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Emotional ambivalence and the musical canon: Elfriede Jelinek's restaging of Schubert's songs in Winterreise (2011)

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This article analyses Elfriede Jelinek's Winterreise (2011), a play that demands a re‐assessment of our contemporary relationship with canonical artworks and artistic traditions. Reviewers praised Winterreise as a remarkably personal and emotional work, but the role of emotions in the play is more than just a reflection on Jelinek's biography or her own ageing. Jelinek stages a meditation on the strong, yet ambivalent feelings bound up with the cultural canon, and with the First Viennese School in particular. For Jelinek, Schubert's music explores marginalised subjectivities but also forms a centrepiece of the Austrian song tradition, which her work has repeatedly associated with the containment and marginalisation of women and others by an oppressive bourgeois society. Yet by drawing on and echoing the ambivalent emotional worlds of Schubert's settings, Jelinek suggests how close attention to the emotions associated with cultural traditions can shed light on structures that exclude certain subjects, while creating space for the negative emotions of society's most isolated and marginalised. I draw on contemporary theories of emotions, musicological scholarship, and analysis of Schubert's song cycle to shed light on the importance of emotional ambivalence for Jelinek's evolving articulation of the value and political difficulties of the musical canon.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-352
Number of pages22
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Issue number3
Early online date7 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

    Research areas

  • Elfriede Jelinek, Austria, Music, Canonisation, Tradition, Emotions, Franz Schubert, Winterreise, Theatre, Contemporary literature, Intermediality, Performance

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