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Lyrical Tension, Collective Voices: Masculinity in Alban Berg's Wozzeck

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Abstract

The voice of Berg's Wozzeck has been characterized by his Sprechgesang, heard as manifestation of his abnormality or even ‘hysteria’. However, Wozzeck often sounds more lyrical and emotive in relation to his oppressors, whose sense of authority is undermined by their caricatured vocal lines and vocal types. Rather than representing a ‘broken’ voice, Wozzeck's Sprechgesang is reserved for moments shared with his fellow low-ranking comrades, suggesting that it served as a voice of solidarity and empathy. In this article, I historicize the première of the opera at the Berlin State Opera; indeed, a glance at the singers who played the central roles suggests how the characters were perceived. It reveals an intertextual web of suffering shared between Berg's traumatized soldiers, and the perverse exercise of authority. Wozzeck therefore opens up questions about the expression of ideals in post-First World War Germany: the ideal of a stoic man demanded by the army, and the ideal of a voice.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © 2019 The Royal Musical Association

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47 After all, Sprechgesang as a technique was not completely new. See discussions in, for instance, Edward Kravitt, The Lied: Mirror of Late Romanticism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996); Reinhart Meyer-Kalkus, Stimme und Sprechkünste im 20. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2001), 213–50 (for a history of Sprechgesang from at least the early 1800s); Matthias Nöther, Als Bürger leben, als Halbgott sprechen: Melodrama, Deklamation und Sprechgesang im wilhelminischen Reich (Cologne, Weimar and Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2008), 114–18 (for Cosima Wagner's promotion of Sprechgesang in Bayreuth); and Martin Knust, ‘Music, Drama, and Sprechgesang: About Richard Wagner's Creative Process’, Nineteenth-Century Music, 38 (2014–15), 219–42.Google Scholar

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110 The matter of Sprechgesang has received increasing scholarly attention in recent years. Pertinent to my discussion of Schützendorf as a cabaret performer, Jessica Payette writes, for instance, that Sprechgesang has its origins in melodrama and cabaret, that is, in both ‘high-’ and ‘low-brow’ practices in both France and Germany. Its promiscuous roots also allowed Berg later to emphasize the German lineage of his music. Payette, ‘Dismembering “Expectations”: The Modernization of Monodrama in Fin-de-siècle Theatrical Arts’, Melodramatic Voices: Understanding Music Drama, ed. Sarah Hibberd (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), 137–58.Google Scholar

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115 Indeed, if one appeared ‘whole’, then one should work. The discourse of (bodily as well as psychological) ‘wholeness' was firmly rooted in the idea of work as rehabilitation. Dr. H. Fr. Ziegler, for instance, wrote about this in 1919, just after the war. Deborah Cohen, ‘Will to Work: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany after the First World War’, Disabled Veterans in History, ed. David A. Gerber (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 295–321 (p. 301).Google Scholar

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118 Ibid., 295–6.Google Scholar

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123 I borrow these criteria from Lee (ibid., 665) and, in turn, Lennard Davis, Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions (New York: New York University Press, 2003), 57.Google Scholar

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