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Rethinking Schumann

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Rethinking Schumann


Roe-Min Kok
Laura Tunbridge

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rethinking Schumann / edited by Roe-Min Kok and Laura Tunbridge.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-19-539385-9; 978-0-19-539386-6 (pbk.)
1. Schumann, Robert, 1810–1856—Criticism and interpretation.
2. Music—19th century—History and criticism.
I. Kok, Roe-Min. II. Tunbridge, Laura, 1974–
ML410.S4R47 2011
780.92—dc22 2010012666

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

A composer’s centenary is usually geared toward celebrating the artist’s achieve-

ments and investigating forgotten reaches of repertoire. It can also be a useful
opportunity to take stock: to reflect on the state of existing views and to suggest
new paths. The essays gathered here aim to rethink scholarly approaches to
Robert Schumann (1810–56) on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth.
Whether the reader is familiar with Schumann studies or comes to it with little
background, it is hoped that the ideas, perspectives, and directions offered will
serve as departure points for a broad and continuing discussion of his work and
Schumann and his works command an enviable amount of attention around
the world. Regularly performed and recorded by major artists, ensembles, and
orchestras, his music continues to speak to generations beyond his own. As
may be expected, the scholarly bibliography on Schumann is vast and multilin-
gual; it dates back to the early decades of the nineteenth century and shows few
signs of abating. In particular, the steady stream of publications from the
Robert-Schumann-Gesellschaft in Zwickau and the Robert-Schumann-
Forschungstelle in Düsseldorf has made available not only information about
Schumann’s everyday activities, but also, via the new complete edition (Neue
Robert-Schumann-Gesamtausgabe), fresh insights into Schumann’s working
methods by returning to the manuscripts and by disentangling the publication
and reception history of each work. Moreover, like Mozart, Beethoven, and
other select composers, Schumann also attracts nonscholarly writings, mostly
in the form of biographies. Briefly put, the sheer amount and variety of avail-
able information on Schumann is nothing short of impressive—even
In many ways this volume is built on this array of collected knowledge.
However, in taking up the challenge to rethink Schumann on the occasion of the
bicentenary of his birth we have also tried to introduce themes and topics that
have received rather less attention over the years but that promise to enhance
our understanding of this major figure. Thus a hallmark of this volume is that it
covers areas heavily researched and those markedly less so. Among the former,
for example, is the reception of Schumann’s biography. The widespread and
continuing fascination with the story of his life, and its connections to his music,
vi Preface

is discussed, directly or indirectly, in several of the essays.1 Key to those discus-

sions is often the status of the “late” music of the 1850s, the reevaluation of
which has been a focal point of recent scholarship.2 Another topic of long-standing
interest, Schumann and politics, receives fresh impetus in this volume, as do
analytical approaches to the music, both in terms of repertoire and methods.
Alongside these warhorse topics are themes of recent interest, highlighting
the engagement by him (or via reception) with traditions outside of music: the
visual arts, popular culture, childhood, film, and ballet.3 By definition these
explorations entail interdisciplinary perspectives and frameworks of reference
less often found in traditional Schumann scholarship.
All in all, contributions in this volume insist on situating Schumann in the
broader social and cultural histories of his own day and those of subsequent
generations. The composer has long been associated with what the philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche famously termed in 1882 “untimeliness”; Schumann has
conventionally been thought of as solitary and introspected, divorced from
everyday reality and living solely in his imagination.4 However, our investiga-
tions show that contextualizing his work is fruitful; it helps produce a more
carefully shaded portrait of the composer as a man of his time, engaged with the
world around him to a greater extent than we tend to acknowledge.
The first section, “The Political Sphere,” opens with four contributions—by
Celia Applegate, James Deaville, Susan Youens, and Lily Hirsch—that shed new
light on the extent of Schumann’s involvement with complex issues of nation-
alism and its social institutions, a subject of much debate in the past decade.
Schumann traditionally is thought to have distanced himself from current
political events, particularly those surrounding the uprisings of 1848–49; the
first three essays demonstrate that this was far from the case in terms of his
everyday dealings with local musical life, his transnational reputation, and his
compositions. Applegate calls for a more nuanced, broader, and community-
centered picture of Schumann’s political outlook, comparing his sense of
national identity to that of his supposedly more cosmopolitan contemporary
Meyerbeer; Deaville explains Schumann’s institutional role in creating a national
musical community within German-speaking lands; Youens presents a close
reading of a late song by Schumann that reveals the extent to which his music
can also be considered to bear political meaning. The Nazi reception of
Schumann’s image and music, and how it compared with the reception of
Mendelssohn, is the topic of Hirsch’s essay.
The second section, “Popular Influences,” uncovers a new area in Schumann
studies.5 Schumann is often thought of as an elitist, battling with the Philistines.
Yet popular culture did not escape his notice or his works, and it found reso-
nances with his life and music. Jon Finson explains the Maria Stuart Lieder as a
manifestation of fashionable sentimentality; Roe-Min Kok considers the recep-
tion of the child Mignon in Requiem für Mignon against a backdrop of popular
Catholicism and German folklore; and Nicholas Marston reminds us of
Preface vii

Schumann’s engagement with visual arts, making a connection between popular

artistic commentaries on Raphael’s well-known “Sistine” Madonna and
Schumann’s Szenen aus Goethes Faust. Dana Gooley situates the musical lan-
guage of Schumann’s early piano works within improvisational practices of his
time, and Ivan Raykoff explores the effect of melodrama techniques on the
seeming ability of Schumann’s music to speak.
“Analytical Approaches” offers new work about the composer’s technical-
compositional prowess from the perspectives of nineteenth- to twenty-first-
century concepts and methodologies. The number of analytical studies devoted
to Schumann’s music from the 1830s still far outweighs those geared toward his
later music, an imbalance that begins to be redressed here, through Harald
Krebs’s and William Benjamin’s examinations of hypermeter in songs and choral
music from the 1850s. On the other hand, Peter Smith and Julie Hedges Brown
take different approaches to one of Schumann’s most famous pieces, the Piano
Quintet, the former considering harmonic relationships, the latter the influence
of the style hongrois. David Kopp places Schumann’s tonal practice in the con-
text of mid-nineteenth-century theories of key, a thus far overlooked aspect.
In the final section, “Twentieth-century Interpretations,” Schumann’s biog-
raphy (or, more accurately, biographies) is revealed to dominate current-day
understandings of the composer. These four essays discuss his posthumous life
in creative works (including ballet, fiction, film, and visual art) and how he fig-
ures in interdisciplinary discourses about late style. Wayne Heisler demonstrates
how ballets based on Schumann’s music continually refer back to the compos-
er’s life, refracted through the lens of modernist aesthetics. David Ferris analyzes
two fictional biographies of the composer and his wife from the 1990s, suggest-
ing how forms of storytelling lead to different understandings of the couple, and
Laura Tunbridge discusses how appearances of Schumann in twentieth-century
compositions, films, and paintings seem to be linked to themes of childhood
and mental illness. Scott Burnham approaches the idea of Schumann’s late style
from the perspectives of cultural studies and literary criticism (rather than from
a historical point of view), bringing in examples of modern artists’ late works in
arguing for a subtext of death in the music of Schumann’s final period.
A provocative reexamination of assumptions about a major romantic com-
poser who played so many important roles in the society and culture of his day
(and ours), Rethinking Schumann emphasizes interaction with other disci-
plines—literature, visual arts, cultural history, performance studies, dance, and
film—allowing Schumann’s oeuvre and reception to be considered afresh from
perspectives current in Anglo-American music scholarship. We may conclude
that Schumann was very much a man of his time, informed by not just music,
but also the culture and society around him. What is more, the composer’s rep-
utation is revealed as having been shaped significantly by the passing of time, for
example by changes in attitudes toward German romanticism and its history
and by developments in musical scholarship and performance. Drawing on
viii Preface

interdisciplinary approaches, this volume takes into account cultural and social-
institutional frameworks, engages with ongoing and new issues of reception and
historiography, and offers fresh music-analytical insights to assemble a portrait
of the artist that reflects the different ways he has been understood over the past
two hundred years.

This book could not have come together without the patience and goodwill of
our contributors and the unstinting support of Suzanne Ryan, Madelyn Sutton,
and the rest of the production team at Oxford University Press. We gratefully
acknowledge grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
of Canada, the University of Manchester, and McGill University. Readers for the
Press have offered invaluable feedback, and friends and colleagues—David
Bretherton, René Rusch Daley, Annegret Fauser, Christopher Goddard, Claudine
Jacques, Mikaela Miller, Gavin Osborn, Scott Paulin, Sylvia Heike Rieger, Steven
Vande Moortele, and Nina Whiteman—generously provided assistance at var-
ious stages.

1. For an overview, see Hentschel, “Robert Schumann in Musikgeschichtsschreibung
und Biographik.” The most recent Anglophone contribution is Worthen, Robert
2. For example, Der späte Schumann, ed. Ulrich Tadday, special issue of Musik-
Konzepte Sonderband 11 (2006); Tadday, Schumann Handbuch; Daverio, “Songs of
Dawn and Dusk”; Tunbridge, Schumann’s Late Style. For a study that argues from
the point of view of recently recovered sources, lost since World War II, see Kok,
“Negotiating Children’s Music.”
3. Among these, the study of childhood was brought to attention by Kok’s disser-
tation, “Romantic Childhood, Bourgeois Commercialism, and the Music of Robert
4. Nietzsche, The Gay Science. See also Barthes, Camera Lucida, 70.
5. On use of the term popular culture in historical studies, see, for example,
Brophy, Popular Culture, 16–17, 17 n. 44.

Contributors xi

I The Political Sphere

1 Robert Schumann and the Culture of German Nationhood 3

Celia Applegate
2 Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury:
Brendel, Schumann, and the Leipzig Tonkünstlerversammlungen
and Tonkünstlerverein 15
James Deaville
3 The Cry of the Schuhu: Dissonant History in a Late
Schumann Song 30
Susan Youens
4 Segregating Sound: Robert Schumann in the Third Reich 51
Lily E. Hirsch

II Popular Influences

5 At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical”:

Schumann’s Poems of Queen Mary Stuart and European
Sentimentality at Midcentury 69
Jon W. Finson
6 Who Was Mignon? What Was She? Popular Catholicism
and Schumann’s Requiem, Op. 98b 88
Roe-Min Kok
7 Entzückt: Schumann, Raphael, Faust 109
Nicholas Marston
8 Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 129
Dana Gooley
x Contents

9 Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 157

Ivan Raykoff

III Analytical Approaches

10 Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 183

Harald Krebs
11 Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works
of Robert Schumann 206
William Benjamin
12 Associative Harmony, Tonal Pairing, and Middleground
Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions: The Role of
the Mediant in the First Movements of the Piano Quintet,
Piano Quartet, and Rhenish Symphony 235
Peter H. Smith
13 Schumann and the style hongrois 265
Julie Hedges Brown
14 Intermediate States of Key in Schumann 300
David Kopp

IV Twentieth-Century Interpretations

15 Choreographing Schumann 329

Wayne Heisler Jr.
16 The Fictional Lives of the Schumanns 357
David Ferris
17 Deserted Chambers of the Mind (Schumann Memories) 395
Laura Tunbridge
18 Late Styles 411
Scott Burnham

Works Cited 431

Index 459

Celia Applegate is professor of history at the University of Rochester. She has writ-
ten extensively on German nationalism and national identity with particular
attention to senses of places and practices of music. She is the author of A Nation
of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat (1990) and Bach in Berlin: Nation and
Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion (2005), and co-editor
with Pamela Potter of Music and German National Identity (2002). She serves as
president of the German Studies Association and is a member of the editorial board
of Oxford University Press’s book series on the New Cultural History of Music.

William Benjamin, a music theorist and composer, received a Ph.D. in music

from Princeton University in 1976 and has been a faculty member at the
University of British Columbia since 1978. He has published in leading theory
journals and essay volumes since the 1970s, with studies of works by several
nineteenth- and twentieth-century composers, critiques of present-day analyt-
ical method, and contributions to the theories of harmony and meter. More
recently, his scholarly work has shifted to the intersection of music theory, cog-
nition, and aesthetics. In 2008 he was named a Distinguished Scholar in
Residence at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies, where he is at work
on a book project titled “Music in our Heads: Imagined Music as a Determinant
of Musical Behaviour, Musical Values, and Musical Culture.”

Scott Burnham is professor of music at Princeton University and served as chair

of the Department of Music from 2000 to 2008. He is the author of Beethoven
Hero (1995), translator of A. B. Marx, Musical Form in the Age of Beethoven (1997),
and co-editor of Beethoven and His World (2000). Other writings include “Schubert
and the Sound of Memory” (Musical Quarterly, 2001), “On the Beautiful in
Mozart” (Music and the Aesthetics of Modernity, 2005), “Haydn and Humor” (The
Cambridge Companion to Haydn, 2005), and “Novel Symphonies and Dramatic
Overtures” (The Cambridge Companion to Schumann, 2007).

James Deaville is associate professor for music in the School for Studies in Art
and Culture of Carleton University, Ottawa. He has authored several books,
contributed chapters for many edited collections, written for the Journal of the
American Musicological Society, Journal of the Society for American Music, Journal
xii Contributors

of Musicological Research, 19th Century Music Review, and Echo (among others),
and contributed to the new editions of the New Grove and MGG.

David Ferris is associate professor of musicology at Rice University’s Shepherd

School of Music. His research interests include musical biography, German
Romanticism, musical analysis, and the relationship between text and music. He
divides his time between the Schumanns and the life and music of Carl Philipp
Emanuel Bach. He is the author of Schumann’s Eichendorff Liederkreis and the
Genre of the Romantic Cycle (2000), and his work has appeared in Journal of the
American Musicological Society, Music Theory Spectrum, Journal of Musicology,
and Music and Letters.

Jon W. Finson has published and lectured widely on the songs and symphonies
of Robert Schumann. Most notably, he has authored books on Schumann’s First
Symphony, Op. 38 (1987) and solo songs (2007). He has also edited an award-
winning edition of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony in its 1841 version (2003)
and is slated to edit a volume of solo songs for the New Complete Edition of
Schumann’s works. He is currently professor of music at the University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Dana Gooley is the Manning Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University.

His research interests include Franz Liszt, nineteenth-century music criticism,
virtuoso performers and the public sphere, performance studies, and jazz. His
book The Virtuoso Liszt (2004) discusses Liszt’s pianistic career in relation to the
historical contexts of the 1830s and 1840s. He was a scholar-in-residence for the
Bard Music Festival in 2006 and co-edited, with Christopher Gibbs, the essay
collection Franz Liszt and His World (2006). He is currently writing a book about
improvisation and improvisational values in nineteenth-century music and

Julie Hedges Brown graduated in 2000 with a Ph.D. in musicology from Yale
University. Her research emphasizes nineteenth-century music, especially the
history, biography, reception, and analysis of Robert Schumann and his music.
She has delivered papers at numerous regional, national, and international con-
ferences, and her previous publications have appeared in the Journal of the
American Musicological Society and 19th Century Music. She has held teaching
appointments at Tufts University, Case Western Reserve University, and the
Oberlin Conservatory of Music. A recipient of a Leylan Dissertation Fellowship,
she has also received two Mellon grants, plus two research grants from Northern
Arizona University, where she is currently assistant professor of musicology.

Wayne Heisler Jr. is author of The Ballet Collaborations of Richard Strauss (2009).
His work also appears in The Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss, The
Musical Quarterly, Opera Quarterly: Performance + Theory + History, and ECHO.
Contributors xiii

His research interests include music for ballet and theatrical dance, gender and
sexuality in music and dance performance, and music historiography. Heisler has
been the recipient of grants from the German-American Fulbright Commission
and the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD). He is currently an
associate professor and coordinator of historical and cultural studies in music at
the College of New Jersey, where he teaches courses in music of the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries, including opera, ballet, musical theater, and popular
music, as well as performance studies and music ethnography.

Lily E. Hirsch is Assistant Professor of Music at Cleveland State University.

She earned a Bachelor of Music magna cum laude from the Conservatory of
Music at the University of Pacific in 2001. In 2006, she received a Ph.D. in
musicology from Duke University. Her book A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi
Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League was published
in 2010. Her work has appeared in Musical Quarterly, Philomusica, and the
Journal of Popular Music Studies. She has also presented at the national
conferences of the American Musicological Society, the Society for
Ethnomusicology, and the International Association for the Study of Popular
Music. Her work on the Jewish Culture League has been generously sup-
ported by the German Historical Institute, DAAD, Leo Baeck Institute, and
the American Musicological Society.

Roe-Min Kok co-edited Musical Childhoods and the Cultures of Youth (2006) and
has contributed to Nineteenth-Century Choral Music, Gender-Handbuch Musik,
Acta musicologica, Music & Letters, 19th-Century Music Review, The World of
Music, Studien zur Wertungsforschung, and Robert Schumann: Interpretationen
seiner Werke, among others. Her work focuses on the complex cultural fascina-
tion with childhood manifested in nineteenth-century Austro-German music,
and on issues of identity and gender in postcolonialism vis-à-vis music. She is
writing a book about cultural milieus associated with nineteenth-century chil-
dren’s music, as well as one on Western classical music in colonies of the British
Empire, 1890–1980. She is assistant professor of music at McGill University.

David Kopp is associate professor in the Department of Composition and

Theory at the Boston University School of Music. He is the author of Chromatic
Transformations in Nineteenth-Century Music (2002) and has published articles
in the Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Online, and other periodicals. As
pianist he has recorded for New World Records, CRI, ARTBSN, and Arsis

Harald Krebs obtained his Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University in 1980.
He joined the music faculty at the University of Victoria in 1986, where he is
professor and head of the theory section. He is the author or editor of several
xiv Contributors

books, and has published widely on the tonal and rhythmic structure of
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century music in Canadian, American, and
European journals and in numerous collections of essays. His book Fantasy
Pieces: Metrical Dissonance in the Music of Robert Schumann (1999) won the
Society for Music Theory’s Wallace Berry Award for a distinguished book in
music theory. He is a frequent presenter at conferences, and has been invited as
a guest lecturer at many universities throughout North America and Europe. He
has served as vice president of the Society for Music Theory (2003–5) and as
member of the editorial boards of the journals Music Theory Spectrum, Theoria,
Canadian University Music Review, and Indiana Theory Review.

Nicholas Marston is University Reader in Music Theory and Analysis in the

University of Cambridge, and a fellow of King’s College. He has published widely
on the music of Beethoven and Schumann, and on the music theory of Heinrich
Schenker. He is a former editor-in-chief of Beethoven Forum, and his work on
Schumann includes the Cambridge Music Handbook on the Fantasie, op. 17
(1992), as well as essays in The Cambridge Companion to Schumann, 19th
Century Music, and other publications.

Ivan Raykoff is an assistant professor of music and arts in context at Eugene

Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts, in New York, where he teaches
courses on music history and aesthetics, music theory, and the intersections bet-
ween music and the other arts, including film music. He studied piano at the
Eastman School of Music and at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, and received
his Ph.D. from the University of California–San Diego in 2002. He is co-editor,
with Robert Tobin, of A Song for Europe: Popular Music and Politics in the
Eurovision Song Contest (2007), and he is completing a book on the image of the
concert pianist in popular culture titled “Dreams of Love: Representing the
‘Romantic’ Pianist.”

Peter H. Smith, author of Expressive Forms in Brahms’s Instrumental Music:

Structure and Meaning in His Werther Quartet (2005), is associate professor at
the University of Notre Dame. He has published numerous articles on Brahms
and issues of formal and Schenkerian analysis. He is a longstanding member of
the Board of Directors of the American Brahms Society and currently serves as
vice president of that organization and on the editorial boards of Theory and
Practice, Indiana Theory Review, and the Journal of Schenkerian Studies.

Laura Tunbridge is senior lecturer in music at the University of Manchester. Her

publications include Schumann’s Late Style (2007), The Song Cycle (2011), and
contributions to The Cambridge Companion to Schumann, Cambridge Opera
Journal, The Musical Quarterly, Music and Letters, and Journal of the Royal
Musical Association.
Contributors xv

Susan Youens is the J. W. Van Gorkom Professor of Music at the University of

Notre Dame. She is the author of numerous scholarly articles and eight books
on Lieder, including Heinrich Heine and the Lied (2007), Schubert’s Late Lieder:
Beyond the Song Cycles (2002), Hugo Wolf and His Mörike Songs (2000), and
Schubert, Müller, and Die schöne Müllerin (1997).
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Robert Schumann and the Culture

of German Nationhood

Celia Applegate

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche observed, “It is characteristic of the Germans
that the question ‘what is German’ never dies out among them.” Moving from
Goethe’s “delicate silence” on the matter to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s indiffer-
ence to it, Nietzsche worked his way eventually to Robert Schumann and the
German question. Schumann’s “quiet lyricism and drunken intoxication with
feeling,” he suggested, made him “merely a German event in music, no longer
something European, as Beethoven was, and, to an even greater degree, Mozart.”
With Schumann, he wrote, “German music was threatened by its greatest danger,
the loss of its voice for the soul of Europe and its descent to something dealing
merely with the fatherland.”1 Nietzsche’s observations always represent a provo-
cation, and it is rarely a defense against them simply to call him wrong. At the
least, though, it is worth noting that he wrote this passage in the mid-1880s,
when the framing of the national question was proceeding much differently
than it had been three decades earlier. Not only had the conservative or old right
long since figured out how to turn German nationalism to support their own
political agendas, but a new right, familiar to Nietzsche through the Bayreuth
crowd as well as through his sister and her husband, Bernhard Förster, was
developing a more populist politics of racial nationalism, which repelled him.
Anything that may have been part of the genealogy of all this could only excite
his criticism.
Still, the question remains: In the 1830s, ’40s, and ’50s, in the three decades
of his adulthood, did Schumann’s commitment to the state of Germany and its
cultural health “threaten” the loss of “Germany’s voice for the soul of Europe”?
How should one characterize, if not Schumann’s voice, then at least his attention
to the national community? Should we regard him, as Nietzsche ultimately did,
as interested only, or mainly, in a narrowly German culture, with deleterious
long-term consequences? Or should we emphasize, as did a recent conference
volume, his interest in and openness to the music of composers and cultures of

