Skip to main content
Source File: cat.cs010.xml

From Cather Studies Volume 10

Following the Lieder: Cather, Schubert, and Lucy Gayheart


The 2011 International Cather International Seminar documented in dazzling array the degree to which Willa Cather drew upon authors and artists of the nineteenth century as inspiration for her writing. In the years following Cather's move to Lincoln in 1890, the period during which her real musical education began, it was largely music of this same century that she came to know—for example, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Chopin, Verdi, Schubert, Dvorak, Wagner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky; in turn it was nineteenth-century music that Cather not only focused on in her early reviews and essays but also would subsequently weave into her mature fiction.[1] Think, for instance, of the roles Cather gives to Dvorak's New World Symphony and to Wagnerian opera in The Song of the Lark; of her poignant use of Schumann's piano music in Alexander's Bridge and "Double Birthday"; of the scenes she builds around Thomas's Mignon in The Professor's House and Bellini's Norma in My Mortal Enemy; and—the subject of this paper—of the prominence she accords several nineteenth-century composers in Lucy Gayheart.


Lucy Gayheart confirms what we know from Cather's other fiction: not only was Cather deeply informed about music, but when she brought musical allusions into a novel or story, she did so with a purpose. When Lucy Gayheart and Clement Sebastian part for what proves the last time, Lucy recalls the forebodings aroused by the Byron setting he had sung as an encore at the concert where she heard first him: "Oh, then it came back to her! The night he sang When We Two Parted and she knew he had done something to her life. Presentiments like that one were not meaningless." And as she thinks back, certain phrases of the song take on new meaning: "Surely that hour foretold sorrow to this"; "to sever for years" (716-17).[2] The Verdi operas Lucy and Harry hear in Chicago, Aida, Otello, and La Traviata, revolve around lovers' misunderstandings, jealousies, and tragic deaths, all topics refracted in the complex relationships among Lucy, Clement, and Harry; and the opera they hear on the afternoon before Lucy rejects Harry's marriage proposal, Wagner's Lohengrin, recalls what Lucy "used to feel in Sebastian's studio; belief in an invisible, inviolable world" (703-4)—the world that Harry, for all his love of Lucy, can neither understand nor enter.[3] An aria from Mendelssohn's Elijah that Lucy rehearses with Clement comes back to her in Haverford both as she mourns Clement's death ("Oh that I knew . . . where I might find him" [733]) and as she finds new courage to return to a career in music: "If with all your heart you truly seek Him, you shall ever surely find Him. He had sung that for her in the beginning, when she first went to him. Now she knew what it meant" (748-49).[4]

In Lucy Gayheart Cather uses Schubert lieder even more intentionally, and in ways that are more significant and far-reaching. Cather had known and loved Schubert, and especially his songs, for many years, writing perceptively about them in early essays (Kingdom of Art [ka] 59; World and the Parish [w&p] 380) and giving them prominent mention in stories like "Prodigies" (1897), "Eric Hermannson's Soul" (1900), and "Jack-A-Boy" (1901).[5] Not only do his songs figure in the actual narrative of Lucy Gayheart, but their overtones are felt and heard throughout the novel and at its every level.

In the chapters of Book I that follow Lucy's return to Chicago, Schubert lieder are a constant presence. On the day Lucy arrives, she recalls the Schubert group Clement Sebastian had sung in the concert where she first heard him. It began with a song in which "[a] Greek sailor, returned from a voyage, stands in the temple of Castor and Pollux, the mariners' stars, and acknowledges their protection. . . . In your light I stand without fear, O august stars! I salute your eternity."[6] Sebastian then continued with five more Schubert songs, "all melancholy," the last "Der Doppelgänger," in which a lover revisits the town and the home where his former love had lived: "With every phrase that picture deepened—moonlight, intense and calm, sleeping on old human houses; and somewhere a lonely black cloud in the night sky. . . . The moon was gone, and the silent street.—And Sebastian was gone, though Lucy had not been aware of his exit. The black cloud that had passed over the moon and the song had obliterated him, too" (660-61).

Sebastian's concert the night of Lucy's return to Chicago is devoted entirely to a complete performance of Schubert's 1827 song cycle, Die Winterreise, which Lucy hears as if it were "being sung the first time, something newly created. . . . She kept feeling that this was not an interpretation, this was the thing itself" (665). The next day Clement accepts Lucy as his rehearsal accompanist, and from then on she works with him daily until he departs in March for a nine-day tour. The night before their practice sessions are to resume, she begins "to play over some songs from Die schö;ne Müllerin [1823], which Sebastian had been practising before he left," and when she arrives in the studio the next morning, he announces that they will begin with this very cycle "and go straight along until we are tired" (68182). Finally, in the period when Lucy and Clement are beginning to fall in love, the song Lucy often plays for herself is "Die Forelle," in which she senses "a joyousness which seemed safe from time or change" (687); it is this song that Clement hears her playing when he stops by unannounced to ask her to join him for a Sunday evening dinner.

