals, as signified by the undifferentiated "zwei Menschen" and a more traditional, conservative relational form.
The opening and closing lines of the poem describe the moonlit walk within which the woman and the man come to terms with their situation. They look at the moon, which seems to keep pace with them: "der Mond läuft mit, sie schaun hinein". The light of the moon is the light of nature and of Ida herself, the New Woman whose following of nature led them to this moment when transfiguration is possible: "Es ist ein Glanz um alles her ... Du hast den Glanz in mich gebracht".
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Her consciousness, like his, each depicted as greatly overwrought, indicates the ways in which they are still caught up in traditional religious morality and traditional ways of thinking about gender and sexuality," ich geh in Sünde neben Dir" (I walk with you in a state of sin). The consciousness evoked in the poem is conceptualised in religious and ethical terms as conscience. It is also, at the same time, represented as anguished. The anguish is Linked to the traditionality, in an implicit critique of the tradition in terms of which the lovers would be seen as sinful. The trope begins the transformation of the older, "barbaric" (in Benjamin's terms) way of thought, in a Nietzschean move from God to me "Ich hab mich schwer an mir vergangen" (I have trespassed grievously against myself). The moon and the two persons are transfigured, together: "Zwei Menschen gehn durch hohe, helle Nacht". The only instance of the word Verklärung is in the line about the child. The child, conceived not out of love but out of Ida's deep desire to be a mother, is both "das fremde Kind" like Leopold, the husband and stranger, and like the moon, which is itself transfigured and in its transfiguration brings about the verklärung of both the woman and the man. Verklärung is thus simultaneously aesthetic, psychic, and political.
Schoenberg's music evokes this very well. It is complex and ambiguous and can be interpreted in many ways, each interpretation supported by a reading of the musical text. The piece is almost 420 bars long, played without a break. Many critics often discuss the work as if there are two unequal sections: the first 49 bars, ending eerily in a series of slower, sustained notes (as also at the end), are like a part 1. The remaining 350 bars would be the much longer part 2. These sections are critic's interpretations; the piece has tempo markings, starting, for example, "Grave", but there are no separate movements. The first 49 bars feel like a part 1 because they set up Schoenberg's musical "transfiguration", the modern styles and formal innovations that, although interpretable as an extension of both classical and Wagnerian musical language seemed to be shocking and "illegitimate" at the time.10
In measures 29-49, the dominant, —that is, the fifth around which, according to classical harmony the tonalities revolve —returns, after almost having been lost in the modern, agitated beginning of the work. In the classical pattern, chords and notes in the home tonality (Verklärte Nacht is in D-major) would lead to the fifth, the dominant, (in Verklärte Nacht, A-major). The dominant would set up an expectation of return to the home tonality, to the tonic.
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The "downward pull" towards the tonic, or, for sevenths, towards the dominant, and, for ninths, back towards the octave they exceed, can be heard in Schoenberg's early music as a tension, a withholding of the expected harmonic resolution. In a way, harmonic progressions are aporetic for Schoenberg. He is agnostic, at this point, about tonality; later, he would push the exploration of the aporia of tonality to its limit and formulate and theorise his conclusions as twelve-tone music.
In Verklärte Nacht the tunes and chords are only rarely in the tonic and dominant, D-major and A-major. More often, and at key moments, we hear diminished fifths, diminished sevenths, and inverted ninths.11 These troubling chords and the little tunes in these troubling sets of notes are not interruptions, hinting at the chaos threatening any attempt to make sense of life. As in the harrowing ends of the late Beethoven quartets, they are new harmonic developments, new ways of setting off on musical journeys. In this argument I agree wholeheartedly with Walter Frisch. Schoenberg's early music, still tonal, still linked to the history of classical music without posing a radical break is profoundly moving because of this rigour. I also agree with him about the importance of "half-steps", semitones. Frisch discusses steps and half-steps in terms of a formal harmonic analysis. I, in a more writerly way, sometimes only emphasise how they sound: half-steps buzz when played against other notes a half-step away.
As Frisch shows, Schoenberg withholds the tonic, the home chord and home key, building up tension with a very modern harmonic progression, moving from a diminished fifth to diminished sevenths (one built on B and the other on F♯) and an inverted ninth:
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The musicological scholars who write best about Schoenberg argue that Schoenberg developed Wagner's language in two ways. One was, of course, atonality: the twelve-tone language of which Thomas Mann very oddly claimed "every child in our cultural area should have heard of" (Mann 1949). Schoenberg, fairly naturally, took umbrage; he wanted to be formally acknowledged. Mann was presumably not thinking of Schoenberg's feelings but of something else entirely. Perhaps, Mann was alluding to of his own disdain towards his school-days and imagining that schools must now be quite different. Or, perhaps, he was basing this obvious over-valuation of the knowledge of the young on his own encounters with boys, constrained by his awareness of his own attraction to them, imagining a 'knowingness' that was a displacement of his own very complicated, potentially harmful feelings for too-young objects of desire.
However, they argue, we can also understand Schoenberg's music as tonal, but as using tonality differently. We could say that Schoenberg uses the odder, more complex chords as steps on a journey, hearing notes and harmonies in new ways, as, most notably, (Schoenberg proclaimed his "invention" of it!), the inverted ninth. Rather than a straightforward resolution, moving in a perfect cadence from the dominant to the tonic, Schoenberg withholds the dominant, giving us, instead, a seventh, and moving from the seventh to the ninth. Eventually, we reach the tonic, but not by the usual route.
