Composer Franz Schubert made a long lasting impact upon western art music history with his memorable and emotional melodies, as well as his unique way of sonically telling a story. Though his ability to construct impressive orchestra works is well respected, it has been argued that it is in the area of lieder that Schubert’s supreme talent as a composer and storyteller exhibits itself (Osborne, 1977). Schubert could take a vibrant poem from a famous poet like J.W. Goethe and give the story and characters even greater depth, freeing the story from the constrains of the written word into a sonic life. Steen (2003) put it this way: “[i]t is almost as if the poem was a landscape, whereas the song was the landscape painting, the work of art” (pp. 211-212). Many contemporary composers, songwriters, musical artists, and music video directors go to great lengths to achieve the kind of storytelling efficiency that Schubert seemed to tackle effortlessly.
To my students, the music that they take ownership of and revere can be easily lumped into one of two categories; dance tunes and story songs. During in-class discussions and one-onone conversations about musical preference, students often express how they choose music that can capture their imagination by giving them an understandable story, have catchy melodies or micro-melodies, and that affects them emotionally in some way. Some of their favorite artists like Taylor Swift, Adele, Green Day, and Eminem rely upon story-based songs. In an attempt to help my students understand one historic figure that may have had a major impact upon the music they enjoy and in hopes of expanding their musical appreciation, we explored a heavily story-based and emotional lieder of composers like Schubert. Of all of Schubert’s works, his