Cather's handling of the first and fourth of these Schubert references—the group of songs Lucy hears at the first concert; "The Trout," which later becomes her favorite—exemplifies the varied and deliberate ways in which she uses such materials in the novel. The opening song of the first group proves delusory in every respect. The song gives thanks to the stars for protecting sailors at sea, and Lucy associates both it and Sebastian's performance with "calmness and serenity," with "enlightenment, like daybreak" (660). But the love affair between Sebastian and Lucy will bring neither calmness nor serenity; Lucy will learn of his tragic death when she awakes on a spring morning—so much for "enlightenment, like daybreak." As for these "mariners' stars" they will scarcely protect Clement from shipwreck and drowning; and though at one point he will describe Lucy as a star that has risen in his skies (717), he does so at the end of their last meeting: it is a star he will never see again. In contrast the final song of the group—the lover returning to the scene of an earlier love to find naught but deserted streets—closely prefigures what both Lucy and Harry will experience in Books II and III. Similarly, her sensing at the concert how the moon's disappearance in the final song parallels Sebastian's disappearance from the stage foreshadows the way he will later slip away from her life. There are as well Lucy's larger reactions to Sebastian's music at this first concert: "It was a discovery about life, a revelation of love as a tragic force, not a melting mood, of passion that drowns like black water. As she sat listening to this man the outside world seemed to her dark and terrifying, full of fears and dangers that had never come close to her until now" (661). The prophetic aptness of phrase after phrase in this passage contrasts sharply with the feelings of divine protection, of serenity, of daybreak, that Sebastian's opening song had aroused in Lucy.

As for "The Trout," which Lucy plays and replays for her pleasure, her association of the song with joy and safety ignores its all too relevant outcome: Schubert's trout gets snared in the water and dies, much as Sebastian will die at the end of Book I locked in Mockford's arms, and as Lucy will die at the end of Book II snagged under the river by the branches of a submerged tree. Noteworthy too is that it is the song's piano accompaniment that pulls the singer into deeper and darker tonalities as the trout is dying—just as Mockford will pull Sebastian down with him in Lake Como, and as Lucy Gayheart, the other accompanist in the story, will bring about her own drowning.[7]


Cather's use of Schubert's two song cycles, Die schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Miller-Maid; twenty songs) and Die Winterreise (The Winter Journey; twenty-four songs) is yet more complex.[8] In a 2007 article Richard Harris demonstrated that Cather knew Die schöne Müllerin well and that she plays off it repeatedly in A Lost Lady.[9] Cather does the same in Lucy Gayheart, again a novel in which she returned to a Nebraska woman (indeed, perhaps three!) who had long teased her mind.[10] The cycle tells of a musically inclined young miller who, as he wanders, sees at a distance, loves, and briefly wins a lovely millermaid, then loses her to a rugged and handsome hunter, and finally drowns himself in the brook that has been his confidant—and that now sings him to sleep.[11] This plot has obvious affinities to the novel's central love story, especially during the period of early spring when Clement returns from his tour and chooses to rehearse this very cycle—which, serendipitously, Lucy has just been practicing. Clement the wanderer arrives, for the first time realizes that he is falling in love with Lucy, and wins her over for a brief period. The arrival of hunterlike Harry (we learn later of his hunting jaunts with Lucy [769]) dispels their bliss—"That happiness she had so lately found, where was it?" asks Lucy (702)—and Clement, like the song-singing miller, drowns soon after. In keeping with the flexible relationship between song cycle and novel, the same pattern also fits Lucy's relationship to Clement.[12] Swift-moving, musical like the miller, Lucy arrives in Chicago, falls in love with Clement, and soon becomes jealous of the other objects of his affection—his wife, the women in his past, his regular accompanist James Mockford, whose inopportune appearances often darken scenes between Lucy and Clement (675, 695ff, 714).[13] For Lucy, too, Harry's arrival threatens the relationship with Clement—and she too ends up drowning. One might even find allusions to the pattern in the narrative of Harry, the vigorous wanderer who arrives in Chicago, appears to be progressing in the quest for his lady love, then learns that another man—one of those predatory, hunterlike musicians!—has already claimed her affections.[14]

