Harvard professor speaks on Schubert

The Music Department hosted Reinhold Brinkmann, professor of music at Harvard University and the last scholar in the Class of 1960 lecture series, on May 2 and 3. Brinkmann, a “monumental figure” in musicology and a renowned author, has been distinguished with numerous awards, including the 2001 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, the most prestigious award in music in Germany. Brinkmann has written prolifically on topics from medieval times to the 20th century, and has covered almost every major composer from Beethoven to Wagner and Varese.

Brinkmann’s lecture, entitled “Franz Schubert, Linden Trees and German National Identity: A Song as a Subject of History,” centered around German lieder and musical lyricism, primarily focusing on the topic of Schubert’s “Lindenbaum.” The lied, translated literally as “song,” developed as a genre in Germany due to a boom in piano improvements and productions, thus making piano-vocal compositions increasingly popular. The “Lindenbaum” song, in particular, became increasingly popular in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, but not as Schubert’s composition.

Instead, due to a lack of copyright laws, other composers arranged the vocal line with a simplified accompaniment, including a four part chorale by Silcher and a virtuosic arrangement by Liszt. From these, other arrangements would be written, now completely unrelated to the original version of the song – and many of Schubert’s original compositional ideas were lost.

The music became a common song for choral societies in Germany. These societies sang nationalistic German music, and these rehearsals became a forum for political agenda, so much so that Bismarck proclaimed that “German song” was his “ally in war.” The chancellor thanked German singers for their indirect support, creating unity in Germany toward war against France. Elben wrote that these societies had two goals: the education of the public and the development of a national consciousness. Thus, Schubert’s art song had been degraded to political propaganda, creating national unity for a state that couldn’t create it through politics.

Brinkmann also presented lectures to both the Beethoven and Music History classes, the latter featuring a discussion of Hugo Wolf and his stylistic tendencies toward Wagner.