David Lewin's Morgengruß: Text, Context, Commentary

Editors: David Schwarz and Richard Cohn

Oxford University Press (2015)

This book presents in print, for the first time, an extended 1974 essay by David Lewin on "Morgengruß," a twenty-four measure strophic song from Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin. The essay was central to Lewin's graduate teaching, and copies of it have circulated by hand through the music-scholarly community. Yet Lewin initially wrote it for an audience of non-specialists who have had "exposure equivalent to an academic semester's work in a basic harmony course." The essay thus deserves to be circulated to the broader community of amateurs, performers, students, and critics that Lewin envisioned as its readers. But there is much in it, too, for the professional music scholar. Lewin's ability to make a subtle and rich interpretive argument, based on a hyper-detailed reading of a short and allegedly "simple" score, in a broadly accessible language, is but one of the wonders to behold in this masterful essay.

Lewin's method in the essay is to advance a set of claims about the song that are prima facie obvious; to show what prompts us initally to take each claim as given; to incrementally introduce musical evidence that problematizes the claim, to the point that the reader is inclined to reverse it altogether; to recuperate the initial claim, alongside its reversal; to assert the conditional truth value of both the claim and its reversal; and to explore the basis of musical objects and musical knowledge from the standpoint of the realization that two contradictory claims about it can simultaneously have value. Among the assertions that prompt this series of dialectical inquires are the following: that the first stanza is the heart of the poem's action, upon which the remaining stanzas are lyric reflections; that the music is simple; that the music of each of the four strophes has an identical structure; that each strophe has a three-part form; that the third part is a varied reprise of the first.

One of Lewin's goals is the generic music-analytic one of deepening our appreciation for and enriching our experience with the composition; and this goal Lewin accomplishes extraordinarily well. This is a brilliant analyst at the height of his powers. But Lewin has at least four other aims, to which he responds with equal aptitude. One is to shine a light on the analytic process itself: how we come to intuitions and how we come to problematize them; what sorts of inquiries yield evidence; what sorts of evidence make an analytic argument. A second is to explore aspects of representation and communication: what gives analytical evidence persuasive force, and why; how to organize and order an analytical argument; how to explore and assert through graphs, and how to coordinate graph with text. A third is to advance a vision of analysis as a continuing, iterative, dialectical process whose truths are contingent rather than ultimate. And a fourth is to advance a vision of the analyst as a conversation partner who draws the reader into his processes, rather than an oracle who pronounces his truth product to the reader down there.

One of the reasons that the essay was never published is that, at 185 pages of typescript and 252 (mostly small) figures, it is too long for an article and too short for a scholarly monograph. In part to standardize the volume's length, we will accompany Lewin's essay with an introduction, co-authored by the editors (Cohn and Schwarz) in conjunction with Edward Gollin, and with three newly written essays that situate Lewin's achievement within the contexts of the author's personal and intellectual biography, of the general history of ideas, and of the manifestations of those ideas in the universe of writings about music. Henry Klumpenhouwer's contribution will examine the essay's methodological underpinnings, arguing that beneath the work's analytic technologies lies a modernist imperative of Bildung, according to which the musical development of the individual reader or listener is of primary importance. Richard Cohn situates the essay's tone and attitude against the background of writings by Lewin's teachers and colleagues, Lewin's own ideas as expressed in his 1967 essay on Moses and Aaron and his personal letters, and the general tenor of contemporaneous music-scholarship and music-appreciation writings. Brian Kane reads the essay "forward" as a proto-phenomenological document crafted in advance of Lewin's subsequent immersion in phenomenological writings, and of the explicitly phenomenological stance of Lewin's famous 1986 essay, which overlaps with, reworks, and recontextualizes some of the analytical substance of the Morgengruß essay.