Complementing these relationships between the plot of the cycle and that of the novel are other, perhaps deeper affinities. Die schöne Müllerin's tale of the joys and sorrows of young love moves rapidly: the miller's arrival, the sudden discovery of his new love, the equally sudden arrival of the hunter, and—again quickly—the miller's death. The accompaniment of its first song mimics both the miller's vigorous stride and the rapid turning of the millstones, that of its second the brook's incessant babble. From there we move to the breathless "Impatience" of the seventh song, the miller's surging triumph in the eleventh ("Mine!"), and the dashing arrogance of "The Hunter" in the fourteenth; even the gentle rocking of the brook's closing lullaby flows steadily forward. Book I of Lucy Gayheart echoes the cycle's pace and momentum. It begins with "a slight figure always in motion" (645); progresses to Lucy's and Harry's rapid strokes as they skate up the frozen river; and soon has Lucy, en route to Chicago, "giv[ing] herself up to the vibration of the train,—a rhythm that had to do with escape, change, chance, with life hurrying forward" (657). Such too is the rhythm of her life in Chicago, where she is always "hurrying about . . . from one place to another" (657) and where before long Clement is watching at his window for her brisk step. In the March evenings prior to Sebastian's tour, Lucy reviews the period since her return to Chicago and marvels at how much has happened so quickly: "In these quiet hours she had time to reflect, and to realize that the few weeks since the 4th of January were longer than the twenty-one years that had gone before. . . . Since then she had changed so much in her thoughts, in her ways, even in her looks, that she might wonder she knew herself" (697-98). The pace continues after Clement has departed on his European tour—"The weeks flew by, but Lucy flew faster than they"—and Lucy imagines it persisting even after her return home: "This summer there would be no slowing-down to the village pace" (719, 721).

Throughout the cycle the music of Die schöne Müllerin exudes a springtime freshness, and its lyrics are filled with flowers and greenery, with daybreak and sunshine. When in the eleventh song the miller celebrates his winning of the miller-maid, he asks whether even the flowers of spring and the brightness of the sun can match his joy. In the same way, on the afternoon when Clement and Lucy first embrace, he compares her arrival at his apartment to "springtime coming in at the door" (695), and when Harry arrives in Chicago with hopes of winning Lucy's hand, springtime is everywhere: "It was a rather gentle, sunny morning"; "The morning had grown warmer. . . . The air felt full of spring showers"; "Saturday was a windy, bright April day. There were boys on the streets selling violets and daffodils" (701-3). Harry's proposal to Lucy at their final dinner together draws on this backdrop in its confident anticipation of quick success: "Why waste any more time? This is April; I should think we might be married in May. Oh, June if you like! But we mustn't let another summer slip by" (706).

Complementing these larger relationships are other more specific links. In Schubert's cycle the miller often thinks of his love sitting by her window in the mill, and in the ninth song he imagines planting flowers under that window for her to see upon waking.[15] In Lucy Gayheart Cather too uses the evocative image of open windows tellingly. En route to a rehearsal session Lucy sees Clement watching her from his apartment window, something he will subsequently do each day; elsewhere she sits at her own window thinking of him. And like Schubert, Cather combines this motif with flowers. On the day when Lucy receives news of Clement's return—the day on which she will later practice Die schöne Müllerin—she buys violets, whose scent soon fills her room, as does the fresh air from her open window; when she comes to Clement's studio the next day, a lavish bouquet that he has received from another woman fills his room with its fragrance as the two of them work through Die schöne Müllerin for the first time (681-82). Soon after, on a Sunday when Clement is feeling his life empty and friendless, he asks himself, "[W]asn't there somewhere a flower or a green bough that he could hold close and breathe its freshness? His glance wandered toward the piano; perhaps there was one! Sebastian got up and opened the windows wide" (689).[16]

Moreover, just as the overall narrative of Die schöne Müllerin has its analogues in the plot of Cather's novel, especially in Book I, so song sequences within the cycle also find counterparts in Cather's narrative. In the sixth song the miller ponders whether the miller-maid loves him; in the seventh, "Impatience," he longs to pledge his love to her; and in the eleventh he rejoices that she is now his alone, "Mine!" Cather closely reprises the sequence: Clement and Lucy's first meeting after his return ends unhappily when he inquires whether she enjoys being in love (683); he at once—"Impatience"!—rushes to set things right; just chapters later he embraces her as his own ("Mine!") when she arrives at his studio: "Lucy felt him take everything that was in her heart. . . . His soft, deep breathing seemed to drink her up entirely" (694).

Cather's allusions to the two final songs of Schubert's cycle are yet closer. On their final evening together Lucy and Clement drive through the park, then walk in the rain before saying what each senses will be a last farewell. Here is the start of their last ride together: "He drew her head over on his shoulder: 'There. Shut your eyes and rest. . . .' She breathed lightly, like a child sleeping. He, too, closed his eyes. The warm night air blew in over their faces. After a while it began to smell of trees and newcut grass, and the confused city noises died away" (715). Compare the cycle's heartbreaking closing lullaby, where the brook sings the miller to his final sleep: "Rest well, rest well! Close your eyes! . . . Gute Nacht, gute Nacht, until all awaken, sleep away your joy, sleep away your sorrow!"[17] And just after leaving Lucy, Clement voices to himself a familiar German line, "A beautiful star arose in the sky" (717), a wrenching echo of the penultimate song of Die schöne Müllerin, where the brook tells the sorrowing miller, "[W]hen love struggles free of sorrow, a new star shines in the sky."


