Don Michael Randel, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“Listening to Schumann Listening to Heine”

Monday, September 24

Woolworth Center Room 106 at 4:30pm


The abundant literature on Schumann’s Dichterliebe ranges from rigorous analysis in the Schenkerian tradition to accounts of these songs in terms of the aesthetics of romanticism. Considerable attention has been devoted to the nature of the song cycle as a genre and to ways in which Schumann’s settings constitute a formal whole and capture what Heine’s poems might be thought to mean. Despite some recent attention to classifying the ways in which features of German prosody can be set to musical rhythms, we still lack detailed analyses of the ways in which individual songs bring together music and the essentially musical qualities of poetry, setting aside both the rather subjective and literal approaches to the semantic domain of the texts.

My concern is more with the physical properties of texts—properties of a kind that music shares. Such approaches to poetry came to prominence in the work of Roman Jakobson and many others beginning in 1960 and provide clearly relevant and novel ways of thinking about vocal music of all periods, including the songs of Dichterliebe. This entails the actual sounds of words and syllables and the rate at which they proceed—when sounds are the same or different, what rhythms they create, how some are emphasized over others by the principles governing the pronunciation of words and established meters of poetry. This engages the domain of semantics in rather limited ways and with it the presumed emotive values of words and phrases. It engages the domain of syntax to a much greater degree, taking account of the ways in which some parts of speech have a well-defined relationship to one another and in which one element may require another for its completion. It attends to alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. This is to examine the means by which a text creates meaning more than the particular meaning that it might be thought to create. My approach, then, is to listen in new ways for how the composer listens to the music inherent in a text.


Don Randel is a musicologist who attended Princeton University, where he received bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in music.  His scholarly specialty is the music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Spain and France.  As a music historian, Mr. Randel is widely published, particularly on medieval liturgical chant, and he has also written on such varied topics as Arabic music theory, Latin American popular music, and 15th century French music and poetry.

In 1968, Mr. Randel joined the Cornell University faculty in the department of music.  He served for 32 years as a member of Cornell’s faculty, where he was also department chair, vice-provost, and associate dean and then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  He became provost of Cornell University in 1995.

From July 2000 until he joined the Foundation in July 2006, Mr. Randel held the position of President of the University of Chicago.  There he led efforts to strengthen the humanities and the arts on campus, as well as a broad range of interactions with the City of Chicago and a further strengthening of the University’s programs in the physical and biomedical sciences and its relationship with the Argonne National Laboratory.  He also led the University’s campaign for $2 billion, the largest in the University’s history.

Mr. Randel served as the editor of the Journal of the American Musicological Society.  He is also editor of The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed., published in 2003; The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, published in 1996; and The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians, published in 1999.


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