FRANZ SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

The first of Schubert’s song cycles set to a text by Wilhelm Müller, Die Schöne Müllerin (1823) is a tragic story of love, death, and youthful idiocy.

[No. 1 – Das Wandern]

The youthful protagonist sings about how much he enjoys wandering and working at the mill.

Good for him. He’s a healthy, happy miller. And even if some of his singing includes tenuous metaphors about the equipment he works with, it’s a nice, cheerful song to begin the cycle with.

[No. 2 – Wohnin?]

The youthful protagonist sings to the millstream that he’s walking beside, wondering where it leads.

Okay. Singing directly to a river is a bit weird, but sure, youthful protagonist, you do you.

[No. 3 – Halt!]

The youthful protagonist sings to the mill that the stream has led him to, and is delighted by how friendly and inviting the mill looks.

Um, youthful protagonist? You do know the mill can’t hear you, right?
Like, Schubert makes the millstream a character in its own right, which is pretty awesome, but the mill is just a building. You’re literally talking to a brick wall, youthful protagonist!

[No. 4 – Danksagung an den Bach]

The youthful protagonist asks the stream whether it was the maiden who works at this mill who sent the stream to him.

Oh, oh, I know this! No. No, it wasn’t.
Look, youthful protagonist, I get that you’re supposed to be a free spirited lad or something of that ilk, but geez, c’mon, do you seriously believe this girl who lives at this mill sent the stream to you as some kind of coded message for… I’m gonna guess, love?
Pull yourself together, youthful protagonist. You’re better than this!

[No. 5 – Am Feierabend]

The youthful protagonist wishes he had a thousand arms so that he can work really quickly and, in so doing, win the maiden’s affections.

…Come again? Are you telling me that working quickly is your way of flirting, youthful protagonist? Cos, I don’t want to undermine your healthy work ethic or anything but… just don’t be surprised if the maiden doesn’t notice you, okay?

[No. 6 – Der Neugierige]

The youthful protagonist asks the millstream whether the maiden loves him.

Oh, yeah. Like water is going to be able to tell you that!

[No. 7 – Ungeduld]

The youthful protagonist sings about how he wants to send messages of love to the maiden using different aspects of nature: carving it into trees and stones, training birds to speak of his affections for her, and even getting the wind to let the maiden know that he has a crush on her.

Dude, just tell her already! Or, y’know, don’t tell her but stop agonising over it.

The youthful protagonist is perplexed as to why the maiden has not noticed that he loves her.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe because he’s not done anything to indicate that he would have feelings for her!

[No. 8 – Morgengruss]

The youthful protagonist greets the miller maiden in the morning.

Huzzah! He finally speaks to her!

But he does it from such a distance that she can’t possibly hear him.

Dangit! So close.

[No. 9 – Des Müllers Blumen]

The youthful protagonist picks some flowers and plants them underneath the maiden’s window. Obviously without letting her know it was him that did it.

It’s a nice gesture, I guess… Still utterly useless in the whole getting-her-to-love-you shtick if you don’t tell it her was you, though.

[No. 10 – Tränenregen]

The youthful protagonist is sitting with the maiden by the millstream.

So, are they talking now? Please tell me they’re talking now.

It begins to rain and the maiden excuses herself and goes inside.

Well, at least she’s talking. The jury’s still out on whether the youthful protagonist has said a single word within hearing distance of her, yet.

[No. 11 – Mein]

The youthful protagonist rushes through the forest singing about how the maiden is his.

Eh… Firstly, youthful protagonist, that’s creepily possessive. Not cool.
Secondly, are you sure that she’s aware of suddenly having become one of your belongings?

[No. 12 – Pause]

The youthful protagonist is unable to play music because he’s pining for the maiden.

I’m… gonna guess she hasn’t noticed you, then? (Deary me, this can only end badly.)

The youthful protagonist’s loss of music ability is symbolised in the music with the vocal line fighting against the piano part, trying to get it to do anything other than simple basic chord progressions.

Yes okay. In fairness, I really like that technique. Clearly, Schubert is considerably cleverer than the youthful protagonist of his song cycle. (That’s not saying much, EVERY SINGLE REAL LIFE PERSON is considerably cleverer than the youthful protagonist of this song cycle… I hope.)

[No. 13 – Mit Dem Grünen Lautenbande]

The youthful protagonist sees the maiden wearing a green hair ribbon and sings of his love of the colour green.

Okay, youthful protagonist, I understand you’re young but this is unbelievably obsessive… verging on stalker territory.

[No. 14 – Der Jäger]

The youthful protagonist spots a huntsman nearby and immediately decides that they are rivals in obtaining the maiden’s affection.

Although it turns out that this is the case, I’m not sure you had any real reason to believe the huntsman had any interest in the maiden at this point, youthful protagonist.
Also, you wouldn’t necessarily even have a rival for obtaining the maiden’s affections if you’d just let her know how you felt about her 9 songs ago… just sayin’.

[No. 15 – Eifersucht Und Stolz]

The youthful protagonist complains to the stream about the fact that the maiden seems to be more attracted to the huntsman than she is to him.

Well, that’s too bad, youthful protagonist. But she knows her own mind and is allowed to make decisions for herself. Also, you’ve still not given her any indication that you like her so, uh, this is in no way anyone’s fault but yours.

[No. 16 – Die Liebe Farbe]

The youthful protagonist wants to surround himself in green things, because the maiden likes the colour green.

You know what I said earlier about being creepily obsessive? Yeah, that.

[No. 17 – Die Böse Farbe]

The youthful protagonist now wants to avoid the colour green, because it reminds him of the girl whom he loves but can’t bring himself to confess his love to.

Geez, youthful protagonist, if you’ve GOT to be obsessive and stalkerish, at least try to be consistent about it!

[No. 18 – Trockne Blumen]

The youthful protagonist is upset because some flowers are withered.

THAT’S WHAT FLOWERS DO! (#MoriartyReference)

[No. 19 – Der Müller und der Bach]

The youthful protagonist realises his affections for the maiden are unrequited and so he jumps into the millstream to his death.

Wait, what?… Why would you-?!

WHAT?!!!

[No. 20 – Des Baches Wiegenlied]

The millstream sings the youthful protagonist a lullaby as he drowns.

Schubert, I love you very much but not even you can reasonably romanticise
suicide and expect to get away with it.
That’s just super not okay. I don’t like that at all.

Moral of the story: a true and pure ideal love can only be satisfied in death.*

BETTER MORAL OF THE STORY: If the person you secretly have a crush on happens to fall in love with someone who isn’t you, don’t under any circumstances try to drown yourself in a millstream.

*source: John Reed, The Schubert Song Companion (New York, 1997)

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