a Cycle of Flower Songs (9 – Schubert)

Schubert’s “Die Blumensprache“/The Language of Flowers D519 (1818) is a song about flowers as a language — not as a repertoire of signs and symbols but as a system of signification.  As this video argues, flowers constitute a complex code.

How do flowers work as a language according to the song?  The voice describes what the flowers do (giving hope or suffering, joy or sorrow) but their work as a code is activated by the piano.  As an opaque system of signification, they code absence and presence, concealment and unconcealment.  They do not communicate with language, they speak language.  Like the flowers, the piano does not express personal feelings, which the voice does, but it atmospheres a drawing room where, as its rippling triplets propel the dactyls with tonal relish, it offers (piano) instruction in the delicacies of bourgeois sentimentality.

Pantelis Polychronidis’s lessons are master classes in the musical and poetic exercises of the Romantic self.  So are walks in the park with him. Another great person to consult (preferably in German) on the Rhetoric, Stylistics, and Narratology of flowers would be dear friend Professor Maria Kakavoulia who has done exceptional work on various linguistic functions and can also turn a single flower into an eloquent sign of friendship.

Nevertheless “The Language of Flowers” raises an old semiotic question:  Were there songs before Schubert?  Singing yes, certainly there was, but self-contained songs probably not.  But then there were no sorrows before Werther either…

May 19, 2015

Es deuten die Blumen der Herzens Gefühle,
Sie sprechen manch heimliches Wort;
Sie neigen sich traulich am schwankenden Stiele,
Als zöge die Liebe sie fort.
Sie bergen verschämt sich im deckenden Laube,
Als hätte verraten der Wunsch sie dem Raube.
Sie deuten im leise bezaubernden Bilde
Der Frauen, der Mädchen Sinn;
Sie deuten das Schöne, die Anmut, die Milde,
Sie deuten des Lebens Gewinn:
Es hat mit der Knospe, so heimlich verschlungen,
Der Jüngling die Perle der Hoffnung gefunden.

Sie weben der Sehnsucht, des Harmes Gedanken
Aus Farben ins duftige Kleid.
Nichts frommen der Trennung gehässige Schranken,
Die Blumen verkünden das Leid.
Was laut nicht der Mund, der bewachte, darf sagen,
Das waget die Huld sich in Blumen zu klagen.

Anton Platner (1787-1855)

Flowers reveal the feelings of the heart;
they speak many a secret word;
they incline confidingly on their swaying stems
as though drawn by love.
They hide shyly amid concealing foliage,
as though desire had betrayed them to seduction.
They reveal, in a delicate, enchanting image,
the nature of women and maidens;
they signify beauty, grace, gentleness;
they embody life’s rewards:
in the bud, so secretly concealed,
the youth has found the pearl of hope.

With coloured strands they weave into their fragrant
dress thoughts of yearning and sorrow.
The hateful barriers of separation are of no importance;
flowers proclaim our suffering.
What guarded lips may not speak aloud
kindness will dare to lament through flowers.

English: Richard Wigmore © 2005

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