It’s surprising what you could get away with saying in the nineteenth century . . .

. . . as long as you didn’t actually say it, of course.

Here is Dorothea Röschmann at the Edinburgh International Festival, from her recital on August 19, singing Hugo Wolf’s “Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens” / “A girl’s first love song.” Text by Eduard Mörike.

(Texts in German and English here.)

11 thoughts on “It’s surprising what you could get away with saying in the nineteenth century . . .

  1. Ha! I had 3 thoughts, listening to this:
    1. I wish I could have seen DR’s face as she was singing this;
    2. Amazing that this song was written in an era when people covered up the legs of their tables, chairs and pianos for the sake of modesty; and
    3. The song reminds me a bit of Scottish (appropriate, given the venue of DR’s recital) poet Edwin Morgan’s poem The Apple’s Song (in which things are said which are not actually said).


    1. 1. Me too – judging from the little murmur of appreciation you can hear from the audience after she finishes, the folks in the concert hall clearly had fun.

      2. These two things are probably related – I think that to be obsessive about the sexual suggestiveness of table legs, you have to spend a lot of time thinking (or deliberately not thinking) about sex. Thus the thrill for 19thc audiences of songs like Wolf’s or poems like Morgan’s about the apple?


      1. Yes, I can see the thrill factor would definitely be there. It’s that contradictory prudish factor that I find so interesting. It’s been a long time since I studied Victorian poetry but I can’t recall any other poetry from that era having such vivid sexual imagery as the lyrics of this song. But perhaps there is a subgenre of erotic Victorian poetry that I didn’t come across in my student days of yore. And maybe the rule of thumb was to appear prudish (particularly middle class people) while secretly being thrilled in private?


        1. I think it must have been. Given that tension between the need to avoid talking overtly about sex or the body and the fact that whenever one has to avoid something, it has a way of cropping up when least expected/wanted, it seems like middle-class 19thc respectability was the perfect environment for poems that appear to be completely innocent as long as you don’t start thinking about what they imply. At the very least, one would have plausible deniability as far as the accusation of writing smut was concerned! (Though I imagine there were plenty of readers who figured such things out. And I suppose it might be sort of fun to have to communicate everything by implication rather than direct statement.)


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