The first few bars of Verklärte Nacht, to bar 29, are deeply emotional and troubling. They are very modern: Schoenberg creates tension by withholding the expected harmonic progression. In bars 29-29, Schoenberg gives us a resolution, the cadence we expect. However, this cadence is only a small part of what is happening in these bars. The fifth is diminished. Rather than sounding perfect, it sounds constrained, unhappy. The cadence is reached, eventually, from a diminished seventh. In addition, the harmonic resolution is interrupted by another diminished seventh and an inverted ninth, developing from the diminished sevenths. But, is "interrupted" the right way to describe this? Is it an interruption or is it the pattern, that Schoenberg called the Konstruktive?
In bars 30ff, the cellos and basses step reassuringly up, playing classical harmonies with an admixture of semitones that make them warmly hum and buzz. Above them, the violas toss an upwards-leading phrase like a ball to the violins; the firsts and seconds toss the ball still higher:
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The little tune that is tossed up like a ball can be heard as a version of the second of the two short, one or two-bar themes we have heard so far, played in four voices, cello, viola, and both violins.
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The basses, cello and viola climb up in steps, using the agnostic structure, not yet twelve-tone, but already audible as a different, Schoenbergian language.
The thrumming chords spread to the middle voice, the violas. As Frisch argues, bars 29-49 sound significant because they move into the dominant; we thus would expect a return to the tonic. As I discussed above, the fifth is diminished, leading to a diminished seventh, and from there to another diminished seventh. Then, rather than producing intense Wagnerian melodies, Schoenberg uses the diminished sevenths in development, leading up to a ninth. That is, an "inverted" ninth, Schoenberg's new name for a highly dissonant chord, a dominant seventh framed by an added ninth.
It was this "inverted" ninth which critics of Schoenberg's time deemed "illegitimate"12. These harmonies produce a very strange, unsettling effect, making the first part of Schoenberg's tone-poem an intense, troubling experience. The musical language, drawing as it does on tonality but developing differently, using diminished sevenths as steps in a journey, resolved in an inverted ninth, fits well, and, I would suggest, recapitulates Dehmel's attempts to resolve his and his partner's dilemma.
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The poem is about the way that they had to find new ways to live, new forms of gender and sexuality, a transfigured identity ("civilisation", in Benjaminian terms) for the New Woman, Ida, her child, and her second partner, Richard. The intensity and the attempt to derive a new language, a new way of thinking about old questions (harmonic progression for Schoenberg, the New Woman for Richard Dehmel and Ida Coblenz Auerbach) fits both poem and music. The music, rather than being understood as absolute, makes more sense to us knowing the concerns addressed in the poem, read as more than just late-Romantic, Naturalist histrionics.
The post-Kantian, Romantic idea of "transcendence" — figured in the Sublime encounter of the finite, often lonely individual with nature, as in Wandrers Nachtlied, — becomes something different here. The "stranger's child", conceived in loveless convention, is, in Benjaminian terms, "barbarism". You can imagine the young Ida Coblenz, when introduced by her parents to Leopold Auerbach, protesting that a quasi-arranged marriage was barbaric in this modern fin-de-siècle. The "stranger's child" becomes the vehicle for Ida and Richard's transfiguration in the moonlit night. Dehmel's poem, though less good on wholly aesthetic grounds than Goethe's Wandrers Nachtlied, is, by its very aesthetic failures, transfigured into something more Modern. Goethe's poem succeeds brilliantly in evoking the encounter with that which exceeds language, that is, transcendence. Schubert evokes this meaning transcendentally, in music that evokes "excess", this "that" which is outside of language. It is for this reason that we still think of Schubert as the greatest Lieder composer. Dehmel's naturalism is far more Modern, not just in its subject matter — the New Woman and the modern sexual morality, in which a Love-Child would be legitimate, and a child conceived in loveless matrimony would be illegitimate — but in the excess of sentiment. Schoenberg's music is an encounter with this excess of sentiment, disciplined and remade. Dehmel and Schoenberg's versions of transcendence are thus both more immanent. Both are more a transfiguration than a transcendence. Winnicott's notions of transitionality and Bion's notions of Linking fit these ways of thinking very well, being more useful to us as theorists than a Lacanian emphasis on the fragility of a divided subjectivity would be. Transitionality and Linking fit well with a phenomenological understanding of the musical phrase as a way of thinking relations to past and future. That is, the musical phrase does not only refer to relations of past and future as if those relations existed outside of the mind that thinks them. Music models and constructs time in relation to past and future. In this way, music composes a possible solution to the philosophical aporias of time.
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Schoenberg is excessive. He encounters and uses the extra notes added to classical harmony, the notes that make up diminished sevenths and inverted ninths. As we hear in his work, Schoenberg "transfigures" the Tristan chord13. He takes one more step, he makes something "new" and at the time shocking, pushing Wagnerian language further, moving on from the diminished seventh to the inverted ninth. Rather than Wagner's love-and-death, Verklärte Nacht is about a bohemian relationship in which the lovers have a peak experience in the moonlight. The legitimate husband becomes the stranger and the "stranger's child" is transfigured by the Romantic unity of the two lovers and the moon: "Die wird das fremde Kind verklären". Schoenberg responds musically to his encounter with the poem, transfiguring Wagner's most characteristic tonality, moving it towards modernism.