We turn now to Die Winterreise, and especially to the counterpoint Cather creates in Lucy Gayheart between that cycle, written near the end of Schubert's life, and Die schöne Müllerin, written several years earlier.[18] Essential to this counterpoint is the fact that Die Winterreise is in so many respects the polar opposite of Die schöne Müllerin, with winter replacing spring, a barren landscape the earlier cycle's green and flowering world. Though the singer of Die Winterreise is again a young lover, he already feels in the winter of his life; in the fourteenth song he longs for his still-youthful hair to be as white as hoar-frost, and the whole cycle focuses on a prior love that feels long-lost, a distant memory.[19] In place of the kinetic energy of so many songs in Die schöne Müllerin, most of those in Die Winterreise move slowly. Its first, about a wanderer returning to the site of former loves, has as its title "Gute Nacht," the poignant words with which the brook sings the miller to sleep at the end of the earlier cycle, and its deliberate pace and minor key contrast with the eager strides and major key of the opening song of Die schöne Müllerin. Replacing Die schöne Müllerin's closing lullaby, which casts death as but a peaceful rest, is Die Winterreise's "The Organ Grinder," whose repeated, grating cadences make life feel more frozen than death itself.[20] The repetitive character of this closing song is apt, for where Die schöne Müllerin tells a romantic narrative filled with ever-new twists and turns, Die Winterreise consists of endless, at times near-monotonous "backward glances" at the same narrative of shattered romance (cf. #8, "Rückblick"). Its world is frozen, its only movement in reliving a past that no amount of remembering can change.

This counterpoint between the two Schubert cycles undergirds the structure of Lucy Gayheart, for Cather has organized her novel so that Book I has Die schöne Müllerin as its counterpart, Books II and III Die Winterreise as theirs, and she has used the sharp and ubiquitous contrarieties that obtain between the two cycles to underscore the thematic and tonal oppositions between these two balancing parts of her novel.[21]

Just as Die schöne Müllerin is filled with burgeoning springtime, Die Winterreise with bleak winter, so Book I of Lucy Gayheart progresses from the cold of winter to the coming of spring and summer, Books II and III from late autumn into the bitter cold of winter. While flowers abound throughout that first book, the images we cannot forget from the second and third are of snow and ice—Lucy's frigid walk over the rutted roads to her death in the icy river at the end of Book II, the town gathered at the cold cemetery for the burial of Mr. Gayheart at the start of Book III. And just as the frozen world of Die Winterreise, written late in Schubert's life, counters the romantic illusions of the earlier Die schöne Müllerin, so Books II and III of Cather's novel offer harsh, immutable realities in lieu of the open-ended potentiality felt throughout Book I.[22] Replacing "escape, change, chance" are entrapment, repetition, the ineluctable past; instead of spring's melting arrival we have winter's iron grip, instead of Lucy's lively steps her footprints forever set in cement.

Whereas Book I's swift narrative, like that of Die schöne Müllerin, charts the rapid progress of love and its equally rapid demise, with Lucy perhaps still asleep as her piano teacher learns of her lover's death, in Book II life in Haverford is slow, a pace set by its opening sentence: "It seemed as if the long blue-andgold autumn in the Platte valley would never end that year" (725). The long autumn may be lovely, but Lucy's life, like the singer's in Die Winterreise, is monotonous, bereft of any possibility of real change. She may still walk rapidly, but it is with a difference that Mrs. Ramsay notes as she watches Lucy pass outside her window—a difference that echoes the gulf between Die schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise: "It used to be as if [Lucy] were hurrying toward something delightful, and positively could not tarry. Now it was as if she were running away from something, or walking merely to tire herself out" (726).

Mrs. Ramsay's comment suggests a further contrast, one again in keeping with that between the two cycles: while the mode of Book I is anticipatory, that of Books II and III is retrospective. In Book I Lucy greets each day eagerly as spring approaches and her romance with Clement blossoms—indeed, she is so caught up in the excitement of her new life that she shuns anything that may recall the past, including Harry's arrival in Chicago: "[S]he didn't want to see him, didn't want to be reminded of Haverford or of anything that lay behind her" (699). In contrast, here she is early in Book II: "To have one's heart frozen and one's world destroyed in a moment—that was what it had meant. . . . She could breathe only in the world she brought back through memory" (732).[23] And indeed, we soon learn that Lucy is hurrying past Mrs. Ramsay's so as to meet Harry in the post office, an effort inspired by memories of their former relationship and by hopes of recovering that time; like other such efforts in Book II, this will come to naught.

