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Katelyn Denise Horn

The Report Committee for Katelyn Denise Horn
Certifies that this is the approved version of the following report:

Daydreaming at the Keyboard: Cyclical Mediant Drifts in Nine of

Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte


Byron Almén

James Buhler
Daydreaming at the Keyboard: Cyclical Mediant Drifts in Nine of

Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte


Katelyn Denise Horn, B.Music

Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of

The University of Texas at Austin

in Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements

for the Degree of

Master of Music

The University of Texas at Austin

May 2010

Daydreaming at the Keyboard: Cyclical Mediant Drifts in Nine of

Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte

Katelyn Denise Horn, M. Music

The University of Texas at Austin, 2010

Supervisor: Byron Almén

Through in-depth analyses of nine of Mendelssohn‟s Lieder ohne Worte, this

paper argues that all nine pieces follow a single underlying event-arc typified by a

cyclical drift into and out of the mediant key area. When considered in the specific

context of Mendelssohn‟s philosophical approach to song writing, the pianistic and

cultural context of the pieces, and the connotations of the Lied genre along with strategic

musical features common to all nine pieces, such as consistent accompaniment texture

and relatively unstable opening melodic motives, this drift can be characterized as a

musical embodiment of the internal experience of daydreaming. Though the nature and

content of the “daydream” arc in each piece is different, the sense of drifting away and

effortless return characteristic of this event-arc is always the same.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ........................................................................................................ vi

Introduction .....................................................................................................1
Situating Mendelssohn Historically and Stylistically .....................................5
Analytical Overview .......................................................................................9
The Analyses .................................................................................................23
Summary .......................................................................................................48

References ..............................................................................................................50

Vita ……………………………………………………………………………...51

List of Figures
Figure 1: Lieder ohne Worte Formal Graphs. ....................................................... 12
Figure 2: The “Daydream” Event-Arc .................................................................. 19
Figure 3: Beginning-in-the-middle Main Motives ................................................ 20
Figure 4: Op.85/4: Misaligned Phrase Shape ........................................................ 44


That music, emotion, and the body are all somehow very connected is not a new

idea but understanding the exact nature of the connections has always been problematic.

With the rise of the field of cognitive science, though, there seems to be slowly growing

evidence that the body itself is the critical link between music and emotion. Indeed, one

modern scientist believes emotion to be entirely defined by the body. In an article from, journalist Genevieve Wanucha describes the work of the

neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, summarizing his hypothesis in the following statement:

“The brain doesn‟t have simple “on” and “off” emotional switches. It is always in flux.

Feelings are more than the brain‟s perception of emotion; they are a constant process of

mapping shifting body states.” (Wanucha 2010, 3) Later in the same article, Wanucha

concludes that “bodily emotion and moody feelings, head and heart, are constantly

intertwined, reciprocal, looping processes. They do not exist separately.” One early

example of this close relation between bodily states and emotional affect is the theory of

facial feedback that was confirmed in the classic pen study. The study demonstrated that

the mere act of smiling, even when artificially induced by holding a pen with one‟s teeth

such that one‟s lips do not touch the pen, can make one more open to positive affect
(Strack 1988). In the years since, this methodology has been refined and shown to

consistently influence people‟s affective states.

While the field of psychology is producing more and more evidence for the

identification of emotional states with bodily states, the field of music theory has begun

to explore and strengthen the relationship between music and the body. For instance, in

her article “A Cognitive Theory of Musical Meaning,” Candace Brower argues that much

of music‟s apparent meaning is rooted in metaphorical mappings of tonal conventions to

bodily states. She shows how musical schemata developed through tonal conventions

metaphorically map onto Lakoff and Johnson‟s image schemata, which they argue are

developed through our physical experience of the world. For example one of Lakoff and

Johnson‟s image schemata is the concept of a container with an inside and outside. The

container image schema is a rudimentary concept based on physical interactions with

space. A musical piece, though not experienced spatially, is often heard and described in

terms of a metaphorical container as existing within a certain key while a particular

passage from that piece may be outside the home key. Thus our understanding of the

musical organization is often based in bodily experience.

If one begins, then, with a conception of emotion as inherently tied to bodily

states, and if one accepts Brower‟s claims that tonal conventions map onto Lakoff and

Johnson‟s image schemata rooted in bodily states, then Susanne Langer‟s claim that

music models the form of feeling (Piechowski 1981) does not seem so untenable. The

conventions of tonal music have long been recognized to carry a sense of direction,

wherein different scale degrees and harmonies imply different destinations and embody

different levels of stability. Brower roots the effectiveness of these conventions in the

universal experience of physically interacting with the world via the mechanics of

metaphor. But the subjective musical experience often seems to involve more than
metaphorical bodies moving in space. Langer has tried to account for this by arguing that

music is structurally/logically analogous to emotion. The problem with Langer‟s claim,

as Piechowski points out, is that one must first know the structure/logic of emotion and

that unfortunately, despite the vast advances in human knowledge, there is still a

conspicuous lack of understanding when it comes to explaining the why and how of

emotion. The primary problem is an inability to both define and measure emotion. If,

however, one takes Antonio Damasio‟s position that emotional and bodily states are

inseparable, then the measurement of bodily states can be considered an indirect measure

of emotional states. It would seem possible, then, as we learn more about the relationship

between emotion and the body, to develop a more nuanced theory of the relationship

between music and emotion.

Such a theory, unfortunately, is far beyond the scope of this paper. However, my

general approach to analysis is somewhat based on an assumption that such a theory is

possible. My goal here is to present interpretative analyses of nine of Mendelssohn‟s

Lieder ohne Worte that show how the latter can be heard as musical embodiments of the

experience of being “in one‟s head”. Implicit in these interpretations is the assumption

that these pieces are primarily for the pianist. In other words, out of the triangle of

personnel typical of all music – composer, performer, and listener – these pieces are best

heard/interpreted from the perspective of the performer. This position is corroborated by

the fact that not only were these pieces written by someone who was famous for his

facility at the piano, but also by the fact that Mendelssohn dedicated most of the Lieder

ohne Worte to other pianists for the most likely purpose of being played at home for their

own pleasure or for a small private audience.

The very titles of these pieces as Lieder carries with them connotations related to
a certain kind of agency. If these instrumental pieces are Lieder or songs, then there must

be someone singing. The singer in this case, though, is not actually singing but is rather a

pianist playing a melody that could be sung. Nonetheless, the invocation of a singer,

present or not, justifies hearing the music as embodying an agent – something that can be

problematic when interpreting instrumental music. The Lied in particular carries with it

connotations of a certain kind of agency. Dahlhaus distinguishes the vocal genres of

Ballad, Aria, and Lied in terms of how the composer/performer relates to the audience. In

a Ballad, the composer/performer directly addresses the audience as if telling a story. An

Aria is similar in that it directly addresses the audience, but with the exception that the

agent of the song is a constructed character, not the composer/performer. “Conversely,”

according to Dahlhaus, “in a Lied, it is the composer who is speaking, not as himself, but

as a „lyric ego‟ beyond the grasp of fact-hungry biographers. Unlike sung narrative, a

Lied is an utterance that is not directed ostentatiously at an audience but, in a manner of

speaking, is overheard by the audience.” (Dahlhaus 1989, 105)

It is this idea of a “lyric ego” that I wish to emphasize: specifically, that in these

pieces the lyric ego arises through the pianist‟s physical realization of the music. The

difference here is that the presence of language – which is what so directly implies the

presence of an ego or agency in the first place – is missing. These are in fact Lieder ohne

Worte – songs without words. Consider by analogy what the situation would be if one

were to give a speech without text. It would be prosody without language. This, in

essence, is what we have in the Lieder ohne Worte – the implication that there is

meaningful content being expressed but with any and all direct reference to that content

removed. To some extent, then, the only thing left at this point is the ego – an agency in

the act of expression. If one were to give a speech without text, the language would be
removed but the physical acts of articulation – the rise and fall of the voice, the facial

expressions, the physical gestures would remain. In short, the words are lost but the

person remains. Thus in the Lieder ohne Worte, the “lyric ego” is just as present, if not

more so, as in any Lieder mit Worte but is even more reliant on the performer and their

physically expressive choices to make it real.