At the very end of the piece Schoenberg brings together several of his characteristic techniques. He recapitulates and sums up much of what has gone before. As Frisch argues, the D major tonic is approached, in the last 100 or so bars of the piece, by a complex route in half-steps. Furthermore, as throughout the piece, dissonances and the seventh and ninth and eleventh chords in particular, are key to the harmonic progression. The ending is thus strongly dissonant, but the dissonances represent openings as much as closings. This is the inauguration of a new musical sensibility, but, crucially, not yet a complete break with traditional, classical, musical languages. The 'not yet' is key. Rather than the lyrically conversational interaction of voices so typical of chamber music, Schoenberg's way of playing one voice against another and harmony against dissonance is closer to a call-and-response. This is a religious trope: individually, the subject calls upon God; collectively, there is a dialogue between congregation and preacher. Just as Romanticism secularises this religious relationship between finite subject and infinite God in the Sublime, Schoenberg — still close to Romanticism — secularises a kind of call-and-response, as Sublime, as transcendence or, I would suggest, the more immanent transfiguration. The powerfully emotive ending of the piece is Schoenberg's musical version of the transfiguration that is the topic of Dehmel's poem. Schoenberg is thus doing what Goethe called for, representing what the poem is about, rather than describing the story of the poem. Rather than Schubert's wonderfully mesmerising, babbling brooks, we have a new transfiguration of ideas in music, conceptual rather than strictly representational; Linking, in Bion's terms.
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The theme is made from appallingly simple four note sequences, repeated:
The dissonant chords in the lower voices, in for example, bars 409 and 410, create a crucial, disturbing buzz:
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The second viola's two, two-two note phrases, repeated in the same bar, are a kind of reduction, a simultaneous response to the call of the two four-note phrases in the first violin that make up the theme:
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This develops into the unison, but dissonant voices of the last two bars, prefigured by the disjunctive, pizzicato bass and cello of bars 407-413, the unison, very quiet, lower voices' chords of bars 414 and 415,
and the outer sustained notes of bar 416, so striking against the earlier pizzicato. The second violin's Baroque, leaf-like handfuls of notes spread in the antepenultimate bar to what seems a whole forest, wrapped in the high and low sustained notes:
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making the unison of the last bars even more haunting, a transfiguration of the Sublime:
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Schoenberg uses sevenths and ninths and elevenths in what he claimed was a new, radical way, a Modern approach to setting up and resolving musical tensions and harmonies. He uses this language, or perhaps, more modestly, we could say, this new idiom, in an encounter with Dehmel's poem. He responds to and writes about the "muddle" (to use E.M Forster's useful term), that is the topic of the poem. This "muddle" was resolved in Dehmel's insistence that it is Leopold Auerbach who is the stranger. Ida, the late-nineteenth century New Woman, can only be true to herself by following Free Love, the "modern" sexual morality. In Schoenberg's neo-Classical version of late-Romanticism, chromatic, illegitimate chords and dissonances are used both ironically and seriously in reference to music theory, music history, and social issues; the complex response to a complex situation, a "muddle", that was typical of Modernism. Schoenberg's response is astonishingly beautiful, moving, profound music as well as a transfiguration of Dehmel's overwrought but ultimately thought-provoking poem.
3 The Uncanny, Receptivity, and the Future, Or, How an Anonymous Man Reclaimed his Scandalous Books from the Police
In this last section of my paper, I discuss "Morgen!", focusing on both Strauss' Lied and the poem by John Henry Mackay. The power, emotionality, and radicalism of "Morgen!" is striking, and, in many ways, given common preconceptions of Strauss, very surprising. Richard Strauss, in contrast to Schoenberg, despite the formal innovation of his operas and the strength and unconventionality of his female characters, is thought of as very much a late-Romantic rather than Modern composer. Strauss compromised himself morally and politically by remaining in Germany after the Nazis came to power, naively or cynically believing that German culture and tradition were somehow above all the appalling events of the present.
When Strauss and Mackay met for coffee an intense conversation about Anarchism took place, after which Strauss decided to set some of Mackay's poems. Strauss was quite deliberate in setting poems by the literarily and politically radical Naturalist poets Dehmel, Mackay, Henckell, and the Harts.
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It is not clear whether or not Strauss knew that Mackay was gay—I tend to assume that, after such an "intense" conversation, Strauss did know Mackay was gay, but that is a matter of interpretation. Strauss was attracted by the literary, gender, and sexual radicalism of the Naturalist poets. This was partly opportunistic; these poets were trendily avant-garde. However, the settings of Naturalist poems include some of Strauss's best songs. I argue that the Naturalist poems are good in literary terms. As a critic, one does not have the problem one has in discussing, for example, Ständchen: a great song based on an awful poem (containing flower fairies and the most banal rhymes imaginable) written by an acquaintance of Strauss' father.
Musically, the song, "Morgen!", sounds simple. The melody is made up of just a few notes, close together, a kind of bare, almost conversational word-setting. This is particularly well illustrated by bars 14-18 in the passage below, which is bars 12-20 of "Morgen!":
The yearning melody, throughout the song, with its repeated notes and heavy reliance on fourths as opposed to thirds, fits the subject of the poem very well: love, longing, and the future in which the lovers will be able to walk hand-in-hand.
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Harmonically, "Morgen!" seems to be tonal at first, but the return to the tonic that completes the perfect authentic cadence as the lovers reach the strand, together, is a return to a tonic that is altered, that sounds very different. The harmonies in the climactic penultimate bars are very complex, with multiple inner voices opening up in the "silence of bliss", gesturing towards but never quite reaching the dominant. What has seemed a simple melody sets up, in the end, almost too many chords, harmonies that are almost too rich, and emotions that are almost too strong. Just as in Schoenberg, although to a lesser extent, extra textures are added to tonality, making it open up towards atonality. This is legible in bars 30 ff:
John Henry Mackay was a Scottish-German writer relatively well known as a Naturalist poet and prose writer at the time when Richard Strauss set his poem, "Morgen!" He was a member of "Das junge Deutchland" in Zurich in the 1880s14, and after returning to Berlin a member of both "Durch" and the "Friedrichshagen" circle.
