Sound-Image Relationships in Literature

3 Notes and Notations

Although the phenomena of printing music in literary texts is restricted to a few cases in Arthur Schnitzler, Hans Henny Jahnn, and Ingeborg Bachmann, it demonstrates with particular clarity problems of changing media and esthetic self-understanding in artifacts that are themselves extremely complex. Schnitzler incorporated into the story Fräulein Else of 1926 quotations from the music of Robert Schumann’s cycle Carnaval op. 9, of 1834–1835 and thus intensified his dramaturgy of covering and revealing, and of convention and lifelong illusions in Austrian society of the late nineteenth century. The subjects carnival and masquerade, secret and play acting take on additional dimensions thanks to secondary meanings, such as those of ASCH, which is both a cipher for the names of the musical notes found in Schumann’s name—S [i.e., Es, German nomenclature for Eb], C, H [German for B], and A, and at the same time for the town of his occasional lover in Bohemia, Ernestine von Fricken. Thus, they allude to a secret love code.

In his monumental Fluss ohne Ufer (Shoreless River; from 1949 onward), Hans Henny Jahnn used quotations from music as images of the protagonist’s effort to write himself into the tradition of the old masters.

Ingeborg Bachmann’s novel Malina of 1971 challenges the reader with more than the triangle of the protagonists Malina, Ivan, and I: the eponymous character is, despite appearances to those schooled in Latin and the Romance languages, male; his name means raspberry in a number of Slavic languages. This principle of a compound structure, in which no part should stand alone, rather all of them together should produce a whole, is also followed by the diverse mentions of music and especially citations of music in the text. Located just before the end of this very complex novel, they present visually an associative form of semiosis. Presented recognizably only on the very last pages, the citations of music illustrate graphically what Romantic texts on music evoked endlessly in language: coming closer to an alien, synthesizing medium that cannot be brought into the text and can at most be cited in it. With the well-worn musical myths of Vienna, especially Mozart and Beethoven, and the ever-present background noise from both the media industry and high culture, Bachmann creates a musical novel of disillusion, which can only end: It was murder.[19]

In the twentieth-century works of art combining images, words, and music, Jahnn’s culturally conservative impetus remained an isolated case. By contrast, the infinite material of musical notation and musical motives in the visual arts and graphic notation in New Music opened up another field for esthetic reflection. Toward the end of the twentieth century, an autonomy of the esthetic sign began to emerge that no longer felt a debt to any impulse to represent beyond its own materiality.[20] And even literature—the branch of the arts most closely tied to subject matter—has begun to pay attention to typography, not as a epiphenomenon and decoration, as was done prototypically by the Stefan George Circle, but as a medium with its own significance.[21] Thus literature’s endless search for its other is ultimately found in its very own field: writing.