4 The Political Sphere

many different nationalities, his reception in France or England or the United

States, his enjoyment of his Dutch concert tour—if you will, his cosmopoli-
tanism, or at the very least his identity as a European?2 I suggest that neither of
these characterizations (the national or the cosmopolitan) is accurate as one
choice between two mutually exclusive alternatives. The very notion that we face
an either/or situation here reflects, in Nietzsche’s case especially, the powerfully
negative influence of Richard Wagner’s polemic in “Judaism in Music” (and
elsewhere), a work that attacked cosmopolitanism in the persons of its allegedly
most prominent representatives, the Jews of Europe. Wagner, with no great orig-
inality, argued for the existence of only two kinds of art, authentic and inau-
thentic, produced by two kinds of artists, those rooted in a national culture and
those lacking one.3 Nietzsche, eventually, responded to Wagner by praising cos-
mopolitanism, and the game of either/or was on, with Schumann’s reputation a
mere pawn in the process.
But regardless of whether, like Wagner, one disdains cosmopolitanism or, like
Nietzsche, claims to admire it, the distinction between a nationalist and a cos-
mopolitan was not so clear-cut then or now, which is, among other reasons, why
both Wagner and Nietzsche had to polemicize to persuade. Some theorists of
nationalism have suggested, for instance, that nationalisms, just like processes of
nation-state formation, show a great range of attitudes toward the world outside
the particular nation in play. In his effort to imagine a new kind of narrative of
the formation of modern China, Prasenjit Duara writes about the need to
challenge “the notion of a stable community that gradually develops a national
self-awareness like the evolution of a species (History).” He suggests instead that
the history of communities, national ones in particular, be told as a process in
which “various social actors—often different groups of politicians and intellec-
tuals—” redefined the boundaries of community by a “deliberate mobilization
within a network of cultural representations.” Duara’s analysis relies on a view
of communities (national or otherwise) not as “well-bounded entities” but as
marked by “various different and mobile boundaries that delineate different
dimensions of life.” Some of these boundaries are hard and cannot be crossed
without violating the integrity of the community; others are soft and easily
crossed: “One or more of the cultural practices of a group, such as rituals, lan-
guage, dialect, music, kinship rules or culinary habits, may be considered soft
boundaries if they identify a group but do not prevent the group from sharing
and even adopting, self-consciously or not, the practices of another.”4 All com-
munities, he suggests, consist of a combination of hard and soft boundaries,
each marking degrees of privilege and inclusion, intolerance and exclusion,
group cohesion and the capacity to change. In a similar vein, theorists of cosmo-
politanism have pointed to the existence of a kind of rooted cosmopolitanism,
in contrast to the cosmopolitanism of statelessness or expatriotism.5 Kant him-
self wrote in Perpetual Peace that the condition of world citizenship had its
foundation in ancient traditions of hospitality toward peaceful travelers and
Robert Schumann and the Culture of German Nationhood 5

hence was a condition more of “temporary sojourn” than permanent

The terms Duara and others propose for shaping our understanding of
national communities provide an explanatory framework for the experience of
German-speaking central Europe generally and for the activities of musical
activists such as Schumann in particular. We should be able to find a way to
understand both Schumann’s intense relationship to Germany and his place in
European musical culture in more flexible, pre-Wagnerian terms. Schumann’s
entire career fell into a period of transition in the German national movement,
and like all transitional moments, however extended, it is difficult to charac-
terize something that came and went. But that we must do if we are not either to
consign Schumann, as Nietzsche did looking back, to a category of the “merely
German” or, at the other end of the spectrum, to ignore the extent of real con-
gruence between his attitudes and those of the nationalist movement.
For Schumann was a nationalist of his era, but as with other national intel-
lectuals at midcentury his sense of German community and identity lay in his
efforts to create—and contribute to—a particular kind of community that he
conceived of as both progressive and therefore necessarily national. This view of
national identity as progressive and available to all Europeans, each in his or her
own nation, characterized what historians have called the party of movement,
the advocates of reform, renewal, even revolution in culture and society—a
party that was European in scope and thus necessarily also cosmopolitan in
their awareness of developments around them. And although Schumann was
not one of the liberal reformers who actually gathered in Frankfurt and Berlin
to try to formulate practical answers to this question “What is German?” in
1848–49, one cannot imagine a musical figure more in tune with the culture,
that is to say with the underlying concepts, of liberal nationalism before it rede-
fined itself in the presence of Bismarck (and that, of course, did not happen
until the 1860s). Consideration of these deeper conceptions of nationhood,
which underlay Schumann’s and the liberal nationalists’ consciousness of their
own nationality and what it entailed and enjoined, helps to specify just how dif-
ferent was the community they imagined as the nation from other kinds of
community. Moreover Schumann’s response to much of the musical culture of
his time and his understanding of the national community, its potential and its
problems, remained remarkably stable over the course of his life, suggesting that
however great the shock of the revolutionary events of 1848–49, they did not
lead either him or his fellow nationalists to discard hopes for musical and
national progress.
Schumann’s lifelong association with music journalism represents by far his
strongest connection with the nationalist movement in midcentury German-
speaking Europe.7 In the autobiographical statement he wrote in 1840 in the
process of receiving the degree of doctor of philosophy at the University of Jena,
Schumann described his journalistic work in Leipzig as part and parcel of the
6 The Political Sphere

time of movement and change in Europe, an interesting way to characterize a

period in German public life marked, on the surface, by super-controlling gov-
ernments and passive subjects. It tells us of his consciousness not just of upris-
ings and artistic ferment elsewhere in Europe but, more important, of a growing
mood of spiritual discomfort and activism at home among a small group of
intellectuals—writers, scholars, publicists, and so on—who formed the core of
a nascent political-cum-cultural opposition. In literary circles this phenomenon
takes the name of convenience “Young Germany,” a notion inadvertently encour-
aged by the Diet of the German Confederation in 1835 (the year Schumann
assumed full editorial responsibility for the Neue Zeitschrift), when it officially
chastised a number of writers for allegedly belonging to a literary cabal. But this
sense of things changing and needing to change went far beyond a nonexistent
literary conspiracy to encompass an extensive, if dispersed, collection of people
engaged in reforming public life, of which Schumann must certainly be regarded
as part.
Decades ago, insisting on the “single-minded devotion to the arts” of
Schumann’s work, Leon Plantinga explicitly rejected any parallel between
Schumann’s work and that of such writers as Heinrich Heine, Heinrich Laube,
or Karl Gutzkow, let alone nationalist activists such as Ludwig Camphausen or
Carl Welcker.8 But true though it may be that Schumann, as Plantinga points
out, had none of Young Germany’s “nihilistic radicalism” and commented only
rarely on political events, to separate him completely from a loose fellowship
with a reformist oppositional mode in midcentury Germany would be a mis-
take—again, both before and after the revolutionary events of 1848. After all, he
himself claimed, “Everything that goes on in the world—politics, literature,
people—concerns me.”9 But beyond that we need to be wary of any effort to
draw firm lines between cultural and political nationalism or nation building.
Such lines impose on this generation a distinction that made only limited sense
to them. Nineteenth-century Germans did distinguish between ethnographic
and political types of group identity, as we do today, but as one historian has put
it, “civic and cultural connotations were equally vivid in their minds when they
conjured up the image of the nation,” and further, for “educated Germans,” “the
idea of the cultural nation, immediately suggested political relations while that
of statehood just as surely pointed toward some measure of cultural unity as
That said, Schumann’s overriding concern was with the state of cultural life
among Germans, whether in terms of what they produced or in terms of what
they consumed. Very early in his life he wrote, “True literature, literature, that is,
which inspires passion in the soul of the public at large, can never flourish in a
land ruled by bondage and slavery.”11 And to read the prospectus for the Neue
Zeitschrift, written in 1834 and consisting in part of a critique of existing musical
journals, is to read a critique of Metternich’s central Europe, its images drawn
from a common store of liberal-reformist objections to the times: “What, then,
Robert Schumann and the Culture of German Nationhood 7

are the few present musical journals? Nothing but playgrounds for ossified sys-
tems, . . . nothing but relics of aged doctrines to which adherence is more and
more openly denied, nothing but one-sidedness and rigidity. . . . None is capable
of promoting the true interests of music; none is able to fulfill the just demands
made upon it.”12
Moreover for Schumann, as for the liberal, educated Germans who saw
themselves as participants in the project of nation building, the all-important
aspect of their work was its publicness, not its politics, and the publicness that
concerned them was emphatically not that defined either by commerce or by
state authority. This was instead the publicness that Jürgen Habermas dubbed
the public sphere (Öffentlichkeit), that is, a space for the exercise of rationality
and autonomous judgment. In eighteenth-century French salons and English
coffeehouses, as Habermas argued, “opinion became emancipated from the
bonds of economic dependence.”13 In theory the public sphere was a neutral and
accommodating space of communication, but in practice it meant much more
than that to Germans. Reading and writing were not neutral activities, in either
political or cultural terms, especially in a period marked by as much censorship
as were the German states in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Since
the eighteenth century both had worked to question the sovereignty of
established authority and even to overthrow it; both were undertaken with more
deliberation and sense of purpose than that with which we run our printing
presses and web blogs today. And although censorship eased considerably after
the failure of the revolutions in 1848, it did not end entirely, nor did the vital
charge of the public sphere diminish. If anything, journalism and associational
life became all the more important, given that action in the streets (which liberal
nationalists had rarely advocated) had proven so ineffective and, in the view of
many liberals, misguided.
And Schumann certainly held a conception of Öffentlichkeit, or an activist
public sphere. This is revealed by the way he took to the printing press with
reformist, even revolutionary purposes in mind. The musical times were
awry—an arid desert, “from which, even with the best of will, hardly a drop of
the sap of life can be pressed,” or sometimes, on the contrary, a hothouse of
quickly wilting but extravagantly colored plants—and someone had to do
something about it.14 Although his sale of the journal to Franz Brendel mainly
brought an end to his writing, it is no coincidence that when a moment he per-
ceived to be of overwhelming importance came (the arrival of Brahms on his
doorstep) it was to journalism he returned. “New paths” indeed.
Moreover behind Schumann’s attitude toward Meyerbeer, who came to sym-
bolize all that was wrong with the musical scene of his day, one finds the telling
contrast between Öffentlichkeit, the public sphere, and mere publicity or fashion,
commerce. Meyerbeer’s sins, quite apart from the musical particularities of his
compositions, resided of course in his commercialism, but to put it slightly dif-
ferently, in his failure to understand the public as anything but a marketplace,
8 The Political Sphere

wherein value is determined not by the autonomous judgment of the enlight-

ened and free individual but by an irrational clamor of an unthinking crowd.
Hence Schumann’s infamous, but from this perspective philosophically and
politically considered comparison of Meyerbeer to the “performers in Franconi’s
circus,” and his opera Les Huguenots as a “farce at a fair for the purpose of raising
money and applause.”15 As conceived of at midcentury, the public sphere was
peculiarly vulnerable to both commerce and autocracy, and Meyerbeer played
the systems of both.
But what exactly was either liberal or nationalist about this conception and
use of the public sphere? The liberalism of it is clear enough. These men and
women believed in freedom of speech, thought, association, and all that, but as
the historian Brian Vick has shown, the implications of such beliefs for their
understanding of the order of things in the world were extensive. Liberals
believed that the course of history involved the advance of culture, a progress
from merely organic institutions to new institutions that would be increasingly
“infused with spiritual, moral, and intellectual self-consciousness.”16 All had in
some way absorbed the Kantian idealist emphasis on the importance of the con-
scious mind, itself in a sense making the world. And they were nationalists, not
because they paraded around with their German flags, but because they shared
a belief that the advance of culture meant a transition from communities of
people based merely on blood ties and extended kinship (these were unreflected
institutions) to communities of people who were connected to places and
capable of forming more and more complex and participatory states.17 These
collections of people were marked, above all, by a community of mind, a
“spiritual national unity,” in the words of the philosopher Jakob Fries, who was
at the time of Schumann’s early career the most famous post-Kantian philoso-
pher and who held a post at Jena, from which, in 1840, Schumann had wangled
that honorary doctorate.18
Such communities also represented the eclipse of what was increasingly
regarded as the artificiality and inauthenticity of cosmopolitanism, which cre-
ated ties among people, to be sure, but ties that reflected only privilege and
commerce, not authentic communal life. “Cosmopolitan community” was thus
an oxymoron, sustainable only by people (aristocrats and so forth) so discon-
nected from genuine human bonds as to be incapable of full maturity—in
Kant’s memorable phrase, “the ability to use one’s own understanding without
the guidance of another.” Enlightenment (again Kant: “man’s emergence from
his self-incurred immaturity”), progress, freedom, and nation thus all belonged
together, in an unbreakable bonding—or so it was thought.19
But none of this, neither freedom nor progress nor the common conscious-
ness and self-awareness that liberals believed to be the essence of nationhood,
existed automatically: again, Fries, “Spiritual national unity and personality, a
national intellect, are only formed from the scattered lives of individuals through
public opinion.”20 National consciousness had, in other words, to be constructed,
Robert Schumann and the Culture of German Nationhood 9

inculcated through activities in the public sphere, through speeches and meet-
ings, through monuments, organizations, scholarship, education, and, yes,
musical performance. And people had to be free to undertake such participa-
tion. Participating in the culture of nationhood took place in public, and the
community of the nation in which people believed and which people helped to
create was a living community, made real through action and consciousness.
The degree to which Schumann shared such underlying assumptions, which
one finds articulated in many different ways, depending on the person—from a
belief in local self-government as a school for national citizenship to advocacy
of involvement in associational life of all sorts—can be found in the texts of
many an essay he wrote during his years of editorship and afterward. “Let us not
be mere spectators!” he remembered had been their battle cry, “Let us lend a
hand ourselves for the glory of things! Let us bring the poetry of our art into
honor once again!”21 To quote again from the journal’s prospectus, Schumann
wrote, “It seemed necessary . . . to create for the artist an organ which would
stimulate him to effectiveness, not only through his direct influence, but also
through the printed and spoken word, a public place, for him to express what he
has seen with his own eyes, and felt in his own spirit, a journal in which he could
defend himself against one-sided and false criticism.”22
At the same time, also in common with even the most ardent publicist,
writing alone would not be enough to shape public opinion, a view he charac-
teristically represented by posing a disagreement between Florestan and Eusebius
on the usefulness of journalism altogether. “What is a musical paper compared
to a Chopin concerto?” asks Florestan. “Away with your musical journals! It
would be the victory, the triumph of a good paper, could it so advance matters
that criticism would no longer be read.”23 Instead, as it had been for A. B. Marx
a decade earlier, the gathering of a scattered community of conscious people
had also to be achieved through a new kind of concert programming that would
bind together the great artists of the past with those of present and future. The
construction of an arc of historical continuity within the conscious national
community was only conservatism in our retrospective view. Schumann called
it “a sign of the enlightened artistic sensibility of our own era,” and as early as
1828 he was writing to a friend, “Every question once asked of the past, we will
now put to the future, and we shall receive an answer.”24 For the 48er intellec-
tuals in general, establishing and then sustaining these lines of continuity was a
way of promulgating the core values that defined the national community, a way
to make explicit their criteria for national authenticity.
Moreover they tended to believe that only the authentic would or could sur-
vive; only the authentic was progressive in the truest sense of the word; and all
authentic art was, by the very definition of authenticity, national, the expression
of the most advanced and spiritually whole form of human organization, that of
the nation. As the most famous liberal nationalist of all, not a German but an
Italian, Giuseppe Mazzini, wrote in his 1844 Essay on the Duties of Man: “The
10 The Political Sphere

means [of working for the moral improvement and progress of Humanity] was
provided for you by God when He gave you a country; when, even as a wise over-
seer of labor distributes the various branches of employment according to the
different capacities of the workmen, he divided Humanity into distinct groups or
nuclei upon the face of the earth, thus creating the germ of nationalities.” Just as
he believed that people who lived in true nations, not “disfigured” by “kings and
privileged castes,” would exist in a state of “harmony and fraternity,” so too did he
believe that all progress, in cultural as well as political and economic matters, was
possible only when each person, “fortified by the power and affection of many
millions, all speaking the same language, gifted with the same tendencies, and
educated by the same historical tradition,” lived in such nations.25
The markedly utopian element in Mazzini’s thinking was not necessarily
shared, at least not to that extent, by other liberal nationalists of his era, but his
tendency to find something inherently disturbing about nonnational aggregates,
whether in cultural life or, as he often railed against, in the “egotism of caste and
dynasty,” did find echoes in many of his contemporaries, Schumann included.
To return to Schumann’s suspicions about Meyerbeer, his criticisms often cen-
tered on the problem of eclecticism in Meyerbeer, which is to say, lack of stable
national character: “Meyerbeer’s extreme externalism, his lack of originality and
his eclecticism, are as well known as is his talent for dramatic treatment, prepa-
ration, polish, brilliancy, instrumental cleverness, also his considerable variety
in forms. It is easy to trace in Meyerbeer Rossini, Mozart, Herold, Weber, Bellini,
even Spohr, in short, all there is of music.”26 Felix Mendelssohn, a musician
whom Schumann of course admired, shared the same cultural habitus of a kind
of soft-bordered but nationally constituted musical world. Not surprisingly he
had similar things to say about Meyerbeer, which likewise reflected the Mazzinian
and liberal nationalist distrust of eclecticism as disfiguring and inauthentic. In a
letter to a friend written in 1831, three years earlier than Schumann’s infamous
review of Les Huguenots, Mendelssohn described Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable as
having music that was “not bad at all: there is no lack of suspense, the right pun-
gencies are fitted into the right places; there is melody to be hummed, harmony
for the educated listeners, instrumentation for the Germans, contredances for
the French, in fact, something for everybody—but there is no heart in it.”27
The search for music that would be heart-felt brings us in conclusion to a
consideration of the distinctive sense of place that went along with the
construction of the nation through public activity. The nationalists of midcen-
tury central Europe were place-makers, by their activities attempting to redefine
Leipzig and Frankfurt and Berlin and Breslau as integral parts of something
they called Germany, not just seats of princes or centers of commerce. Place can
be something of a hidden dimension in the study of nineteenth-century musical
culture, but Schumann believed himself to be engaged at midcentury in a
struggle over places, some of which he believed had in effect been won over
(though always in danger of being lost) and some of which had not, but all of
Robert Schumann and the Culture of German Nationhood 11

which were significant as sites of change and of resistance to it. The issue was not
just people and music, in other words, but people and music in particular places.
Musical improvement happened in these places, in cities, which had to be trans-
formed from the places in which aristocrats, philistines, and Salonmenschen
ruled to the sites of musical and cultural renewal. One could see all this as fairly
banal. But at the risk of overinterpreting his geographical consciousness, one
might regard Schumann as someone who was, in concert with the nationalizing
project, trying to remake the map of central Europe from an assortment of
commercial cities and Residenzstädte, dominated by court and purely commercial
musical establishments, into a genuinely national network of true Bürgerstädte,
cities of autonomous, self-governing, self-regulating citizens, in which a new
kind of cultural life, neither courtly nor commercial but authentically national,
would replace both the old and the degraded new or contemporary. If there was
a capital in this mental map (and there really was not, because the mental geog-
raphy of all Germans, nationalizing or not, was profoundly anticentrist), it was
not Berlin or Frankfurt or Bonn but, of course, Leipzig. Schumann repeatedly
referred to Leipzig as “musically healthy” and by extension to other musically
healthy places as “Leipzigian.” Nor is it coincidence that Leipzig was the very
center of liberal nationalism both before and after 1848, the hotbed of discussion
and debate, and above all the site of the rapidly mythologized Battle of the
Nations in 1813, which for most liberal nationalists was the ground zero of the
nationalist project—that is, the point at which the old Germany came to an end
and a new one began.
Schumann’s consciousness of this national geography was a constant in his
life and is nowhere better expressed than in his famous comparison of
Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, which begins with words that deliberately evoke
the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlacht) and the possibility of the defeat of
France and all it symbolized: “Today I feel like a young warrior, who for the first
time takes up his sword in a great cause. This small Leipzig, where questions of
world importance [Weltfragen] have already been decided, is called upon to
settle musical ones as well. Because here we see meeting, probably for the first
time anywhere in the world, the two most important compositions of our
time.”28 Geographically speaking, Meyerbeer was the ruler of a degraded and
commercial urbanity, fatally tied to princes and their false glitter, against which
a reformist, even revolutionary movement had to assert a new national urbanity,
a nationalizing public sphere. Revolutions are, after all, first and foremost urban
In this regard, at least, Brendel’s Neue Zeitschrift continued to represent a
musico-geographical understanding of Germany very much in sync with
Schumann’s own. Theodor Uhlig’s and others’ extensive reviews of Meyerbeer’s
Le Prophète in 1850 carried forward, making even more explicit, Schumann’s
depiction of two musical cultures—an artificial, outdated one and an authentic,
progressive one—battling it out for dominance in the cities of Germany. “A false
12 The Political Sphere

prophet,” declared Uhlig, “stalks through the regions of our disunited and unfree
Germany.”29 In the post-1849 era the failure to transform the musical culture of
German cities directly reflected the failed effort at political reform, and the
clearest demonstration of this was the very public, very ceremonial relationship
between Meyerbeer, the court Kapellmeister, and Friedrich Wilhelm IV, king of
Prussia and himself a false prophet, once seen as the potential leader of German
transformation but now revealed as its most implacable opponent.30
Schumann himself, when he spoke privately or wrote publicly about the state
of cultural life in Germany after 1849, expressed discouragement and a sense of
isolation that one finds in many of the nationalist liberals. The small band of
like-minded people who would create a new national community through their
activism and example now seemed smaller than ever, the threat of commer-
cialism more widespread, and the power of the established and unfriendly insti-
tutions more implacable. “The revolution has scattered us in all directions,” he
wrote to Liszt, referring literally, to be sure, to the temporary exodus of musi-
cians from cities under siege and revolutionary disruption.31 But the phrase also
resonates with a sense that all momentum toward the cultural renewal that
prerevolutionary reformists had sought had been lost in the scattering of “gen-
uine music-lovers [wahren Kunstmenschen].” “I have long known your zeal in
the cause of good music,” he wrote to D. G. Otten in Hamburg in 1849, “. . . the
news of which is carried, independently of newspapers, you see, by invisible
spirits. . . . Such things should be discussed more in the press but rarely are,
simply because most writers lack real knowledge or conviction—so things go,
and so things will remain.”32 But despite this gloominess, he concluded with one
of the stock phrases of the Burschenschaften, those nineteenth-century student
associations who embodied the revolutionary and reformist zeal of liberal
nationalism: “Vereint vorwärts [forward united], is my greeting to you. We must
go forward, never abandoning our effort to bring to the fore all that which we
know to be good and true [gut und echt].”33
Vereint vorwärts is not a bad summation of Schumann’s public activities in
the 1850s. Even if the future seemed at least as likely to lie in the hands of the
court favorites as of the “gute und echte” Kunstmenschen, and even if nothing in
his final six years of life suggested that the princes of central Europe were any
more inclined either to embrace political reform or a more progressive form of
nationally minded cultural patronage, he nevertheless retained a kind of loyalty
to the project of nationhood as conceived in the prerevolutionary decades—a
project of consciousness raising and public activism, which many liberals still
hoped would lead to the reformed world of which Mazzini spoke. Thus did
Schumann the German live suspended between the old and the new, avatar of a
liberalizing national community, which the failure of the revolution, had he
only known it, had excluded from Germany’s future for nearly a century to
come. Yet it is worth recognizing the coexistence of a national identity marked
by soft boundaries and cosmopolitan awareness, not just out of fairness to
Robert Schumann and the Culture of German Nationhood 13

Schumann but because any larger effort to explain how European musical
culture did not simply break down into warring national camps in the course of
the nineteenth century, despite the gradual eclipse of unabashed international-
ists like Meyerbeer or Liszt, will founder without the acknowledgment of this
middle ground.

1. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 158–59.
2. Bär, Robert Schumann.
3. Richard Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” trans. William Ashton Ellis, The Wagner
Library, http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/wagjuda.htm (accessed July
24, 2007).
4. Duara, Rescuing History, 65–66, italics added.
5. Appiah, “Against National Culture,” 175–76.
6. Immanuel Kant, “Perpetual Peace,” in Kant: Political Writings, 106.
7. This association was, to be sure, less intense after he gave up the editorship of
the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, but he still remained a musician committed to music’s
place in literary culture.
8. Plantinga, Schumann as Critic, 48.
9. Quoted in Taylor, Robert Schumann, 267.
10. Vick, Defining Germany, 22.
11. Quoted in Taylor, Schumann. 267.
12. Quoted in Plantinga, Schumann as Critic, 24.
13. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An
Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1989), 30.
14. Quoted in Plantinga, Schumann as Critic, 14.
15. R. Schumann, On Music and Musicians, 194.
16. Vick, Defining Germany, 40.
17. One tool by which such communities could be formed was education; see
Kok, “Of Kindergarten.”
18. Vick, Defining Germany, 39.
19. Kant, “What Is Enlightenment,” in Political Writings, 54–60.
20. Quoted in Vick, Defining Germany, 39.
21. R. Schumann, On Music and Musicians, 25.
22. Quoted in Plantinga, Schumann as Critic, 23.
23. R. Schumann, On Music and Musicians, 130.
24. Quoted in Grossmann-Vendrey, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, 151; Schumann
to Wilhelm Götte, October 2, 1828, in R. Schumann, Jugendbriefe, 37–38.
25. Mazzini, An Essay on the Duties of Man, 59–60.
26. R. Schumann, Music and Musicians, 196.
27. Felix Mendelssohn to Karl Klingemann, December 10, 1831, in Mendelssohn-
Bartholdy, Letters, 184.
14 The Political Sphere

28. R. Schumann, Music and Musicians, 193.

29. Uhlig, “Zeitgemässe Betrachtungen,” 168.
30. On the hopes and disappointments invested in Friedrich Wilhelm IV, see
Barclay, Frederick William IV, 52–167. On Felix Mendelssohn’s brief and ultimately
disappointing efforts to work with the king in what liberals hoped would be pro-
gressive directions, see Brodbeck, “A Winter of Discontent.”
31. Schumann to Liszt, May 31, 1849, in Schumanns Briefe: Eine Auswahl, ed.
Karl Storck (Elberfeld: Wuppertaler Druckerei, 1905), 188–89.
32. R. Schumann, The Letters of Robert Schumann, 261–63.
33. Schumann to D. G. Otten, April 2, 1849, in Robert Schumanns Briefe,

Organizing German Musical Life

at Midcentur y
Brendel, Schumann, and the Leipzig
Tonkünstlerversammlungen and Tonkünstlerverein

James Deaville

In the desire to document the rise of German national identity during the
Vormärz, historians and musicologists have explored the various organizations
that brought together musicians—more specifically, amateur singers—for the
ostensible purpose of social interaction through collective performance. As such
scholars as Dietmar Klenke, Friedhelm Brusniak, and Heinrich Lindlar have
argued, however, associations like the Gesangvereine (choral societies) and festi-
vals like the Niederrheinisches Musikfest (Lower Rhine Music Festival) were also
politically charged.1 Perhaps their most subversive aspect is that such groups
and events assembled individuals at a time when citizens normally did not
gather, thereby providing a forum for the discussion of the latest political
Despite the activity of these and other scholars, arguably the most significant
musician gatherings in Germany at midcentury, the Leipzig Tonkünstlerver-
sammlungen (musicians’ assemblies) of 1847, 1848, and 1849, have remained all but
unknown to scholarship (and that despite the indirect participation of Robert
Schumann). In an important paper, Sanna Pederson has reported about the
meetings’ political ramifications in light of the revolutions of 1848, yet the broader
significance of these assemblies and the resultant Tonkünstler-Verein (musicians’
associations) for German musical life have yet to be explored.2 In this study I
review varied documentation—correspondence of Schumann, reviews of the
Versammlungen in the musical press, and the minutes (published and unpublished)
from the core group’s meetings—to uncover the nature and significance of the
meetings in general and in relationship to Schumann. As we shall see, on the one
hand they represented the first attempt to gather German musicians for the purpose
of having a dialogue about music, and as such established a precedent and laid a

16 The Political Sphere

foundation for the national organization Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein and

for the eventual unification of Germany through the Kulturnation.3 On the other,
the meetings of the late 1840s provide the Schumann specialist with new perspec-
tives on his activity and role in the Vereinswesen of his day: his relationship to the
Tonkünstlerversammlungen was more involved than the silence of the secondary
biographical sources would suggest.
Pederson makes a strong case for the ideological and aesthetic background of
the Tonkünstlerversammlungen in the Hegelian Weltanschauung of Franz Brendel,
Schumann’s associate in Leipzig and his successor at the helm of the Neue
Zeitschrift für Musik (henceforth NZfM) in 1845.4 As Pederson summarizes,
Young Hegelians like Brendel and Arnold Ruge “set out to push philosophical
idealism into the concrete realm of action.”5 For Brendel music making “was
an . . . endeavour directed by the goals of the human spirit” that should be pro-
gressive and ultimately lead to freedom. Brendel’s musical assemblies of the late
1840s were a manifestation of this spirit of human progress; he argued in the call
for such a meeting at the very beginning of 1847:
A gathering of German musicians and friends of music . . . [would] create a hith-
erto lacking bond through lectures, discussions [and] acquaintances. [It would]
collaboratively pursue the most important goals so that a true consensus might
be reached and a collective will could oppose harmful influences.6

Brendel called upon the annual national meetings of scientists and philologists,
beginning in 1822 and 1846, respectively, as models for how musicians can take
concrete action.7
However, when we examine Brendel’s specific goals of having an influence
upon the practical state of music, establishing for example standards for
music teachers, Pederson’s assessment of the initial Tonkünstlerversammlung
may appear overly politicized. First and foremost Brendel entered into the idea of
a national gathering of musicians as a means for the reform of existing condi-
tions, not for a revolution or an overthrow of the means of production; in doing
so, he was (at least initially) advocating a goal not far removed from that which
Schumann promulgated for much of his life.8 It was as political events took their
course in 1848 that the typically cautious Brendel and the Tonkünstler-
versammlungen took on the aggressively, overtly political position that Pederson
has identified.9
In his introductory remarks to the assembly on August 13, 1847, Brendel makes
it clear that he had entertained the idea of such a meeting for some time; it solidi-
fied in the summer of 1846 through a chance encounter in Leipzig with two col-
leagues, who agreed on the desirability of “a personal rapprochement of musicians
and the unified and decisive action that will result from it.”10 There exists no evi-
dence that Schumann was involved in the planning of the event, yet shortly before
the assembly, in a letter dated August 8, Brendel received from the composer a series
of proposals for public discussion (Figure 2.1 presents the text of the letter).
Dear Friend,
Accept my hearty congratulations on the inauguration of your scheme, which
must have entailed much care and trouble in the preliminary stages. I may be able to drop
in for an hour or so, but more of that later.
I have been defining my propositions more accurately this morning, and find that
my chief difficulty lies in choosing a form of expression. If I had time to work them out
in separate essays, this would certainly be best. But it would take time, a great deal of it,
especially as I am past the alphabet stage. I think the most profitable way will be for me
to give you a brief outline of my ideas, from which you can select anything you think
suited for public discussion, mentioning my name or not, as you please [Author’s Note:
Schumann appears to be presenting Brendel with a true alternative, yet the tone and detail
of the arguments, as well as Brendel’s own actions in response, suggest that Schumann
did want to be associated with the proposal.]
[1] First, then, I think it desirable that a section should detach itself from the
Convention to consider the protection of classical music against modern adaptations.
The duty of this section would be to obtain information of all such publishers –
that is, of all new editions of old compositions of importance; to see how far the original
was left untouched, or whether unwarranted alterations had been made; and finally to
report on the result of their labours at the next (as I hope) annual meeting of the

[2] I should then like to propose that another section be formed for the research
and restoration of corrupted passages in classical works, in the sense in which I dealt
with it in my essay: On Some Presumably Corrupted Passages in the Works of Bach,
Mozart, and Beethoven (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. xv, p. 140).
This section would, like the first, be required to search out and collect the
necessary material to lay before the next meeting…
The section given up to minute inquiry would render a very great service, for
instance, by looking into Mozart’s Requiem, about which the grossest misconceptions are
still current, for the existing version is not merely corrupt, but, except for certain
numbers, spurious.

Figure 2.1. Robert Schumann, letter to Franz Brendel, Dresden, August 8, 1847, in The
Letters of Robert Schumann, ed. by Karl Storck, trans. Hannah Bryant (London: John
Murray, 1907), 256–58.
18 The Political Sphere

[3] I should next like to raise the question of the use of French for titles, also the
misuse of Italian for marks of expression, by Germans in their own compositions. I
should be glad if you would move the abolition of French titles, and the rejection of such
Italian expressions as may be rendered as well, if not better, in German.
[4] Finally, the Convention should consider by what means their future meetings,
which will become, it is to be hoped, an annual institution, may be made to benefit and
encourage youthful composers especially. This end might be assured by a public
invitation, issued by a section told off for that purpose, to composers to send in
manuscripts of any important works (such as oratorios, masses, symphonies, string
quartets), the best of which be selected for performance at the next general Convention;
or again, by announcing a prize competition, or in some other way.

These, my dear Brendel, are my suggestions, which I leave you to bring forward,
either as your own or in any way you please. I feel how much easier it would be to say all
this in a few rapid, forcible words than to write it.
And now I want to ask you, if you are not too busy, to send me a line with the
proposed programme for both days, the 13th and 14th; I should like to know how the day
is to be divided, and also if anything will be done on Sunday. I may perhaps come for
Saturday or Sunday.
I was surprised to hear that you have chosen a president, as I think this should have
been done in full council. But I may be mistaken.

Figure 2.1. Continued

Thus Brendel’s Tonkünstlerversammlung elicited the indirect participa-

tion of Schumann, who allowed his own ideas to be expressed in a national
forum, not unlike in the days when he edited the NZfM; indeed, in the letter,
to Brendel he suggests that a written format would have been preferable.11
Schumann’s seemingly ambivalent attitude toward the assembly—he sent in
points of discussion, yet he did not attend meetings—reflects his problem-
atic relationship with associations in general, a topic to which this study will
And what were the proposals Schumann wished to have presented to his fellow
German musicians? First, “the protection of classical music against modern adap-
tations.” As he explains to Brendel, this duty would be fulfilled by a committee that
would review the accuracy of editorial practices in new publications of important
older compositions. Second, “the research and restoration of corrupted passages
Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury 19

in classical works,” which Schumann himself addressed in an essay in 1841 and

which particularly concerns Mozart’s Requiem. Third, “the use of French titles,
also the misuse of Italian for marks of expression, by Germans in their own com-
positions.” He asks Brendel to move “the abolition of French titles, and the rejection
of such Italian expressions as may be rendered as well, if not better, in German.”
Fourth, future meetings (which he hopes will become an annual institution)
should “benefit and encourage youthful composers especially.” Schumann sees
this as occurring through a public invitation for the submission of scores for
performance at the next assembly or through a prize competition.
These practical proposals correspond both to issues that Schumann advocated
historically and at the time, and to Brendel’s overriding concern for the reform of
existing musical conditions: the opposition of harmful influences on German
music. The broader issues they outline are the preservation of the classical heritage,
the establishment of a German musical nomenclature (thus a unifying musical
language), and the promotion of the next generation of composers. Although
these matters are not ostensibly political, we can see Schumann here using the
opportunity to present an agenda appropriate for an assembly of German musi-
cians, many of whom he personally knew. In fact upon examining the list of 141
participants (selectively presented in Table 2.1), we would have to call the first
assembly at least quasi-Schumannian, given the names represented there, which
included the sympathetic Alfred Dörffel, Ernst Gottschald, and Emmanuel
Klitzsch.12 Moreover, these and other Schumann supporters figured prominently
in the discussions at the first meeting.13 As already mentioned, the first meeting
was primarily concerned with practical matters, which accounts for the large
numbers of music pedagogues and music directors in attendance (Table 2.2).

Table 2.1. Leipzig Tonkünstlerversammlung participants, August 13, 1847

Name Profession Location

Gustav Albrecht Musiklehrer Leipzig

C. F. Becker Organist Leipzig
Herr Becker Finanzsecretair Freiberg
Fanny Bergas Pianistin Altona
Robert Beyer Tonkünstler Leipzig
C. F. Bierwirth Tonkünstler Hamburg
Ferdinand Böhme Gesangslehrer am Conserv. Leipzig
Elisabeth Brendel Pianistin Leipzig
F. X. Chwatal Musiklehrer Magdeburg
Constantin Decker Pianist St. Petersburg
August Dörffel Musiklehrer Leipzig
M. C. Eberwein Musiklehrer Dresden
Heinrich Enke Pianist Leipzig
Gustav Flügel Componist Stettin
Robert Franz Musikdirector Halle

(continued )
Table 2.1. Continued
Name Profession Location

Robert Friese Buch- u. Musikhdlr. Leipzig

N. W. Gade Musikdirector Leipzig
Carl Götze Hofopernsänger Weimar
Herr Gotter Präcentor Leipzig
Ernst Gottschald n/a Leipzig
W. R. Griepenkerl Professor Braunschweig
Herr Haase Advocat Leipzig
Raimund Härtel [Music publisher] Leipzig
Baron v. Haugk n/a Leipzig
Moritz Hauptmann Musikdirector Leipzig
Ferdinand Heinze Orchestermitglied Leipzig
Heinrich Henkel Tonkünstler Leipzig
Ernst Hentschel Musikdir. u. Seminarlehrer Weißenfels
Friedrich Hofmeister [Music publisher] Leipzig
August Horn Tonkünstler Leipzig
Louis Kindscher Seminarlehrer Dessau
Louise Kindscher n/a Dessau
Emmanuel Klitzsch Gymnasiallehrer Zwickau
Julius Knorr Musiklehrer Leipzig
Herr Kunstmann Kaufmann Chemnitz
Louise Lallemant Pianistin Leipzig
Emil Leonhard Componist Leipzig
J. C. Lobe Professor Leipzig
Ignaz Moscheles Professor Leipzig
Julius Mühling Musikdirector Magdeburg
Gustav Nauenburg Gesangslehrer Halle
Louise Otto Schriftstellerin Meißen
Louis Plaidy Lehrer am Conservatorium Leipzig
Gustav Rebling Musiklehrer Magdeburg
A. F. Riccius Musiklehrer Leipzig
E. F. Richter Musikdirector Leipzig
Clara Riese Musiklehrerin Leipzig
A. G. Ritter Musikdirector Merseburg
Albert Robinson Tonkünstler Stockholm
F. A. Roitzsch Musiklehrer Leipzig
Heinrich Sattler Organist Blankenburg
am Harz
Heinrich Schellenberg Organist Leipzig
Friedrich Schneider Kapellm., Ritter Dessau
Gustav Siebeck Musikdirector Gera
Xaver Sipp Orchestermitglied Leipzig
Fritz Spindler Musiklehrer Dresden
N. Tautmann Violoncellist Leipzig
F. W. Tschirch Musikdirector Liegnitz
Elise Vogel Concertsängerin Leipzig
Ernst Wenzel Clavierlehrer am Conserva. Leipzig
A. Whistling [Music publisher] Leipzig
C. F. Zöllner Director des Gesangvereins Leipzig

This table includes all seven women in Brendel’s list. Overall, women represent only 5 percent
of the 141 participants at the assembly.
Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury 21

Table 2.2. Leipzig Tonkünstlerversammlung participants’ occupations,

August 13, 1847
Musical Nonmusical

Musiklehrer/in / Gesangslehrer 28 Advocat 4

Musikdirector 13 Lehrer 3
Orchestermitglied 13 Oberlandsg. Auscultat. 2
Organist 11 Kaufmann 1
Tonkünstler 8 Procurator 1
Pianist/in 7 Präcentor 1
Componist 3 Beamter 1
Cantor 3 Finanzsecretair 1
[Music publisher] 3 Schriftstellerin 1
Professor 2
Violoncellist 2
Kapellmeister 1
Violinist 1
Clavierlehrer 1
Flötist 1
Hofopernsänger 1
Kammermusikus 1
Buch- u. Musikhdlr. 1

The designations of occupations are taken from the journal, except for the three music
publishers, for whom Brendel has inexplicably not indicated any profession.

The participants assembled at 9 a.m. on August 13 in the hall of the

Gewandhaus. After Brendel’s words of greeting and extended introductory
remarks of justification for the Tonkünstlerversammlung and a brief welcoming
address by the assembly chair (Vorsitzender), C. F. Becker, Brendel presented
Schumann’s letter as the first item of business.
Brendel read the entire letter and, as he notes, “stayed then with the first selected
proposal.” Figure 2.2 presents his accurate rendering of Schumann’s proposal. He
explained that Schumann did not intend the abolition of widely used technical
terms like sonata and adagio, but rather of newly invented Italian expression marks
and French phrases like “composé pour le Pianoforte et dedié.” The discussion, tran-
scribed in the pages of the NZfM, favored the motion, with Brendel himself making
the interesting distinction that “virtuoso compositions and ephemeral works can
keep the French titles, [since] these pieces in part have their audience in all lands . . . ,
but truly German works that are intended for a German public should appear with
German titles.”14 The final motion, abridged and reworked into a positive statement,
reads, “German composers should provide German titles.”15 It passed with a
significant majority. As a gloss to his transcript Brendel invokes the spirit of
Schumann to make this issue one of political importance: composers will reveal
themselves as German artists who identify with their Volk, for whom “the battles for
the assertion of the awakening nationalism have not passed by without a trace.”16
Among the items for discussion, a proposal of Herr Dr. R. Schumann was listed as the

first. Herr Dr. Schumann had sent to me several proposals with the comment that, if he

himself were hindered from attending, I should take over their presentation. Since the

proposer was not present, I accordingly opened the discussions, read the entire letter and

stayed then with the first selected proposal:

“Regarding the nature of French titling, the same regarding the misuse of

Italian expression markings in compositions by German composers–and the

abolition of all titles in French language and the removal of those Italian

expression markings that can be expressed just as well, if not better, in


I noted here that Herr Dr. S. did not intend to abolish such words as sonata,

symphony, allegro, adagio and the like, which–as technical expressions–have

long ago made their home [here]. Rather, the proposer had in mind the ever more

popular excess of newly invented Italian expression markings, as well as the

“composé pour le Pianoforte et dedié” and so forth in titles.

Unter den Gegenständen der Besprechung war ein Antrag des Hrn. Dr. R. Schumann als

der erste verzeichnet. Hr. Dr. S. hatte mir brieflich mehrere Anträge mitgetheilt, zugleich

mit der Bemerkung, daß, wenn er selbst zu erscheinen verhindert sei, ich den Vortrag

derselben übernehmen möchte. Da der Herr Antragsteller nicht zugegen war, eröffnete

ich demnach die Erörterungen, las zuerst den ganzen Brief vor, und blieb sodann bei dem

zunächst gewählten Antrag stehen:

“Ueber das französische Titelwesen, desgleichen über den Mißbrauch

italienischer Vortragsbezeichnungen in Compositionen Deutscher Tonsetzer,—

und Abschaffung aller Titel in französischer Sprache und Ausmerzung

solcher italienischer Vortragsbezeichnungen, die sich eben so gut, wo nicht

besser, in deutscher Sprache ausdrücken lassen.”

Ich bemerkte hierbei im Sinne des Hrn. Dr. S., daß hier nicht die Abschaffung

solcher Worte, wie Sonate, Symphonie, Allegro, Adagio u.s.w. gemeint sei, Worte,

welche als technische Ausdrücke längst das Bürgerrecht erhalten haben, im Gegentheil

daß hier der Hr. Antragsteller das neuerdings mehr und mehr beliebte Uebermaaß

neuerfundener italienischer Vortragsbezeichnungen, so wie auf den Titeln das “composé

pour le Pianoforte et dedié” u.s.w. im Auge gehabt habe.

Figure 2.2. Franz Brendel, “Die erste Versammlung deutscher Tonkünstler und
Musikfreunde in Leipzig,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 27, no. 18 (1847): 108.
Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury 23

The continuing discussion on the first day did not pick up on Schumann’s
other points, but rather turned to questions of making unpublished music
available in print or copies, of opposing mechanical reprinting of music by
Gesangvereine and individuals, and of reforming the procedures for the testing of
new organs. A late-afternoon concert included chamber music by Bach, Beethoven,
Schubert, Schumann, and Flügel, in other words, an all-German concert (Table
2.3 presents the concert program). On August 14 the dialogue focused on music
education, in particular the exclusion of second-rate compositions from music
pedagogy and the establishment of examinations for music teachers. At the end of
the second day’s discussions Brendel broached the topic of the desirability of
performing early music; this was not directly taken from Schumann’s first two
proposals, yet the issue would be identified with Schumann for anyone familiar
with his thought. After a series of lectures about the current state of music teaching,
opera, and music theory, the 1847 assembly concluded with a concert of German
organ music, which included one of Schumann’s six fugues on Bach’s name from
1845, and a banquet.
The 1847 Tonkünstlerversammlung merits this closer investigation because it
was the assembly associated with Schumann. Not only did he indirectly address
the gathering, but one of his proposals was the first point of business and it
found broad support, his music was heard at both concerts (one of only five
living composers on the programs), and a number of his friends and associates
from Leipzig were in attendance. Schumann did not need to be present to leave
a mark on this historically significant event, which would lead to two more
Tonkünstlerversammlungen in successive years, even though current events led
to a substantial truncation of the 1848 and 1849 assemblies. At the same time
Brendel was able to accomplish his political agenda through open discussion of
topics that would unite German musicians in efforts at reform and progress.
It is interesting to note that, even though “Germany’s musical revolutionaries
presented their most detailed and ambitious recommendations for bringing
music into alignment with the new political order” at the second meeting, as
Pederson argues, that gathering was severely curtailed.17 What had been
announced as a larger assembly was reduced to one day (July 26, 1848) “because
of the state of affairs” (“in Folge der Zeitverhältnisse”), so that the meeting was
a “private one in a smaller, closed circle” (“eine Privatversammlung im kleineren

Table 2.3. Concert program, Leipzig Tonkünstlerversammlung, August 13, 1847

J. S. Bach, Concerto in D Minor, performed by Ignaz Moscheles with quartet accompaniment
Beethoven, Quartet in B-flat Major, performed by David, Hunger, Gade, Wittmann
Schubert, Andante from Quartet in D Minor, performed by David, Hunger, Gade, Wittmann
Gustav Flügel, Piano Sonata (manuscript), performed by Elisabeth Brendel
August Riccius, “Waldweib,” performed by Frl. Vogel
Schubert and Schumann, Lieder, performed by Frl. Agathe and Hr. Götze
24 The Political Sphere

geschlossenen Kreise”).18 The primary concern for Brendel at the second assem-
bly was the continuation of the work in establishing a national organization.19
Brendel’s original intention for the 1849 assembly may have been for it to
serve as the proper second Tonkünstlerversammlung, but political conditions
did not improve to allow more than another one-day gathering, again in
Leipzig, on July 26.20 The local musicians invited guests from afar, but Brendel’s
report lists only twenty visitors. This was his last attempt to stage a large-scale
Tonkünstlerversammlung, until the renewal of the idea in 1859, ostensibly on the
occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the NZfM.
What happened to Schumann’s participation in those assemblies of 1848 and
1849? I believe that two related developments mitigated his further involvement:
the creation of city-based Tonkünstler-Vereine and the politicization of the gather-
ings. No scholar has yet noted the emergence of the Leipzig Tonkünstler-Verein out
of the first assembly at the end of 1847 and Brendel’s intentions for it to carry on
the work of the Versammlung in regular meetings during the year. According to his
own assessment in early 1848 (Figure 2.3), the Leipzig society would be a chapter
of a general or national musicians’ association (Allgemeiner Tonkünstler-Verein),
which at first would consist of chapters in nearby cities such as Magdeburg, Dessau,
Zwickau, and Dresden. This attempt to forge a national society of musicians seems
to have had success, since the Leipzig chapter numbered almost fifty members
within its first two months and by the middle of 1849 branches had been established
in Leipzig, Berlin, Magdeburg, Dessau, Freiburg, Darmstadt, and Stettin.21
The NZfM published periodic reports on the activities of the Leipzig Verein,
which drew on the minutes carefully maintained by the chapter’s secretary.22
These documents reveal a well-organized, active local society that was interested
in meeting on a regular, at least monthly basis for the purpose of intellectual
exchange through presentations, musical stimulation through performances,
and actions to support the larger organization and the other chapters. The
Tonkünstler-Verein in Leipzig held its meetings and concerts on a biweekly or
monthly basis at least until the end of 1851. Here is where we will find the con-
tinuation of Brendel’s idea, which carried on beyond the collapse of the assem-
blies in 1849. The minutes of the Verein unfortunately do not always record
programs of performances; however, those that do make it clear that the con-
certs featured works by Schumann.23
It was to the concept of the Verein and not the Tonkünstlerversammlung that
Schumann objected in a letter to Brendel from late 1847, in which the composer
rejected Brendel’s suggestion that he participate in the newly founded Verein:
Please excuse me from joining your association, dear Brendel. You know that
I have always treasured freedom and independence, have never joined an
association, whatever its character, and will also never do so in the future.
Everyone must be allowed to fulfil his responsibilities towards art in his own
manner, and so allow me my own.24
Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury 25

I still have to report on the creation of the Leipzig Tonkünstler-Verein, which has
been in place since the end of last year as a chapter of the national one that has yet to be
established. At the present it already has 47 members. Its goal is that of the national
assembly, and its structure is essentially the same as well. Proposals are made and
lectures are held… I want to express the desire that wherever possible similar
associations form in other cities–I am thinking first of Magdeburg, Dessau, Zwickau and
Dresden–before the next annual assembly. To that end, and to produce organizational
unity, [they should] procure our by-laws in writing. The existence of the national
Tonkünstler-Verein should in essence altogether depend upon such chapters, which are
its main rationale.
Noch habe ich zu berichten über die Errichtung des seit Ende vorigen Jahres bei
uns bestehenden “Leipziger Tonkünstler-Vereins”, als eines Zweig-Vereins des
allgemeinen, demnächst zu errichtenden. Dieser zählt bis jetzt bereits 47 Mitglieder. Sein
Zweck ist der der allgemeinen Versammlung, und die Einrichtung im Wesentlichen
dieselbe wie dort. Es werden Anträge gestellt, und Vorträge gehalten… Hier spreche ich
den Wunsch aus, daß wo möglich noch vor der nächsten Hauptversammlung sich
ähnliche Vereine an anderen Orten–ich denke zunächst an Magdeburg, Dessau,
Zwickau, Dresden–constituieren und zu diesem Zweck, und um Einheit der
Organisation zu bewirken, unsere Statuten abschriftlich von uns beziehen möchten. Die

Existenz des allgemeinen Tonkünstler-Vereins, –dies ist der Grundgedanke dafür–

beruht überhaupt wesentlich in solchen Zweigvereinen.