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Like other Naturalist writers, he was politically radical, a committed anti-Statist, an anarchist, and a pro-feminist. He argued against marriage as an institution and for Free Love. He was a gay male theorist, activist, poet and novelist. The late-nineteenth century poems and novels published under Mackay's own name used closeted but clearly interpretable language to write about gay male sexuality, in particular, love for boys. He theorised the question of consent in Anarchist terms, focusing on integrity and choice. Like the fictional Schlegels, he was rentier class intelligentsia, living on an inheritance from his mother's family.
His openly gay work, written in the early twentieth century, was published under a pseudonym and distributed by subscription. Forster's gay novel, Maurice (Forster 1971), written at about the same time, was published after Forster's death. Forster read the novel aloud to several of his friends and, at the end of his life, sent the manuscript to Christopher Isherwood for posthumous publication.
Mackay's novel about street kids, The Hustler (2002), focused on the ways that the boys were motivated by acute poverty, not desire. The climactic scene in the novel is highly romantic and describes a non-penetrative sex act. Isherwood, who knew the Berlin bars Mackay used for his research material, said the novel was sentimental, overwritten, and florid. Hysterical would be a more apt term. In Mackay's writing we find both repetition and the return of the repressed. The tropes revolve around partially sublimated receptive sexuality — both desired and feared — sometimes conceptualised as politics, sometimes as writerly images.
The same images and phrases recur in Mackay's prose and poetry. Thus, "so winke mir heimlich zu", (Mackay in Stokes, 2005: 556-557) from "Heimliche Aufforderung", also set by Strauss in Opus 27 — "gesture secretly" or "in homely fashion" — becomes the opening lines of Mackay's "Second Book of the Nameless Love", "Who Are We"": "Niemals hat mich ein Mensch/ tiefer erregt als Du!/Über die Jahre der Ferne/winkst du mir heimlich noch zu" (MacKay 2005: 65).15 These volumes were published in 1905 under the pseudonym Sagitta and sold by subscription only; he took care to obtain a signature stating that "the subscriber […] takes no offence in principle in works of art and literature that perhaps may appropriately offend the modesty of so-called normal people." In 1906, Mackay wrote two more books, again offering them by subscription only.
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Prompted both by his intense disagreement with the moralising terms of the media discourse on the Eulenberg trial and the way that most of the gay or pro-gay writers of the time equated sexuality and gender and with male same-sex desire being seen as "feminine", Mackay wrote a pamphlet in early 1908 called Gehör — nur einen Augenblick! (Mackay 2005: 24-26) The title means 'Listen! Just a brief moment!' Since only a tiny proportion of those to whom Mackay had sent his first subscription letters had written in to buy the books, Mackay sent the new pamphlet out with the next subscription letter.
Mackay's theoretical argument, in this and in his other writings, draws on John Addington Symonds' chapters on "Greek Love" and its contrast with "Roman Love" in the German edition of Havelock Ellis and J.A. Symonds's Sexual Inversion, first published in Germany in 1896. Symonds died before the first English edition was published in 1897 and his family insisted that Ellis remove Symonds' chapters. Mackay draws on Symonds' arguments, arguing that they are useful as a way to conceptualise both male partners in same-sex love as masculine, but tends to avoid the term, "Greek Love", considering it euphemistic and overly academic. Mackay draws on Symonds and Wilde, writing about "nameless love". Mackay argues against Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, rejecting Ulrich's formulation of male same-sex desire as feminine, and contrasting his own use of ordinary German language with Ulrich's use of Latin and of neologisms. MacKay also disagrees strongly with Magnus Hirschfeld, arguing that Hirschfeld's "Third Sex" was little improvement on Ulrich's feminine "Urning".
The Greeks had many words for love, from eros, that is, desire and longing, to philia, intimate love. More puritanical readings of Plato have seen the Platonic ideal — that is the love of philosophy and worship of the forms — as a transcendence that breaks with the body. These interpretations centre on what is claimed to be a Greek suspicion of penetrative sex, a sense — as later writers and theorists have argued — that penetration figures domination and inequality in a way that is inappropriate for sex and love between citizens. The object of penetration, it is argued, is feminine or feminised, a slave or enslaved. Penetrative sex figures domination. "Inter-crural", non-penetrative sex, rubbing on or between the thighs, is more appropriate for sex between equals. Mackay also valorised this particular sexual act. He argued that, in this way, neither partner would dominate, neither would be submissive, both could experience love and transcendence.
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Mackay's argument, like that of the feminists of his time, was about gender and domination, specifically about the construction of masculinities, which were seen conceptually as separate from sexualities. However, while Mackay's theorisations and his romantic, sentimental images, valorise non-penetrative sex, his writing also tropes on receptiveness, being penetrated, but as active participant, not passive object. Thus, as some of Freud's hysterics also did, Mackay sublimated and politicised his contradictory feelings about receptive sexual acts as a way of writing and a way of theorising.
