Doubt, Distance, and Denarration: Narrative Unreliability in Schumann's "Dichterliebe"

Judith Ofcarcik, Fort Hays State University

The plot of Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe is obscured by a disjunctive narration that complicates a simple tale: a man loves a woman who has married another man. As the plot unfolds, the piano part provides early clues that the narrated account is not entirely trustworthy. The piano often appears to be working against the vocal line, as in the first song where the piano begins and ends in Fs minor despite the vocal line's attempts to shift into A major. Long piano postludes increase the prominence of the piano while also suggesting the vocal line may be incomplete, particularly in songs where the vocal line ends without a true cadence. The cycle is permeated by this sort of cadential disjunction in which the piano part follows normative phrase-structural syntax and the vocal line does not. Although many scholars have addressed Dichterliebe, most have focused on unity, and particularly musical unity, with much less attention given to the text or to musical disjunctions.6 In this paper I will explore the role of the music in establishing the protagonist's narration as unreliable and the expressive effects that arise from this unreliable narration; additionally, I will explore the potential of instrumental music to project unreliable narration through Richardson's (2006) concept of "denarration" as it relates to cadential incongruity.