Modalities of Assimilation: Subcultural Currents in Felix Mendelssohn's Lieder Ohne Worte

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In this article I examine the impact of Felix Mendelssohn's affiliation with a German-Jewish subculture on his music as reflected in the Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) for piano solo. To better understand the interrelationship between musical formations and sociocultural realities, I associate the real and imaginary tensions between the German, the Jewish, and the German-Jewish with stylistic ambiguities in Mendelssohn's piano songs, which often destabilize the lyrical simplicity projected by the lieder framework through formal complexities that exceed the narrow scope of the piano miniature. I establish the connections between Mendelssohn's music and sociocultural disposition by identifying a correlation between his so-called stylistic 'conservatism' and the anachronistic devotion of German Jewry to the universal ideals of the Enlightenment during the rise of German nationalism. Against this background, I primarily reveal the generic heterogeneity of the Lieder ohne Worte, which feature 'progressive' stylistic frameworks associated with the lied traditions yet concurrently point toward the formal ideals of eighteenth-century classicism. And following this, I position the stylistic duality of Mendelssohn's piano songs within a broader context through Heinrich Heine's essay The Romantic School, which sheds crucial light on the negotiation of Jewishness within German culture as it is reflected in aesthetic movements, historical changes, and political climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-572
Number of pages28
JournalNineteenth-Century Music Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2021.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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