Schubert’s Ganymed and the transfiguration of self in poem and music

Kristina Baron-Woods


Schubert’s Lied Ganymed D. 544 evokes the rapture of a young man about to embark on his first deeply loving, sensually and spiritually encompassing relationship. The myth of Ganymede has been seen as a symbol of male homoerotic love for millennia, inspiring countless representations in the visual arts, literature, and music. Scholars have read the myth in numerous ways: as a pantheistic celebration of Man’s unity with Nature and, therefore, God; as an allegory representing sexual and mental submission; and as a validation of pederastic relationships. Indeed, many scholars believe that the myth was borne of necessity for Greek culture; the supreme god’s participation in the common practice of pederasty could be seen as a divine sanction. In Goethe’s poem Ganymed of 1774 and Schubert’s Lied of 1817, the myth functions on both the intellectual and sensual levels, representing the ideal balance in ancient Greek pederastic relationships of love and tutelage. An analysis of poetic images and musical content, this paper explores Goethe and Schubert’s understanding of the original Greek myth with its theme of pederasty while composing artworks that resonate within the context of German Romanticism. Schubert’s movement through the various rhythmic and melodic motive and ever-shifting tonalities serve as an allegory of the journey and transfiguration of the youth, from the shepherd enjoying the sumptuous pleasures of earthly morning to the embraced and embracing lover of god.

© Musicological Explorations, School of Music, University of Victoria

ISSN 1711-9235