Redirecting the Temporal Flow: Brief Meter Changes in German Lieder

Wing Lau, University of Arkansas

A brief change of meter, usually spanning less than six measures, is a commonly used compositional technique in nineteenth-century German lieder. My paper provides three archetypes of such brief meter changes in lieder by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. I investigate each composer's approach to brief meter changes and show how the insertion of new time signature redirects the temporal flow, relates to the text-meaning, and yields flexibility in performance.

The three archetypes of meter changes produce distinct effects: (1) Recitative-like metric fluctuation. Schubert and Brahms often explore this effect but in very different ways. (2) End-lengthening, which can generate rhetorical pauses or paint a textual tension. This effect is most common in Brahms's lieder, although a few examples are found in Schumann's lieder. (3) Change of perceived tempo at a coda or transition, usually enhanced by other surface events such as key changes and text repetitions. This effect is often used by Schumann and Brahms.

Building on my classification of meter changes, Krebs's metric dissonances, and Malin's declamatory schema, this study shows that Brahms explores more of the different facets of brief meter changes than the other two composers, possibly building on Schubert and Schumann's experiments. By tracing the different approaches and providing an analytical framework for brief meter changes of these three composers, my study provides tools for further investigation of brief meter changes in other genres.