Similar themes and motifs shape Cather's portraits of Harry in Books I and III. When Harry arrives in Chicago for his visit with Lucy, he—like the miller with his maid—is filled with anticipation of springtime romance. In sharp contrast Book III begins with the dark cold of a late winter afternoon and with death—the burial of Mr. Gayheart and its strong reminders of Lucy's burial twenty-five years earlier. Other memories of the past, set off by the winter outside Harry's office, dominate the remainder of Book III, which—again as with Die Winterreise—is filled with "backward glances." Harry, "tired and beaten" (761; compare the singer's sense of premature age), recalls hours spent with Mr. Gayheart, ponders the unromantic course of his long marriage, and especially thinks back on Lucy: his early meetings with her, her footsteps in the sidewalk, mornings when they would go hunting together, his last wintry encounter with her and its tragic, terrible sequel: "Tonight was an occasion for remembering" (764).

As Cather had done in Book 1 with Die schöne Müllerin, so in Books II and III she creates specific links that underscore these books' thematic affinities to Die Winterreise. The cycle's singer feels that his heart is frozen and dreams of springtime: "Where shall I find a flower? Where shall I find green grass? The flowers have died, the grass looks so pale. . . . My heart is as dead, her image coldly rigid within it; if my heart ever melts again her image, too, will flow away" (#4); "I dreamt of bright flowers that blossom in May" (#11). Lucy, as she lies in bed, her heart also frozen, similarly thinks back on her springtime with Clement, "on her guard against something that was trying to snatch away her beautiful memories, to make believe they were illusions"; when she does dream, it is of trying to free Sebastian as he drowns in an "ice-cold lake" (732, 733; compare her fear in Book I that Harry's arrival may "prove to her that she ha[s] been living in a dream" [699]). As for flowers, we have those that are "heaped over" Mr. Gayheart's grave (760).

In contrast to the babbling brook of Die schöne Müllerin to which the miller feels so close, the stream of the sixth and seventh songs in Die Winterreise is frozen over and no longer ripples, and the singer imagines the torrent that rages beneath, the breakup of the ice that will come with spring. In the same way the ebullient Lucy of Book I "seem[s] to be carried along on a rushing river, and [is] constantly saluting beautiful things on the shore" (720), while in Book II her death vividly recalls the stream's breaking ice, and the torrent beneath, of Die Winterreise. The Winterreise singer avoids other people, takes hidden paths (#20); so do both Lucy and Harry in Books II and III.[24] The singer seeks his love's footprints in the snow (#4); Harry preserves Lucy's in the sidewalk. In contrast to the threatening but romantic hunter whose horn resounds in the later songs of Die schöne Müllerin, it is the post-horn that sets the singer's heart pounding in the thirteenth song of Die Winterreise, though he knows that he will find no more letters from his love. Similarly, Lucy in Book I delights in the letters she receives from the touring Clement, but when she visits the post office early in Book II, it is in the futile hope of catching Harry's attention—and of restoring their lost relationship.

Perhaps the most poignant link is that just as the songs at the end of the Die Winterreise briefly suggest rebirth, renewed courage, and light, then reveal these visions to be delusory, so in Books II and III both Lucy and Harry have moments when they glimpse something better than the cold winter in which they are trapped, only to have these visions snatched away. After hearing a performance of The Bohemian Girl, Lucy for the first time since Clement's death imagines returning to music with new ambition, even finds courage in life itself (mirrored at one point in thoughts of windows and flowers! [748])—only then in a moment of frustration to rush off toward the river and to her death. As for Harry, by the end of the novel he has reached the point where he can face the long future with equanimity, but even so he can't help thinking of what might have been had he paid Lucy the heed she sought after her return to Haverford and had he stopped to help when she hailed him en route to the river. No amount of imagining can free him from the cold reality in which he lives; like the organ grinder at the end of Die Winterreise he can but repeat the same old songs. For both him and Lucy the words of Die Winterreise's nineteenth song, "Illusion," are all too apt: "A light dances cheerfully before me, I follow it this way and that. . . . [A] man as wretched as I gladly yields to the beguiling gleam that reveals to him, beyond ice, night and terror, a bright, warm house, and a beloved soul within. Even mere delusion is a boon to me!"[25]

