Between heaven and earth: Viktor Ullmann's Steffen-Lieder Op.17

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Radha Upton (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Andrew Harley

Abstract: The life and the work of Austrian composer, conductor, pianist, and musical essayist Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) were for many years largely lost to history. One factor that may well have contributed to this situation was that, being Jewish, he was among those who were persecuted and killed under the National Socialist regime during the Second World War. Only the persistent work of musicologists, mainly within the last twenty to thirty years, has been able to shed some light on the circumstances of his life. While much research has been done regarding Ullmann's life, the body of research focusing on his works is still fairly small. Ullmann's Lieder, in particular, have not been discussed to their full extent. The growing availability of his Lieder in print and on audio recordings expands the possibilities for further research. The present study discusses Ullmann's Sechs Lieder Op. 17 (1937), settings of poetry by the Swiss anthroposophic poet Albert Steffen (1884-1963). First, the paper familiarizes the reader with general aspects of Ullmann's life and work, his holistic Weltanschauung Anthroposophy, and his musical ideals. Second, it provides an overview of his Lieder, including his general knowledge and assessment of the human voice. Finally, after a brief introduction to both life and work of the poet, the study provides an interpretative analysis of the Steffen-Lieder in terms of Ullmann's musical language and his response to the poetry. The principal characteristic of Ullmann's musical language present in this set is the combination of traditional and contemporary musical elements. He alters familiar harmonic and melodic structures by adding elements of contemporary styles, such as dissonances, whole-tones, altered chords, and augmented chords, positioning his music between tonality and atonality. With his innate musical language, Ullmann illustrates the poetry with both sensitivity and in great detail, pointing musically to the spheres of both the spiritual world and the sensual world. In doing so, his aim was perhaps to represent the primary tension between the darkness of earthly life and the hope for spiritual redemption in heaven as they are expressed in Steffen's poetry.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
Anthroposophy, German Lieder, Songs, Steffen, Theresienstadt, Ullmann
Ullmann, Viktor. $t Lieder, $n op. 17
Steffen, Albert, $d 1884-1963 $x Musical settings $x History and criticism

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