how often in the soul of the musician does the music sound at
the same moment as the words of the poet, and, above all, the
poet's language in the general language of music?-From time
to time the musician is clearly conscious of having thought
of the melody without any relation to the words, and it springs
forth with a reading of the poem as if awakened by a magic touch.
T. A. Hoffman (Rosen 66)
During the Romantic Age,
music became a language. Two independent forms of expression-music
and poetry-shifted in power under the quill of a composer. Schlegel
comments in fragment 444 of the Atheneum:
Whoever has a feeling, however, for the wonderful
affinity of all the arts and sciences will at least not consider
the matter from the superficial and so-called natural point
of view, according to which music should be nothing more than
the language of sentiment, and he will find a certain tendency
of all pure instrumental music to philosophy not inherently
impossible. Must not pure instrumental music itself create
its own text? And is not the theme in it developed, confirmed,
varied, and contrasted in the same way as the object of meditation
in a philosophical series of ideas? (Rosen 72-73)
Johann Wilhelm Ritter
was the first to develop the idea that music is a language,
"the first of mankind (Rosen 59)." E.T.A. Hoffmann
developed the idea further in Kreisleriana, which greatly
inspired the music of Schumann, among others. Music became "individualized"
in words, specifically in the German Leid, where piano accompanied
voice (Rosen 61). After 1770, writers used musicians as literary
figures; the ultimate literary figure being Kreisler, of E.T.A.
The Weimar Classicists
Schiller and Herder repsecitively melded music into their dramas
and collected folk songs. Goethe wrote texts for Singspiele,
for amateur court productions, and later became director of
the court theater. Although many of Goethe's operatta liberttos
were composed, his musical endeavors had no lasting appeal to
the public. Instead, his talent as a poet challenged composers
to set his lyrical poems to music; "Nur wer die Sehnsucht
kennt (None but the Lonely Heart)," "Kennst du das
Land (Know'st thou the land)," and Erlkönig
inspired their musical equivalents. Yet the Weimar Classicists
held a conservative attitude towards music, favoring the Classical
composers to the Romantics.
The Romantic writers however,
looked at their respective music differently. Wackenroder believed
music could stimulate thought and imagination. Ludwig Tieck
considered instrumental music the highest form of artistic expression.
Tieck's musical inspiration embodied itself in Die Verkehrte
Welt (The Upside-Down World); the work commenced with his
"Symphony," a prose representation of music. Novalis
shared in Tieck's opinion and established a proposal for literature
to detach from reality: "Poems-simply sounding well and
filled with beautiful words-but also without any sense or logic-at
most single stanzas intelligible-they must be like mere broken
pieces of the most varied things (Rosen 76)." To many artists
and writers, including Novalis, the power of music was its ability
to be conceived in the absence of reality. Works that represented
the attempt to break art from reality include Coleridge's
Kubla Khan (1798), Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760-1767),
Diderot's Jacques le fataliste (1796), Hölderlin's
Hyperion (1797-1799), and Brentano's Godwi (1801);
each work contains a reference to a continuation beyond itself,
a hint that there is more to come, imitative of the musical
paradox evident in Haydn's Quartet in D Major, op. 50,
no.6, which begins with the final cadence as the opening theme
All of the German Romantic
writers, including French poets Charles Baudelaire and Paul
Verlaine beheld music as a synaesthesia where colors and tones
combined to produce a dream-like effect. Bettina Brentano von
Arnim, Clemens Brentano's sister, believed music was a divine
and sensuous art and an emotional, soul-fulfilling experience.
Also, many Romantic writers pursued music as a creative outlet.
E.T.A. Hoffmann was the most musical of the German Romantics
and distinguished himself greatly in German Romantic Opera with
Undine (1816). His literature also provided the plots
to Tchaikovsky's ballet suite, The Nutcracker (1892)
and Offenbach's opera, Les Contes d'Hoffmann (1881).
In France, Romanticism did not fully evolve until 1830 and Romanticism
in music did not completely captivate audiences until the 1880s.
Henri Beyle, or Stendhal as he called himself, was more interested
in music than his contemporary French writers. Honoré
de Balzac wrote two musical novellas-Massimilla Doni
and Gambara-to express his interest in Italian opera
and French Grand Opera. In addition, Théophile Gautier
publicly supported Berlioz and Wagner. Lord Byorn's influence
on Berlioz would give rise to a symphony inspired by Childe
Harold, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Rienzi (1835)
would inspire one of the first of Wagner's operas. In feneral,
the French Romantics used music to illustrate social environment,
and thus their work is a great resource in the study of the
sociological history of music (Longyear 18). Evidently, the
Romantic writers contributed to the growing popularity in Romantic
music and in turn gave inspiration to Romantic composers, of
whom many had interests in literature and art.
Longyear, Ray M. Nineteenth-Century
Romanticism in Music. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1988.
Rosen, Charles. The Romantic
Generation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.