Figure 2.3. Franz Brendel, “Bekanntmachung, die zweite Versammlung deutscher

Tonkünstler und Musikfreunde zu Leipzig im Jahre 1848 betreffend,” Neue Zeitschrift
für Musik 28, no. 16 (1848): 95.

Schumann’s explanation that he did not join organizations as a rule is supported

by research recently undertaken by Kazuko Ozawa.25 In tracking down Schumann’s
actual relationships with contemporary societies, Ozawa has engaged in very
detailed research, with the results summarized in Table 2.4. From her documents
we can observe that Schumann was more broadly involved in Vereine of his time
than previously thought. Still, few of these associations were initiated by Schu-
mann himself, with the category “regular member” (ordentliches Mitglied) par-
ticularly underrepresented.
26 The Political Sphere

Table 2.4. Schumann’s relationship with contemporary societies

1. Founding member (Neue Zeitschrift, Abonnement-Concerte in Dresden, Chorgesangverein in
2. Regular member (Verein zur Errichtung einer Gemäldegalerie in Dresden)
3. Extraordinary member (Düsseldorf Künstlerverein Malkasten)
4. Corresponding member (Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst in Nederland)
5. Honorary member (Euterpe-Verein, Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst in
Nederland, Universitäts-Sängerverein zu St. Pauli Leipzig, Association Royale des Sociétés
Lyriques d’Anvers, Städtischer Männergesangverein zu Düsseldorf, Dresdener Liedertafel,
Akademie der Tonkunst in Wien, Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Musical
Institute of London)

Summarized from Ozawa, “Robert Schumann.”

The turn of political events in early 1848 caused the nascent organization
behind the Tonkünstlerversammlungen, with Brendel at its helm, to enthusiasti-
cally embrace the revolutionary spirit of the times.26 As Laura Tunbridge sum-
marizes, scholarship has established Schumann’s reluctance to participate in the
rebellions around him, even in Dresden.27 His interiority may be exaggerated in
the literature, as John Daverio argues, yet here the composer did withdraw from
the political turmoil, which undoubtedly contributed to his nonparticipation
in the revolutionarily charged Versammlungen of 1848 and 1849.28 As Pederson
convincingly posits, the general disillusionment over the failure to accomplish
true changes in the musical realm ultimately led to the collapse of the
Tonkünstlerversammlungen shortly after the abbreviated gathering of 1849.29 In
his published report on the assembly Brendel noted that one day was inadequate
for such a meeting, and if conditions were to become more favorable for another
Versammlung, two or three days should be set aside (which happened in 1859).30
However, a flicker of the original concept for the Allgemeiner Tonkünstler-
Verein persisted in the Zweigverein in Leipzig.31 Further research will be needed
to determine whether the other local chapters survived after 1849 or whether
the Leipzig Verein carried on its existence as an individual association, like the
many local singing and orchestral societies of the first half of the century.
The assemblies were not universally greeted with approbation. J. C. Lobe and
the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung took issue with the need for and univer-
sality of the Tonkünstlerversammlungen in 1847 and 1848.32 It is true that Brendel
was not able to gather musicians from across the country at the meetings, and
the Vereine also largely established themselves in cities relatively close to Leipzig.
Still, for the first time, German musicians came together not to attend or per-
form at a music festival like the Niederrheinische Musikfeste or those of the
Gesangvereine, but rather to discuss the state of the art and how it could be
improved. Here music participated in the nationalist Kulturnation movement,
which encouraged the creation of associations and activities that instilled
national identity through the identification and promotion of a common
Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury 27

German culture. The 1850s would bring forth such associations as the Allgemeine
Deutsche Kunstgenossenschaft (in 1856) and the Deutsche Schillerstiftung (in
1859).33 That the endeavor for music did not survive the 1840s can be attributed
in part to its creation only one year before the rebellions; the organization could
not congeal enough to weather the politically tumultuous times. Nevertheless
Brendel’s intention to create an Allgemeiner Tonkünstler-Verein through the
annual Versammlungen and, more important, the local Zweigvereine (branch
societies) deserves recognition as the first attempt to establish a national music
society in Germany, a bold and far-sighted plan.
The idea experienced a revival in 1859 with another Tonkünstlerversammlung
in Leipzig, also engineered by Brendel but now with the support of Liszt.34
This assembly would lead to the creation of the Allgemeiner Deutscher
Musikverein at the next meeting in Weimar two years later, an organization
that would hold annual “assemblies” of musicians, later called “festivals,” for
the next seventy-five years.35 In his enthusiasm for and involvement in the
initial Tonkünstlerversammlung of 1847, Schumann himself recognized the
value of this new vehicle for assembling German musicians and for addressing
issues in music on a national level. In doing so he anticipated the organizing
of German musical life that would occur through the activity of the Allgemeiner
Deutscher Musikverein during the second half of the nineteenth century.

I would like to thank Roe-Min Kok, Celia Applegate, and Erika Reiman, who
provided valuable comments on this essay. I am especially indebted to Sanna
Pederson, who gave me access to and allowed me to quote from her important
unpublished paper, “Vormärz Liberalism and the First German Music Conference,”
which she delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society,
Minneapolis, October 27–30, 1994.
1. Klenke, Der singende deutsche Mann; Brusniak and Klenke, “Heil deutschem
Wort und Sang!”; Lindlar, “Musik und Bürgertum.”
2. Pederson, “Vormärz Liberalism.”
3. Regarding music and the Kulturnation, see Applegate, “What Is German
Music?”; various essays in Applegate and Potter, Music and German National Identity;
Deaville, “The Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein.”
4. Two monographs have appeared about Brendel, both featuring extensive com-
mentary regarding his aesthetic positions as a writer on music: Determann, Begriff
und Ästhetik der “Neudeutschen Schule,” and Ramroth, Robert Schumann und Richard
Wagner. Ramroth includes an exhaustive list of Brendel’s published articles.
5. Pederson, “Vormärz Liberalism,” 2. The Young Hegelians also counted David
Friedrich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach among their numbers.
6. Brendel, “Ein Vorschlag als Gruß zum Neuen Jahre,” 1–2: “Eine Versammlung
deutscher Tonkünstler und Musik-Freunde zu begründen, um hier, wie dort, durch
Vorträge, Besprechungen, Bekanntschaften ein bisher vermißtes Band zu knüpfen,
28 The Political Sphere

und gemeinschaftlich die wichtigsten Zwecke zu verfolgen, damit vielleicht . . . eine

thatsächliche Uebereinstimmung erreicht würde, und ein Gesamtwille nachtheili-
gen Einflüssen . . . entgegenwirken könnte.” Unless indicated otherwise, translations
are by the present author.
7. Ibid., 1.
8. The classic text by Leon Plantinga, Schumann as Critic, remains a valuable
study of Schumann’s aesthetics, including his desiderata for the reform of musical
conditions and institutions.
9. Brendel was also reluctant to embrace the new directions of Wagner and
Liszt. See Deaville, “Die neudeutsche Musikkritik,” 57.
10. Brendel, “Die erste Versammlung deutscher Tonkünstler und Musikfreunde
in Leipzig,” 96: “Ein persönliches Nähertreten der Tonkünstler und ein dadurch
erzeugtes einheitsvolles und kräftiges Handeln.”
11. Whether out of courtesy or true involvement, Schumann’s letter also con-
gratulates Brendel for his efforts on behalf of the Tonkünstlerversammlung and sug-
gests that he might drop by the assembly for an hour or so. He never did turn up in
12. All three individuals were contributors to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik who
“promoted Schumann as a democratic composer” (Tunbridge, “Schumann as
Manfred,” 567, referring to Pederson’s unpublished dissertation “Enlightened and
Romantic Music Criticism, 1800–1850,” 251–59).
13. These discussions are recorded at the end of the second and throughout the
following six installments of Brendel’s report about the Tonkünstlerversammlung.
14. Brendel, “Die erste Versammlung deutscher Tonkünstler und Musikfreunde
in Leipzig,” 117: “Virtuosencompositionen, Modeartikel können die französischen
Titel behalten. Diese Werke haben zum Theil ihr Publikum in allen Ländern . . . Aber
ächt deutsche Werke, welche ein deutsches Publikum vor Augen haben, sollten mit
deutschen Titeln erscheinen.”
15. “Da deutsche Componisten für deutsche Titel sorgen” (ibid., 118).
16. “Die Kämpfe für Geltendmachung der erwachenden Nationalität [sind]
nicht spurlos vorübergegangen” (ibid.).
17. Pederson, “Vormärz Liberalism,” 6.
18. The general public was not invited, only members of the organizing
committee and of the Leipzig Tonkünstler-Verein. Brendel, “Die Tonkünstler-
Versammlung zu Leipzig” (29, no. 17), 90.
19. Ibid.
20. Brendel’s comments regarding the third Tonkünstlerversammlung in his
retrospective report in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik echo those from 1848. See “Die
Tonkünstler-Versammlung zu Leipzig” (31, no. 19), 97.
21. Beginning in the fall of 1848 Brendel made a special point of publishing
reports from the various chapters in the “Kleine Zeitung” section of the Neue
Zeitschrift für Musik, usually in the first place under the rubric. The concept of the
Allgemeiner Tonkünstler-Verein had advanced so far by mid-1849 that the
“Bekanntmachung” for the third assembly appeared over the signature “Der Vorstand
Organizing German Musical Life at Midcentury 29

des Allgemeinen Tonkünstler-Vereins” in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 31, no. 2
(1849): 12. Of course, Brendel served as the head of the board, so that any such com-
munication should be regarded as representing first and foremost his own desires.
22. The autograph minutes of the Leipzig Tonkünstler-Verein have been pre-
served in the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum of Leipzig, under call number IN 395.
They extend from October 16, 1848, to December 15, 1851, and encompass seventy-
six folios.
23. At the chapter’s “Musikalische Unterhaltung” on January 29, 1849, Frauenliebe
und -leben was performed, and at the next concert, on February 26, 1849, an uniden-
tified piano duet by Schumann appeared on the program.
24. Letter from Schumann to Brendel, late 1847, reprinted in Dahms, Schumann,
177: “Vom Beitritt zu Ihrem Verein entbinden Sie mich, lieber Brendel. Sie wissen,
ich habe immer das Freie, Unabhängige geliebt, bin nie einem Verein, welcher Art er
sei, beigetreten, und werde es auch künftig nicht. Es muss jedem gestattet sein, die
Pflichten gegen die Kunst auf seine Weise zu erfüllen, und so lassen Sie mir die
25. Ozawa, “Robert Schumann.”
26. See Brendel, “Fragen der Zeit. III” and “Fragen der Zeit. IV.”
27. Tunbridge, “Schumann as Manfred,” 558.
28. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 421–22.
29. Pederson, “Vormärz Liberalism,” 11.
30. Brendel, “Die Tonkünstler-Versammlung zu Leipzig,” (31, no. 24), 127.
31. The Archive of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein in the Goethe- und
Schiller-Archiv, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, preserves a file titled “Konzertprogramme
des Leipziger Zweigvereins” (GSA 70/235), which bears the dates 1847 and 1869–88
and thereby creates a bridge between the Allgemeiner Tonkünstler-Verein and the
ADMV. It is not clear whether the Leipzig Zweigverein continued to exist after 1851
or was revived after the founding of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein.
32. See Lobe, “Tonkünstler-Versammlung”; Hinrichs, “Tonkünstlerversammlung!”
Ironically the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung itself did not survive 1848.
33. See Deaville, “The Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein,” for a discussion of how
these associations and the ADMV participated in the formation of the Kulturnation.
34. The most significant source regarding this event is the extensive and detailed
report by Richard Pohl, Die Tonkünstler-Versammlung zu Leipzig. As a manifesto of
the “New-german Party” Brendel’s opening speech, “Zur Anbahnung einer
Verständigung,” has been recognized as a key document for the progressive movement
in music. See above all Kleinertz, “Zum Begriff ‘Neudeutsche Schule’” and Edler,
“Schumann und die Neudeutschen.”
35. Regarding the ADMV, see James Deaville, “Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein,”
In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, revised ed., ed. Stanley Sadie (New
York: Macmillan, 2001), 1: 303–4; Deaville, “ ‘. . . Nicht im Sinne von Franz Liszt.’ ”

The Cry of the Schuhu

Dissonant History in a Late Schumann Song

Susan Youens

In several beautifully bleak late songs, Schumann foreshadows Mahler in certain

moods: the austere textures, the individual voices interweaving in free
counterpoint to produce bone-on-bone dissonances, and the abnegation of
Romantic lushness in service to haunted scenarios all seem akin, despite obvious
stylistic differences.1 Schumann’s fascination with these elements began, of
course, much earlier, and there are works such as “Zwielicht” from 1840 in which
his propensity to begin with a single line of pitches and then have subsequent
countermelodies branch off from the main stem like leafless branches on one of
Caspar David Friedrich’s trees in winter is evident. A decade and more after his
Eichendorff cycle, Schumann again explores acerbic clashes between melodic
lines crossing over and under one another in “Herzeleid” (Heart’s sorrow) to a
poem by Titus Ulrich and “Warnung” (Warning) on a poem by Gustav Pfarrius.2
Here the sparse sonorities are part and parcel of chilling tonal symbolism in
each song. For Ulrich’s Ophelia, Schumann postpones the arrival at the tonic
E-Minor until Ophelia and the listener alike drown in it in the final measure. We
hear the precise moment of death. In “Warnung” a bleak B-Minor predominates
but with twice-repeated faint motion toward the relative warmth of relative
major, as well as an even greater desire to stave off death in E-Minor, the same
key as “Herzeleid.” And in Pfarrius’s poem we can discern political subtexts
dimly visible through veils of folklore and inference. Postrevolutionary disillu-
sionment is hinted at here, flanked on either side by unthreatening songs to texts
from the same anthology. We draw closer both to greater understanding of
Schumann’s late style and the aftermath of the 1848–49 revolutions throughout
Europe when we peer more closely at this song.
One can assume that when a composer selects three poems not grouped
together by the poet from an anthology containing a total of fifty-one poems
that he or she will at least have skimmed through the other works in the quest
for composable texts; knowledge of the poet thus goes beyond the confines of

The Cry of the Schuhu 31

the few works chosen for the musical setting. In the final order of his three Op.
119 songs, Schumann begins with Pfarrius’s ninth poem, “Die Hütte” (The hut);
goes from there to the twenty-fifth poem, “Warnung,” in the center; and ends
with the twenty-first poem, “Der Bräutigam und die Birke” (The bridegroom
and the birch). The only one with a whiff of political gelignite is “Warnung,” and
it matters, I believe, that this song is flanked on either side by harmless speci-
mens that act as shields. Purely musical reasons of tonality and tempo might
also have dictated the placement of “Warnung” in the center of the set, its “lang-
sam” eeriness in B-Minor both preceded and followed by livelier Lieder in
G-Major. Still, a composer’s ordering of works for publication often seems mul-
tiply determined, and considerations of subject matter surely play their part in
such decisions. Reading Gustav Pfarrius’s slender volume of forest songs, one
cannot help noticing this poet’s waltz back and forth between the innocuous
(the majority of the poems) and the political (a potent minority), although he
is not among the saber-rattling Tendenz-Dichter whose versified calls to action
in the 1840s were part of the buildup to revolution. “Warnung” operates more
covertly than its defiant brethren, recruiting folklore to the ages-old theme of
the artist’s peril in oppressive times.
To write “forest poems” in the mid-nineteenth-century Rhineland was in
itself a nationalistic act. Teutonic forests are often depicted in post-Napoleonic
verse as offshoots of the Hercynian woods described by Tacitus in his Germania
or of the Teutoburger Wald in which Arminius’s army slaughtered the Roman
general Varus’s forces in a.d. 9.3 This battle was famously one of the foremost
historical rallying points for nineteenth-century nationalists, as we can see on
Otto Geyer’s marble stairwell frieze at the Old National Gallery in Berlin, a
patriotic chronology that begins with Arminius.4 For those who longed in
Napoleon’s wake for the restoration of an earlier Reich’s glory, the holy groves
of the Cherusci were reseeded in literature, where patriots communed, not
with the fir and larch forests all around them but with the oak groves of yore.
Arminius was a particularly useful symbol because he could be harnessed both
to the ambitions of those who ruled Germany’s splintered realms and those
desirous of pan-German unification. To find nationalistic sentiments cheek-
by-jowl with jovial legends of wood and stream in a volume such as this one
was perhaps only to be expected in 1850. Nor can we be surprised to encounter
coded references to the explosive history in the making that surrounded both
the poet and the composer of “Warnung.”

Revolution and the Waldlieder Anthology

Pfarrius begins innocently enough: the first poem, “Komm mit” (Come with
me), is an invitation to leave the market tumult of citified life and breathe
free in the forest. The first of the charming illustrations in this volume
32 The Political Sphere

Figure 3.1. Georg Osterwald’s title page illustration for Gustav

Pfarrius, Die Waldlieder (Cologne: M. DuMont-Schauberg,

(Figure 3.1) depicts a young man resting against a giant tree, his eyes closed,
facing the reader as if to issue the invitation “Come with me” to everyone
perusing his poems, although one can interpret closed eyes in other, less
innocent ways as well (the willful refusal to see or dreams of German glory?).5
Continuing in the same vein, the persona recalls in the second poem, “Wie
es den Sorgen erging” (How troubles went away), that his cares followed him
into the forest, but the leafy beauty all around him soothed his distressed
soul.6 As we wend our way through the anthology we realize that the “cares”
invoked here have a political dimension and that the forest is site and symbol
for a specific vision of Germany.
But the ferocity of Heine’s “Die schlesischen Weber” (The Silesian weavers),
for example, with its threefold curse against God, king, and country, was not
Pfarrius’s wont even when he was at his most politically engagé. In “Daheim”
(At home), a poem included in the augmented third edition of the Waldlieder
The Cry of the Schuhu 33

in 1869, the poetic persona hymns his native country as lovelier than any
Eldorado and then declares, “Kein Frevelwerk hab’ ich verrichtet, / Das aus der
Heimat Schooß mich bannt” (I have done nothing criminal for which I am
banned from my homeland). One cannot read poetry as autobiography, at
least not without qualifications and cautions galore, but this assertion shortly
before the achievement of German unification that he had done nothing to
result in banishment or exile is noteworthy.7 Not for him the more radical
strains of Hoffmann von Fallersleben, fired from his university job in the
aftermath of his Unpolitische Lieder (Apolitical songs, 1841), or Ferdinand
Freiligrath, sent into exile for such works as Glaubensbekenntnis (Confession
of faith, 1844), or Gottfried Kinkel, sentenced to life imprisonment in Spandau
(with a friend’s help, he escaped).8 Schumann set Kinkel’s “Abendlied” (Evening
song) to music on January 23, 1851, eight months before “Warnung” and, I
would speculate, read the poetic persona’s self-admonitions to his heart to
cast off sickness and fear in the knowledge of its creator’s plight.9 After all
Schumann may have found “Ein geistlich Abendlied” (A spiritual evening
song), Kinkel’s title, in the poet’s second edition of Gedichte (1850) courtesy of
the composer’s friend Wolfgang Müller von Königswinter (the pseudonym of
Peter Wilhelm Müller). Müller, who took part in the failed 1848 National
Assembly at Frankfurt’s Paulskirche, shared Kinkel’s liberal republican
Schumann never read Pfarrius’s disavowal of participatory rebellion in
“Daheim,” but he probably did read a more subtle expression of similar sen-
timents in the 1850 first edition. In the third poem, “Das Moos der Bäume”
(The moss on the trees), the poetic persona engages in arboreal analogy to
hint that revolution, whatever his undeniable patriotic fervor, was not his
cup of tea. When winter sends its sharp spears to strike the trees (note the
military language), the beleaguered residents of the forest cover themselves
in moss as a shield. The poetic I initially laments his own lack of armor “in
the stormy turmoil of the world,” but then concludes that what the moss is
to the trees, the forest is to him.11 Surrounded by the sacral woodland that
was his ideal of Germany, he could take refuge from the horrors of blood-
shed in the streets.
Whatever Pfarrius’s subsequent back-pedaling, it seems plausible to specu-
late that Schumann, liberal in his political sympathies, was attracted to this
poetry in part because of the poet’s obvious patriotic sentiments. This volume
would not have been possible without the new species of German nationalism
born of the multifarious responses to Napoleon’s rule, a nationalism whose fatal
consequences almost a century later (what Liah Greenfeld has called “the final
solution of infinite longing”) Heine could foretell, but not the lesser poet.12
Pfarrius may not have scolded his fellow Germans for their lack of action as
emphatically as a Freiligrath or a Heine, but he does call them to task in “Der
deutsche Wald, das deutsche Herz” (The German forest, the German heart), the
34 The Political Sphere

poem that immediately precedes “Der Bräutigam und die Birke” in the first
edition. Schumann surely read it.

Der deutsche Wald, das deutsche Herz, The German forest, the German heart,
Sie sind einander eng verwandt, they are closely related to one another,
Wie Ahnungsschauer, like premonitory shudders, the pain
Sehnsuchtsschmerz, of longing,
Wie Blätterfüll’ und Blumenland. like an abundance of leaves and the
land of blossoms.
In Baumgestalten mannigfalt, In many different trees,
In Staud’ und Stengel, Busch und in shrub and stalk, bush and
Strauch garland,
Ergrünt der tiefe deutsche Wald,— the deep, German forest is greening—
Nur selten kommt’s zu Früchten auch; but only seldom does it bear fruit.
Idee’ngebilde, reich und kühn, Images of ideas, rich and bold,
Der Freiheit Heimweh, Weisheit, Rath, of homesickness for freedom, wisdom,
Im tiefen deutschen Herzen blühn,— counsel, blossom in profound
German hearts—
Nur selten werden sie zur That; but only seldom do they become deed.
Und wie am schattenreichsten Baum And just as one cannot see the
blessings of
Ihr keinen Aerntensegen schaut, harvest under the trees in deepest
So wird aus Sehnsucht und aus so one cannot build a weather-tight
Traum empire from
Kein wetterfestes Reich gebaut.13 dreams and desire.
(First verse repeated)

Was this poem, one wonders, written before the outbreak of revolution and then
published as a lament in the immediate wake of failure?
Pfarrius is even more specific about revolutionary politics in “Winter und
Frühling” (Winter and spring). After the contrast between winter’s deathly quiet
and spring’s resounding joy at the beginning of the poem, we are catapulted
without warning into what seems at first to be a different poem: a dialogue in
which the first speaker is unidentified and the second is implicitly the poetic
persona. It is as if we eavesdrop on a café conversation in medias res between
two men arguing for and against censorship. Freedom of the press was, espe-
cially for the cultivated middle class, one of the most contentious issues of the
day; according to the liberal statesman Christian Bunsen, it was “to the nineteenth
century what spiritual freedom was to the Christian of the first century, and reli-
gious freedom to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is the political
question of life and death in our time, the question that wrecks governments
and reduces kingdoms to dust, or gives them the strength to rise.”14
The Cry of the Schuhu 35

Winter und Frühling (stanzas 3–4 of 5) Winter and Spring

“Das Böse wüthet ungezähmt, “Evil rages unrestrained
Seit frei die Presse!”—Nach Censur since the press became free!”—You
Verlangst du? deinen Geist beschämt want censorship? The spirit of the
Der Geist, der waltet auf der Flur: meadows puts your spirit to shame.
Ward je der Rose Glanz versehrt, Was the rose’s brilliance ever
Weil neben ihr die Nessel blüht? because the nettle blossomed next
to it?
Hat’s je der Eiche Wuchs beschwert, Has the oak tree’s growth ever suffered
Daß ihre Sonn’ auch Dornen glüht?15 because the sun also shone on the
thorny bushes?