Unlike the hypothetical situation of speech without text, however, which has no

linguistic content but only physical content, the Lieder ohne Worte are couched in the

language of early nineteenth-century German common-practice tonal music – perhaps the

most studied and understood of all musical idioms. (It is this musical language in

particular that Brower argues maps so well onto the embodied metaphor of Lakoff and

Johnson.) Also, unlike a speech, which is externally oriented, Dahlhaus‟s primary point

about the Lied as a genre is that it is not directed outward. Consequently, if one is not

singing for an audience, then one must by necessity be singing for oneself. Thus, I return

to my original claim that these pieces are best understood as musical embodiments of the

experience of being in one‟s head – not only hearing one‟s inner voice but feeling the

swirl of bodily states that constitute one‟s emotions. Furthermore, the hearing, feeling,

and expressing are all centered on the pianist – this is music by a pianist for pianists. If all

that remains in speech without text is the person speaking, then all that remains in these

Lieder ohne Worte that have no singer is the pianist playing the music. Through standard

formal and harmonic analyses and the physical metaphors implicit in the idiom, I attempt

to intuit the potential internal and emotive experiences embodied by the music, or more

directly, by me as the pianist playing the music. By means of this process, I also

articulate some key stylistic features of these pieces.


When dealing with Mendelssohn‟s music, one comes across several issues which

should be taken into account. One issue is the large amount of negative criticism

surrounding his work, especially these short piano pieces. Even a brief review of the

literature on Mendelssohn will bear witness to the disdain with which composers and
critics from the late 19th and early 20th centuries spoke of him. Even though he was

considered one of the premier musical geniuses while alive, his reputation was

posthumously ravaged. One will commonly find such derogatory adjectives as boring,

banal, saccharine, and overly feminine used to describe his music. To be sure, Wagner‟s

anti-Semitic crusade is in large part to blame for the trivialization of Mendelssohn‟s

music, and much of the criticism laid against it is rooted in the attitude that anything

produced by a Jew must be inherently inferior. But the modernist aesthetic so prominent

in the early 20th century – still relevant today – is also partly to blame. When the primary

values are that of originality and non-conformity, it is easy to dismiss the very traditional

forms and harmonic language of Mendelssohn‟s work. A good example of this attitude

can be found in Rosen‟s book The Romantic Generation in reference to the Lieder ohne


If we could be satisfied today with a simple beauty that raises no questions and
does not attempt to puzzle us, the short pieces would resume their old place in the
concert repertoire. They charm, but they neither provoke nor astonish. It is not
true that they are insipid, but they might as well be (Rosen 1998, 589).

Even for advocates of Mendelssohn and his music, it is easy to dismiss the Lieder ohne

Worte for their apparent simplicity and uniformity, as evidenced by Hans Tischler‟s


The Song Without Words, then, is a short piano piece in three-part (rarely
expanded) song form, whose theme is song-like in character and has the regular
form of antecedent and consequent. Corresponding to the vocal song, it retains a
unified mood throughout; technically it is developed from one theme throughout
and also retains the accompaniment figure and texture throughout (Tischler 1947,

Indeed, this is true: there is much uniformity of organization and even of harmonic

language in these pieces and it would be easy to deride them for this fact or simply

proclaim their worth in spite of it. But neither position actually engages the music in any

meaningful way. Instead, in order to truly understand what Mendelssohn‟s music

accomplishes, it is important to attempt to set aside premature value judgments.

A second issue that one encounters when dealing with Mendelssohn‟s music, and

the Lieder ohne Worte in particular, is that of Mendelssohn‟s own position in regard to

the relationship between words and music. This is articulated in the following famous

quote from one of his letters:

People usually complain that music is so ambiguous; that what they should think
of when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. But for
me it is just the opposite, and not just with entire discourses, but also with
individual words – these, too, seem to me so ambiguous, so unclear, so
misleading in comparison to good music, which fills one‟s heart with a thousand
things better than words. What the music I love expresses to me are thoughts not
too unclear for words, but rather too clear (Baker 2007, 13).

This quote comes from a letter written in response to Marc-André Souchay, who

had requested Mendelssohn‟s approval of several titles he had given some of the Lieder

ohne Worte. Mendelssohn‟s answer was that he could not approve the titles because they

could mean completely different things to different people and that the music should

stand on its own. Indeed, Mendelssohn received many suggestions or requests for titles or

texts for his Lieder ohne Worte and in every case he encouraged them to feel free to come

up with their own words. He always asked them, however, to recognize that the meaning
was most clearly embodied in the music itself and that words could only approximate it

in a very personal way.

This attitude is also seen in Mendelssohn‟s Lieder mit Worte or Songs with

Words. He followed the Berlin school of song-writing, which aimed to use music to

portray the overarching idea of the poem rather than the individual words. In discussing

this feature of Mendelssohn‟s songs, Michael Baker brings together several different

quotes that elucidate Mendelssohn‟s underlying approach to song-writing. First he notes

the influence of Schopenhauer and Hegel on Mendelssohn‟s position. Schopenhauer

emphasizes the abstract quality of music as follows:

[Music] does not express this or that particular joy, this or that anxiety, or pain, or
horror, or jubilation, or happiness, or contentment, but anxiety, pain, horror,
jubilation, happiness, [and] contentment in themselves, to a certain extent in the
abstract, unaccompanied by any incidentals . . . music expresses only the
quintessence of life and its happenings, not those happenings themselves, the
details of which thus do not always affect it (Schopenhauer 1919, 354-355).

This emphasis on music as depicting the emotion abstracted from concrete events

is complemented by Hegel‟s view that “The proper domain of music is essentially that of
inwardness” (Baker 2007, 17). These ideas affect Mendelssohn‟s manner of song-writing

in that “. . . the song is heard as a direct, unmediated expression of an idea in music, to

which the words serve as one particular, voiced response” (Baker 2007, 33). Furthermore,

Baker points out that “Mendelssohn expected the listener to identify with the emotional

core of the poetry, and thus regard themselves as the persona in the poem” (Baker 2007,


As a kind of epistemology of music, emotion, and meaning in general, these ideas

are fascinating and one can easily get caught up in discussion of all of their historical,

cultural, and socio-economic implications and consequences. My primary reason for

bringing them up here, however, is simply to emphasize the similarities between the way

Mendelssohn seems to have thought of his own music and the interpretive approach I

take in analyzing some of his Lieder ohne Worte. In particular, to revisit the analogy I

used earlier, I see Mendelssohn‟s preference for music over words as perhaps a general

preference for prosody over language. Furthermore, I think that Baker‟s discussion of

Mendelssohn‟s association with the Berlin school of song-writing and its philosophical

underpinnings supports my interpretation the Lieder ohne Worte as representing a

fundamentally internal perspective. While the Berlin school of song-writing also

advocated the capturing of a single mood, I go slightly beyond this. I take the underlying

uniformity of accompanimental texture and motivic coherence which would have been

interpreted as a single mood to be more indicative of a singular agent. In fact, I hear the

primary event of these pieces as centering around a specific harmonic drift and return

which could be characterized as a drift and return of mood.


Out of the forty-eight published Lieder ohne Worte, there is actually more variety
than Tischler acknowledges. While he and Larry Todd tend to categorize the different

types by how many melodic voices are present, I feel this classification system is really

rather superficial. Most of the time, the other voices are not consistently employed

enough to justify the presence of another or several other voices, even when the melody

is supported by homophonic motion. I discuss this issue to some degree in my analysis of

op. 30/1. While there are definitely some Lieder ohne Worte which exhibit the texture of

a chorale more than that of an accompanied song, this is as far as I would go in

categorizing them by the number of voices. I prefer a system which sorts them by

strategic structural properties, such as harmonic content or melodic development. To this

end, since I cannot feasibly deal with all forty-eight pieces in the scope of this paper, I

have selected nine pieces to analyze in close detail. After reviewing the entire collection,

I decided to analyze those pieces which seemed to me most stereotypical of the Lieder

ohne Worte genre – slow, lyrical pieces with an arpeggiated accompaniment, lacking any

title. While there are many Lieder ohne Worte which fit these generic characteristics, the

first pieces from each opus seem exemplary in their uniformity. The most distinctive

feature these pieces have in common is the specific rolling accompaniment pattern. I am

not willing to claim, however, that these pieces are truly representative of the genre

without a better understanding of how the other pieces with different surface features

(such as the chorales or the agitatos) are organized.

The only initial piece that does not seem to fit with the others is that of opus 102,

which has a very different accompaniment pattern. Interestingly, this is the only opus in

which Mendelssohn did not arrange the order of the pieces himself as it was published

posthumously. In addition to the first pieces from the first seven opus numbers (19, 30,

38, 53, 62, 67, and 85), I have included two more pieces. One is opus 102/4, chosen

because it is the best stylistic fit from that opus and the other is opus 85/4, which I

included largely because it is one of my personal favorites and is stylistically appropriate.