Indeed, one suspects that these very lines were on Cather's mind as she wrote Lucy Gayheart, for in the novel she repeatedly associates just such a gleam with moments of apparent promise and happiness: when Harry and Lucy stop for rest during their long skate upriver; when Lucy imagines that in Clement's studio "there was even a special kind of light . . . which kept a soft tint of gold"; when in the days following the performance of The Bohemian Girl she catches sight of the same "fugitive gleam" and watches daily for "an unaccountable pink glow . . . in the eastern sky, . . . a pink rouge on the hard blue cheek of the sky" (64849, 697, 748, 750-51). But as with the singer of Die Winterreise, this light proves but a mirage: as Lucy hurries toward her death, the sun is "a mere glassy spot in the low grey sky. In that cold light even the fresh snow looked grey"; and just before she takes to the ice and its dark water, she imagines going back "to light and freedom" (755, 756). The last time we hear of this mocking glow is as Harry, a man whose dreams—like Lucy's—have proven delusory, leaves the Gayheart home: "[A]t the south window streaks of orange sunlight made a glow like candlelight in the dusky chamber. . . . When he came out of the house the last intense light of the winter day was pouring over the town below him. . . . After all, he was thinking, he would never go away from Haverford. . . . What was a man's 'home town,' anyway, but the place where he had had disappointments and had learned to bear them?" It is in this context that, out of long habit, he glances at Lucy's "three light footprints, running away" (774).


The preceding analysis suggests not only the depth and sophistication of Cather's engagement with Schubert's lieder in Lucy Gayheart but also the degree to which she made them integral to her novel. Her virtuosic handling of these materials in this novel invites some closing reflections on what Guy Reynolds has called "the multifacetedness of Cather's imaginative conversation with music, [her] re-imagining of tonalities and moods (an emotional palette, if you like)."[26]

After her first rehearsal with Clement, Lucy comments, "If you brushed against his life ever so lightly it was like tapping on a deep bell; you felt all that you could not hear" (670). So it is with Cather's use of Schubert in the novel: one feels far more than one hears. For beyond the specific ties I've mentioned, what above all these Schubertian allusions contribute is "the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the overtone divined by the ear but not heard by it, the verbal mood, the emotional aura" (Cather, Not Under Forty 50). A year after she published Lucy Gayheart, Cather would include "The Novel Démeublé" in Not Under Forty, and these famous lines from that 1922 essay must have been on her mind as she wrote the novel, for she echoes them again when Lucy mulls over the loss of happiness that has come with Harry's arrival in Chicago: "She had lost it as one can lose a ravishing melody, remembering the mood of it, the kind of joy it gave, but unable to recall precisely the air itself" (702). In Lucy Gayheart Cather uses musical allusions in such a way as to make literal that essay's familiar phrases, constantly evoking melodies that we feel and almost hear but that do not appear on the page. Her language reveals how well she understood music's capacity to evoke feelings that transcend mere words, precisely what she sought as she enriched Lucy Gayheart—and other works—with musical overtones.[27]

If Cather's allusions to nineteenth-century music in Lucy Gayheart embody what she proposes in "The Novel Démeublé," they also recall the 1908 letter in which Sarah Orne Jewett suggested that Cather view her subjects from a greater distance: "[Y]ou don't see them yet quite enough from the outside,—you stand right in the middle of each of them when you write, without having the standpoint of the looker-on."[28] Passages in Lucy Gayheart recall the substance, and even the language, of these words. Here, for instance, is Lucy's reaction to Clement's performance of Die Winterreise: "The singing was not dramatic, in any way she knew. Sebastian did not identify himself with this melancholy youth; he presented him as if he were a memory, not to be brought too near into the present. One felt a long distance between the singer and the scenes he was recalling, a long perspective" (665). The emphasis on the chronological distance that mature artists bring to their materials not only echoes Jewett but also throws light on Cather's use of Schubert in Lucy Gayheart, where the undercurrents of these two song cycles written over a century earlier lend to the present action of her novel something of the freshness and deep-rootedness Lucy felt in Sebastian's performance of Die Winterreise: "For her it was being sung the first time, something newly created. . . . She kept feeling that this was not an interpretation, this was the thing itself" (665).

