Phrase rhythm as an expressive compositional device in Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin

René Pérez, University of North Texas

Most analyses that intend to explain how expression is achieved in a musical composition center their investigation on harmony and melody and, when analyzing songs, the relationship of these two elements with the text. Analysts focus less frequently on other parameters such as rhythm, texture, or instrumentation. This is the case of writings about Die Schöne Müllerin. Some of the most important analyses of this cycle, like those of Susan Youens and Arnold Feil, although excellent and very informative, mainly focus on melody, harmony, and the piano accompaniment; other parameters such as rhythm and phrase structure are given just a few comments. In this paper I concentrate on the musical parameter of phrase rhythm.

According to my analysis of phrase rhythm, the songs in the cycle might be classified into three types: 1) songs with regular hypermeter, 2) songs with slight alterations to a mostly regular hypermeter, and 3) songs with irregular hypermeter. In order to exemplify how phrase rhythm works as an expressive compositional device in Die Schöne Müllerin, for this presentation, I will show how this parameter supports and reflects the meaning of the text in one song from each of the three groups of songs: From the group of songs with regular hypermeter "Das Wandern," "Thränenrege" from the group of mostly regular hypermeter, and "Die böse Farbe" from the group of songs that exhibit irregularity in the hypermeter.