The Natur-Eingang is thus revealed as a metaphor for the opposition between the
wintry silence of censorship and the joyous springtime voices of freedom for
writers. But the development of the nature imagery makes it clear that if the second
speaker unquestionably favors the abolition of censorship, he nevertheless admits
that some of the voices raised in a liberated press are offensive. One thinks of the
internal divisions between radicals and liberals among the revolution-minded—
this was a prominent factor in the counterrevolutionaries’ ultimate victory—and
can accordingly assign Pfarrius’s dialogue to a reactionary monarchist or absolutist
averse to reform (the first speaker) and a liberal (the second speaker, the poet).
Two more brief examples of Pfarrius in political mode culled from the 1850
volume will suffice. In “Schlummer im Walde” (Sleep in the forest) Pfarrius
invokes a song that resounded on high throughout the entire space, “but when
[he] offered it [his] hand, it was once again only a dream.” He is far from explicit
about the matter, but one infers revolutionary ideals that came to naught when
the uprisings were quelled and the singers of such bold songs were punished.16
Finally, the mightiest of the forest oaks in “Die Eiche” (The oak tree) boasts of
its deep roots, its great age, its ability to withstand storms—but then, all of a
sudden, it falls, struck down by “mere dwarves.”17 No one at midcentury would
need much prompting to interpret these lines.

The Poet’s “Warnung”

It is a terse poem that inspired Schumann’s terse setting.

Warnung Warning
Es geht der Tag zur Neige, The day is declining
Der Licht und Freiheit bot, That offered light and freedom;
O schweige, Vöglein, schweige, be silent, little bird,
Du singst dich in den Tod; you are singing yourself into death.
36 The Political Sphere

Die Winde nächtlich rauschen, The night winds stir,

Die Blätter zittern bang, the leaves tremble in fear;
Den Feinden, die drin lauschen, your song betrays you
Verräth dich dein Gesang; to your enemies that listen therein.
Gluthäugig durch’s Gezweige The burning eyes of the screech owl
Der finstre Schuhu droht: glower their menace through the
O schweige, Vöglein, schweige, be silent, little bird,
Du singst dich in den Tod!18 you are singing yourself into death.

This is a poem that, paradoxically, announces its coded language, inviting one to
ponder what its symbols mean. In the German forest a “little bird” sings, and the
poetic I urgently warns it to cease and desist, lest enemies hear it, lest the bird of
prey that rules the woods discover where it is and kill it. Spies, overlords, sup-
pression of song (poetry, creativity, free thought): if one read this poem on its
own, without knowledge of its neighbors in the Waldlieder, without knowing
the historical circumstances, one could still perceive political messages. The day
of light and freedom is waning, we are told at the beginning, before the urgent
imperative to be silent, the injunction reiterated as the refrain for the first and
third verses. In the second stanza the threat is made even more explicit, with its
enemies who traffic in betrayal, but it is not until the final stanza that we are told
of the giant eagle owl or horned owl, with its ominous, glowing eyes. The poem
is not illustrated in the edition Schumann knew but is accompanied by a won-
derfully atmospheric engraving in the 1869 edition (Figure 3.2), complete with

Figure 3.2. Woodcut after the drawing of an unnamed Düsseldorf artist for Gustav Pfarrius,
Die Waldlieder: Dritte, stark vermehrte Auflage (Cologne: M. DuMont-Schauberg, 1869), 37.
The Cry of the Schuhu 37

spooky trees, a solitary human figure, and scudding clouds. How interesting that
the illustrator hints at glowing eyes but does nothing so blatant as to depict
either the tyrant of the woods or any explicit enemies.
A brief avian disquisition: to symbolize the poet or the poet’s soul as birdlike
is familiar from countless poems in many languages, but Pfarrius’s choice of the
Schuhu (or Uhu) as his symbol for fatal power also has a long history in folklore
and art. The feathers on this bird of prey’s head are vaguely hornlike, and legend
therefore made it a diabolical creature, companion to witches and the Wild
Hunt, its cry an announcement of impending death.19 In fact all owls—once
wise Athena’s bird—became emblematic of evil in the Old Testament, where
they inhabit Isaiah’s desert wastelands:
But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven
shall dwell in it; and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion and the
stones of emptiness. (34:11)
And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses
thereof; and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay and hatch, and gather under
her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, everyone with her mate.
In a twelfth-century bestiary in the collection of Cambridge University owls are
symbols of “the Jews who repulse our Savior,” and in the fifteenth century
Konrad von Negenberg in Das Buch der Natur (The book of nature) distin-
guishes between Eule and Uhu, the former symbolic of evil people who hate the
light of truth, the latter symbolic of sinful clerics.20 A similar symbolic vocabu-
lary of evil in a religious context is visible in Hieronymus Bosch’s great and
mysterious triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights; in one corner we see a gath-
ering of birds bogged down in the swamp of vice and flanked on either side by
the screech owl of death and the devil’s own horned owl.21 Was Pfarrius refer-
ring to this old symbolic equation between the devil, or his diabolical emissaries
on earth, and the great bird of prey in “Warnung”?
If these few examples culled from a larger repertory are in theological ear-
nest, later writers and artists in the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth
would make owls the emblems of religious superstition—an evil of a different
sort, in their view. An afrancesado artist in tune with the French Enlightenment
ideas making their way into Spain, Goya surrounds his alter ego in The Sleep
of Reason Produces Monsters from Los Caprichos (first published in the Calle
del Desengaño, or Street of Disillusion), with a swarm of owls. In two other
engravings from the same collection the old witch who teaches a young witch
to ride a penile broomstick in Pretty Teacher! from the same collection is
accompanied by an owl flying overhead, and the man and woman struggling
38 The Political Sphere

Figure 3.3. Francisco Goya, Can’t Anyone Untie Us?, from

Los Caprichos. Reprinted with permission from Francisco
Goya y Lucientes, Los Caprichos (New York: Dover, 1969),
no. 75.

against the ropes binding them together in the engraving Can’t Anyone Untie
Us? are straddled by a giant horned owl clearly representing the forces of the
Church, which frowned on divorce (Figure 3.3).22 A few decades later Heine,
no friend to Catholicism, would devise a “Verkehrte Welt” (upside-down
world) in which “the calves roast the cook, the nags ride on men, and the
Catholic owl fights for freedom of learning and the light of reason.”23 In a less
tendentious tone the nameless narrator of the Grimm brothers’ tale “Die Eule”
both mocks rustic superstition about owls as diabolical creatures and pre-
serves the antique signification. When a giant horned owl takes up residence
in a barn, the villagers send the town hero to do battle with it, but despite
prayers to St. George, he cannot withstand the sight of the bewildered owl
flapping its wings and uttering harsh cries. At the burgomaster’s instigation
the villagers burn down barn and owl alike.24 A rich stew of connotations
The Cry of the Schuhu 39

having to do with superstition born of religion, religion as superstition, evil,

the devil, folklore, and more lurk in the background of this one image from
Owls become political animals too. The giant horned owl in stanza 3 of
“Warnung” has multiple company in another poem by Pfarrius, “Warte
Eulenpack!” (Just wait, you pack of owls!). Pfarrius created his own variation on
the antique satirical theme of a parliament of animals in order to send up the
revolutionary era’s debates regarding a constitution. The lion king, we are told,
goes on autumnal maneuvers through the forest and comes to a place where
there used to be a lake, now merely a swamp with frogs instead of fish. Indignant,
the lion demands to know who deprived the fish of their rights. The horned
owl—we are told he is a minister of state—takes out a document, since no offi-
cial can do anything unless it is in writing, and replies that at the last session of
the Reichstag it came about that the fish were to be represented by the frogs.
“Don’t the fish have a voice and a place equal to those of the other animals?” the
lion indignantly roars, and the owl takes out yet another document and declares
that, yes, they do in theory, but it is an evil reality that those who are helpless
cannot speak for themselves, hence are represented by “neighbor Big Mouth.”
When the lion king insists that a mighty dam be built to restore his “pious fish,”
the frogs, swollen with rage, cry out, “This violates the charter! What we achieved
there in parliamentary session can here be nullified by the king’s mere word?—
Just you wait, you pack of owls, you’ll pay for this! Quak, quak quak!” The king
replies that whatever they accomplished in the Reichstag he will gladly complete,
but he also tells them firmly that he is deputized to speak for those who cannot.
There, with the assertion of the king’s absolute authority and veto power, the
poem ends. No wonder it disappeared from the third edition in 1869, to be
replaced by the assurance that the poet did nothing for which his native country
might condemn him.25
Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s emphatic refusal to redeem his father’s half-hearted
promise of a constitution—one of the most incendiary issues of the 1848 rev-
olution—is the obvious backdrop to “Warte Eulenpack.” Not until seven years
after his accession to the Prussian throne in 1840, and only after much
foot-dragging, did he summon committees from the provincial diets in Prussia
to meet as a United Diet in Berlin. The result was a mongrel mixture of abso-
lutist ideas, the traditional representation of classes and privileges, and a very
inadequate nod to modern constitutional principles, its main accomplish-
ment being the provision of actors and a stage for the formation of an orga-
nized opposition. One notes the amphibians, mammals, birds, and aquatic
creatures in Pfarrius’s poem and looks for analogies to the different players in
the constitutional struggles, the liberal aristocrats, the urban and rural mid-
dle classes, the monarchy, and the conservatives in the king’s inner circles. Are
the “pious fish,” recalling as they do an antique Christ symbol, emblematic of
the conservatives who, like their monarch, propounded a “Christian state”?26
40 The Political Sphere

One can rest assured that readers at midcentury would have been able to pin
the tail on the donkey and identify the players in this parliamentary squabble
without any need for prompting.

Schumann’s Spätstil Setting

If one conjectures that Schumann might have been drawn to Pfarrius’s

anthology in part by his own liberal ideals and his postrevolutionary musings,
does he then turn his setting of “Warnung” into some sort of political state-
ment? Not overtly so, but I would like to think that the cognoscenti would have
recognized in this song a contemporary version of an antique theme: the
menace to artists by governments fearful of art’s power to persuade, the subju-
gation of “the learned and eloquent” by the state.27 I hasten to add that if politics
are implicated in Schumann’s reasons for gravitating to this poem and fash-
ioning it in this manner, so too are purely musical considerations. The compo-
sition of “Warnung” coincided with Schumann’s organization in fall 1851 both
of a Quartettkränzchen, or chamber music society, and a Singekränzchen, a
private musical club devoted to singing early music, in particular Palestrina,
Lassus, and Bach. Neither initiative lasted very long, but I would guess that the
renewed exposure to earlier vocal polyphony had an effect on the centerpiece
of Op. 119, composed in late September. “Warnung” is in neither modal
counterpoint nor the stricter Baroque processes, but the stark exposure of the
voices that cross one another in this song, its obsessive repetitions part and
parcel of its eerie impact, seem the distillate of this composer’s lifelong contra-
puntal interests.
Of all Schumann’s late songs this is one of the best, devoid of all superfluity,
every gesture maximally meaningful. The directional symbolism is inescapable:
over and over we descend (Example 3.1), and there is more than a little resem-
blance between this descent and those that fill this song’s cousin in bleak mas-
tery, “Herzeleid” (Example 3.2).28 Because a fall downward from the heights is
the only figure given the pianist, we inevitably seek reasons in the poem for this
obsession with falling motion and can devise several. For example, we might
hear it as repeated defeat: no matter how many times the piano tries to assert the
freedom of higher planes, it is dragged inexorably back down. In another
Pfarrius-derived connotation we learn as the song wends its way that high
F-sharp sounds a threat of death (a variation on a pitch far in advance of
Wozzeck’s death scene), and one would be well advised to slip undercover, not to
sing out from on high. And it is of chilling import that the principal pattern is
so often elided with its own repetitions or variations in self-perpetuating
manner, a prison from which one cannot escape. Over and over the same
dilemma presents itself.
The Cry of the Schuhu 41

Example 3.1. Robert Schumann, “Warnung,” Op. 119, no. 2, mm. 1–4.

Example 3.2. Robert Schumann, “Herzeleid,” Op. 107, no. 1, mm. 1–5.

That we might mark the importance of the fall from heights to depths reiter-
ated throughout the song, Schumann first delineates it without harmonic
underpinning in measure 1, falling from dominant pitch to dominant pitch in
such a way as to emphasize off the beat the third and sixth degrees that define
minor mode. Those same prolonged pitches lean on the second and fifth scale
degrees as if the D and G were implied appoggiaturas, while the first and highest
pitch is accented, both to tell the listener that it is a downbeat, not an anacrusis,
and to set the downward slide into motion. The whole bar can be heard as an
extended, embellished F-sharp in two registers, the lowest of which then creeps
downward by chromatic degrees in the harmonized second measure before the
entire pattern of the descent in measure 1 is repeated an octave lower. The impu-
tation is that we could keep going into a bottomless pit, eventually falling off the
edge of the known world, but after this hint we mostly hear the figure in its
original register. In other words, we replay the same metaphor for downfall over
and over, and one can hear the repetitions multiply, as reiterated warning, as
obsession, and—the grimmest signification—as history repeating itself without
humanity’s ever having learned anything from the recurring bleakness.
42 The Political Sphere

Another way to hear measure 1 is as a broken delineation of a tonic six-

four chord, but Schumann passes through the tonic pitch without assigning
it any durational or metrical stress (it falls at the exact midmeasure point, but
is an eighth note followed by a quarter note), and he emphasizes the sixth
scale degree in such a way as to veil any harmonic surety for his single line of
pitches. From skeletal uncertainty in measure 1 we go to harmonically rich
uncertainty in measure 2, to two diminished seventh chords in a row (on the
raised fourth and sixth degrees, the latter an incomplete—minus its root—
dominant ninth), hardly the firmest of anchors in the mist-enshrouded
forest. One notes the unusual articulation markings by which the inner voices
are to be made shorter (the conjunction of a staccato marking and a half note
is not something one sees every day), and the outer voices are to be stressed
as much as a piano marking in the wake of a decrescendo will permit. Only in
the transit from measure 2 to measure 3 do we have a leading tone-to-tonic
progression in the bass, the arrival at the first tonic chord elided with the
falling figure’s new beginning and the inner voice’s suspension C-sharp to B,
creating a dissonant smudge on the downbeat. That suspension is then imme-
diately echoed in rhythmic diminution by the descent in the topmost voice as
it sinks even lower. The entire sequence of events in measures 1–2 and its eli-
sion with measure 3 is an eerily quiet announcement of one of the song’s
major sources of power. Again and again Schumann will inflect B-Minor
without ever leaving it. We are both frozen in place and desperately unsure all
at once.
The small compound of gestures to which these twenty-nine measures are
restricted is subjected to variation and warping; this is not an exercise in
ground bass or cantus firmus. For example, the segment of measures 1 and 3
outlining scale degrees 1, 2, and 3 is inflected with multiple C-naturals, the
lowered second degree, in measure 4 (“[der] Tag zur Nei-ge”), with various
voices bringing out the B—C-natural fraction and the C-natural to D fraction.
The harmonization is such as to suggest the briefest of emphases on the sub-
mediant harmony of G-Major, each chord marked tenuto. We hear in these
alterations of what came before multiple imputations compressed into a
small space. The heaviness of the Neapolitan pressing downward to tonic
morphs indissolubly into the merest imputation of somewhere brighter, the
“Tag” that is now vanishing. The rhythmic subtlety by which the “resolution”
to G-Major happens on the last beat of measure 4 tells of something on the
way out, slipping away even as we invoke it. It is a sad irony that we return to
the B-Minor we never really left as the persona sings of the “Licht und
Freiheit” (a slogan of the 1848 revolutions) once promised by the day and
now ceding to darkness.
The twofold falling figure, transposed a semitone upward in measure 5,
returning to its original level in measure 6 is an elaboration of the semitone
The Cry of the Schuhu 43

relationship between the sixth and fifth scale degrees (G, F-sharp) at the end
of measure 1 and thereafter, and one notes as well the first appearances of
another thumbnail signifier in this song: the grace notes that are Schumann’s
launching pads for repeated return to the heights—from whence we are
doomed to fall again and again. One thinks irresistibly of the citation from
Schumann’s diary with which Graham Johnson introduces his recording of
selected later songs: “The sky is strangely red: is it morning, is it evening? I
do not know—but we must work to achieve light!”29 Here the “work” is evi-
dent in the quietly desperate vaults upward, but the optimism against all
odds expressed in the quotation—and one notes the recognition of strug-
gle—is not possible in this song, hemmed about by all-encompassing
menace. Lest we somehow miss the importance of the “light and freedom”
now vanishing, Schumann doubles the singer’s words “Licht und” in the
piano, then sounds another in the series of downbeat dissonances that are
such a hallmark of this song on the crucial first syllable of “Frei-heit.” In the
crunch of leading tone on tonic, we can hear how bitter is the awareness of
freedom’s loss.
To live in fear is to live in a warped world. One register of the stresses
induced by paranoia is the disjunction Schumann engineers between the sing-
er’s phrases and the piano’s falling pattern from measures 1–2, the material
from which the entire song is derived. The descent first heard in m. 1 shifts
from conjunction with the first bar of the singer’s two-bar phrases, as in mea-
sures 3 and 5, to conjunction with the second half of the singer’s phrases, as in
measures 8 and 10, the latter instance elided with the piano interludes bet-
ween stanzas 1 and 2 and again between stanzas 2 and 3: it’s everywhere, it’s
everywhere. What is so affecting about the first injunction to be silent (“O
schweige, Vöglein, schweige” in mm. 7–8) is the cloaked tenderness of the
changes wrought on the song’s basic musical idea (Example 3.3). The two
chords from measure 2, with their deep bass underpinning, underlie the first
words of the imperative “O schweige” in measure 7 but are now entirely dia-
tonic. When the falling figure comes back around in measure 8 for the fifth
time (the conjunction of those two numbers should be sufficient to make clear
this song’s obsessive nature) the exact same pitches in the right hand—mea-
sure 1 with a grace note attached—are reharmonized to suggest D-Major in
the piano and its skeletal dominant in the vocal line. The momentary hint,
and it is no more than that, of the softer, brighter relative major paves the way
for the tense return of the figures with all their original menace restored and
then some. The subtle contrast between the soupçon of sympathy for the poet
who must fall silent and the danger reasserted as chromaticism redivivus in
B-Minor is then recycled in the second stanza, an exact duplicate of the first to
different words. Bit by bit menace already invoked in the first verse is explained
until full horror is achieved.
44 The Political Sphere

Example 3.3. Robert Schumann, “Warnung,” mm. 7–11.

What the almost literal repetition of the same music for Pfarrius’s verses 1
and 2 also does is reinforce the equation in which song can lead to death. The
culminating words “Tod” and “[Ge]-sang” are set to the same accented high
F-sharp on the downbeat with which the entire song begins. The only difference
between the setting of verse 1 and verse 2 is Schumann’s added doubling of the
lowered second degree C-natural in measure 13 beneath the word “nächt-[lich],”
an extra pinprick of dissonance compared to its prior manifestation at the word
“Tag” in measure 4. Of such jeweled details is this song made. A truly remark-
able compound of motives attends each cry of alarm at stanza’s end, including a
premonition of Brahms’s famous “death motif ” of falling thirds. The figure we
hear in the inner, or alto, voice in the right hand’s lower stratum in measures
10–11 (F-sharp, D, B, G-natural), beginning sforzando at the word “Tod,” prefig-
ures the later composer’s falling thirds in the Heine song “Mondenschein,”
Op. 85, no. 2, in the piano beneath the words “krankes Herz [und müde Glieder];”
in “Feldeinsamkeit,” Op. 86, no. 2, at the words “mir ist, als ob ich längst gestor-
ben bin,” and, most famously, in “Ich wandte mich” and “O Tod, wie bitter bist
du” from the Vier ernste Gesänge almost half a century after Schumann’s death-
haunted song of warning (Examples 3.4–3.7).30 The massively octave-displaced,
grace-noted leap upward in the left hand on the Monteverdi diminished fourth
interval (A-sharp, D) so often associated with lament is a newly dramatic man-
ifestation of the tenor voice in measure 2 and the “Licht und Frei-[heit]” pitches
in measures 5–6, now reversed. (Just to cite examples from earlier nineteenth-
century Lieder, think of the bitter downward turn in the vocal line from F to
C-sharp in the first phrase of Schubert’s “Der König in Thule” or the figure bor-
rowed from Bach at the beginning of the same composer’s “Der Atlas,” a figure
contained within F-sharp and B-flat.) The shifting voices in this interstice
between the stanzas acts first to postpone the conjunction of voices to produce
a root position tonic simultaneity, then to shroud it as a G-Major chord only
ceding to B-Minor on the final eighth note subbeat of the bar, en route in passing
motion that goes to the diminished seventh harmony on the downbeat of mea-
sure 2. When tonic on the downbeat finally happens in measure 12 it is elided
with the returned falling figure. These iterations of menace could, we realize by
now, go on and on and on.
Example 3.4. Johannes Brahms, “Mondenschein,” Op. 85, no. 2, mm. 1–6.

Example 3.5. Johannes Brahms, “Feldeinsamkeit,” mm. 26–28.

Example 3.6a. Johannes Brahms, “Ich wandte mich” from Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121,
no. 2, mm. 44–48.
46 The Political Sphere

Example 3.6b. Johannes Brahms, “Ich wandte mich” from Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121,
no. 2, mm. 52–54.

Example 3.7. Johannes Brahms, “O Tod, o Tod, wie bitter bist du” from Vier ernste
Gesänge, Op. 121, no. 3, mm. 1–2.

In the poem the warning to the little bird to hush is the same at the end
of the first verse and the end of the poem, but Schumann knew to intensify
it the second time around, in the presence of the great owl (mm. 25–28).
Now the singer reiterates the high F-sharp of “death” and song’s “betrayal”
over and over, including the naming of the owl. An accent on the downbeat
is no longer sufficient for menace named openly; four times in a row we hear
a sfp punch at the start of the piano’s falling figure, the former tonic pitch B
now transformed into the dominant of E-Minor, harmonized as a ninth
chord—yet another manifestation of B grinding against C-natural. Four
times in a row we hear interlacing versions of the same compilation of
pitches (mm. 21–24) before resolution to E-Minor: the threat of death,
announced sforzando in measure 25 before shading back down to the ten-
sion-filled hush in which this song lives and breathes—just barely (Example
3.8). No wonder Schumann so explicitly recalled “Herzeleid,” composed on
January 21, 1851, which begins with an exposed version of the “death”
descending thirds and explores similar downbeat dissonances, intervallic
motives, and deferred cadences.
The Cry of the Schuhu 47

Example 3.8. Robert Schumann, “Warnung,” mm. 21–25.

But we do not end in E-Minor, nor do we stay there. The persona cancels the
D-sharp leading tone in measure 26 and goes back to B-Minor, but over F-sharp
in the bass. In one of Schumann’s famous endings that question the very cate-
gory of endings, the singer may achieve tonic closure on the downbeat of mea-
sure 28, but the piano is not so sure that this is really the end of it all. Its low B
in the left hand is a grace note; if the pedal blurs that low tone throughout the
mist-enshrouded final two bars, the sustained pitches in the final bar are F-sharps
with a lone D in the middle. “How to make the tonic chord un-final” might well
have been Schumann’s assignment to himself in this song. After all, the danger
is not over when these words and tones cease.

“Villainy,” said the Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp, “is what fuels the plots of
fairy tales.”31 The villainy in “Warnung” is, I would conjecture, culled from the
politics and history of the day, its air of myth and magic a semitransparent veil
for stark realities. We know, in part thanks to John Daverio’s and Reinhard
Kapp’s refutations of clichés about Schumann’s supposedly apolitical nature,
that the composer was fascinated from a very early age by the history swirling all
around him; no one reading his diary could doubt it for a minute.32 Daverio’s
position on the question of Schumann’s political engagement was more cau-
tious than Kapp’s, perhaps advisable given the paucity of evidence to support
any notion of Schumann on the musical barricades. But it would be unreasonable
48 The Political Sphere

to expect such a brilliant mind to exclude political immensities from his music,
nor does he. Daverio points out that in the choral-orchestral ballad Des Sängers
Fluch, Schumann both muses on the fraught questions of the day—unity, revolt,
liberty, a new order—and alters Uhland’s poem such that the minstrel of the
title lives on, rather than dying. It is my proposal that “Warnung” is likewise a
gloomy contemporary meditation on the same postrevolutionary conundrums,
conveyed not by massed forces but by the lone, disenchanted voice. That it is so
compact, so quiet, only adds to its power.

