Text, context, and reception history of the Richard Dehmel poems "Venus Mater" and "Wiegenlied" and their lieder settings by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)


Music Choral and Voice

First Committee Member

Paul Wilson - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

David Alt - Committee Member


This study examines the social and cultural circumstances surrounding the publication of the poems "Venus Mater" and "Wiegenlied" by the late nineteenth-century German poet Richard Dehmel, and the composition of the corresponding lieder by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss. An accurate history of the publication and reception of Richard Dehmel's poetry has been difficult due to the existence of multiple similar versions of his poems. By referring back to the primary sources of his poetry, it is shown that "Venus Mater" and "Wiegenlied," although very similar, were discrete works published at different times in different anthologies of Dehmel's poems. Further examination of the circumstances behind the publication of these two poems shows that the social and cultural reaction to the differing sources of these poems were substantially different. While "Wiegenlied" never aroused any controversy in fin-de-siecle German society, "Venus Mater" was a component of Die Verwandlungen der Venus, a poetic cycle which was one of Dehmel's most problematic works, the publication of which resulted in charges of blasphemy and obscenity against the writer.In light of the circumstances under which Dehmel's poetry was published and received, the musical settings of these poems by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss are investigated. It is shown that, contrary to many previous accounts, Pfitzner's textual source for his lied "Venus Mater" was Dehmel's notorious Die Verwandlungen der Venus, while Strauss' source for his "Wiegenlied" was Dehmel's uncontroversial Erlosungen. The effects which these different texts and their contexts had on the composition and reception of the composers' lieder is explored through an examination of the composers' own writings, the writings of other scholars and critics, and a brief music analysis of the two lieder. The elucidation of these details reveals some ways in which cultural and social ideologies, such as representations of gender and sexuality, can be transmitted through both text and music.


Literature, Germanic; Music

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