Liebe und Leben: Exploring Gender Roles and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Lieder
The paper examines Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben (A Woman’s Love and Life), which has long been staple in the standard nineteenth-century lieder repertory for singers, but almost exclusively for female performers. Despite early performances by baritone Julius Stockhausen, male performers have shied away from this cycle, as well as other lieder that are typically considered feminine. This study reaches back to the contextual issues that coincide with the history and practice of this repertory. In particular, I use the historical evidence of the Moral Purity Movement (1890-1945) and such discourses to reveal a critical primary source of homophobic rhetoric that may have dissuaded male singers from performing the cycle. Led by the Church and disgruntled male workers, whose jobs were vulnerable to the growing numbers of women entering the workplace, this conservative social movement campaigned using biblical rhetoric that supported traditional gender roles and relations. Unfortunately for Berlin’s blossoming queer community in the 1890s, any individuals who did not conform to “Christian” ideals fell victim to these smears. I argue that male performers during that time may have been influenced by societal homophobia in their seemingly unanimous decision to avoid the feminine repertoire, such as Frauenliebe und Leben.
The paper begins with an historical analysis of gender roles during the early nineteenth century. More detailed accounts of the gay rights movement and the Moral Purity Movement shed light on the gendered performance practices of the lieder repertoire. Ultimately, I use this history to consider alternative perspectives for performers who wish to engage with music that has traditionally been off-limits to them because of gender or sexuality. To demonstrate this concept, I introduce the Frauenliebe protagonist to a variety of alternative perspectives, including a historical performance by a female and, inversely, a twenty-first century gay male. The last section of the paper is an in-depth dramatic integration of the gay male perspective into the Frauenliebe protagonist. I pose potential scenarios to consider for the gay male performer when interpreting Schumann’s cycle, as well as changes to the text and music to fit his alternative perspective. Ultimately, the goal of this paper is to remove unnecessary restrictions from modern performance practice in order to broaden the lieder repertoire for young singers, particularly those of the LGBTQ+ community.