Formal Characteristics

Let us return to Tischler‟s summary of the features of the Lieder ohne Worte.

The Song Without Words, then, is a short piano piece in three-part (rarely
expanded) song form, whose theme is song-like in character and has the regular
form of antecedent and consequent. Corresponding to the vocal song, it retains a
unified mood throughout; technically it is developed from one theme throughout
and also retains the accompaniment figure and texture throughout (Tischler 1947,

The nine pieces I selected are indeed all in a standard ternary form: a main section, a

middle – usually more developmental – section, and then a return of the main section. I
hesitate to call the sections A-B-A for, as Tischler points out, the middle section is often

based on material from the main section. I will instead refer to these parts throughout as

main, middle, and return. Also, as Tischler notes, the main section is normally structured

as a period with the consequent usually slightly lengthened. The return, however, is never

literal and often has major alterations. Specifically, the clear two-part, periodic structure

of the phrase in the main section is frequently obscured or abandoned in the return.

Typical alterations include significant expansions, more motivic repetitions, inserted

material from the middle section, and cadential evasions. The manner in which each

return deviates from the main section opens up opportunities for interpretive readings and

can often be heard as some kind of reaction to the events of the middle section.

The middle section often follows a sentential organization with its structure of

repetition and fragmentation. Sentential or not, the middle section usually focuses on a

shorter melodic idea – if not the literal opening motive, then one derived from it – and

repeats it through an ascending sequence before further fragmenting and building to some

sort of climax. While Tischler does not mention the coda in the above quote and only

briefly touches on it in his paper, it is often of comparable length to the other sections and

significantly affects the trajectory of the piece as a whole. Common features include tonic

pedals and statements of the main motive, but, in spite of these similarities, each coda

seems uniquely to reflect on the events that precede it.

Figure 1 contains formal diagrams of each of the nine Lieder ohne Worte

analyzed in this paper, demonstrating some of the general formal features discussed here

and later

Figure 1: Lieder ohne Worte Formal Graphs.

Strategic/Stylistic Features

The second half of Tischler‟s quote points out that there is a “unified mood”

created in part by the use of a single “accompaniment figure and texture throughout.”

Indeed, the accompaniment plays a pivotal role in determining the character of these

pieces. It is also a role that easily fades into the background because of its ubiquity. One

of the most prominent features unifying the nine pieces analyzed in this paper is the

accompanimental texture. All of these pieces utilize constantly flowing arpeggiations

with a rolling wave-like shape – either constantly rolling upward through each chord or

moving up, then down. One of my primary reasons for not including the first piece from

opus 102 is because it does not feature this accompanimental texture and thus stands out

as having a very different sound from the other pieces. Also important to note is the

contrapuntal bass line and the effect this has on its physical execution. The resulting

texture of melody, arpeggios, and bass line requires that the pianist divide her two hands

into three. This is accomplished by making the right hand share the accompanimental

duties with the left hand. In fact, Tischler praised this moderately polyphonic texture as

one of the Lieder ohne Worte’s main virtues. This specific kind of polyphony, with

contrapuntal outer voices and arpeggiated inner voices, is especially satisfying to play

because it requires constant activity in both hands, providing a steady flow of pleasurable

proprioceptive feedback even in the slower pieces. In addition to merely being

pleasurable for the pianist, the steady flow of the accompaniment also serves to establish

a kind of space and background noise within which the melody exists. Following on with

the position that this music is best understood as embodying an inner voice, the

steadiness of the accompanimental textures can be described as having the same function

as the sound of one‟s own breath and heartbeat. They are ever-present rhythmic signifiers

of life. The rolling sixteenth-notes or triplets in the accompaniment frame every piece,

their steady undulations comforting signifiers of an enduring essence. Indeed, when the

rhythmic figure is interrupted the effect is as significant as when one‟s own breath or

heartbeat is interrupted.

I think much of the significance of the accompaniment is summed up nicely in

Michel Chion‟s theory of added value. Although he developed the term to describe the

relation between sound and image in cinema, he uses the relation of harmony to melody

as an illustration of the concept.

The nonmusician might believe she or he is moved by the melody itself [. . .]

when in fact what affects the listener is the combination of harmony and melody,
a combination in which each note acquires its value by virtue of the underlying
harmonic logic. One need not be an expert in harmonic theory to be affected by
harmony (Chion, 216).

In addition to the harmonic sonorities, the accompanimental texture and its unique

energy similarly shapes the way one plays and hears the melody. This concept of the

harmony/accompaniment as adding value to the melody is consistent with my conception

of these pieces as modeling the experience we all have of being in our own heads. If the

melodic line stands for one‟s inner voice, then the harmony/accompaniment represents

the swirl of non-verbal thoughts and feelings enveloping, shaping, and defining the

content of that voice.

To this end, I focus a lot on different harmonic progressions and sonorities, not

because I believe the listener/player is necessarily aware of a certain progression or

sonority per se, but because I think that particular sonority strongly influences the

player‟s/listener‟s characterization of the melody. For example, the difference between a

major and a minor sonority in one sense is pervasively trivial and the two will constantly

be intermixed to little musical consequence. On the other hand, the difference between

major and minor can be as important as the difference between a comedy and a tragedy.

Because the major/minor quality of a sonority has the potential to carry such significant

meaning on a larger scale, they still carry at least positive and negative connotations in

their small scale instances and will affect the way the melody is perceived, even if only

slightly. Op.102 is a particularly good example of the influence that harmony can have on

the melody, but all nine pieces demonstrate this feature to some extent.

One can also speak of added value from the perspective of musical topics. The

many surface features shared by all nine of these pieces create a topical landscape that is
also common to all the pieces. The singing style is the most obvious topic, suggested both

by the title Lieder ohne Worte and by the pervasive accompaniment-and-melody texture.

This topic, however, can often be heard as troped with pastoral and/or hymn topics. The

hymn topic is evoked through steady quarter-note or half-note harmonic rhythms, regular

voice-leading, diatonic progressions, and outer-voice polarity. This topic is most strongly

invoked when the bass line moves at a one-to-one rate with the melody. While the fact

that the chords are constantly arpeggiated throughout these pieces might be heard as

undermining the hymn topic, they can perhaps be heard as denoting a harp, which would

complement the sense of religioso suggested by the hymn topic. The simple diatonicism

and general serenity of these pieces also invoke the pastoral topic. One will frequently

find harmonic emphasis on the subdominant region. In addition to the frequent

tonicization of IV found in the codas, ops. 30/1, 38/1, and 62/1 all feature the

subdominant harmony during important structural moments, as shown in the formal

graphs in Figure 1. Op. 30 also prominently features parallel 6ths and 3rds, and pedals are

common features found in virtually all of the codas. One can also argue that the frequent

modulation to bIII, a move which I later argue is a core feature of these pieces, evokes the

pastoral topic as kind of idyllic other place. The mise en scene created by the common

use of these three topics – singing style, hymn, and pastoral – is that of romanticism

tempered with religious undertones. This particular topical combination seems to fit well

the cultural milieu of both Mendelssohn and the women to whom he dedicated these

pieces: the upper middle class and a Victorian/Biedermeier sensibility. Outside of the

cultural implications, these topics all fit very nicely with the “inner voice” perspective I

hear in these pieces.

A brief perusal of the formal graphs in Figure 1 will reveal two specific strategies
of which Mendelssohn seems particularly fond. Specifically, they are melodic cadenzas

and modulating to, or tonicization of, the mediant. Cadenzas constitute some of the most

striking moments to be heard in this small subset of the Lieder ohne Worte and can be

found in ops. 19/1, 38/1, 53/1, 67/1, and 102/4. They are all characterized by a dramatic

absence of both the bass line and the accompanimental arpeggios during which the

melody takes off for a measure or two on its own. While the expressive function of each

cadenza is unique to each instance, they tend to occur in conjunction with some sort of

modulation or potential modulation to bIII. Furthermore, even when there is no cadenza,

Mendelssohn shows a distinct proclivity to modulate to or tonicize either iii or bIII. As the

formal diagrams in Figure 1 show, every one of the pieces analyzed here at some point

emphasize the mediant key area.