Mackay's writing, while sometimes vivid and moving, is often a strange mixture of the overwrought and the pedestrian; all these styles are readable as part of the Naturalist project to write in ordinary language about social issues. In an attempt to boost circulation, Mackay expanded his mailing list. In a move of extraordinary naiveté, he sent the boy-love pamphlet to a great number of evangelical Protestant ministers, asking them to distribute it to their youth groups. He wrote about boy-love in terms that are both Wildean and straightforward, "namenlose Liebe des Jünglings und Knaben... namenlose Liebe des Mannes" (Mackay 2005: 61), that is, as "nameless love" of youngsters, boys, and men. Complaints led to a court case; the "unknown author" was found guilty, the books confiscated, and the publisher fined. Mackay paid the fine and later reclaimed the confiscated books.
Mackay sold much of his extensive library during the hyperinflation in Germany, when the annuity on which he lived became virtually worthless. He died in 1933, just after his published books had been burned by the Nazis. He gave orders for his friends to destroy his letters and papers after his death, fearing that they too could be persecuted. Mackay's American friend, Benjamin Tucker, like him, an "Individualist Anarchist", though, unlike the argumentative Mackay, a leading figure in a circle of Individualist Anarchists in Boston, preserved Mackay's published work and sent Mackay's letters and postcards to Tucker. During the period of Hyperinflation in Germany Mackay spent the last of his savings on a trip to the Italian/French border. Tucker travelled there from Paris. Whether their failure to meet up was due to the Italian postal service, diffidence in character, inability to make precise plans as to places and times, sheer bad luck, or the fact that in any case, the border was closed, they failed to connect. Mackay left the Italian border town in despair, thinking Tucker had not shown up, finding his love too importunate. He had not allowed enough time for the postcards fixing a day and precise place to arrive. Tucker reached the French border town just after Mackay had departed.
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The word heimlich that is repeated so often in Mackay's workis the key term in Freud's 1919 essay, "The Uncanny", in which Freud analyses heimlichkeit, focusing on the way in which opposites merge in sentences in which heimlich means "secret". Freud's analysis turns on images of blindness in which vision is phallic, a kind of penetration. Freud was read in the "Durch" and "Friedrichshagen" circles of which Mackay was part, and Mackay's version of Naturalism, his way of describing the effects of inhibition and repression seems to owe much to Freud. Freud uses his analysis of the uncanny to explain the use of repetition; images recur because the issues they relate to are not resolved. Repetition is an indication of the repressed, returning. Freud selected images to write about that would enable him to elucidate key parts of his theory. He finds images of penetration and castration, central to his theory and also indicative of his own fears and desires. However, as Freud also discusses, not all literary (or musical) tropes have the same latent content. Mackay tends to trope on receptiveness, not penetration or castration.
In Mackay's work as a whole, there are many leitmotifs, many repeated images or phrases. Strauss's song, "Morgen!" also uses repeated notes for emotional impact. In fact, we can argue that the emotional impact of these repeated notes relies on the way that repetition is part of the psychic mechanism, the return of the repressed. So, what is it that is repressed in Mackay's writing? He was quite well aware that he was gay, quite well aware that he desired boys between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. He knew, and wrote about, his sexual frustration: most of the boys he desired did not desire or love him, so he did not have much sex. Mackay explains, at length, when discussing the Sagitta court case, that nobody knew he was Sagitta. His room was the lodger's room, at the front of the apartment. His study was in another room, behind. The entrance was separate. The policemen came up the back-passage. Nobody could prove it was Mackay's back-passage. Clearly, this is an example of the return of the repressed. The repressed that returns in Mackay's writing is receptive sex, in this example, obviously anal, in other examples both oral and anal. This is repressed and sublimated, recurring in key words and images in his texts; it becomes an important part of Mackay's anarchist theorisations. Penetrative-receptive sex is (un)heimlich, for Mackay. The repressed receptive sexual identity is conceptualised in political terms, as anarchism, and as an opening towards the future.
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This is welcome, and unusual. Usually, in so many texts — whether gay, lesbian, or straight, whether female or male authored — receptivity is conceptualised both as feminine and as passive, with agency being seen as a problem for a feminine subject, and domination and submission being seen as a problem for penetrative-receptive sexual partners. In Mackay's work, receptivity is imagined as agency, as opening. However, it's still strange: it is unheimlich. And it is this very Unheimlichkeit that makes this positive conceptualisation of receptivity as agency possible.
The opposing and paradoxical meanings of heimlich are central, in Mackay's poems, to the way he understands longing, the most characteristic emotion of the romantic lyric poem and song:
The sense of longing so typical of the Lied is distilled, in "Morgen!" in just the sort of images and phrases you'd expect: the sun, the path, the shore, in typically musical German phrases, "sonnenatmenden Erde" (Mackay, in Stokes, 2005: 556). However, the nature and journey imagery is transformed into political meaning: the shore is the future, the Morgen, when the lovers can meet openly, rather than in the secrecy of "Heimliche Aufforderung". In the darkness of the garden, in "Heimliche Aufforderung", the embraces are closeted, fulfilled yet secret; on the strand, in "Morgen!" the liminal zone of the future, the embrace is public yet highly decorous—a walk arm-in-arm.
In Mackay's writings, the secret gesture is a meeting of eyes, as in "Morgen!", "Stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen" (Mackay, in Stokes, 2005: 556), a refusal of that meeting of eyes, as in the long poem confiscated in the Sagitta trial, a toast with a glass of wine (remember, in Germany, one meets the eyes of the other when drinking a toast), all displaced images of penetration and reception.
