Changing Images of Young Women in 19th-Century German Lieder, Literature, and Art

By Heather Platt.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Throughout the 19th century, the idealized German maiden was molded in the vein of Goethe’s
Gretchen and praised for her innocence. Literature and art emphasized her purity and lack of artifice
by associating her with elements of nature, such as flowers. Literary critics, and to some extent art
historians, have acknowledged the societal significance of these types of female figures, noting that
such characters modeled behavior that the 19th century extolled as the embodiment of German womanhood.
By contrast, musicologists have been slow to explore the societal implications of this character.
This paper begins to explore how similar gentle, submissive maidens were portrayed in lieder,
beginning with the early 19th century songs of Friedrich Heinrich Himmel. Later songs, including
those by Schumann and Brahms portrayed similar maidens, and in some cases these works resembled
Himmel's in that they drew on elements of folk music to emphasize the girls' innocence and grace. In
the last decades of the century, new images of cosmopolitan young women began to appear in literature
and the visual arts. Lieder were also influenced by this transformation and more sexually experienced
female characters are vividly portrayed in the music of Hugo Wolf.

Keywords: Music, Lieder, Images of Women, German Society, 19th-Century Art and Literature; Composers: Himmel, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg; Writers: Chamisso, Gottfried Keller

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.117-128. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 879.957KB).

Prof. Heather Platt

Professor of Music History, School of Music, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA

Heather Platt is a Professor of Music History at Ball State University, Indiana. She is the author of, Johannes Brahms A Guide to Research (Routledge). Her articles, which have appeared in such publications as The Cambridge Companion to the Lied, Brahms Studies and The Journal of Musicology, explore the responses of nineteenth- and twentieth-century critics to the Lieder of Brahms. Her essay on the current state of analytical approaches to Brahms’s music appeared in issue 2 of the 2009 volume of 19th-century Music Review. She has given numerous presentations on Brahms, Wolf, Haydn, and the eighteenth-century orchestral suite at conferences throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. She currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors of the American Brahms Society.

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