There are two other features present to some degree or another in all of the

following analyses: a sense of beginning-in-the-middle (both melodically and

harmonically) as well as a kind of unearned ease of return or resolution. When all of

these features are considered, there emerges a skeletal event-arc common to all nine of

these pieces. I call this common trajectory the “daydream” event-arc because of the

manner in which the music seems to drift into and out of the mediant key area as if it

were lost in thought or daydream. Figure 2 shows a diagram of this event-arc. The arc

always turns around the modulation to the mediant but varies according to whether or not

that modulation is best characterized as euphoric or dysphoric. This distinction is largely

a reflection of the difference between minor iii and major bIII, with minor generally

characterized as a dysphoric location and major generally characterized as a euphoric

location. In all cases, however, the move to the mediant is heard as a kind of surprise.

Often the result of developmental sequencing, the music seems almost to stumble upon
the new key area as if it were this wonderful or horrible other place. Whatever the

positive or negative valence of the mediant key area, the return to the home key is always

deceptively easy and usually slightly unexpected. The effect of this ease of return can be

interpreted as if the music were waking up from its reverie, or at least returning to the

more sensible mode of thought established at the beginning.

Figure 2: The “Daydream” Event-Arc

The ease of return is facilitated, technically, by the fact that most of

Mendelssohn‟s opening melodies feature a quality of beginning-in-the-middle. Thus,

when the main theme returns, it often feels as much like a continuation of the middle

section as the start of a new section. Figure 3 shows the opening motives of several of the

Lieder ohne Worte and their returns later in the piece. Sometimes the instability of the

opening motive is amplified in the return by different, even more unstable harmonies

such as in ops. 62/1 and 85/4. These examples demonstrate how the sense of

beginning/being-in-the-middle is enhanced at the return of the main section as opposed to

a sense of starting over or new-beginning that one might expect. The nature of these

returns emphasizes the unstable character of the opening motives.

Figure 3: Beginning-in-the-middle Main Motives


Return – m. 27


Return – m. 26


Return - 21


Return – m.19


Return – m. 22

This common instability of the opening motives, combined with the fact that the

opening motive often returns in the coda, lends all of the Lieder ohne Worte a sense of

cyclicality. It is as if each piece is merely one turn through a never-ending cycle of

emotional moves away from, and then back to, a stable center of propriety. It is this

cyclical event-arc, in conjunction with the constant reference to the human voice, which

enables the analogy with one‟s own inner voice. My own experience, at least, with my

inner voice or stream of consciousness is characterized by constantly repeating waves of

emotion – emotion constantly morphing, both shaping and shaped by the articulations of

my inner voice. Most of the time, however, my feelings stray too far from practical

reality and have little effect on my daily actions. I may momentarily daydream about

being in Hawaii and how wonderful it would feel to bask in the sun among tropical

flowers and white sand, but I always end up returning to the mundane duties at hand that

have to get done. This is how I hear these pieces, as musical models of the experience of

daydreaming. The nature and content of each daydream is different, but the sense of

drifting away and effortless return is always the same.

Let us now turn to the individual analyses and see how this cyclical event-arc

plays out in each piece. These analyses are best read at the piano with the music close at



Op.19/1 in E Major

I find the daydream analogy particularly well-suited to this piece. In addition to

the standard event-arc of moving to the bIII in the middle section with a seamless return,

the primary opposition of this piece is the contrast between a purposeful, directional
melodic/harmonic motion and a non-directional melodic/harmonic reverie. The effect is

not only a general drift to and from some other place, but a characterization of that drift

as non-directional reverie interfering with a more purposeful melodic/harmonic


The sense of purposeful direction is established by the bass line, with its steady

stepwise ascent beginning at m. 3, and the melodic entrance on the seventh of the V7,

which invokes an immediate need for resolution. In the second half of the phrase,

however, the purposeful direction of the music is interrupted. In m. 8, what was

originally an E# pushing to F# as a part of a secondary dominant of ii (as heard in m. 4)

turns into an E-natural, creating the much more static harmony, ii6/5 in B major. The flow

of the melody is literally halted mid-phrase. The descending leap in the melody is echoed

in the bass, as if the musical agent1 is taking time to contemplate this new non-directional

harmony, letting it sink in deep. The ii6/5 and the dialogical interaction between the

melody and bass invoke the pastoral beyond the generic pastoral quality of the

accompaniment already discussed. In particular, the sense of idyllic simplicity associated

with the pastoral is especially relevant here, in contrast to the directional

melodic/harmonic motion of the beginning of the phrase. I do wish to mention, however,

that I do not hear the sense of dialogue created by the motivic echo in the bass at mm. 9-
10 as indicating a second voice but rather as a brief moment of self dialogue, almost as if

the musical agent were pausing to ask itself a question. This moment of reflection is

short-lived, though, as the bass returns to its original path with the E# in m. 10, moving

towards a cadence with a cadential 6/4 in m. 12. But the moment of reflection in mm. 9-

10 seems to have weakened the music‟s purposeful resolve. In m. 13 the potential

1 Based on the assumption that these pieces presuppose an agent (for which I argued in the introduction of
this paper) I will use the terms agent, melody, harmony, and the music interchangeably throughout the
analyses to refer to the acting subject.
cadence is undercut as the A# in the melody, instead of resolving up to B as expected,

falters and gives way to A-natural as the seventh of a viio4/3 of ii. Even so, the music

quickly recovers and secures the lost PAC within the next two measures.

The middle section begins with typical melodic fragmentation and a stepwise

ascent initiating the drift into that other place typified by bIII. Indeed the music moves

through the parallel minor to the bIII region of G major by m. 17. In m. 19, the melody

breaks out on its own into a brief melismatic cadenza on V7 of G at a fortissimo dynamic.

The effect is that of a joyful outburst that is nevertheless immediately restrained by the

diminuendo and the return to a piano dynamic in the next measure. To put it in terms of

the daydream analogy, it is as if the implied agent becomes exceedingly excited with the

prospect of cadencing in G, almost letting itself get carried away by its imagination. But

it soon realizes the impropriety of such an action and checks its enthusiasm. Nonetheless,

although the music restrains itself and does not actually cadence in G, it cannot resist

lingering there a little longer. The slow harmonic rhythm of half-notes and non-

directional melody of mm. 21-22 recall the pastoral-like reverie of m. 9-10. The agent

seems to begin an attempt to pull itself out of this static state and return to the main

section with the increased surface rhythm of m. 23 and a dual functioning B major chord

in m. 24 (it can function both as V/vi in G major and as V of the home key). The music
pauses there, however, and then slips back into G momentarily. When the B major chord

returns in m. 26, it continues to linger, sustaining the sonority with a bass pedal and

melodic neighbors for a full three measures. The dual function of the B major chord and

the beginning-in-the-middle quality of the opening motive make this return less of an

arrival and more a continuation of something that was already underway – as if the agent

were pulling itself out of its daydream to return to its normal mode of thought.

Even so, this musical agent has become particularly enamored of its own reveries

and resists the constant flow of the main melody by returning to the non-directional

melody and slow-moving bass from m. 21 of the middle section. Though now, at m. 33, it

is in the home key, as if it were giving the concept of idyllic stasis some serious
consideration. A poignant figure of affirmation ( 1̂ - 5̂ ) in the pickup to the downbeat of

m. 35 seems to pronounce an intention to maintain this static mode of being. The

harmonic reinterpretation of the E from the seventh of a V7/V to the root of a cadential

6/4 and downward melodic leap here set up what could be a strong cadence. But there is a

sense in which the agent knows such intentions to be ephemeral. Any cadential energy is

immediately dissipated through a melodic neighbor figure and continued stepwise motion

in m. 36. Still attracted to the concept of stasis, however, the music continues with more

of the non-directional middle section melody in m. 37, but this time the bass takes on

some resolve and pushes the music into a melodic climax in mm. 39-40 and ultimate

PAC in m. 44. In accordance with the cyclicality of internal thought, the coda brings a

reprise of this piece‟s proclivity to lapse into reverie as the melody lingeringly descends
past the tonic floor down to the lower 5̂ before floating back to 1̂ , all over a tonic pedal.

In summary, then, this piece presents an opposition between directional

melodic/harmonic motion and stasis. This opposition, as paired with the daydream event-
arc common to all of these pieces, can be interpreted as an agent nominally struggling

against a proclivity to lapse into reverie. Though the piece ultimately fulfills its duties,

the desire for idyllic stasis never goes away and one could imagine the cycle of lapse and

return continuing endlessly.