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The images of reception (the glass of wine) are heimlich: "Und wenn du sie hebst, so winke mir heimlich zu" (Mackay, in Stokes, 2005: 556); in sex without love, rejected as invasion of integrity, reception becomes unheimlich. When Mackay finally gets up the courage to approach the hustler, the boy's eyes were filled with hate: "Aber was ich da las/Das war Wuth und war Haß, /unbeschreiblicher Haß!" (Mackay, 1913, 1924, 2005: 105)17
This receptive identity is the basis of Mackay's argument, explained at length in his 1891 novel The Anarchists: that political change is achievable only passively. The way of achieving the liberated future, in "Morgen!" is similarly passive: it is the sun, not the action of one or other lover, which will unite the lovers: "Und morgen wird die Sonne.../Wird uns, die Glücklichen, sie wieder einen"
This mixture of tension, repetition, passivity, receptiveness, and opening, lends itself easily to Strauss's setting, in which the straightforwardly classical tonality of the first parts of the song is intensified, giving bars 31-38, the end of the vocal line, and the instrumental postlude, bars 39-43, a an overwhelmingly languorous beauty. The extract is bars 30-43:
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Here, as blissful silence falls on the two lovers, gazing into each other's eyes, the tension built up in haunting repeated notes and yearning fourths and released in calm, clear, thirds and fifths breaks down and becomes something new. The familiar, romantic yearning towards transcendence becomes something else: as the title says, Morgen, tomorrow, the future. Surprisingly, the soprano and bass-lines move in contrary motion, a tension-in-motion, very different from the tension-in-stasis of the repeated notes. We move from inhibition and the return of the repressed to opening, receptiveness; the future. The inner voices call out pitches that suggest a sensuous plethora of adjacent chords. The harmonies suggested by the middle voices are conventional; recombining to familiar, beautiful effect. However, the effect of the multiplied textures is a kind of word-painting, first evoking the redoubled image of the man and boy's eyes, each in each, and then evoking the silence into which they sink. The chords almost seem to stop time. This effect is produced both by the tension of the contrary motion of the soprano and bass lines and by the beauty of the chords in the inner voices.
Beauty is very different from sublimity. It rests on symmetry, on harmony, and is deeply human. Sublimity, as in Schoenberg or Schubert, has to do, in contrast, with the encounter with Otherness, whether nature, God, or transcendence, that which is beyond language and even beyond thought.
The orchestral or piano postlude with which "Morgen!" ends (bars 39-43) emerges from a still, noiseless breath of a beat, running up in gentle, patterned intervals, a fifth, a fourth, a third, a fourth, as if counting us through the harmonies. Beauty, however much particular aesthetic theorists may have tried to come up with a transhistorical definition, changes over time. Beauty is aporetic, that is, it poses paradoxes that cannot be resolved. The attempt at resolution always leads to a new formulation of the aporia, rather than a solution now and for all time. The beauty of "Morgen!" is, thus, aporetically, the opening horizon of time and history (the subject of "Ruhe, meine Seele", also in Opus 27), and the historical limit of silence, of what Mackay, in a Wildean phrase, called namenlosen Liebe, nameless Love. It is also, most sensuously, the border, the eroticised rim, of un/heimlich receptivity, the cup touching the mouth, in the image used in "Heimliche Aufforderung".
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As well as drawing on a "Greek" conceptualisation of homosexuality for gay male theory, Mackay utilises this "Greek" theory in other contexts, as part of his argument about Anarchism. This is linked to a typically Naturalist emphasis on the depiction of intense emotional states. In The Anarchists, Mackay's protagonist, Auban, argues, "What you are to do, I do not know. You must know yourselves. But I assert: passive resistance against aggressive force is the only means to break it" (Mackay, 1891, 1999: 154).18 This realisation came about after a diffident conversation between political comrades, ending with a meeting of eyes, "But they said to each other by their looks: We know what we want" (Mackay, 1891, 1999: 134). This is the clearest moment of homoeroticism in the novel, a comment by Mackay on the closeting of gays in the Anarchist movement of the late Nineteenth century and on the way that unexpressed sexual love underlies comradeship.
The character, Auban, after his friend leaves, sublimates: "Auban was alone ..Read history!" He reads through the documents he has assembled on the contemporaneous Chicago Haymarket riot, trial, and execution. He is filled with "waves" of "impotent rage" (Mackay, 1891, 1999: 140); his "cause":
Here, a political conclusion is reached by means of a comparison between politics and love, with love conceptualised in "Greek" terms, with the possibility of domination highlighted and feared. The Platonic image of the will as a horse and the reason as its rider (driver, for Plato, who, moreover, had two horses in his image, wild and obedient), and the "Greek" notion of love as domination, with the active lover paradoxically rendered passive as slave to love, is transformed in the central phrases. Mackay's characters' musings on their ambivalent consciousness and passivity are played out at such length that they paradoxically become acts, often hours-long.
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For Mackay, the problem posed by the "Propaganda of the Deed", Anarchist violence, is understood as a contradiction between freedom and determinism, as is typical of Naturalism. Freedom is understood by Mackay in terms of the philosophy of individualist anarchism; determinism is understood by him as psychology, "nature". Thus, the character Auban thinks of two more comrades who agonised about the "Propaganda of the Deed". For one, "At first over-sensitive, then seized by melancholy, his insanity had broken out here, in London"; regarding another,
The exaggeration is reminiscent of Dehmel's exaggeration in Weib und Welt. In the passages that describe a psychology, rather than writing a psychoanalysis, the only possible movement or resolution is political. Thus, Auban is described by Mackay as avoiding this feared madness philosophically, by accepting the tenets of "individualistic anarchism" (Mackay propagandised for Max Stirner), and developing a notion of passive resistance. At the end of the novel, Mackay piles the tropes of Romantic and Naturalist poetry upon each other, in a peroration exhorting anarchy: he starts with an image reminiscent of "Morgen!", "The early morning walker at the break of the new day was he"; anchors it near the end with an allusion to the most characteristic of Romantic, Sublime images: "Like the wanderer was Auban", and ends with insufferably smug confidence, in a very bad prose poem, "Then he took up his work./Upon his thin, hard, features lay a calm, magnanimous, confident smile./It was the smile of invincibility." (Mackay, 1891, 1999: 181)
Yet, when restricted to lyric form, some of Mackay's poems are very good. It is not surprising that the poem "Morgen!" becomes the basis of one of Strauss's most beautiful songs.