1. The first song in the Kindertotenlieder (“Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n”)
and the second movement of Das Lied von der Erde (“Der Einsame im Herbst”)
come to mind.
2. The long-lived Gustav Pfarrius (1800–1884) studied philology (his first foray
into print was a critique of an edition of the fourth-century writer Quintus
Smyrnaeus) and theology at the universities in Halle and Bonn. He became a
Gymnasium instructor in Saarbrücken and, after 1834, in Cologne and published
only two poetic works before the anthology Die Waldlieder, from which Schumann
took his texts: an epic poem entitled Karlmann, ein Gedicht (Bonn: E. Weber, 1841)
and Das Nahethal in Liedern (Cologne: Aachen, 1838). Between 1850 and 1869 he
published six anthologies of poetry and of short stories. See Schanze and Schulte,
Literarische Vorlagen, 323. See also Finson, Robert Schumann, 221–25 for an infor-
mative summary of Op. 119.
3. See, among many other sources, Demandt, Über allen Wipfeln; Detering, Die
Bedeutung der Eiche seit der Vorzeit; Kuehnemund, Arminius; Ritter, Der Cherusker;
Weyergraf, Waldungen.
4. See Wullen, Die Deutschen sind im Treppenhaus; Hildebrand, Das Leben und
Werk des Berliner Bildhauers Otto Geyer.
5. Pfarrius, Die Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 1–2.
6. Ibid., 3.
7. Pfarrius, Die Waldlieder: Dritte, 65–66.
8. See Schurz, Die Befreiung Gottfried Kinkels. Schurz fled to America and became
a confidant of none other than Abraham Lincoln.
9. The two-against-three juxtapositions throughout “Abendlied” can be under-
stood in one sense as a metaphor for the juxtaposition of things earthly and heavenly,
but I wonder if it is also Schumann’s subtle register of conflicts as yet unresolved. If
perfect peace resounds in triplets, the vocal line in duplets is not in accord.
10. See Schanze and Schulte, Literarische Vorlagen, 256.
11. Pfarrius, Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 4; Waldlieder: Dritte, 17.
12. Liah Greenfeld, “The Final Solution of Infinite Longing: Germany” in
Nationalism, 275–395.
13. Pfarrius Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 40, Waldlieder, Dritte, 32. Heine would
record the same exasperation with Germany’s inaction in the third stanza of “Zur
The Cry of the Schuhu 49

Beruhigung” from his Neue Gedichte of 1844: “Wir sind Germanen, gemütlich und
brav, / Wir schlafen gesunden Pflanzenschlaf, / Und wenn wir erwachen pflegt uns
zu dürsten, / Doch nicht nach dem Blute unserer Fürsten” (Säkularausgabe, 114).
Freiligrath’s famous poem beginning “Deutschland ist Hamlet! ernst und stumm”
(Germany is Hamlet, earnest and mute) was also emphatic on the subject of German
political torpor (Sämtliche Werke, 5:77–79).
14. See Bunsen, Nippold, and Bunsen, Christian Carl Josias Freiherr von Bunsen,
2:392; also cited in Legge, Rhyme and Revolution in Germany, 176. See also Schnelling-
Reinicke and Illner, Petitionen und Barrikaden, 355, with its reproduction of the
Neue Rheinische Zeitung no. 149 (November 1848); the despairing article from
Cologne begins “Die Preßfreiheit ist in Berlin vernichtet.”
15. Pfarrius, Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 53; Waldlieder, Dritte, 47.
16. Pfarrius, Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 5, Waldlieder, Dritte, 7–8.
17. Pfarrius, Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 6–7; Waldlieder, Dritte, 8. In the third
edition the poetic persona of “Der Eichenhain” once again laments the loss of an-
tique Teutonic glory—“Alas, the Valkyries left us,” he mourns—and beseeches the
oak trees to tell him how long it will be before “true German sorrow” impels the
hour of salvation.
18. Pfarrius, Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 49; Waldlieder, Dritte, 37.
19. See “Eule” in Hoffmann-Krayer and Stäubli, Handwörterbuch des deutschen
Aberglaubens, 2:1073–79.
20. See T. H. White, The Book of Beasts; Megenberg, Buch der Natur; Spyra, Das
“Buch der Natur” Konrads von Megenberg.
21. See Glum, “Divine Judgment.”
22. See Goya y Lucientes, Los Caprichos, plate nos. 43, 68, 75.
23. Heine, Säkularausgabe, 115. In the same volume (157) one also finds an unti-
tled, unpublished poem that begins:
Die Eule studierte Pandekten
Kanonisches Recht u[nd] die Glossa
Und als sie kam nach Welschland,
Sie frug: wo liegt Canossa?
Die alten, matten Raben
Sie ließen die Flügel hängen
Sie sprachen: Das alte Canossa
Ist längstens untergegangen.
Wir möchten ein neues bauen,
Doch fehlt dazu das Beste
Die Marmorblöcke, die Quadern,
Und die gekrönten Gäste.
24. Grimm and Grimm, “The Owl,” in The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, 711–12.
The Grimms were among the Göttingen Seven fired from their professorships in
1837, when they protested the Hanoverian king’s revocation of the liberal constitution
his older brother had granted.
50 The Political Sphere

25. Pfarrius, Waldlieder: Mit Illustrationen, 54–55.

26. See Nipperdey, Germany, 579–89. See also Sperber’s Rhineland Radicals and
The European Revolutions.
27. I have borrowed this phrase from Po Chü-i’s ninth-century poem, translated
by Arthur Waley and set to music as “The Red Cockatoo” by Benjamin Britten:
Sent as a present from Annam
A red cockatoo.
Colour’d like the peach tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.
And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside.
28. See Laura Tunbridge’s perceptive discussion of “Herzeleid” in Schumann’s
Late Style, 27–30.
29. Cited in Graham Johnson, “The Later Songs of Robert Schumann,” in The
Songs of Robert Schumann (Hyperion CDJ33101, 1996), 1:5.
30. Roe-Min Kok has discovered other instances of deathly thirds in Schumann’s
music; see her illuminating essay “Falling Asleep.”
31. Cited in Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, xxix.
32. See Daverio, “Einheit—Freiheit—Vaterland”; Kapp, “Schumann nach der

Segregating Sound
Robert Schumann in the Third Reich

Lily E. Hirsch

In the “Reich’s Orchestra,” the Berlin Philharmonic, Robert Schumann’s music

was presented in only thirteen of ninety concerts conducted by Wilhelm
Furtwängler during the Nazi period (1933–45), while Beethoven’s was included
in forty-four.1 In the main party newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, 243
articles focused on Richard Wagner and 116 on Ludwig van Beethoven.
Schumann featured in fewer than fifteen.2 Schumann clearly fell below
Beethoven and Wagner in the regime’s hierarchy of musical masters. Indeed
he was not even inducted into Regensburg’s Valhalla, a replica of the Parthenon
originally completed under the auspices of King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1841
to honor Germany’s cultural idols.3 Of major nineteenth-century German
composers, the only ones missing from Valhalla are Schumann, the Jewish
Felix Mendelssohn, baptized at age seven, and Johannes Brahms, who, no
German nationalist could forget, was positioned as Wagner’s antithesis during
the second half of the nineteenth century.4 Nazi leaders could have corrected
this “oversight” in Schumann’s case, as they had when they “annexed” Anton
Bruckner in 1937.5 But they did not, suggesting that there were some points of
friction between the prevailing ideology and views of Schumann’s life and
Writers in Nazi Germany readily acknowledged certain shortcomings that
complicated Schumann’s reception as Aryan ideal. In his sizable Schumann
monograph of 1941, Wolfgang Boetticher (1914–2002), who worked in the ser-
vice of prominent Nazi officials, including Alfred Rosenberg, insisted that
Schumann’s racial essence was predominantly Nordic, with the appropriate
“severity” (Strenge), “longing” (Sehnende), and “Faustian depth” (faustische
Tiefe). However, he also admitted certain so-called Eastern traits, thereby linking
Schumann with the perceived inferior Eastern or Alpine race of Central Europe.6
Richard Eichenauer (1893–?), a Nazi Party member with no formal musicolog-
ical training, likewise ascribed to Schumann a mix of both the Nordic and

52 The Political Sphere

Eastern racial types.7 The founder of the Musicology Department in Cologne,

Ernst Bücken (1884–1949), who joined the Nazi Party in 1933, expanded on this
perceived duality when he suggested the following as a subtitle for his Schumann
biography: “The Problem of the Artistic Double Nature.”8 Bücken was in part
referring to Schumann’s later mental illness, which he explored in a chapter of
his biography. As we will see, this illness was seen by some as a challenge to
Schumann’s status in Nazi Germany.9
But this is only one side of Schumann’s reception during the Third Reich.
As the Nazi sympathizer Karl Hasse (1883–1960) insisted in his politically
motivated book on the German masters of 1934, despite Schumann’s per-
ceived flaws Germans must learn to love him again. If not, the so-called land
of music would be without part of its “German essence” (deutschen Wesens).10
Schumann was still a German composer and needed to be treated as such. The
regime relied on its German artists to imagine the German nation and justify
German supremacy. To protect this precious national resource they eliminated
elements thought to be threatening to their cultural heritage. To this end, by
means of the Law for the Reconstitution of the Civil Service of April 7, 1933,
they dismissed Jews—defined at that time as any person descended from a
Jewish parent or grandparent—from cultural institutions such as state-run
music conservatories, opera houses, concert halls, and theaters. They also
restricted Jewish involvement in the radio, press, and the Reich Chamber of
Music and, with some degree of error, banned the music of Jewish composers,
even of those deceased, such as Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Gustav
Mahler. The regime’s cultural watchdogs could not allow Schumann to under-
mine this segregation of the arts by failing to fulfill expectations of the lofty
In this essay I examine how writers and musicologists sympathetic to the
Nazi cause attempted to overcome Schumann’s contested reception history—
how they emphasized aspects of Schumann’s biography and reception that cor-
responded to Nazi values (his anti-Semitism and nationalistic worldview) while
downplaying those that did not—and the obstacles they encountered in so
doing. Using German texts from the era I focus specifically on responses to
Schumann’s relationship with Wagner, mental illness, ties to Heinrich Heine,
and, inevitably, his association with Mendelssohn. In so doing I approach
Schumann as a tarnished sonic emblem or “hardly hero.”11 Though there is
significant literature on the “heroes” of Nazi cultural politics and their roles in
Nazi ideology, as Pamela M. Potter has demonstrated in her work on Handel’s
politicization, the “hardly heroes” can also offer significant insight into musical
politics during the Third Reich, and may indeed offer more critical insight into
Nazi values as well as the regime’s methods of musical appropriation.12 This
essay contributes to Schumann scholarship—which has generally overlooked
the composer’s standing in the Third Reich—as well as to secondary literature
on music in Nazi Germany.
Segregating Sound 53

Aryan by Association

Nazi-era music scholars were quick to claim Schumann as Germany’s own dur-
ing the Third Reich. In 1939 Friedrich Welter even heralded as “prophetic”
Schumann’s recognition of “true German” Musikpolitik, in this way suggesting
that the composer prefigured Nazi cultural policy.13 There was a basis for this
manipulation in Schumann’s biography. For one, Schumann had criticized
Mendelssohn based on perceived racial characteristics in his Marriage Diaries:
Clara told me that I seemed different toward Mendelssohn; surely not toward
him as an artist—you know that—for years I have contributed so much to
promoting him, more than almost anyone else. In the meantime—let’s not
neglect ourselves too much. Jews remain Jews; first they take a seat ten times
for themselves, then comes the Christian’s turn.14
Boetticher capitalized on this anti-Semitism: he highlighted Schumann’s use of
the term Jew as “insult” (Schimpfwort), and identified an anti-Semitic strain in
Schumann’s reviews of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s music with its “annoying, grum-
bling and indiscreet rhythm.” Boetticher also noted Schumann’s valorization of
the German Volk in the pages of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (hereafter NZfM),
the journal Schumann founded in 1834.15 In most writings in this nationalistic
vein, authors also highlighted the composer’s connections to iconic German
artists, such as Beethoven and Bach. Bücken, for example, credited Schumann
with inspiring the publication of the complete compositions of Bach, a task
Schumann had hailed as a “national undertaking.”16 This emphasis on
Schumann’s links to Bach and Beethoven, composers held in high esteem, was
strategic. By highlighting Schumann’s reverence for Bach, writers used the
untarnished reputation of a perceived greater German master to sanitize
Schumann by association. Such an approach worked to a certain extent. However,
authors such as Boetticher and Bücken confronted a dilemma when they sought
in this way to connect Schumann to Wagner.
Wagner and Schumann had regarded one another with skepticism. Despite
having lived in Dresden at the same time, from 1844 to 1848, the two com-
posers did not form a lasting friendship. Schumann was in fact put off by
Wagner’s very personality. Of Wagner Schumann said, “He has the most amaz-
ing gift of the gab, and is always chock full of his own ideas; one cannot listen
to him for long.”17 Wagner, for his part, seems to have recognized Schumann’s
lack of sustained attention during their conversations: “I didn’t get any real
stimulation from his company, and that he was too unreceptive to benefit
from any serious views of mine was soon evident.”18 Musically their relation-
ship suffered as well. Both composers regarded the other’s conducting as inad-
equate.19 In a letter to Mendelssohn of October 22, 1845, regarding Wagner’s
Tannhäuser, Schumann went even further: “Wagner—though certainly a bril-
liant fellow and full of original, audacious ideas—can hardly set down (and
54 The Political Sphere

think out) a four-measure phrase beautifully or even correctly.”20 Though he

later retracted some of this censure, Schumann maintained a critical stance
toward Wagner’s music dramas and in 1853 championed Brahms instead of
his long-winded colleague.21
A greater challenge to their posthumous relationship, however, was Wagner’s
recorded opinion of Schumann’s late style. In a later version of “Das Judentum
in der Music” (Judaism in music), published in 1869 in NZfM (by then a
Wagnerian mouthpiece), Wagner insisted that Schumann’s later works were
marked by “sickliness” and suffered under the influence of a Jewish essence, a
thinly veiled reference to Schumann’s relationship with Mendelssohn.22 Such
criticism put Schumann and Wagner, who should both epitomize the Aryan
ideal, at odds with each other and, worse still, associated Schumann with
To right this wrong, Bücken distanced Wagner’s problem with Schumann
from Mendelssohn and the Jews by attributing it instead to Schumann’s inability
to keep up with Wagner’s progressive friends.23 In contrast, Boetticher, who dis-
cussed at length the relationship between the two composers, urged readers to
recognize the friendship that he claimed did exist between the two men.24 He
concluded his discussion by describing this friendship, once recognized, as “a
marvelous symbol of the unity of the German Romantic.”25 The idea of an unac-
knowledged bond likewise attracted the German nationalistic composer and
Nazi sympathizer Hans Pfitzner, who admired Schumann and publicized the
Romantic composer’s nationalism and suspicion of Jews.26 In 1936 he described
Wagner and Schumann’s relationship as Sternfreundschaft (literally “star friend-
ship”), defined by Pfitzner as “the deep inner fellowship existing between two
human beings, better between two men, but which cannot make itself felt dur-
ing their lifetime.”27
Such formulations circumvented the realities of Schumann and Wagner’s
relationship and provided a viable solution to the Wagner obstacle in
Schumann’s reception. Of course some scholars simply ignored the contro-
versy altogether. In his short article on Schumann, for example, Erich Valentin
(1906–93) linked the two composers with no reservations, explaining how
both had fought for Germanness in music.29 But Schumann’s dual nature,
highlighted by Bücken, was still a clear obstacle. In the eyes of Richard
Eichenauer the duality of Schumann’s core makeup (Nordic or Eastern)
manifested itself in Schumann’s contrasting Davidsbündler characters
Eusebius and Florestan, which Schumann himself had called his “double
nature.”29 Bücken also connected this duality to the composer’s contrasting
moods, which led eventually to a major affective disorder, attempted suicide,
and hospitalization.30 Schumann’s mental instability was then, as now, a
source of great fascination among scholars.31 During the Third Reich, how-
ever, it threatened the regime’s stance on mental illness and extreme policies
regarding the insane.
Segregating Sound 55

Mental Illness and Nazi Euthanasia

The Nazi regime was generally hostile to “Jewish Freudian” psychoanalysis,

which had become popular at the beginning of the twentieth century.32 In fact
rather than attempt to rehabilitate the mentally ill, by the fall of 1941 Nazi sci-
entists had embarked on a program of euthanasia.33 This program, a first step
toward mass murder, had a connection to perceived ties between mental illness
and the Jew. Many nineteenth-century psychiatrists, such as Emil Kraepelin
(1856–1926), Theodor Kirchhoff (1853–1922), and Richard Krafft-Ebbing
(1840–1902), believed that the Jew was both degenerate and especially predis-
posed to madness.34 German science generally regarded Jewish insanity as a
product of inbreeding, though the Italian Jew Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), in
his Anti-Semitism and the Jews in the Light of Modern Science (1893), also cred-
ited it to the “residual effect of persecution.”35 Echoes of this link can be seen in
the Nazi period’s exhibits of degenerate art and music, which further cemented
connections perceived between the Jewish madman and artistic creativity. Such
racial motivation combined with practical concerns after World War I. At this
time, faced with military defeat, famine, and mass death, German medicine
began to evaluate the relative value of supporting those thought to offer nothing
to society.
The first legislative step that arose from these attitudes toward the mentally
ill was a law passed on July 26, 1933, that called for the sterilization “on a
discretionary basis” of any person affected by the following illnesses: congenital
feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, manic-depressive psychosis, hereditary epi-
lepsy, Huntington’s chorea, hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, severe
hereditary physical deformity, and severe alcoholism.36 In 1939 Hitler assigned
Karl Brandt and Philipp Bouhler the task of organizing a new approach to those
suffering from these disorders. The resulting program of adult euthanasia even-
tually evolved to include a social agenda by targeting people defined in racial
and political terms as well.37
Had Schumann lived during the Nazi era his psychological disorder would have
made him a potential victim of this euthanasia campaign. Not only that, but those
involved with Schumann’s reception must have been aware of the supposed tie bet-
ween madness and the Jewish artist. Wagner’s discussion of Schumann in “Judaism
in Music” showed signs of this awareness when he identified in Schumann’s late
style a “sickliness” and credited it to “Jewish” influence.38 To remove Schumann
from this ideological minefield, nationalistic scholars relied on several techniques.
Boetticher insisted that Schumann’s illness did not affect his creative power or the
completion of his artistic mission.39 As the following discussion shows, the fate of
Schumann’s Concerto in D-Minor for violin and orchestra, a late work composed
in the last months of 1853, was significant to his claim.
Out of respect for Schumann’s memory, Joseph Joachim, Clara Schumann,
and Johannes Brahms had agreed to withhold this work from the public because
56 The Political Sphere

they believed the composition shows signs of mental and creative weakness.
During the Nazi era, however, Joachim’s nieces, the violinists Jelly d’Aranyi and
Adila Fachiri, revoked this decision. They sought and found a publisher for the
work in Wilhelm Strecker at the publishing house Schott Verlag. The work,
whose existence had never been a secret, finally appeared in print in July 1937.40
True to the initial verdict, however, Schumann’s daughter Eugenie protested the
publication. In 1938 Hans Pfitzner responded, insisting that the piece was not
the work of mental illness. Rather, he said, it showed the true mastery of
Schumann, who was able to compose “a great work of German music” even
while sick.41 Ignoring Clara’s and Brahms’s roles in the original decision, other
Germans chastised Eugenie for accepting the opinion of Joachim, who, as a Jew,
was seen as “incapable of judging the work of a German master.”42
Yehudi Menuhin had originally obtained permission for the premiere
performance of the work at the beginning of 1937. However, those responsible
for cultural policy in the Third Reich could not allow a foreign premiere of
the violin concerto with a Jewish violinist.43 Under the auspices of the
Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture, henceforth RKK) and the
propaganda campaign Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Happiness), they
arranged the premiere performance on November 26, 1937, at the German
opera house in Berlin as a political event—even concluding the event with the
singing of the national anthem (Figure 4.1). In addition to the concerto, fea-
turing the soloist Georg Kulenkampff, conductor Karl Böhm, and the Berlin
Philharmonic, the premiere included the prelude to Act III of Wagner’s
Lohengrin, Goethe’s hymn “Prometheus,” delivered by the actor Friedrich
Kayssler, and speeches by Joseph Goebbels, president of the RKK, and Robert
Ley, leader of the Deutschen Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front).44 Goebbels
stressed in his speech the successful removal of Jewish influences and thus con-
tamination as well as the German people’s renewed leadership in the area of
German art.45 The concerto’s premiere symbolically supported this message by
introducing the public to an accepted German replacement for Mendelssohn’s
prohibited violin concerto.46 Still, Schumann’s concerto, said to display evidence
of the composer’s “full creative powers” (volle Schöpferkraft), was presented at
the premiere in a reworked version—though the revisions were concealed from
the public—by Paul Hindemith, whose music had recently been banned by the
Nazi regime.47 By December 20, 1937, the violin concerto was already available
in Germany as a recording.48
Among others John Daverio has recently challenged the early verdict on
Schumann’s late works. However, the reassessment of the violin concerto during
the Third Reich had very different motivations and symbolic value.49 Had the
period’s cultural leaders allowed the violin concerto to remain unpublished they
would have given credence to the idea that Schumann’s artistic mission had
been compromised. Publishing and premiering the concerto while blaming its
earlier absence on “Jewish intrigues” served their larger goals.50
Segregating Sound 57

Figure 4.1. Program from the premiere performance of

Schumann’s Concerto in D-Minor for violin and orchestra,
November 26, 1937. © Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker.

In his chapter on Schumann’s illness, “The Sick Genius” (“Der kranke

Genius”), Bücken employed another strategy to address Schumann’s mental
instability. First he described the reigning idea that only the healthy can produce
works of genius—a significant challenge to Schumann supporters. However, he
then countered this opinion by quoting Ernst Kretschmar’s Geniale Menschen
(Highly gifted people) and the idea that the diabolical, related to the psychopathic
element, is in fact “the essence of genius” (das Wesen des Genius).51 This pro-
nouncement set the tone for Bücken’s discussion of Schumann’s illness and his
rehabilitation as a genius.
Such a resurrection was especially appealing during wartime, when a strug-
gling hero held special meaning for ordinary Germans. At the founding of the
Deutsche Robert Schumann-Gesellschaft (German Robert Schumann Society)
58 The Political Sphere

in June 1943 the president of the Reichsschriftumskammer (Reich Chamber of

Literature), Hans Johst, claimed that Schumann had been “a struggling soul”
(eine kämpferische Seele) and “tragic spirit” (tragischen Geist), but also an exem-
plar of survival par excellence. Johst connected Schumann to the war effort and,
by pointing out that “there is no peace in true art” (“Ruhe ist nicht in der wahren
Kunst”), insisted that struggle was vital to success for all Germans.52 This highly
politicized event included a Schumann festival directed by Pfitzner, which was
repeated the following year with the help of the illustrious soprano and Nazi
Party member Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.53
Bücken’s and Johst’s thinking in this regard recalls nineteenth-century valu-
ations of struggle, a central theme in one of the greatest works of German liter-
ature, Goethe’s Faust: “for him whose striving never ceases / we can provide
redemption.”54 Along these lines, in 1845 Franz Brendel, who had taken over the
editorship of the NZfM in 1844, insisted that great effort is necessary for great
art. In his formulation, Mendelssohn lacked the required internal turmoil, while
Schumann, once nicknamed “Faust” at age seventeen, had experienced conflict
and “subsequently digs deeper.”55 This rationale, which is evident in ideas of
genius in the later nineteenth century, also made Schumann an authentic
German hero of sorts. According to this logic, the genuine artist experienced
turmoil and was thus in some ways necessarily abnormal. Such an artist there-
fore stood outside of normal society, and his or her art was autonomous, pro-
tected from everyday contamination or the “brutal facts of modernity.”56 In 1859
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species gave such beliefs even greater credibility. With
his theory of evolution Darwin argued that a failure to adapt doomed a species
to extinction. Applied to human society, his theory, for some, proved that evolu-
tion did not depend on mutual cooperation. Rather the human race was engaged
in a “struggle for existence,” and only the strongest would survive.57 Struggle was
therefore a valuable part of life. Though the progression from euthanasia to
mass genocide continued without interruption, Schumann (or at least his repu-
tation) benefited during the Nazi era from this earlier valuation of struggle,
which endured in many discussions of Germanness in music from the period.58
Thus his mental instability was transformed from liability to virtue via the peri-
od’s notion of creative genius.