Op.30/1 in E-flat Major

This piece radiates romantic love. The romance seems to be rooted in the parallel

thirds and sixths of the accompanimental arpeggios and the two-against-three rhythms

formed between the melody and these arpeggios. This is the only piece of those discussed

that features doubled arpeggios in the accompaniment. The effect is that of a pronounced

sweetness and even, one might argue, a sense of two-ness. The very premise of this piece

is plural. Plurality is, of course, always implied in situations of romantic love; thus these

doubled arpeggios play a large role in creating a romantic setting for this piece. Also, the

fact that the melody largely uses duple rhythms while the arpeggios use triplets distances

the melody from the accompaniment as if it were floating along in its own world – a

feeling often associated with being in love. Furthermore, in the first section, the music

spends some time in the minor vi sonority with deceptive motions in mm. 3 and 7 and an

actual tonicization of vi in mm. 8 and 9. This emphasis on vi lends the music a slight

pathos which is also consistent with a typical depiction of being in love.

Even though the doubled arpeggios may be taken to imply a plurality, I do not

interpret this piece as containing to two agencies. Rather, it as if the singular agent of the

piece is preoccupied with contemplation of two-ness, much like someone in love would

be. Indeed, while this duality permeates the piece, there is really only one melodic voice;
its isolation in key moments such as m. 22 and m. 36 seems to emphasize this fact. The

biggest contrast to this is the middle section, where one of the triplet lines begins to

closely follow the melody in parallel thirds. Then, in m. 17, when the triplets go back to

the normal arpeggiations, the melody continues on in parallel thirds. Tischler and Todd

would probably read these parallel thirds as indicative of a duet. The question, then, is: do

these parallel thirds imply a second agency and if not, what are they doing there? To

answer this question, one must first get a better sense of the events and harmonic

structure of the piece as a whole.

While this piece closely follows the daydream event-arc of drifting into and out of
III, the context is very different from op. 19/1 which, through the opposition of

directional and non-directional melodic/harmonic material, rather overtly models the

nature of daydreaming. Instead, op 30/1 presents a kind of lover‟s reverie as the norm and

the daydream drift in the middle section as an anticipation or desire for action. The

tension between solo and duet articulated above is the main opposition of this piece.

In the first section, this opposition is only subtly implied through the double

arpeggios rolling underneath a rhythmically detached melody. But when the music moves

on to the middle section, there is a definite shift in mood. The octaves in the bass and

shift to the parallel minor together convey an anticipation of some menacing event. The

melodic rhythm, too, has abandoned the floating eighth-notes and now moves in sync

with the accompanimental rhythms. The effect here is akin to the difference between the

enamored musings of one in love, as heard in the first section, and the more tangible

concerns of a lover trying to ensure unity with the object of his love in the middle section.

It is as if the subject of reverie has turned from contemplation of love in the abstract to

contemplation of a real love directed toward another person. The fact that the
accompaniment has begun to follow the main melody in a duet of parallel thirds

foregrounds the duality that was only implicit in the first section. The short and

constantly repeated dotted-eighth-sixteenth motive, supported by ascending octaves,

creates a sense of urgent desire and the minor mode lends a sense of impending tragedy.

Thus begins the daydream drift into bIII.

This daydream, or the prospect of cadencing in III (Gb major), can be

characterized here as the prospect of true union. Indeed the musical agent becomes very

excited by mm. 17-18 as it crescendos over an octave V/ bIII pedal and twice reaches up

to a high Gb, the highest melodic note in the piece. But it does not consummate Gb major

with a cadence, instead coming back down to Eb minor. The melody continues to repeat

the motivic material of mm. 17-18, but now in Eb minor – the hope of fulfillment is still

but a dream. Even so, the desire remains strong as the music fragments the motive and

crescendos over a minor iv pedal. The minor iv is significant. As opposed to the common

re-transition technique of „standing on the dominant,‟ mm. 21-23 presents what one

might call „standing on the subdominant.‟ The effect is to heighten the sense of longing

and weaken the return of the main section, making the return sound like a resignation

rather than an arrival or accomplishment. Indeed, if one accepts my reading of the

middle section as the primary agency of the music merely imagining union with its lover,

then m. 23, with its isolated melodic solo, emphasizes that the other lover is not actually


This opposition between a single melodic line and a line doubled in parallel thirds

continues in the return of the main section when the contrasting motive from the middle

section serves as the consequent phrase in mm. 27-29. Yet again, as in op. 19/1, it is as if
the subject of the daydream will not stay in its other place of bIII but manages to work its

way into the established norm of the main section, reflecting the agent‟s desire to make

the dream real. Even more than op. 19/1, this piece embodies the cyclical tendencies of

the daydream event-arc by actually repeating the middle section. This repeat is enabled in

the first ending by the fact that the second melodic voice continues to support the main

voice. The second ending, however, drops the inside melodic voice and picks up the

double arpeggiations again while the main voice continues on alone. This reflects the fact

that, as always, the events of these pieces are really only dreams and never succeed in

changing the status quo. Throughout the rest of the coda the solo line is never again

joined by the parallel thirds, though the double arpeggios take a prominent role as they

swirl around the main melody – as though it were being overwhelmed by its romantic

feelings. This sense of being overwhelmed is particularly clear in m. 35 when, in the

middle of the melodic phrase, the double arpeggios surge into the upper registers, taking

over the texture momentarily. Then, after a brief rest to compose itself, the melody

returns in isolation at m. 36 to finish out the phrase with tempered arpeggios returning in

m. 37. Thus, the opposition of singleness and double-ness is maintained through to the


In summary, then, the daydream event-arc of this piece is characterized by an

opposition between solo and duet lines with the reality as a solo agent and the dream as a


Op. 38/1 in E-flat Major

This piece is the most formally distinct of all the Lieder ohne Worte analyzed

here. Specifically, the most unusual section is in mm. 21-32 where the main section is

essentially repeated in the dominant. This idiosyncratic formal event, as well as all the

other events of the piece, seems largely motivated by the sequence of key areas. If the

normal “daydream” event-arc I have identified consists of a drift into and out of the

mediant key area – usually bIII – in a relatively clearly defined middle section, this piece

follows a mutated version of this arc. It drifts into the mediant, but the key is iii, not bIII,

and it happens during the odd section mentioned above where the formal location – main

or middle section – is unclear. Furthermore, after the music actually cadences in iii

(something which never happens in bIII), there is a more normal developmental middle

section in mm. 33-40 that works its way into a climax in the parallel minor of the home

key before slipping with surprising ease into the return of the main section at m. 41. To

understand the consequences of this mutated version of the “daydream” event-arc, one

needs to look more closely at the surface details of the music, which I hear as presenting

a harried opposition between the major and minor mode.

This piece is also distinct in that it features a significantly higher level of surface

activity than the other Lieder ohne Worte analyzed in this paper. Every other piece I have

chosen is marked as some form of Andante, but this piece is simply marked with Con

Moto. Furthermore, the bass is much more active than that of most of the other pieces.

Indeed, for almost every melody note, there is a new or reiterated bass note, in contrast to

most of the other pieces, where there are usually 2-4 melody notes for every bass note.

The walking bass and the Con Moto tempo marking together create a sense of relatively

high energy, even though neither the harmonic motion nor the accompanimental

arpeggios are any faster than normal. The constant surface activity contributes to an

underlying bewildered character.

This bewilderment also works itself out in the phrase structure. The first section

sets itself up to be a normal parallel period, with a HC on m. 9 followed by a return to the

main motive, but things take an odd turn when a Gb enters in the bass at m. 11 facilitating

a pivot into Bb minor in m. 14. While Bb is a perfectly normal place to go, as the

dominant of the home key, the minor-mode is rather surprising. Indeed, it seems to

disorient the already busy music. Instead of another eight measure phrase ending in some

sort of authentic cadence in the new key to round out the parallel period, the unexpected

minor mode seems to cause the music to cadence a measure early in m. 16 with an open

ended half cadence. It is almost as if the musical agent just managed to catch itself

before actually performing an authentic cadence in the minor mode. The half cadence

gives the harmony an opportunity to try again and it manages to find the correct mode in

only four measures – creating a slightly awkward but satisfactory nineteen-measure

parallel period that modulates to the major-mode dominant. The extra half cadence and

resulting odd-length phrase combined with the busy surface rhythms and diversion to the

minor v seem to hint at a piece which is struggling to keep itself together.