Finally, as Cather worked the contrasting Schubert cycles into the structure of Lucy Gayheart, she must also have been aware of the long perspectives they provided on her own life, and especially on where she was at the time when she was writing this novel. In Book I Lucy and Harry are still living in the fast-moving tale of Die schöne Müllerin; Books II and III, however, resemble Die Winterreise in the degree to which both are now living largely in memories of the past. The sequence closely reflects Cather's own experience. Both the action and the character of Book I recall the trip to Chicago she herself made in 1895, during which she, like Lucy, no doubt "hurried about" the city, seeing the Fine Arts Building where Lucy and Clement make music and, like Harry and Lucy, attending a spate of operas in just a few days.[29] By the time she wrote Lucy Gayheart in the mid-1930s, however, Cather was, like Lucy and Harry in Books II and III, deep into her own winter journey, a time of remembering friends and family she had lost, of feeling immobilized by her own incapacities, and of pondering the ultimate and unanswerable mystery of human suffering, which she had in her 1932 essay "Escapism" described as "the seeming original injustice[,] that creatures so splendidly aspiring should be inexorably doomed to fail" (On Writing 22).[30] Cather knew Schubert's biography well enough to recognize in it a supreme instance of this "original injustice": a composer of seemingly divine gifts struck down by syphilis in his midtwenties (c. 1823), his life thereafter shadowed by disease, despair, and discouragement, his death just five years later, at the age of thirty-one (1828). And given the central place she accords Die Winterreise (1827) in Lucy Gayheart, it is clear that in it she recognized a quintessential musical expression of human suffering, of the hideous injustice of the gods.[31] Dietrich FischerDieskau, one of its great interpreters, describes Die Winterreise as "such an intimate diary of a human soul" as to make one ask whether it should even be performed in public.[32] It is this cycle whose chill, dark overtones Cather chose both to color her narrative of Lucy and Harry in Books II and III and, simultaneously, to imbue the novel with the impotent, anguished human suffering that haunted her own Winterreise of the late 1920s and early 1930s.


 1. See Cather, ka 169-70 (Robert and Clara Schumann); W&P 17678 (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Chopin); W&P 178-82 (Verdi); ka 59, W&P 380 (Schubert); W&P 413-14 (Dvorak); W&P 400-408 (Wagner); W&P 613-15 (Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chopin). For Cather's musical education, see Giannone 3; Woodress 54-55. In a 1917 letter to Katharine Foote, Cather bluntly wrote, "I never heard any music at all until I was sixteen" (Selected Letters 216). (Go back.)
 2. All page references for Lucy Gayheart are to Cather, Later Novels. (Go back.)
 3. Cf. Giannone 226. (Go back.)
 4. Cf. Giannone 229-30. (Go back.)
 5. Cf. Giannone 24-26, 29; Harris, "Cather's A Lost Lady" 39. (Go back.)
 6. The song, not named in the text, is "Sailor's Song to the Dioscuri." (Go back.)
 7. On "The Trout," see Giannone 224; Gelfant 138. With the trout's demise compare also Lucy's dreams of Sebastian's drowning (733). (Go back.)
 8. On Cather's use of these two cycles in Lucy Gayheart, see Lee 339-43; Harris, "'Happy Birthday'" 38-40. Cather, an inveterate New York concert attendee, had abundant opportunity to hear both of them during the years preceding the writing of Lucy Gayheart. The 1928 Schubert centennial inspired numerous performances and recordings, including a complete performance of Die Winterreise in 1928, recordings of that complete cycle in 1928 and 1933, and frequent performances and recordings of songs from Die schöne Müllerin during this same period (1928-35 files of the New York Times). (Go back.)
 9. Harris, "Cather's A Lost Lady." (Go back.)
 10. Three prototypes of Lucy have been identified: Sadie Becker, Anna Gayhardt, and "Trixie" On the first two, see Rosowski 220; on the last, see Schulz and Yost (Go back.)
 11. The hunter of this tradition was also lustful, with his hunting horn carrying connotations similar to those of "horny" today (see Youens 54-58). One hears this horn repeatedly in Die schöne Müllerin when the hunter appears (cf. Harris, "Cather's A Lost Lady" 42). (Go back.)
 12. Compare the flexibility with which Cather draws on three different prototypes in creating the character of Lucy; see note 10 above. (Go back.)
 13. On the threat Mockford poses to Lucy's relationship with Clement, see Giannone 223. (Go back.)
 14. On the complexities of this triangle, see Gelfant 133-34. Cather's portrait of Harry echoes the tradition of the "horny hunter" (see note 11 above), as do Harry's comment on Sebastian ("Every girl falls in love with her singing teacher" [707]) and Lucy's false assertion that her relationship with Sebastian has gone "all the way" (708). (Go back.)
 15. See Harris, "Cather's A Lost Lady" 40-41, on Cather's powerful allusions to this song in A Lost Lady. (Go back.)
 16. After they fall in love, Clement keeps the studio "full of flowers and growing plants" because he knows that Lucy so likes them (697); the early description of Lucy: "She had that singular brightness of young beauty: flower gardens have it for the first few hours after sunrise" (646). (Go back.)
 17. All quotations of Schubert lyrics are from Wigmore, which includes both the original German and English translations of all his songs. (Go back.)
 18. For penetrating comments on specific relationships between Die Winterreise and Lucy Gayheart, see Giannone 213-31; Lee 339-43. (Go back.)
 19. Cf. Fischer-Dieskau 264: "[H]ere it is a man, and not a youth who is despairing of life." (Go back.)
 20. Cf. Fischer-Dieskau 266: this song is "the emotional nadir of the cycle. . . . [T]here is no escape from this agony. . . . The effect on the listener is paralysing." (Go back.)
 21. Book I is longer than Books II and III combined—eighty pages as against fifty in the Library of America edition. (Go back.)
 22. Cf. Fischer-Dieskau 259: "The very first rehearsal of the new cycle had left no doubts that the Winterreise was in stark contrast to the general run of sentimentally complacent Lieder of the age." (Go back.)
 23. Winter pervades the language of Book II: Harry's eyes are "as cold as icicles"; Lucy's "mind seem[s] frozen stiff" (728). Giannone's identification of the singer's state of mind at the start of Die Winterreise with "the seasonal cold and hardness" (217). (Go back.)
 24. This song, "Der Wegweiser," is one of those specifically mentioned in Lucy Gayheart (665). (Go back.)
 25. With this passage compare both the home Harry imagines sharing with Lucy (657, 705-7) and also the advice Auerbach gives Lucy as to marrying Harry: "A nice house and garden in a little town . . . a family—that's the best life" (721). (Go back.)
 26. Guy Reynolds, email exchange with the author, 2009. (Go back.)
 27. Cf. Gelfant 122-24 on the capacity of music to transcend words and on "the unheard melodies running through Lucy Gayheart." (Go back.)
 28. Jewett 248. (Go back.)
 29. Woodress 102-3. The Fine Arts Building, at 10 S. Michigan Avenue, contains not only studios but also performance spaces, one of which appears to be the hall where Sebastian sings Die Winterreise. For Cather's 1895 operatic trip to Chicago, see Woodress 102-3. (Go back.)
 30. For the suffering that fills this period of Cather's life and the reflections of it that Cather found in Schubert's music and wrote into Lucy Gayheart, see Harris, "'Happy Birthday.'" Complementing the family tragedies and emotional anguish of the years beginning in 1928 were various physical disabilities, including the hand problems Cather encountered in spring 1934, which for weeks seriously impeded her work on Lucy Gayheart (Woodress 455-56). In a 1 July 1934 letter to Earl and Achsah Brewster, Cather wrote that this book would have been better had it not been for this interruption (Marks and Porter 138-39). (Go back.)
 31. In the letter accompanying the book of Schubert's letters that Cather sent Yehudi Menuhin for his twenty-first birthday, Cather wrote, "They are rather heart-breaking, these letters, when one thinks of all that lay behind them" (Harris, "'Happy Birthday'" 34). (Go back.)
 32. Fischer-Dieskau 266. (Go back.)