The other song in Opus 27 that is equally, remarkably, good, is Karl Henckell's "Ruhe, meine Seele!"19 Rather than the clumsily Whitmanesque long lines and mixture of heightened and ordinary language which make Mackay's long poems and prose poems more successful as expositions of ideas than as poems, Henckell uses a different, Naturalist technique: short, abrupt phrases which are concatenated. The poem is often laid out on the page in half-lines.
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The nature imagery is clearly a political metaphor, made explicit in line 9 or 17-18, "Diese Zeiten/Sind gewaltig"; "These times are violent", and psychologised in line 10 or 19 and 20, "Bringen Herz und/Hirn in Not"; "Cause heart and mind distress", (Stokes, 2005: 554). Two gay love songs—"Morgen!" and "Heimliche Aufforderung"; one radical, left-wing song, "Ruhe, meine Seele!"; and "Cäcilie", a poem of flirtation with the host's wife, left by the poet as an apology for that same flirting, make Opus 27 an odd but wonderful wedding present for Pauline de Ahna.
4 To conclude: ways of meaning
There is no intrinsic connection between the particular versions of the Sublime that developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the modern constructions of gender and sexuality that also developed in this period. History, and that includes intellectual history, is particularistic and contingent. Thus, my analysis of Dehmel's poem, and, in particular, my arguments about the Sublime, transcendence, and transfiguration and the relation of these philosophical ideas to the figure of the New Woman and Free Love, cannot posit a general, systematic connection between these philosophical ideas and these social-historical tropes. My argument, my philosophy of history, posits links made by me, an intellectual historian, writing (as Benjamin remarks), as a historical materialist. Something comes together in these images, this music; contingently, in this particular poem and this particular piece of music. A shock: in the case of Dehmel's Verklärte Nacht, the shock of what seems at first a moonlit encounter even more intense than one would expect of moonlit encounters, provokes an interpretation. By focusing on what once had historical force, I produce an argument of historical scope, rather than of wholly literary or musicological aim.
The argument rests on Dehmel's writing: writing that acted with such historical force as to lead to a court-case.
There is also, to turn back to my analysis of Mackay and Strauss's writings, no intrinsic connection between beauty, a very Greek aesthetic concern, and Greek notions of sexuality. My interpretation of Mackay's writing is contingent, with particularistic and thus historical scope.
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When Mackay or Symonds based their theorisations of same-sex sexuality on speculations about the Greeks, or when Wilde, and, in imitation of him, Mackay, wrote about the love that dares not speak its name, this had historical force. Mackay, like Wilde, ended up in court; Symonds' family embargoed his writings after his death and destroyed archive material. All of these ways of writing were attempts at philosophical grounding; they also are ways of understanding the past; of writing history. The power of these ideas can be estimated by the reaction against them: the court cases against Mackay, Dehmel, and Wilde; Symonds' family's censorship of Symonds' chapters in his and Havelock Ellis's book (Ellis 1897), after his death, so that these were only available in the earlier German edition. Wilde died in exile; Mackay died just after the 1933 Nazi auto da fé in which his books were burnt.
What we see from these interpretations of poetry and music is that ideas are not connected in a transcendent realm of Platonic Forms. They fall into connection in time, in history, and each story we tell, each essay we write, each poem that is written, each song that is composed by human hands has as much and as little hope of shaping the future or reshaping the past.
These ways of writing, ways of reading, and ways of interpreting are based on the practice of Walter Benjamin. One of Benjamin's most important innovations was his writerly use, his practice, of the way of meaning (Art des Meinens). Benjamin retells a story from Kafka's (2009) The Trial. In front of a door stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes, asks for admittance; is turned away, "The door is not open yet." He comes back, day after day. On the day of his death, he is surprised to see that the door is being filled in. "Why? "The door was for you alone."
Kafka follows this story with a parody of the wide range of interpretations suggested by using haggadic interpretation as a model. Benjamin (Benjamin 2002; Sholem 1989) suggests that, while as modernists we may be ironic about it, the range of interpretation of haggadah (tradition) and halakhah (Law; literally, "the way") in Jewish theology is the basis for a way of meaning that is inherently multiplex. Derrida gave the same argument: Jewish theological practice with its tradition of haggadic and halakhic commentary provides a foundation for understanding texts as inherently plural.
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For Benjamin, much revolved around the differences between novel and story, integrative synthesis and Brechtian staging. A modern novel, for Benjamin, as for Thomas Mann, presents a single, integrative synthesis, often in complex, ironic ways. A story or poem—and Benjamin's thought figures are little stories, little poems—does not synthesise: it turns, it tropes. My interpretation of Kafka's story about the man from the country turns on the closed door. That door is not yet open, it is expectation. A poem is thus interpretable, re-writable, as, in my two examples here, as a song, as a piece for chamber orchestra. The musical piece is then, itself, interpretable, again. Ways of meaning open up; they lead us in various directions. The ways of meaning I have employed in this essay are openings, not integrations — encounters and linking, rather than finality. What they open towards is history, understood as encounter and thus as the process and practice of linking, rather than as an integrative synthesis.