As further evidence that the agent seems disoriented – almost as if it couldn‟t

remember what it was supposed to do next – the music embarks on a repeat of the first

section, now transposed to Bb major. After the first four-measure statement, though, the

harmony slips into G minor at m. 25 – the minor mediant of the home key, Eb major. If

major bIII represents a euphoric other place that only exists in one‟s dreams, then minor

iii seems to embody that dysphoric what if place of worry and despair. Perhaps this worry

was spawned by the slip into minor v in the main section. Whatever the reason, the agent

seems similarly confounded and for a moment it sounds as if in m. 27 the music will

again cadence early. Instead, the half cadence is evaded by the move to a V4/2. At the

point where a half cadence would have worked (in the end of m. 28) the melody

desperately pushes forward with a repetition of the main motive, as if trying to simply
maintain momentum as a means of preserving its composure. It fails, however, and

breaks into a flustered melodic cadenza in m. 30 before concluding with a PAC in G

minor in m. 32, momentarily giving into the despair of minor iii.

The musical agent immediately picks itself up, though, and begins to fight its way

out of the mental hole into which it has drifted. In fact, in m. 33, it begins the

developmental process that should have happened back in m. 21, when it didn‟t seem to

know what to do. The melody sequences through iterations of the main motive until it

finds its way to the dominant of the home key in m. 37. The problem is that, again, the

music is plagued with minor inflections, only this time it is the minor version of the home

key. The descent of the main motive is distressingly repeated over and over again in mm.

37-39, like the repetitive mental fixation of a nightmare. However, also like a nightmare,
the threat seems miraculously to disappear as all trace of b 6̂ and b 3̂ simply evaporate in

m. 40 and the music slips with surprising ease into the return of the main section. Indeed,

one doesn‟t even realize that the return has happened until slightly after the fact because

it is so seamless.

There is a quality of lightness in the final section that seems indicative of a full

recovery from any worry and distraction evinced by the previous diversions into minor

modes. The agent seems to toy with the very features that caused it so much distress

earlier. After a cadential evasion m. 48, the music tonicizes the dysphoric minor iii but at

the last minute uses a Picardy third to turn it into a G major chord before moving quickly

back into Eb major. In m. 54, it even returns to the melodic cadenza of the middle section

that signaled the point at which it gave into the despair of minor iii. Only now the music

is safely in the key of Eb major, and the cadenza can be heard instead as a celebration of

the home key. As further evidence of play, just as the music is about to secure a nice solid
PAC in m. 56, the harmony slips deceptively up to c minor; another attempt in mm. 57-

58 is also deceptively evaded. Only after the third attempt, with the phrase now stretched

to twenty measures, does the music finally resolve to a PAC in Eb at m. 60. While this is

normally the time for a long coda that reflects on the content of the piece, the agent seems

exhausted and just manages to get a full statement of the main motive out before settling

into the final chords of the piece. It doesn‟t even have the energy to let the arpeggiations

spin on for a few more measures.

In summary, the “daydream” arc in this piece is dysphoric, characterized as a very

busy agent who slips into confusion and worry as defined by an opposition between

major and minor modes. However, when the music slips out of the minor-mode

nightmare found in the middle section, the agent almost seems to make fun of itself in the

return to the point that it wears itself out and has little energy left for a coda. Despite this

fact, the cyclicality which I speak of as a general feature of all the Lieder ohne Worte is

still very present in the absolute pervasiveness of the main motive.

Op. 53/1 in A-flat Major

In this piece, the “daydream” arc itself is the primary opposition. This piece

seems especially preoccupied with the bIII key area, more so than any of the other pieces.

There are several events which set up the special opposition between the home key of Ab

and the bIII key of Cb in this piece: the resistance which the music seems to give to

returning to the home key, the written-out repeat of the middle section and return, and the

tonicization of iii which happens in both the return and the coda. I characterize this

opposition as a discontent agent who would much prefer to live in her dreams but knows

the impossibility of such desires.

The fact that the main phrase utilizes a sentence structure lends a slight quality of

discontent to the music from the beginning. In the Lieder ohne Worte, sentence structures

occur far more often in middle sections than main sections. Furthermore, the opening

motives follow a general ascent rather than descent, the former of which is also more

characteristic of middle sections than main sections. While neither of these features –

sentence structure and initial ascent – are marked with respect to music in general, they

are relatively marked compared to the other lyrical Lieder ohne Worte. Since the sentence

structure and ascending motion are two of the features of middle sections which

destabilize and initiate the “daydream” drift in all of the other pieces, their presence here

in the main section serves to create a status quo which is already moderately unstable and

susceptible to this drift.

Indeed, when the middle section does appear, it is characterized more by a sense

of waiting, as exemplified in the oscillating thirds of mm. 12-14, as though it were

waiting for the chromatic bass to carry it someplace else. The bass does, in fact, carry it

away into that other place of bIII. It seems to revel in this location for several measures,

but the dream-like high is short-lived. By m. 20, the music begins to drift back to the

realm of Ab with the appearance of a V7. The agent seems reluctant to return, though, as

the bass oscillates between Fb and Eb. The Eb is supported by the V of Ab, but keeps

progressing to Db minor, or iv, as if the agent just really doesn‟t want to return to Ab but

would rather pivot back into Cb like it did in m. 13. This resistance peaks in mm. 22-23

when the bbØ7 returns and then turns into a go7 in m. 23. Though the spelling is indicative

of its necessary function as viio7 of the home key, the go7 is enharmonically equivalent to

bbo7 and could just as easily function as viio7 of bIII. Despite all desires to the contrary, the

agent must inevitably awake from its dream and a melodic cadenza arpeggiating through
the go7 – which turns into an Eb9 – effortlessly, if reluctantly, transports the music to the

return of the main section in Ab.

The main melody at the return seems even less content than it did at the

beginning. The first attempt at a cadence in m. 28 is averted as the melody refuses to

descend to 1̂ . Then, when it repeats the cadential descent by leaping up to the high 1̂ , it is

harmonized by a relatively shocking do and G7, almost as if the agent were attempting to

push to iii – C minor. One could even read this as a frustrated desire to return to Cb. This

suspicion is confirmed as the music embarks upon a written-out repeat of the middle

section in m. 30 – this time with octaves in the bass. There is a sense in which the agent

has purposely set out to find bIII again. It succeeds, but just as it did the first time, it gets

reluctantly pulled back through a cadenza into the discontented main theme. Rather than

enter into an endless cycle of there-and-back-again, the agent lets the home-key PAC in

m. 49 stand – but not without some regretful reminiscing. The do and G7 of mm. 28 and

47 return twice in the coda at mm. 49-51 and 53-55 and actually resolve to iii as if

emphasizing the tragic loss of bIII. At m. 57, the ardor of the agent‟s desire to return to Cb

is further expressed as the Eb9 cadenza returns – the same gesture which had marked its

resistance to leave the key of Cb earlier in the piece. The outburst subsides, however, into

a resigned affirmation of Ab, ending with a poignant leap up to the high 1̂ .

In summary, the use of both bIII and iii in this piece seems to set up the

“daydream” arc itself as the primary opposition wherein major bIII is characterized as the

desired euphoric dream-state and minor iii is the tragic realization that bIII is ultimately


Op. 62/1 in G Major

Like op. 38/1, this piece presents a dysphoric version of the “daydream” arc

wherein a move to minor iii stands as a depressive vision of despair out of which the

piece works to free itself.

This piece has a stronger sense of beginning-in-the-middle than usual because the

normal introductory measure-or-two of accompanimental arpeggios is missing. The effect

is a foregrounded sense of beginning mid-thought. The piece opens with a descending

leap of a fourth from 5̂ to 2̂ over V7 harmony – a conspicuous motion which feels more

like a rhetorical gesture than a straightforward melodic statement. Immediately following

this gesture, however, is a stepwise, almost conversational, melodic statement in eighth-

notes. The overall quality of the melody with the reiterated sigh-like motive and the

following eighth-note commentaries sounds rather like a melancholic discourse. Indeed,

in the second half of the phrase, the eighth-note figure repeats several times in a rather

discursive manner leading the music to a despairing PAC in iii at m. 10.

In the middle section, the melody crawls up the chromatic scale looking for a way

to pull itself out of the depression articulated by the cadence in B minor. In m. 15, there is
an arrival on high 5̂ where the agent seems to linger as if trying to discern where to go

next. After tentatively reaching up to F-natural, it reaches again, this time up to G in m.

16, and in doing so initiates a return to the opening phrase – but a fourth too high in the

subdominant key of C major. The arrival is sweet but unsustainable. After the first two

measures of the opening phrase are articulated, the music sinks down and repeats them in

A minor, but still over a C pedal. The agent is not quite ready to let go of its newfound, if

untenable, sanctuary in C major. Eventually, however, the melody lapses into a forlorn

and diminished version of the opening rhetorical gesture at the end of m. 20 as the bass

begins a slow descent. Then, seemingly out the darkest moment, just when the harmony

has turned to a dissonant aØ4/2, the original motive in the home key appears as if from out
of the mists.