Cather, Willa. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather's First Principles and Critical Statements, 1893-1896. Ed. Bernice Slote. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1966. Print.
———. Later Novels. New York: Library of America, 1990. Print.
———. Not Under Forty. New York: Knopf, 1936. Print.
———. The Selected Letters of Willa Cather. Ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. New York: Knopf, 2013. Print.
———. Willa Cather on Writing. New York: Knopf, 1949. Print.
———. The World and the Parish. Willa Cather's Articles and Reviews, 1893-1902. Ed. William M. Curtin. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970.
Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich. Schubert's Songs: A Biographical Study. New York: Knopf, 1977. Print.
Gelfant, Blanche H. "Movement and Melody: The Disembodiment of Lucy Gayheart." Women Writing in America: Voices in Collage. By Gelfant. Hanover: UP of New England, 1984. 117-43. Print.
Giannone, Richard. Music in Willa Cather's Fiction. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1968. Print.
Harris, Richard. "Cather's A Lost Lady and Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin." Willa Cather Newsletter and Review 14.3 (2007): 39-43. Print.
———. "'Happy Birthday, Dear and Noble Artist': Willa Cather, Yehudi Menuhin, and the Schubert Letters." Willa Cather: New Facts, New Glimpses, Revisions. Ed. John J. Murphy and Merrill Maguire Skaggs. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2008. 34-42. Print.
Jewett, Sarah Orne. Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett. Ed. Annie Fields. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911. Print.
Lee, Hermione. Willa Cather: Double Lives. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989. Print.
Marks, Lucy, and David Porter. Seeking Life Whole: Willa Cather and the Brewsters. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2009. Print.
Porter, David. On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2008. Print.
Rosowski, Susan J. The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather's Romanticism. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986. Print.
Schulz, Suzi Yost, and John A. Yost. "Cather's Letters to Lucy Gayheart." Willa Cather: New Facts, New Glimpses, Revisions. Ed. John J. Murphy and Merrill Maguire Skaggs. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2008 43-62. Print.
Wigmore, Richard. Schubert: The Complete Song Texts. New York: Schirmer Books, 1988. Print.
Woodress, James. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987. Print.
Youens, Susan. Schubert, Müller, and "Die schöne Müllerin." Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.