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Benjamin, Walter (2002): Selected Writings, Volume 3 Michael W Jennings (Ed.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap.
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Appendix: Poems and Translations
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The translations of the lines above are Stokes'.
The translations of the lines above are Stokes'.
1Schubert, Franz, Wandrers Nachtlied II, D.768. For Goethe's poem see appendix.
3 Chernaik, Laura. Work in progress. Playing with the Encounter.
4 I develop this argument more fully in my work in progress, Playing with the Encounter, and in an article submitted to Textual Practice, Time, History, and Ways of Meaning: from Walter Benjamin to John Adams.
5 See Dahlhaus (1989). The Idea of Absolute Music. The antonym is "programme music"; the latter tells a story; the former harks at ineffable truths. Like Forster, I argue that the distinction breaks down. Anyone who has ever written a novel knows that plot conveys ideas as well as story.
7 I would like to thank my brother, the conductor David Chernaik, for his invaluable critique of an early draft of this work. Any remaining errors are of course my own.
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8 I hope that my audience would include a wide range of those interested in music and intellectual history. I do not want to only address those who consider themselves "experts." I therefore define terms as I use them; some of this is basic but essential terminology, other terms are more "advanced" technical vocabulary.
9"Muddle" is the word that E.M. Forster used to write about the kind of complicated personal situations people—and his characters—fall into. It describes both the affect and the implicit argument: the situation is complicated; the affect one feels is painful distress; the only intellectual response that is at all adequate is a complex one. Like Stefan Zweig, Forster wrote about the "World of Yesterday", shaken by World War One, the Hyperinflation, and the Great Depression, and destroyed by World War Two, the Holocaust, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
10 Classical music is organised in patterns: tonalities, key signatures, in terms of which some notes sound harmonious and others sound dissonant. Late Romantic music, most notably, Wagner, used dissonances in ways that sounded different from the classical idiom; Schoenberg, Berg, and Adorno all argued that this led, ultimately, to atonalism. The more unresolved dissonance you have, the more classical harmony breaks down, and the more you are led to hypostasise another structure. Adorno concluded that atonalism was a dead end. We would be better off returning to Beethoven. The German modernists focused particularly on Wagner's "Tristan chord", F, B, D♯, G♯. This chord can be understood as an augmented fourth, augmented sixth, and an augmented ninth above the root. It can also be arpeggiated, thought in sequence as an augmented fourth, F-B, a major third, B-D♯, and a perfect fourth, D♯-G♯. It is a beautiful but in many ways a puzzling chord. Schoenberg described it as "wandering". There is a useful, scholarly Wiki which explains the relation of the different analyses to the scholarly literature. Note J. Chailley's attack in this Wiki on "the preposterous idea that Tristan could be made the prototype of an atonality". It was Berg and Schoenberg who argued for this "preposterous" interpretation. Adorno studied with Berg. My argument builds on Adorno and thus on Berg and Schoenberg's views on Wagner and on the relation of their music to Wagner's music. The interpretations are, of course, controversial and hotly debated. For Adorno's discussion of Schoenberg, see Adorno (2007: 42 ff.) For a much fuller discussion of Schoenberg's views on the relation of his music to Wagner's than I have space for here, see Gur (2009).
11 For audiences used to listening to classical music, even without the formal training in harmony, fifths, as intervals as well as chords, are easily heard, when present, and easily imagined, when absent; cadences structure our listening. Other melodic and harmonic patterns have meaning through their difference from cadences. Verklärte Nacht turns on sevenths, both diminished and dominant. A diminished seventh is a four note chord consisting of the root and a minor triad, framed by the interval of a seventh. A ninth is a dominant seventh ('major-minor', that is, counting from the root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh) with a ninth on top. The ninth interval, which frames the dominant seventh in Schoenberg's text, making a "ninth chord", is a matter of interpretation: an octave plus, it could also be read as a second. An "eleventh chord" is also an octave-plus, doubly-readable interval (a fourth with the top note raised an octave); made into a chord in Schoenberg's text, it frames a diminished seventh. A diminished seventh is also readable in more than one way: as diminished seventh or augmented sixth. The question is thus one of interpretation. Sevenths, ninths, and elevenths, as chords even more than as intervals, are troubling: the affect is striking and often deeply emotional. Sevenths are not something new: we can find them in Bach and Beethoven. However, seventh and ninth and eleventh chords are central to Schoenberg's music, used as part of the harmonic progressions which structure his work. The highly technical analyses in the scholarly literature turn on these questions of interpretation, in ways that do not resolve it; the music is just beautiful and mysterious when listening to Verklärte Nacht after reading.
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12 The Vienna Musikverein rejected Verklärte Nacht because they objected to "one single uncatalogued dissonance!" and the very idea that a ninth chord could be inverted. See Schoenberg's 1946 Criteria for Evaluation of Music (Schoenberg 1946).
15 Mackay (1913, 1924, 2005: 65). My translation: "Never has a man so inflamed me as you. Over the years' distance you gesture uncannily at me."
16 For Stokes translation see appendix.
17 My translation: "What I met there was wrath and hate, indescribable hate."
18Mackay, who rarely mentioned a sexual interest in an adult man, had a crush on Schumm, the translator of The Anarchists. Nothing came of it.
19 For the German text see appendix.