In the return, the main theme seems to carry more emotional weight now that it

has returned from being lost. The melody continues down its old path but once it reaches

the half cadence point in m. 26 it takes on a character of resolve preventing the former

drift into minor iii through a determined ascent up to the high 1̂ . Even though the first

attempt at a PAC in the home key fails as the harmony slips into a viio7/vi in m. 30, the

agent manages to stay the course on the second attempt and regains some solidarity with

the PAC in m. 34.

As is typical, the main motive returns in the coda, now with a dialogical repetition

of the rhetorical gesture in the bass in mm. 36-37, followed by cadential version of the

expository eighth-notes in mm.38-39. If the opening sigh motive and the following

eighth-note figure was originally a kind of half-thought which inspired melancholic

ruminations and a drift into the depressive realm of minor iii, then the return of these

figures at the end seems to stand as a quiet acceptance of both that dark place and the

beautiful moment of insight into C major that was found there.

Op. 67/1 in E-flat Major

This piece is slightly unusual in that, while it moves into and out of the bIII key

area in the middle section, typifying the euphoric “daydream” arc, it does not seem to

treat bIII as a desirable place. Instead, the music seems unnerved by the otherness of this

key area and celebrates the return of the home key with some atypical textural features in

the second half.

The main section is relatively unmarked and does little more than present the

primary melodic ideas of the piece and comfortably confirms the home key. As is typical,

the middle section destabilizes things by developing the opening motive and ascending

sequences. The music first tonicizes iii in m. 13, then V in m. 15. It could have easily

settled there, spent a little extra time in V then returned to the main section. Instead, it

takes a relatively surprising turn to bIII. All of the other pieces that move to bIII in the

middle section get there through the parallel minor of the home key, a path that facilitates

the sense of drift that is a part of “daydream” arc. Here, however, the move is rather more

abrupt because it occurs through the Neapolitan of V in m. 15. While the musical agent

does seem to enjoy the exoticism of this key in mm 17-18, it also seems perfectly happy

to return to a more comfortable key by continuing the stepwise descent into a half

cadence in the home key at m. 19 – or at least what could potentially function as a half


The problem is what follows. Instead of moving on to the return of the main

theme, or even expanding the dominant for a time before the ultimate return, the melody

gets stuck on the same stepwise descent that brought it to the V chord of m. 19. Now,

however, the harmonies are drawing the music back to bIII with the arrival of a Db7

(V/bIII) in the second half of m. 20. Its inability to leave the exotic key area seems to

unnerve the agent. The tension builds as the bass ascends chromatically and the melody

cycles through the same stepwise descent. In mm. 21 and 22 the music reaches a crisis

when the do7 does not resolve to an Eb chord, as the bass seemed to promise, but rather an

fØ4/2, sliding back to the do7. It is a point of crisis because both of these chords could just

as easily lead to Gb as Eb. The event is analogous to op. 53/1, when Mendelssohn takes

advantage of the enharmonicism of viio7/bIII and viio7/I. The difference is that, while in

op. 53/1 the agent seemed desirous to stay in bIII, here it seems frantic to leave. The

simple solution, as in all dreams, is simply to wake up – an effortless but seemingly

miraculous event. Here, as in op. 53/1, the agent does just that through a brief melodic
cadenza in m 22.
With the return to the home key comes an upper 5̂ pedal. This pedal lends a

beautiful lightness to the music, as if it were ecstatically grateful to be back in the home

key. Ironically though, the agent is so ecstatic that it forgets actually to cadence. It moves

past the IAC that occurred the first time by continuing to elaborate the dominant in m. 27.

Then, when the harmony introduces the cadential 6/4 in the second half of m. 28, the

melody simply evaporates into arpeggiations before turning into an all-out cadenza. In m.

32 it almost forgets even to resolve the V7 chord as the left hand drops out and the right

hand seems to fade away in the distance of the upper registers. But the music gently
makes its way back to the 5̂ pedal and simply echoes the opening motive over tonic

harmony until all the remaining energy has been dissipated. The material from m. 30 to

the end all sounds like material which typically occurs in the coda; the problem is just

that the music never actually cadences. Rather, it simply revels in the stability of the

home key.

The arc, then, of this piece follows the normal “daydream” drift into and out of
III with the exception that the path into bIII was more abrupt than usual and unnerves the

agent when it seems unable to leave. When the return finally comes, the music revels in

the stability of the home key to the point that it forgets actually to cadence.

Op. 85/1 in F Major

This piece bears many similarities to op. 62/1. It follows a similar dysphoric

“daydream” arc wherein the main section ends with a cadence on iii and the rest of the

piece seems to constitute a kind of recovery. Also like op. 62/1, the opening motive is

pervasive, almost to the point of over-determination.

The first four measures of the melody present a perfectly benign phrase utilizing

the major-mode sonorities I, IV and V and closing with a rhythmically stable IAC. The

second four measures, however, pull back in both dynamic level and sense of direction,

reiterating the main motive a third lower over the minor sonorities vi and ii. The musical

agent seems to verge on depressive rumination for a moment. By the end of m. 8,

however, it remembers itself and swiftly moves through a weak but obligatory half

cadence in m. 9 and repeats the opening phrase in mm. 10-13. Again, though, the music

loses momentum in m. 14 by continuing to brood on the main motive, this time at a sixth

lower than that of the original statement. There is a greater sense of urgency now, though,

because of the secondary dominants in the harmony – first of vi, then of iii. The cadence

on iii in m. 17 marks the descent into that depressed other state of the dysphoric

“daydream” arc.

As in op. 62/1 the agent attempts to find its way out of this depressed state in the

middle section through repetition and sequencing. Leaps of a sixth into mm. 20 and 22

expressively build tension as they push the music higher and higher, until the leap up to

Bb allows the emotion to crest, then dissipate through a more reserved step-wise descent

to a half-cadence in m. 25. While the music has managed to work itself out of the

despairing key of minor iii, it has failed to move past its disturbing fixation with the

opening motive as it continues now in mm. 26-29 to mull over a minor i version of the

main motive. Even when the opening phrase does return in m. 30, the fact that it enters

over an f#o7 makes it sound frustrated and discontent. However, as is typical of the third

section of the dysphoric “daydream” arc, the agent now seems determined to pull itself

out of its depressive slump. The IAC that occurred in the first section is passed over as
the bass moves to a 5̂ pedal in m. 31 and holds onto it for the next four measures. This

forces the melody to find a better, more conclusive way of resolving the phrase, which it
successfully does in m. 39.

In the coda, as the accompaniment continues to sustain a tonic pedal, the motive

returns. But now the agent is much more self-possessed. It has managed to produce a

successful PAC and has secured a stable tonic pedal. It seems to observe the motive from

a distance, though there still is a sense of questioning inherent in its upward motion. In m.

44, the melody turns to a sigh-like descending third, repeating it gently through the end of

the piece as the accompaniment ascends into the upper registers. This motive is especially

poignant in light of the basic cyclicality inherent in all of these pieces. This little

descending third seems to express both relief in having found stability in the home key

and sorrow in the knowledge that it will always be prone to obsess over that main motive

and follow the dysphoric “daydream” arc into minor iii.

Op. 85/4 in D Major

This piece is somehow simultaneously one of the most emotive of Mendelssohn‟s

Lieder ohne Worte as well as one of the most difficult to talk about. It is too well-behaved
to be as poignant as it is. While I will argue that it technically follows the dysphoric

“daydream” arc, in that the piece seems to turn around a move to minor iii, the general

trajectory of this piece is rather different from the other Lieder ohne Worte analyzed here.

The key to understanding the emotive quality of this piece is hearing both the normal

phrase arch and the “daydream” event-arc as slightly displaced.

While the opening gestural descent down to 1̂ may not initially sound like

beginning-in-the-middle, the way it is used in the rest of the piece emphasizes its

cadential potential. When one considers the relationship between the melodic shape and

the actual phrase structure, they seem to be slightly misaligned. Figure 4 shows how there

is a very distinct rise and fall to the melody, but that the formal articulations of the

parallel period are misaligned with this rise and fall. Indeed, when the opening motive

returns in the consequent in m. 6 it almost sounds as if there is a PAC on the downbeat of

m.7, even though this is technically in the middle of the phrase. The resulting affect, is a

mild sense of discontentment at the lack of alignment between phrase shape and actual

cadence points. This discontentment is further inflected by the fact that the high points

(mm. 4, 7-8, and 9) are all marked by minor or diminished sonorities (also shown in

Figure 4). While all of these moments may seem unremarkable in their own right, they

combine to create a very emotive melody.