Schumann and the Jews

Still more damaging than madness, however, were Schumann’s connections to

the prominent Jews Heine and Mendelssohn. These connections not only chal-
lenged Schumann’s appropriation as Aryan ideal, but they also defied the cate-
gorization of Heine and Mendelssohn as Jews.
In an attempt to confront Heine’s role in Schumann’s oeuvre and biography,
Nazi officials considered rewriting Heine texts set by Schumann. Such a project
Segregating Sound 59

would have paralleled similar efforts to rewrite Handel’s Israelite oratorios based
on Old Testament texts. But in the case of Schumann, the Nazi musicologist
Hans Joachim Moser (1889–1967), who worked in the Reichsstelle für
Musikbearbeitung, an office of the Propaganda Ministry founded in 1941,
claimed to have prevented this undertaking in his defense after the war.59 Though
Moser may not have been the responsible party, there was indeed a directive in
1936 that allowed texts by Jewish authors to remain if set by prominent com-
posers such as Schumann.60 With Heine and Schumann’s association still musi-
cally intact, the task of distancing Heine from Schumann fell to biographers.
Some simply chose to ignore Heine by discussing Schumann’s Lieder with no
mention of the Jewish poet. This was similar to the compromise reached in the
case of Heine’s beloved “Loreley” poem, which Nazi-sponsored song books car-
ried as “author unknown.”61 Others directly confronted the Heine controversy.
Boetticher, for example, challenged his readers to trust Schumann: he must have
had special reasons for setting Heine’s texts. However, to admit this, he explained,
should in no way suggest Schumann’s “spiritual dependence” on Heine or his
poetry. Boetticher also downplayed Schumann’s Heine settings by insisting that
Schumann had valued Goethe above all other poets and by pointing out the
“conspicuous” absence of Heine’s name from Schumann’s diaries.62 Taking a dif-
ferent approach, the music scholar Hasse argued that Schumann had at least
ennobled Heine’s faulty texts.63 Yet another Nazi musicologist, Werner Korte
(1906–82), criticized Schumann’s Heine Lieder, which, according to him, showed
Schumann’s misunderstanding of the texts.64 Rather than faulting Schumann,
Korte credited these “mistakes” to the composer’s “racial strength of character,”
for how could Schumann have possibly understood the poetry of someone so
foreign to his own essence?65
Such efforts to manipulate Schumann’s reception were complicated by the
politics of the Berlin Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Culture League), a segre-
gated performing arts ensemble established by and for Jews in collaboration
with the Nazis in 1933 (the organization was disbanded by the regime in 1941).66
In this Jewish organization the Nazi in charge, Hans Hinkel (1901–60), sup-
ported what he saw as Jewish culture and discouraged German culture, even
banning presentations of Schumann’s music by 1937. In this way the League
reversed the regime’s public standards of censorship. While the regime attempted
to erase Heine as a Jew, inside the League he was seen as an appropriate figure.
For that reason, even as other music by Schumann was prohibited, his Heine
Lieder continued to be programmed.67 For example, the League’s Jewish mem-
bers performed Schumann’s Dichterliebe to much acclaim in December 1935
and dedicated a special evening to Heine on December 26, 1934.68 The Jewish
press also highlighted Heine’s cultural contributions, including his work set by
great composers, such as Schumann.69 In her lectures in 1933 on Lieder for
League audiences, the musicologist Anneliese Landau (1903–91) surely covered
this history. She may also have shared her own opinion, published in The Lied:
60 The Political Sphere

The Unfolding of Its Style (1980), that instead of Goethe, Schumann’s favorite
poets were Heine (“In 1840 alone [Schumann] set music to 37 poems by Heine,”
she points out) and the German lyric poet Eichendorff, whom the Nazi author-
ities never fully appropriated.70 Just as Korte had argued in the case of Schumann’s
settings of Heine, Landau even claimed that Schumann had failed to grasp
Goethe’s poetry, using as her evidence his setting of “Talisman.”71 Hinkel and his
office encouraged Jewish culture within the League in part to stop Jewish appro-
priation of German culture and ensure a division between German and Jewish
art. However, compounding the difficulties such a program entailed,72 Heine
and Schumann undercut the regime’s circumscription of Aryan and Jew by
remaining entangled sonically and conceptually.
Mendelssohn was an even greater challenge, if not the challenge, given his
many musical, personal, and professional intersections with Schumann. From
1835, when Mendelssohn arrived to conduct the Gewandhaus orchestra, until
1844, the two composers lived and worked in Leipzig and saw each other almost
daily.73 Even after Schumann moved to Dresden in 1844 they maintained their
relationship until 1847, the year of Mendelssohn’s death. Their similarities deep-
ened this overlap: they shared a strong commitment to Bach and his musical
tradition, loved great literature, and distrusted Meyerbeer, to name a few.74 With
these common values it is no surprise that Schumann admired Mendelssohn as
a person in addition to admiring him as a composer and musician of formidable
skill.75 Schumann’s music and actions attest to this esteem; for example, he ded-
icated his three string quartets, Op. 41, to Mendelssohn and selected Mendelssohn
to be the godfather to his daughter Marie.76 Mendelssohn likewise regarded
Schumann highly, employed his orchestra to support Schumann’s composi-
tional career, and asked Schumann to teach piano and composition at the con-
servatory he directed in Leipzig.
During the Third Reich writers went to great lengths to explain away these
many ties. Bücken tackled Schumann’s employment in 1843 at Mendelssohn’s
Leipzig Conservatory. The fact that Schumann valued group solidarity but even-
tually left that post must be seen as evidence of Schumann’s creative detachment
from the “formalism and unoriginal traditionalism” (Formalismus und unorigi-
nellen Traditionalismus) of Mendelssohn, he argued.77 In 1937 Korte mentioned
Schumann’s praise of Mendelssohn but insisted on “some unspoken separa-
tion,” most likely caused by “racial difference.”78 Hasse focused on the com-
posers’ shared love of Bach, explaining that their relationships to Bach could not
have been more different.79 However, it was Boetticher who devoted the most
attention to Schumann and Mendelssohn’s ties, pointing out specific criticisms
Schumann had reserved for Mendelssohn and suggesting a certain distance bet-
ween the two composers, especially toward the end of Mendelssohn’s life. In his
conclusion he took to task a Mendelssohn Society that had described Schumann
and Mendelssohn’s relationship as “friendly” by suggesting that its members had
neglected to consider certain details of this association.80 Regime authorities
Segregating Sound 61

also took concrete steps to remove Mendelssohn more generally from the
German cultural realm. While a number of Nazi authors disparaged the com-
poser, often relying on the preliminary work of Wagner for their arguments,81
the regime banned his music and, on the night of November 9, 1936, destroyed
the statue of Mendelssohn that stood in front of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus.
Despite the regime’s best efforts, however, like Heine, Mendelssohn remained
connected to Schumann in German culture and continued to challenge the
Aryan-Jew division Nazi leaders sought to uphold. Though his reputation in
Germany had shifted in the years before Hitler’s rise to power,82 Mendelssohn
still figured prominently in Germany’s cultural life. Indeed the German public
as a whole celebrated Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, Italian Symphony, and
incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.83 To lessen this
attachment regime officials aggressively solicited new music for A Midsummer
Night’s Dream. In 1938 this quest was entrusted to the Munich composer Carl
Orff, after the commission was refused by Richard Strauss, Werner Egk, and
Hans Pfitzner (though anti-Semitic, Pfitzner still viewed Mendelssohn as
“a master of the first order”).84 But Orff ’s composition never earned widespread
interest. The same is true of as many as forty-four different scores tested bet-
ween 1933 and 1944 as replacements for Mendelssohn’s incidental music.85
Worse still, within the Jewish Culture League associates continued to celebrate
Mendelssohn’s incidental music to the Shakespeare play. In the program notes
for the Jewish organization’s full production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on
December 2, 1936, Karl Wiener highlighted the admiration Mendelssohn’s
incidental music had traditionally enjoyed, citing Schumann’s observation of
1843 that many attended the Shakespeare play only in order to hear Mendelssohn’s
music.86 However, while the regime actively encouraged the performance of
Mendelssohn’s music as Jewish within the League and even considered giving
the Leipzig statue of the composer to the organization,87 League members gen-
erally celebrated the composer in this way as German. Indeed, to them
Mendelssohn was the “purest German classicist.”88
Accordingly the regime’s attempts to separate Schumann as German from
Mendelssohn and Heine as Jews failed. But were at least some of the regime’s
efforts to segregate sound successful? Or is this even the right question? In many
ways nationalistic authors were doomed to fail as soon as they based the catego-
rization of composers solely on racial absolutes.
The trope of inconsistency is often stressed in analyses of politics in the
Third Reich, and there was indeed plenty of incoherence within Nazi policy.
As Detlev Peukert explains, it often seems impossible to make sense of the
“ragbag” of ideas that drove the regime and its supporters.89 Pamela M. Potter
offers several examples from the cultural realm. The Nazis initially banned
jazz, unwilling to tolerate its apparent sexual power, the unsuitability of its
rhythms for marching, and its links with Africans, African Americans, Jews,
and the United States. However, during the war Nazi soldiers often sought
62 The Political Sphere

jazz out, sometimes on foreign radio stations, which would also inevitably
broadcast anti-Nazi news reports. To curtail this potential exposure the
regime eventually allowed some jazz on its radio programs. In another
example, Nazi officials exempted certain Jewish musicians from the purges
that prevented most Jews from performing in the Reich. For example, the
Prussian minister Hermann Göring allowed the conductor Leo Blech and the
singer Alexander Kipnis (both full Jews based on Nazi definitions) to con-
tinue practicing their respective crafts in order to maintain high artistic stan-
dards at the Berlin State Opera.90
These exceptions, though, only serve to reinforce the fact that the Nazi regime
and its cultural watchdogs went to great lengths to uphold a consistent program
of segregation in the arts. To claim Schumann as Aryan they employed scholar-
ship, commemorative speeches, musical bans, and legislation and even consid-
ered revising Lieder set to texts by Heine. Ultimately audience reception as well
as Schumann’s biography, beyond total Nazi control and manipulation, undercut
these activities. The idea of inconsistency and incoherence therefore must be
qualified. As in the case of Schumann, nationalistic thinking was quite consis-
tent in principle. However, in practice the artificial categories on which this
thinking was based proved untenable. In this regard Nazi policy, though consis-
tent in theory, simply could not stand up to the reality of diversity, change, and
variation inherent in people or the fluid nature of music reception and ascrip-
tions of national orientation within it.

I am grateful to Pamela M. Potter for her invaluable feedback on this essay.
I would also like to acknowledge the editors of this volume for their detailed
1. Wackernagel and Furtwängler, Wilhelm Furtwängler.
2. Dennis, “‘Honor Your German Masters,’” 275.
3. See Gilliam, “The Annexation of Anton Bruckner.” See also Riethmüller, Die
Walhalla, 16–17.
4. Riethmüller, Die Walhalla, 19. See Karl Hasse’s discussion of Brahms in Von
deutschen Meistern, 104.
5. See Gilliam, “The Annexation of Anton Bruckner,” 584–604.
6. Boetticher, Robert Schumann, 159. Works at the turn of the century divided
Europe into three racial types: Nordic, Eastern or Alpine, and Mediterranean.
Following Joseph Deniker, Madison Grant described the Nordic race as “the white
man par excellence.” These designations and valuations were still common in the
1930s. See Higham, Strangers in the Land, 154, 156; Baum, The Rise and Fall of
the Caucasian Race, 145, 186. For information on Boetticher, see Most German
of the Arts, 150–51.
7. Eichenauer, Musik und Rasse, 223. For additional information regarding
Eichenauer, see Potter, Most German of the Arts, 179.
Segregating Sound 63

8. “Das Problem der künstlerischen Doppelnatur”: Bücken, foreword to Robert

Schumann. See also Potter, Most German of the Arts, 92, 248.
9. See, for example, Hasse, Von deutschen Meistern, 92.
10. Ibid., 103. Hasse taught music at the University of Tübingen and, in 1935, the
Cologne Conservatory. He was a member of the Combat League for German Culture
(Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur), established in 1928. Alfred Rosenberg led the
organization in its quest to defend “the value of the German essence [in the] midst
of present-day cultural decadence” and promote every “authentic [arteigene] expres-
sion of German cultural life” (Steinweis, “Weimar Culture,” 405–6). Hasse was one
of only a few professors who openly attempted to spread Rosenberg’s ideas before
Hitler’s takeover. Kater, The Twisted Muse, 152.
11. I borrow this term from Guido Heldt, “Hardly Heroes.”
12. Potter, “The Politicization of Handel.” Much of this literature focuses on
Wagner, though there is significant work on Beethoven and Bruckner. This work
includes (but is hardly limited to) Dennis, Beethoven in German Politics; Vaget,
“Hitler’s Wagner”; Gilliam, “The Annexation of Anton Bruckner”; McClatchie,
“Wagner Research.”
13. Welter, Musikgeschichte im Umriß, 184.
14. See Nauhaus, The Marriage Diaries, 31.
15. Boetticher, Robert Schumann, 186, 269, 185. See also O. Schumann, Geschichte
der Deutschen Musik, 287.
16. Bücken, Robert Schumann, 38.
17. Quoted in Alan Walker, “Schumann and His Background,” in Robert
Schumann, 26.
18. Wagner, My Life, 319.
19. See Walker, “Schumann and His Background,” 26, specifically Schumann’s
negative opinion of Wagner’s conducting of Fidelio on August 11, 1848.
20. R. Schumann, On Music and Musicians (1946), 250.
21. See Daverio, Robert Schumann, 332–34.
22. Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” in Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, 3:117.
23. Bücken, Robert Schumann, 24.
24. Boetticher, Robert Schumann, 272.
25. “Ein herrliches Symbol der Einheit der deutschen Romantik” (ibid., 279).
26. See Kater, Composers of the Nazi Era, 163.
27. Pfitzner, Sämtliche Schriften, 4:119. Translated in John Williamson, The Music
of Hans Pfitzner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 48.
28. Valentin, “Robert Schumann,” 323.
29. Eichenauer, Musik und Rasse, 223. See also Ostwald, Schumann: The Inner
Voices, 107.
30. Bücken, Robert Schumann, 5, 62–63. There have been numerous diagnoses of
Schumann’s mental illness. Ostwald chronicles this history and concludes that the
most comprehensive diagnosis is “a major affective disorder” (Schumann: The Inner
Voices, 303).
31. In a footnote Boetticher lists myriad sources from the early twentieth century
focusing on Schumann’s mental illness (Robert Schumann, 170).
64 The Political Sphere

32. Gilman explains that Karl Jaspers was relieved of his position in 1937, and all
followers of the “Jewish science” of psychoanalysis were exiled from the German
scientific community (“The Mad Man as Artist,” 593).
33. See Kater, Doctors under Hitler, 80; Bryand, Confronting the “Good Death,” 20.
For a history of the Nazi path toward the “good death,” see Bryand, 20–50.
34. See Gilman, “The Mad Man as Artist,” 589.
35. See Gilman, Difference and Pathology, 157.
36. Bryand, Confronting the “Good Death,” 26.
37. Ibid., 50.
38. Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” 117.
39. Boetticher, Robert Schumann, 170.
40. Struck, Robert Schumann, 20–22.
41. Pfitzner, “Hans Pfitzner über Robert Schumanns Violinkonzert.”
42. See E. B., “Review of Concerto in D minor, for Violin and Orchestra, Arranged
for Violin and Piano by Schumann,” Music and Letters 19, no. 3 (1938): 362.
43. Joseph Goebbels even threatened to close Schott Verlag if Menuhin was
allowed to perform the official premiere of the work. Ulmann, Die veruntreute
Handschrift, 70.
44. “Festfolge,” Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker, Berlin. See also “ ‘Kraft durch
Freude’ statt kulturellen Snobismus,” Völkischer Beobachter, November 27, 1936, 1;
Struck, Robert Schumann, 21–22; and Daverio, Robert Schumann, 16.
45. “‘Kraft durch Freude’ statt kulturellen Snobismus,” 1–2.
46. The musicologist Karl Blessinger (1888–1962), who joined the Nazi Party in
1932, made a similar connection between the two concertos in his Mendelssohn,
Meyerbeer, Mahler (1939):
And if today musicians and music lovers still regret that their favorite composi-
tions, i.e., the Midsummer Night’s Dream overture, the Hebrides overture, the
Violin Concerto, etc., have disappeared from the programme, we may first counter
that it is infinitely more regrettable that highly significant works by German
composers, such as the Schumann Violin Concerto, threatened to disappear
completely because of Jewish intrigues. (42, translated in C. Brown, A Portrait of
Mendelssohn, 496–97)
See also Struck, Robert Schumann, 22.
47. Hermann Killer, “Bekenntnis zum ewigen Deutschland,” 1. See Struck, Robert
Schumann, 22; Kater, Composers of the Nazi Era, 42.
48. Struck, Robert Schumann, 22.
49. See Daverio, Robert Schumann, 17.
50. The regime similarly protected the legacy of the German poet Friedrich
Hölderlin (1770–1843). Like Schumann, Hölderlin was officially presented as proto-
fascist, though his sanity deteriorated in 1805. See Unger, Friedrich Hölderlin, 129–31.
Eugen Gottlob Winkler, in Der späte Hölderlin, focused on the poet’s late works,
while ignoring his short problematic poems written during the actual period of
insanity. Winkler described his last great hymns, such as “Patmos,” as the completion
of Hölderlin’s artistic mission.
Segregating Sound 65

51. Kretschmar, quoted in Bücken, Robert Schumann, 124.

52. Speech of June 1943, by Hans Johst, the president of the Reichsschriftums-
kammer (printed first in Musik im Kriege 3, no. 4 [1943]), reproduced in Lovisa,
Musikkritik im Nationalsozialismus, 395.
53. Kater, Composers of the Nazi Era, 163.
54. Goethe, Faust I and II (1984), 301.
55. Sams, “Schumann and Faust,” 543; Brendel, “Robert Schumann,” 333.
56. Botstein, “History, Rhetoric,” 5.
57. See Evans, “The Emergence of Nazi Ideology,” 38.
58. The “German character” at the time included Romantic “elements of struggle,
heroicism, masculinity, intellectual depth, passion, and didacticism” (Potter, Most
German of the Arts, 224).
59. Ibid., 244.
60. Kater, The Twisted Muse, 87.
61. Sammons, Heinrich Heine, 349.
62. “Eine geistige Abhängigkeit” (Boetticher, Robert Schumann, 108). See also
63. Hasse, Von deutschen Meistern, 96.
64. Korte was also a composer and director. See “Teilnachlass Korte,” Universitäts-
und Landesbibliothek Münster, www.ulb.uni-muenster.de (accessed November 17,
65. Korte, Robert Schumann, 76. Other writers have also claimed that Schumann
ignored or did not recognize the irony of Heine’s text. Debussy explained, “Schumann
understood nothing about Heinrich Heine, or at least, that’s my impression. He
might be a great genius, but he could never capture that fine spirit of irony that
Heine embodies” (quoted in Daverio, Robert Schumann, 210). Daverio, however,
argues that Schumann was not as insensitive as Debussy suggests.
For further discussion of the Nazi response to Schumann’s Heine settings, see
Youens, Heinrich Heine and the Lied, 208–10.
66. See L. E. Hirsch, A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany.
67. “Bei den Liedern konnte man noch Schumann singen, wenn es ein Heine-
Text war.” Interview with Paula Lindberg-Salomon, who belonged to the founding
circle of the League, in Broder and Geisel, Premiere und Pogrom, 177.
68. Nathan, “Hermann Schey in Kulturbund,” 13. See also R. M. “Aus dem jüdis-
chen Vortragssalon,” review, Jüdische Rundschau, December 28, 1934, 11.
69. Friedland, “Heine-Kompositionen,” 175.
70. See Goebel, Eichendorff ’s Scholarly Reception, 1.
71. Landau, The Lied, 48–50.
72. See, especially chapter 2 of, Hirsch, A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany;
Sponheuer, “Musik auf einer ‘kulturellen und physischen Insel.’”
73. Reich, “The Correspondence,” 207.
74. See Daverio, Robert Schumann, 326–27. See also R. Larry Todd, “Introduction,”
in Finson and Todd, Mendelssohn and Schumann, 6–7. For differences between
the composers, see Reich, “The Correspondence,” 206; Steinberg, “Schumann’s
Homelessness,” 53, 66.
66 The Political Sphere

75. For more information on Schumann’s views on Mendelssohn’s composition,

see Plantinga, Schumann as Critic, 263–67.
76. Reich, “The Correspondence,” 206; Appel, “Actually, Taken Directly from
Family Life,” 183.
77. Bücken, Robert Schumann, 52.
78. Korte, Robert Schumann, 86.
79. Hasse, Von deutschen Meistern, 93–94.
80. Boetticher, Robert Schumann, 262.
81. See Blessinger, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Mahler, 9; Gerigk and Stengel,
Lexikon, 180; Moser, Kleine deutsche Musikgeschichte, 245. It should be mentioned
that Moser departed from convention when he explained that the ban on
Mendelssohn’s music since 1933 was the result of political “necessity” rather than an
“absolute lack of value” in his work.
82. See Todd, Mendelssohn: A Life in Music, xxii–xxv; C. Brown, A Portrait of
Mendelssohn, 492–93.
83. See also Levi, Music in the Third Reich, 71.
84. Pfitzner, quoted in Kater, Composers in the Nazi Era, 161. The Manchester
Guardian reported on Orff ’s commission in “Atonal Music Condemned,” June 8,
1938, Wiener Library Archive, Leo Baeck Institute, New York.
85. See Prieberg, Musik im NS-Staat, 144–64; Levi, Music in the Third Reich,
86. Karl Wiener, “Über Mendelssohns Sommernachtstraum-Musik,” in the
program of December 1936, Fritz-Wisten-Archiv, Akademie der Künste, Berlin.
87. For the excited report about the possibility of receiving the Mendelssohn
statue, see the article “Um ein Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Denkmal,” Jüdische
Rundschau 7 (October 1936): 5. The statue’s destruction was reported shortly there-
after in the Morning Post, November 14, 1936, Wiener Library Archives, Leo Baeck
Institute, New York. See also Todd, Mendelssohn: A Life in Music, xx–xxi.
88. Nathan, “Reinster deutscher Klassicist,” 288.
89. Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany, 39. See also Potter, “What Is ‘Nazi Music,’?”
90. Potter, “Music in the Third Reich,” 95, 97. See also Levi, Music in the Third
Reich, 47.
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At the Interstice between “Popular” and

Schumann’s Poems of Queen Mary Stuart and
European Sentimentality at Midcentury

Jon W. Finson

“Her face, her form, have been so deeply impressed upon the imagination,”
wrote Sir Walter Scott in 1820,
that, even at the distance of nearly three centuries, it is unnecessary to remind
the most ignorant and uninformed reader of the striking traits which charac-
terize that remarkable countenance, which seems at once to combine our
ideas of the majestic, the pleasing, and the brilliant, leaving us to doubt
whether they express most happily the queen, her beauty, or the accomplished
woman. Who is there, at the very mention of Mary Stuart’s name, that has not
her countenance before him, familiar as that of the mistress of his youth, or
the favorite daughter of his advanced age? . . . . That brow, so truly open and
regal—those eyebrows, so regularly graceful, which yet were saved from the
charge of regular insipidity by the beautiful effect of the hazel eyes which they
overarched, and which seem to utter a thousand histories—the nose, with all
its Grecian precision of outline—the mouth, so well proportioned, so sweetly
formed . . . . the stately, swanlike neck, form a countenance, the like of which
we know not to have existed in any other character moving in that high class
of life, where the actresses as well as actors command general and undivided
Thus does Mary Stuart make her dramatic entrance in The Abbot, tenth in the
series of Scott’s Waverley novels that so captured the imagination of readers all
over Europe and North America, with titles such as Guy Mannering (1815), Rob
Roy (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), Ivanhoe (1820), and over twenty
other volumes. Just as we discover the vivid impression left by the ill-fated
monarch on the nineteenth-century mind, so we also encounter the almost pru-
rient physicality of Scott’s description. It bears no small kinship to the present-day

