Expressive use of form, melody and harmony in Fanny Hensel's settings of lyric poetry by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: a study of selected lieder

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lisa Renee Foerster (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Walker

Abstract: Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel (1805–1847) produced at least 250 lieder during her short life. Of these, 34 settings were to poems by Goethe. As a group, the settings of Goethe poetry show great creativity through variety in form, melodic invention, harmonic interest and manipulation of the text. These settings span her entire compositional life, and her response to Goethe's poetry is varied. Rather than showing a consistent progression of style development, she reacted to the need of the poem before her, not to a preconceived notion of form or style. Her creative approach to lieder reflects her position at the beginning of the Romantic era as a composer who built upon, and moved beyond, the legacy of the Second Berlin School and her teacher Friedrich Zelter. This dissertation discusses in detail eleven examples of Goethe settings by Hensel, nine already published and two from manuscript sources at the Mendelssohn Archive in Berlin. The songs include a variety of forms, among them the late strophic "Dämmrung senkte sich von oben" (1843), the modified strophic setting "Sehnsucht," and the rondo "Neue Liebe, Neues Leben". Also discussed are the two versions of "Wenn ich mir in stiller Seele" which are through-composed settings of the poem written for Hensel by Goethe in 1827; the second version has just been published in research by Hans-Gunther Klein (2011). The other six through-composed settings ("Sehnsucht nach Italien," "An Suleika," "Ist es möglich, Stern der Sterne," "Mignon," "Wonne der Wehmut," and "Hausgarten") are discussed in terms of their poetic setting, especially their use of repetition of text ("An Suleika"), diminished seventh chords ("Wonne der Wehmut" and "Dämmrung senkte sich von oben") modulations ("Sehnsucht"), and rhythmic variety ("Hausgarten" and "Neue Liebe, Neues Leben"). Two lieder, "Wonne der Wehmut" and "Ist es möglich, Stern der Sterne" have not been published and will be presented in a transcription from the manuscript. Fanny Hensel's ability to use choice of form, melodic invention, harmonic coloration and freedom with the text, in service to the poetry produced interesting, expressive lieder. Although unrecognized during her lifetime and only seriously considered from the 1980's onward her works show the development of the through-composed form and a robust melodic inventiveness that earn her a position of consideration next to Schubert in the history of the early romantic lied.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
Art song, Fanny Hensel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lieder, Mendelssohn
Hensel, Fanny Mendelssohn, $d 1805-1847 $x Criticism and interpretation
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, $d 1749-1832 $x Musical settings $x History and criticism

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