The discontent of the first section turns into yearning in the middle section as the

music embarks upon the typical ascending sequences and the bass line chromatically

descends. The repeated figures build in tension as they begin to shorten and the leaps

expand from thirds in mm. 12 and 14 to fifths in mm. 16 and 17. The yearning of this

passage remains unresolved, though, as the tension simply dissipates in mm. 18 and 19

when the line turns and begins to descend. Given the “daydream” event-arc common to

all the other pieces, one would almost have expected the music to drift at some point into
III. Instead, through its continued inability to find some sort of release, it ends up

drifting into minor iii. Indeed, the return of the main section actually occurs over a

resolution to iii in m. 20. This move to iii follows the typical dysphoric “daydream” arc,

but occurs much later than in all of the other pieces that follow this event-arc. The result

is a much milder sense of despair. Instead of the move to iii being a seemingly

unprovoked descent into depression from which the majority of the piece is spent

recovering, here it seems merely a minor struggle with disappointment. Indeed, given the

nature of the opening motive, one does not even fully realize that the return has begun

until m. 21, by which point the music has recovered the major-mode home key. In fact,
much like in m. 7, m. 20 sounds more like a cadence point than the middle of a phrase.

The result is an amazingly easy recovery from the move to minor iii.

Figure 4: Op.85/4: Misaligned Phrase Shape

This time, as the final section gets under way, the already tentative half cadence

marking the end of the antecedent (which here occurs in m. 23) is hardly recognizable as

such. The period structure is further obscured by the fact that, rather than restating the

opening gesture, m. 24 develops it. Through a subtle change in the shape, the opening

cadential gesture is reinterpreted into a striving gesture which pushes up and out. The

sense of striving is reinforced by a restatement of the new gesture a fourth higher. Then,

in m. 26, the most poignant moment of the piece occurs as the melody leaps a minor

seventh up to G. It hangs there, turning into a suspension on the downbeat of m. 27 (read

sigh-figure) before descending. The effect here is of reaching for some indefinable goal.

The leap of a seventh to the 7th of the chord is particularly moving because it is a large

leap into an inherently unstable pitch, as though the music is reaching for the sake of

reaching – to express a surge of emotion. The phrase is further expanded through an

evaded cadence and a repeat of mm. 26-28 before concluding with a resigned PAC in the
home key. In the coda, the melody continues with a yearning upper neighbor to 5̂ , then

descends in a simplified version of the opening cadential gesture.

The mildly dysphoric “daydream” arc of this piece seems motivated primarily by

the opening cadential-like gesture. This gesture is like a fact that thus stated cannot

capture all that it means to the one stating it. This dissatisfaction with the statement in
itself is what is communicated by the misaligned phrasing. The middle section searches

for a better way of articulating all that is not captured in the original gesture but fails and

thus briefly descends into the dysphoric region of minor iii. However, the return of the

motive is itself enough to carry the music out of any despairing disappointment back into

the home key. In the final section, the music continues to strive to express the ineffable

feeling bound up in the cadential gesture, but such expression seems constantly out of


Op. 102/4 in G Minor

This is the only piece of the nine looked at here that establishes the minor mode as

the status quo. Thus, the move to bIII in the middle, in accordance with the typical

“daydream” arc, is especially poignant. Even though bIII is not quite as distant from a

minor home key as a major home key (indeed, all of the other pieces that modulate to bIII

do so through the parallel minor of the home key), the contrast of mode, combined with
the strategic use of a descending half-step sigh motive, serves to emphasize its otherness.

The fact that the melody of this piece enters on a V/bVII when G minor has

already been clearly established as the home key, then slowly but steadily circles its way

back to G minor, has several consequences. In one sense the circle progression, as well as

the fact that it is immediately repeated verbatim, emphasizes the inevitable spiral back to

G minor. The non-tonic melodic entrance, indicative of Mendelssohn‟s tendency to

begin-in-the-middle, also contributes to a sense of cyclicality, something which is also

heard in the melodic repeat of mm. 8-12. Thus G minor is not merely the home key, but

the dysphoric place to which the music will always return.

In the middle section, the music inverts the opening motive and embarks upon the

ascending sequence typical of middle sections, which serves as a kind of wandering or

aimless searching and usually initiates the drift into the other key area of bIII or iii. At

first the agent finds no reprieve from G minor, though, and seems to mournfully lament

this fact with the appoggiatura figure in m. 14. But when it tries again, the harmony finds

a way out into the relative key of Bb major. The lament figure of m. 14, which seems so

mournful over the V of G, here in m. 16 is enlivened with hope over the resolution to Bb.

But even as the agent catches sight of this hope, it also begins to express dread at the

prospect of losing it. The music clings to a Bb pedal in both the upper and lower registers

as the inner lines begin to sink chromatically, undermining the hope of staying in the

relative major. There is another glimmer of optimism in m. 18 when the harmony briefly

arrives on another Bb major chord, but the glimmer soon fades as it turns first to Bb minor

then to C7. By the time the music reaches the C7 in m.19, the bass has given up and

relinquished its pedal Bb. But the upper voice refuses to let go and that high Bb, once a

beacon of hope as the potential tonic, is now the harbinger of despair as the unstable

seventh that must move down. In mm. 20-21 the accompaniment pattern surges into the

upper registers, taking over the texture as a melodic cadenza arpeggiating the C7. The

cadenza at this point functions similarly to the cadenzas in ops. 67/1 and 53/1, as both an

implicit resistance to the inevitable return of the main section as well as an embodiment

of the miraculously effortless return characteristic of the “daydream” arc2. This is

achieved harmonically by the fact that C7 simultaneously functions as a potential V/V in

Bb (bIII) and the V/bVII in the home key which marks the entrance of the main section.

Thus, the original melody, with its circle progression spiraling towards G minor,

returns resigned to its fate. This time, however, something does change. The Ab chord in

m. 24 has always functioned as a Neapolitan predominant leading to a cadential 6/4 in G

minor. But somehow the music inadvertently reinterprets it as the subdominant of Eb

leading to an Eb cadential 6/4. This change seems to disorient the agent and spawns a

dramatic outburst in mm. 27-28. One might even argue that the real reason for the

outburst at this point is in the fact that the ao at the end of m. 25, which serves to dislodge

2 These moments function similarly to the stereotypical rolling harps which accompany
the fuzzy transitions into and out of dreams in television sitcoms (without the humorous
overtones, though).
the music from Eb, could easily push to the euphoric bIII. The ascending melodic eighth-

notes and rhythmically displaced left-hand octaves of mm. 27-28 bear witness to the

musical agent‟s strife over this unexpected event. Nevertheless, the inevitability of G

minor is been confirmed when the music finally cadences in m. 31.

The coda reaffirms the cyclicality of this piece as well as the inexorable nature of

G minor as the middle section returns, but without the drift into Bb major. Instead, the

music latches onto the descending half-step sigh figure, Eb-D (which originally marked

the arrival of Bb in m. 16), repeating it longingly over G minor to the end of the piece. It

is this treatment of the sigh figure in the coda in particular that lends distance to the

otherwise closely related key of bIII, casting a shroud of unachievable otherness over it

that is characteristic of the “daydream” arc.


In this paper, I have shown that Mendelssohn‟s Lieder ohne Worte are best

understood from the perspective of an inner voice. This perspective is validated “extra-

musically” through the connotations of the Lied as a genre, as well as through the unique

presentation of these pieces as specifically omitting words. Mendelssohn‟s associations

with the Berlin school of song-writing and their philosophical view of music as

fundamentally pertaining to emotion and internal experience further corroborates

position. Mendelssohn was a renowned pianist and he dedicated many of the Lieder ohne

Worte to female pianists for the likely use of private performance. Because of this and

because of the intimate nature of these pieces, I believe that the person, perspective, and

performance choices of the pianist are all crucial to understanding their character. Finally,

an analysis of the Lieder ohne Worte from this perspective reveals a common event

trajectory, the “daydream” arc, which seems to model the internal process of wandering

thoughts. The way that each piece realizes this arc, however, is diverse.


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[cited April 27, 2010.]


Katelyn Denise Horn was born in Texas in 1986. She began her collegiate studies

at Webster University in 2004. In 2005 she transferred to The University of Texas at

Austin where she earned a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, awarded May 2008.

She began work on a Master of Music in 2007 through the University of Texas Select

Admission Program.

Permanent address (or email):

This report was typed by Katelyn Horn