Michael Lorenz

Letter to the Editors of Music & Letters [1]


In footnote 13 of his article 'The Shadow of Midnight in Schubert’s ‘Gondelfahrer’ Settings' (Music & Letters 92/1 (2011)), David T. Bretherton misrepresents my view of Johann Mayrhofer's sexuality, as expressed in my article 'Dokumente zur Biographie Johann Mayrhofers' (Schubert durch die Brille, 25 (2000), 21–50 at 21–2). Bretherton writes: 'While the issue of Schubert’s sexuality is still the subject of debate, there is little doubt for [Susan] Youens and no doubt at all for Lorenz that Mayrhofer was homosexual.'


Bretherton seems to have misread a sentence in my article, taking it to imply the exact opposite of my intended meaning. My article is, in fact, strongly critical of Youens's contention that Mayrhofer was homosexual, and is more generally critical of what is, in my view, weakly supported speculative scholarship (by Maynard Solomon and others) purporting to show that Schubert and other members of his circle were homosexual.  Read in its full context, the sentence from my article to which Bretherton evidently refers is clearly meant to be ironic, as is highlighted by the use of quotation marks:  'Kann man schon Schubert nicht definitiv homosexuelle Aktivitäten nachweisen, so hat man sich in dieser Beziehung wenigstens Mayrhofer “gesichert”' ('Even if Schubert's homosexual activities cannot be definitively proven, at least Mayrhofer has been “secured” in this regard').


Bretherton seems also to have overlooked some important recent research regarding Mayrhofer's private life, most notably Rita Steblin's article 'Schubert's Problematic Relationship with Johann Mayrhofer: New Documentary Evidence' (in Barbara Haggh (ed.), Essays on Music and Culture in Honor of Herbert Kellman, (Epitome musical, 8; Paris and Tours: Minerve, 2001), 465–95). In that article, Steblin presents documentary evidence of Mayrhofer's unrequited love for Wilhelmine Watteroth (who in 1819 married Schubert's friend Joseph Witteczek), and also gives evidence that Mayrhofer was in love with Louise Strauß, the daughter of his landlord in the Leopoldstadt. There is, on the other hand, no known documentary evidence supporting the notion that Johann Mayrhofer was homosexual.


Bretherton (recapitulating a misunderstanding stemming from Bauernfeld) also erroneously claims that Mayrhofer worked as a 'censor' in the Bücher-Revisionsamt. Bretherton overlooked the detailed refutation of this error in my 'Dokumente zur Biographie Johann Mayrhofers'. In short: a book revisor in the Viennese bureaucracy at this time did not have the authority of an actual censor, but instead merely implemented regulations passed down by the board of censors, monitoring book shipments and reviewing the contents of the libraries of deceased citizens.


Scholars on both sides of the English–German divide are sometimes guilty of giving insufficient attention to literature produced by scholars from the 'other side'; we all know this to be true, just as we know that it is easy to misread or misconstrue the subtleties of a language that is not our native one. But that is all the more reason to take special care when representing the views of a ‘foreign’ scholar, particularly on contentious issues.


[1] David Bretherton's reply was published in Music and Letters, Volume 94, Issue 3, August 2013, Page 567.


© Michael Lorenz 2013. All rights reserved. Published in: Music and Letters, Volume 94, Issue 3, August 2013, Page 566                                                     upwards