70 Popular Influences

tabloid obsession with “the royals” (the unfortunate Diana Spencer could
substitute for the doomed Mary Stuart with small modifications and updating
of language). Scott’s novels remind us in their widespread currency that some
nineteenth-century literature (for instance, the writing of authors such as
Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain) held very broad
Those who did not encounter Scott’s tales as literature could find them dra-
matized as plays or rendered in song almost as soon as they appeared in print.
Schubert was not alone in his settings of verse from The Lady of the Lake (“Ave
Maria, Jungfrau mild!” and Ellen’s other songs). The epic poem comes down to
us in forms as various as the widely popular sheet music for “Hail to the Chief ”
(from Canto 19’s “Boat Song,” music often attributed to James Sanderson and
published in 1812), Benjamin Carr’s Six Ballads from the Poem of The Lady of the
Lake (also popular sheet music, 1810), and Rossini’s Donna del Lago (1819).2
Other entries from the “classical” canon based on Scott’s fiction from the first
half of the nineteenth century would include Berlioz’s Waverley and Rob Roy
overtures, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Boieldieu’s La Dame blanche,
Flotow’s Rob Roy, and Marschner’s Der Templer und die Jüdin (based on Ivanhoe).
Returning to the “popular” vein we would find Charles Gilfert’s settings in 1813
of “Allen-a-Dale” and “A Weary Lot Is Thine, Fair Maid” from the epic poem
Rokeby. The list goes on almost endlessly.3
Our very sharp present-day distinction between “popular” and “classical”
culture has come about comparatively recently,4 a byproduct of the divergence
between these two cultural spheres begun in the nineteenth century and realized
fully only after World War II. As late as the first half of the twentieth century
“high-brow art” reached the general public via popular media (witness the reg-
ular broadcasts on a mainline network by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony
until after World War II, or early television broadcasts of “middle- and high-
brow” plays and operas during the 1950s). And many of us remember that chief
among the encores recorded by great opera singers such as Nellie Melba (1861–
1931) and John McCormick (1884–1945) were such chestnuts as “Home! Sweet
Home!” and “Annie Laurie,” respectively.
Closer to the period and milieu that concern us, Jenny Lind (1820–87), who
made her American debut under the auspices of P. T. Barnum, regularly included
“Home! Sweet Home!” and “ ’Tis the Last Rose of Summer” (from Thomas
Moore’s Irish Melodies) in her recitals.5 So taken was Robert Schumann with
“the Swedish Nightingale” after she participated with Clara in a Viennese concert
on January 10, 1847, that he dedicated a volume of songs to her, Sechs Gesänge
von Wilfried von der Neun, Op. 89 (a collection addressed at the end of this
essay), partly because of her wide popular appeal.6 Neither was the composer
immune to middle-brow blandishments of verse such as “My Heart’s in the
Highlands” by Robert Burns (most famous in its setting by the wonderfully tal-
ented popular composer Henry Russell, author of “Woodman! Spare That Tree!”
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 71

and “A Life on the Ocean Wave”). The Burns lyric appears, translated by Wilhelm
Gerhard as “Hochländers Abschied,” in the third volume of Myrthen, Op. 25,
along with many other poems by the Scottish poet sprinkled throughout
Schumann’s output of solo and part songs. The composer’s encounter with
Gerhard at an 1840 soirée in the home of Livia and Richard Frege in Leipzig
probably accounts for much of his interest in Burns. There may well have been
an underlying political motivation as well, beyond the general Romantic
attraction that Scotland held for nineteenth-century middle-class European
This brings us full circle to Sir Walter Scott and his voluptuous description
of Mary Stuart. Scott seems at first to surface little in Schumann’s diaries, in
lectures he heard as a university student and then in the few novels he read as
an adult.8 But Kazuko Ozawa reminds us that the composer’s father, August
Schumann, made the family fortune by publishing pocketbook translations
of foreign literature, “especially editions of works by Walter Scott and Lord
Byron,” including Waverley. She continues, “One may assume that Schumann
from childhood on was quite well acquainted with the entirety of Scott’s
works . . . . . Among the plans for operas entered in [his] Project Book are to be
found two Scottish subjects: The Last Stuart [Bonnie Prince Charlie] and also
the history of Mary Stuart and her favorite David Rizzio, as related in Schiller’s
play.”9 In short, the composer shared the general enthusiasm for the content
of Scott’s novels, which lie a good deal above present-day paperback romances
in literary merit but stand substantially lower than, say, Melville in
philosophical content and psychological insight. Schumann also evinced the
middle-class fascination with tragedies that overtook the high nobility, even
as Americans (who abolished aristocratic titles over two centuries ago) do

Robert, Clara, and “The Poems of Queen Mary Stuart”

At least as immediately relevant to the compositional history of Schumann’s Op.

135 was Clara’s shared fascination with royal tragedy and sentimental verse. The
usual tale of the opus has the composer’s decline and fall parallel the doomed
monarch’s. Thus we read in the redoubtable John Daverio’s account, “Brooding
yet eloquent, the Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 135, were completed on
15 December [1852]. But although Schumann worked on this set, his last major
contribution to the song literature, ‘with joy and trepidation,’ his joy would not
last long.”10 At least Daverio continues with an accurate, if not entirely balanced
account of the rest of December, during which the Schumanns celebrated the
holiday season in exuberant style. The prize for the implacably bleak character-
ization of Op. 135 as a reflection of the composer’s deterioration goes to Eric
72 Popular Influences

One of the saddest entries in Schumann’s diary records his joy on completing
these last five dismal songs. We can only conjecture what personal meaning he
found in them. The first begins with ‘I am going away.’ The last ends ‘Save me.’
Soon after their completion came his mental breakdown, his attempt to drown
himself in the Rhine, and his incarceration at the asylum at Endenich, where
in July 1856 he died.11
Clara and Robert probably found the poems by Mary Stuart together in the
local Kölnische Zeitung, where an unattributed translation by Gisbert Freiherr
von Vincke of five appeared in preview on November 11 and 17, 1852. The
couple apparently did not use Vincke’s anthology Rose und Distel: Poesien aus
England und Schottland as their source.12 Clara entered the versions from the
newspaper in the couple’s joint Copies of Poems for Setting,13 and along with a
new purse, bracelets, soap, and considerable cash for the Yuletide came Robert’s
settings to celebrate the season. According to Clara’s diary entry on Christmas
day, “Robert gave me the gift of songs with texts by Mary Stuart, his first attempt
at composition in a long time.”14 Op. 135 represented a multiply sentimental
gesture, as a “song bouquet”—“a gift for specific people and groups of people
addressing specifically designated occasions and purposes”15—as a composition
in the female voice undertaken in honor of a beloved wife, and finally as a fash-
ionably emotive cycle that had just appeared in the popular press. Only later did
the piece assume a retrospective role in the narrative of its composer’s decline,
after Schumann failed to secure a publisher for Op. 135 several times in 1853
and therefore offered it with Clara’s blessing to Carl Siegel in 1855 as the last
complete work available to him in Endenich.16 But in all aspects, from creation
to final sale, The Poems of Queen Mary Stuart tell Clara’s story at least as much
as Robert’s. In fact during Clara’s residence in Baden-Baden (1863–73) after
Robert’s death, she became well acquainted with Vincke’s closest friend and
confidant, Gustav zu Putlitz.17
By the time the Schumanns had embarked on their joint project, the lamen-
table story of Mary Stuart had long since been a cottage industry. Michael
Paulson exposes just the tip of the literary iceberg devoted to the Scottish
monarch. Plays begin little more than nine years after her execution in 1587,
logically enough in France with Antoine de Montchrestien’s La Reine d’Ecosse
(written in 1596, published in 1601) and in Italy with Tommasso Campanella’s
lost La tragedia della regina di Scozia (1598).18 In the seventeenth century, epic
poems or dramas devoted to the subject appeared in Roman Catholic countries,
mostly France and Spain, written by Lope de Vega (La corona tragica, 1627, epic
poem), Charles Regnault (Marie Stuard, 1639, play), Juan Baptiste Diamante
(La reina Maria Estuarda, Madrid, 1660, play), Manuel de Gallegos (La reyna
Maria Estuarda, 1660, play), and Edme Boursault (Marie Stuard, 1683, play). In
the eighteenth century we find works such as Vittorio Alfieri’s Maria Stuarda
(1788), a possible influence on a drama Robert Schumann certainly knew:
Schiller’s Maria Stuart, first presented in 1800 and published in 1801.19 And then
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 73

of course there was Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (1834), based directly on Schiller’s
play and arrayed in a long line of the composer’s operas about the English and
Scottish nobility, including Elisabetta, o Il castello di Kenilworth (after Scott,
1829), Anna Bolena (1830), Lucia di Lammermoor (after Scott, 1835), and
Roberto Devereux, ossia Il conte di Essex (1837). So far as we know, Schumann
attended no performances of these particular Donizetti operas,20 but as an alert
editor of a music journal with far-flung correspondents, he must have noted
them. With his well-documented proclivities for verse by British and Scottish
poets and prose by Scottish authors, the composer was neither ignorant of nor
disinterested in stories of this ilk.21
In parallel to the catalogue of major works—biographies, epic poems,
dramas, operas—about Mary Stuart’s life runs an industry of humbler songs
that reaches back at least into the eighteenth century. The nursery rhyme
“Mistress Mary, quite contrary, / How does your garden grow” is often taken
as an indirectly derisive commentary on Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary I, Queen
of England, or both. As we shall see later, Henry Harington (1727–1816), a
popular composer of glees, satirical catches, and sentimental songs in a mod-
est vein, offered “A Latin Prayer Used by Mary Queen of Scots before her
Execution” as a three-voice, single-sheet part song around 1790 (republished
1792 and 1795).22 Much closer to the period that concerns us we find Songs of
Mary Queen of Scots, published around 1853 in the United States by Miller and
Beacham (Baltimore) but almost certainly pirated from a British edition with
lyrics written by “Mrs. Crawford” and music by George Barker (1812–76).23
Barker catered to a less august public in such widely current numbers as “The
White Squall, a Celebrated Sea Song,” “Mary Blane,” and “I’ll Be Leaving Thee
in Sorrow, Annie!,” the last sung by Christy’s Minstrels and published in
London sometime in the 1850s.24
Crawford and Barker’s Songs of Mary Queen of Scots include five numbers
based on actual historical events, but with no pretense to texts authored by the
monarch. They begin with “The Royal Bridal of the Bride with her Maidens,”
which depicts Mary’s wedding to the dauphin (later Francis II of France). In a
preface (so typical of sentimental songs during the period, like those found in
Schumann’s Kulmann Lieder, Op. 104) Crawford writes, “Her dress was very
splendid, all the skill and resources of Parisian art having been called into requi-
sition on this interesting and important occasion. Her robes were so brilliantly
ornamented with diamonds and gorgeous embroidery, as to baffle description”
(reminding us of the fascination in recent times with Princess Diana’s gowns,
exhibited publicly in 2006 at Kensington Palace). Crawford and Barker’s third
song, “The Captivity,” deals with Mary’s “escape . . . . from Lochleven Castle, and
the subsequent defeat of her army at Langside,” then the “long and weary impris-
onment of eighteen years,” during which she was “tried before Commissioners
appointed under the Great Seal of England, (but without being allowed the
assistance of counsel, or any proper facilities for conducting her defense) . . . . [she]
74 Popular Influences

was found guilty, and condemned to die.” Songs four and five in Barker’s set
address a scandal attached to Mary during her rule of Scotland: her special favor
toward Pierre de Chastelard, who had accompanied her retinue from France as
her private secretary and became amorously obsessed with her. In February
1562 he was discovered hiding under her bed, subsequently arrested, and exe-
cuted.25 The elaborate cover engraving that adorns Songs of Mary Queen of Scots
speaks to this affair (Figure 5.1), and the last two songs in the set record the
infatuation of “Chatelar” and then “Chatelar’s Farewell” on the morning of his
death. Again we find a prurient interest in the private lives of royalty not

Figure 5.1. Cover engraving depicting Mary Stuart with “Chatelar.” By

permission of the Music Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 75

unknown in modern times. All of these songs proceeded from Mrs. Crawford’s
imagination, based on the historical record.
The most relevant song for our purposes here, however, is Crawford and
Barker’s second number, “The Embarkation or Farewell Dear France!,” prefaced
in part, “It is recorded by Brantôme . . . . [that] she watched for several hours
with tearful eyes, the slowly receding shores of France, . . . . exclaiming with pro-
phetic correctness, ‘Farewell, dear France! You disappear from my sight; it is all
over! Farewell, sweet France! I shall see you nevermore!’” Pierre de Brantôme
(ca. 1539–1614) accompanied Mary when she left France for Scotland, and he
reports her exclaiming tearfully:
Adieu France . . . . c’est bien à cette heure, ma chere France, que ie vous pers du
tout de veuë, puis que la nuit obscure & jalousie de mon contentement de
vous voir tant queue j’eusse pû, m’apporte un voile noir devant les yeux pour
me priver d’un tel bien. Adieu, donc, ma chere France, que ie vous pers du
tout de veuë, ie ne vous verray jamais plus . . . . Adieu, la France, cela est fait,
Adieu la France, ie pense ne vous voir jamais plus.26
Mrs. Crawford renders the utterance and scene as “Farewell, dear France! land
of my love, farewell! / These weeping eyes my parting anguish tell,” and in the third
verse she continues: “Farewell dear France! adieu thou pleasant shore! / I feel these
eyes shall ne’er behold thee more.” Barker’s music is decidedly less eloquent, with
the right hand of the piano doubling the voice, two simple chords, almost com-
pletely regular rhythm, and an unchallenging vocal line with just one appoggia-
tura on the word love (Example 5.1). The song epitomizes the genteel style of the
mid-nineteenth century, with its mildly Italianate musical flavor and slightly ele-
vated speech (“thee,” “thou,” and so forth). Henry Russell would have proceeded
more adroitly and elaborately (his songs, though saccharine by our standards, are
beautifully written), but he would have employed the same basic elements.
At first glance Schumann’s Mary Stuart songs to Vincke’s verse would seem
quite distant from George Barker and Mrs. Crawford’s sentimentally middle-
brow efforts. Vincke (1813–92) had a considerable reputation: initially a jurist
by profession, he later devoted himself exclusively to literature, serving on the
board of the German Shakespeare Society and later as its president. In Rose und
Distel he translated poetry by David Rizzio as well as by Elizabeth I. But the
Schumanns would not have known Vincke to be the translator when they found
the five texts in the Kölnische Zeitung; in Op. 135 they simply published this
slice of middle-class culture the way they found it (Table 5.1). In his later
anthology, Vincke gives the original languages for all the poems under their
title in his first edition, and he also leaves a sketchy set of largely inaccurate
notes on his sources. In fact we can attribute only one poem with relative cer-
tainty to Mary Stuart.27 Helmut Schanze and Krischan Schulte list the transla-
tions under her name, though skeptically, in their otherwise meticulous volume
on the sources for Schumann’s song texts. But in a rare oversight they omit to
76 Popular Influences

Example 5.1. Beginning of Crawford and Barker’s “The Embarkation or Farewell Dear

mention that Hans-Joachim Zimmermann provided a very thorough account

of the probable origins of the verse over three decades ago.28 If the words to
Mrs. Crawford’s “Farewell to France” appear somewhat familiar, for instance,
Zimmermann determines that Vincke’s “Abschied von Frankreich” finds its ori-
gins in the self-same remarks of Brantôme used by the Victorian lyricist, though
they came to Vincke by quite a different route. The German translator’s
probable source was Jean Monnet’s Anthologie Françoise (1765), where the
poem had been placed as a deliberate ruse by Anne-Gabriel Meusnier de
Querlon (1702–80). He misrepresented it as appearing in “a manuscript by
Buckingham,” before later admitting the imposture in a letter to Barthélemi
Mercier. Meusnier de Querlon’s original French runs in part, “Adieu, plaisant
pays de France, / O ma patrie, La plus cherie, / Qui as nourri ma jeune enfance!
/ Adieu, France, adieu mes beaux jours”—obviously based on Brantôme.29 Its
plaintive tone held the same sentimental appeal for Vincke (and the Schumanns)
as it had for Mrs. Crawford.
Vincke’s source for “Nach der Geburt ihres Sohnes” was somewhat humbler:
England und Schottland: Reisetagebuch (Braunschweig, 1852), a travelogue by
Fanny Lewald. She discovered the verse as a piece of graffiti inscribed on the wall
of an antechamber to the room in which Mary gave birth to her son James VI,
Table 5.1. Contents of Schumann’s Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart and Textual Sources for Translations in Giesbert Freiherr von Vincke’s Rose
und Distel
Title and Number in
Schumann Key Vincke’s Source* Original Source* Language* Probable Author*

1. “Abschied von Frankreich” e England und Schottland by Fanny Lewald Anthologie Françoise ed. by French Anne-Gabriel Meunier de Querlon
(1852) Monnet (1765)
2. “Nach der Geburt ihres e England und Schottland by Fanny Lewald Lewald Scottish Anonymous graffiti in Edinburgh
Sohnes” (1852) Castle
3. “An die Königin Elizabeth” a Beiträge zur neueren Geschichte by British Museum Ms. Cotton Italian Mary Stuart (?) (manuscript in
Friedrich von Raumer (1836) Caligula copyist’s hand)
4. “Abshied von der Welt” e England und Schottland by Fanny Lewald Bodleian Library manuscript French Mary Stuart (autograph)
5. “Gebet” e Anecdotes of Some Distinguished Persons by Broadsheet; then The Latin Henry Harington
William Seward (1795–97; 1804 ed.) European Magazine 22 (1792)

*After Hans-Joachim Zimmermann, “Die Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart: Gisbert Vincke, Robert Schumann, und eine sentimentale Tradition,” Archiv für das Studium der neueren
Sprachen und Literaturen 214 (1977): 294–324.
78 Popular Influences

King of Scotland (and later James I of England). It was written in Scots:

“Lord Jesu Chryst that Crownit was with Thornise / Preserve the Birth quhais
Badgie heir is born.”30 Mary remembered very little Scots from her early
childhood (she grew up speaking and writing French, knew a smattering of
Italian, Spanish, and Latin, and learned English only as an adult),31 and she is
unlikely to have authored the text of the prayer (though one of her retainers
could have). Zimmermann, observing that Lewald was the only writer ever to
attribute the text to Mary, concludes that we do not know who or even when it
was written.32
Perhaps the best sentimental invention of all, however, appears in the
prayer attributed to Mary “hours before her execution” in Rose und Distel
(“Gebet” in Vincke’s and Schumann’s texts). History leaves a detailed account
of Mary’s last moments (witnessed by many), and after declining absolution
from the Protestant Dean of Peterborough on account of her resolute Roman
Catholicism, she laid her head on the block, while repeating the words “In
manuas tuas, Domine, confide spiritum meum” (Luke 23:46 and also Psalm
30:5 in the Roman psalter).33 “Gebet” alludes to the beginning of Psalm 30,
“In te, Domine, speravi,” but the rest of the text does not continue along these
lines. While Mary may well have recited psalms in Latin, her command of the
language hardly sufficed to compose an original prayer. It appears in literary
sources relatively late, first among William Seward’s Anecdotes of Distinguished
Persons (1795), from there transmitted to James P. Andrews’s History of Great
Britain (1796), and then to the fifth edition of Horace Walpole’s A Catalogue
of the Royal and Noble Authors (1806). Any of these sources might have been
available to an ardent anglophile such as Vincke. But more interesting is the
attribution in Seward’s Anecdotes, the apparent starting place of the transla-
tor’s text: “Immediately before her execution [Mary] repeated the following
Latin Prayer, composed by herself, and which has been set to a beautiful
plaintive air by that elegant composer, Dr. Harrington [sic], at the request of
the EDITOR, as an embellishment to these volumes.”34 Henry Harington had
actually set the poem first around 1790 in a broadsheet, whence it made its
way into The European Magazine 22 (August 1792) and then, in an expanded
version, into Seward. But where did Harington procure the text? Zimmermann
relates that the British composer of popular glees and part songs possessed a
large number of missals, breviaries, and books of hours. Among these we find
a missal that “belonged to Mary Queen of Scots, [and] was presented to Lord
Harington, of Exton, Ruthlandshire, by the Princess Elizabeth, Daughter of
James the First,” according to the auction catalogue of Henry Harington’s
estate. John Harington, first Baron of Exton, was Elizabeth Stuart’s tutor, and
Henry Harington inherited his books. The composer most probably invented
the “Death Prayer” based on the missal in his possession and then published
it as authentic. It remained for Seward to incorporate the text with its
reworked setting into his Anecdotes and to append a note connecting the
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 79

Latin prayer to the hours preceding Mary’s execution.35 Of such fables is

history sometimes made.
This leaves the two sonnets that comprise numbers three and four in
Schumann’s song cycle (4 and 5 in Rose und Distel). These appear in multiple
sources available to Vincke, the first sonnet in Italian, the second in French. No
version of the Italian sonnet “Il pensier che mi nuoce insieme e gioua” survived
in anything but a scribe’s manuscript before Lewald, Seward, and others
reprinted it. Zimmermann gives it the benefit of the doubt on account of its
imagery, which resembles that in a letter Mary wrote to Elizabeth I in September
1568.36 However, this type of evidence is somewhat tenuous, and we really have
nothing concrete to connect “An die Königin Elisabeth” directly to the impris-
oned Scottish queen. Thus we are left with the fifth entry in Rose und Distel (no.
4 in Op. 135), translated from the French in one of Mary’s autographs now in
the collection of the Bodleian Library. Zimmermann comments, “Since the
Oxford manuscript is not an autograph copy of somebody else’s poem, its
authenticity is thoroughly assured. The sonnet derives from the last years of
Mary’s imprisonment and agrees with her declarations in letters and to her ret-
inue upon the pronouncement of her sentence.”37
Vincke’s texts, then, have more in common with Mrs. Crawford’s than might
seem at first to be the case. The popular lyricist made no pretenses about the
fictitious nature of her lyrics, though she based them all on the history of Mary’s
life. Whether Vincke suspected the dubious provenance of most of his Mary
Stuart poems remains open to question. Zimmermann examines Vincke’s notes
to his texts and finds them at best incomplete or inexact, at worst somewhat
misleading.38 In any case, the translator collected them for their slightly sensa-
tional appeal as the ostensible products of a doomed monarch. Traced back to
the authors who deliberately invented them or tried to pass them off as authentic,
most are not of an entirely different order from Mrs. Crawford’s poems. A couple
of Vincke’s translations have more literary merit than Crawford’s verse, others
little more. But both collections participate in fashionable mid-nineteenth-
century sentimentality.

Schumann’s Settings

Clara and Robert Schumann did not question the authenticity of the verse
attributed to Mary Stuart in the Kölnische Zeitung. But if Robert’s settings and
Clara’s delight in them are any indication, they too were drawn to the fashion-
able sentimentality of the subject matter (since it would be difficult to claim a
place for this material amid great German literature). Of course it would be
absurd to compare George Barker’s modest settings to Schumann’s (though a
comparison of, say, Henry Russell’s Italianate setting of “My Heart’s in the
Highlands” with Schumann’s folkloric “Hochländers Abschied” would yield
80 Popular Influences

different results, if we discounted the disparate styles). But Schumann does

not indulge the folkloric that he deemed essential in settings of Burns for
Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart.39 Instead Op. 135 bears the standard hall-
marks of his late style for Lieder, which include a tendency toward unusual
chromatic progressions, melodies that are not periodic, declamation of text
that tends to efface regular poetic meter (where it exists), and irregular phrases.
What Ulrich Mahlert so aptly calls the “quadratic style” no longer represents a
given in Schumann after his Dresden years, though he could still employ it as
an expressive tool when he wished to delineate uncomplicated personae or
sentiments (see “Singet nicht in Trauertönen” from Op. 98a, for instance).
Much depended on the text, its poetic structure, meter, syntax, and semantic
Within the bounds of his less accessible late style, however, Schumann still
catered to a public that needed recognizable touchstones, and in the Gedichte
these sometimes take the form of quite familiar musical topoi. In “Abschied
von Frankreich” the channel voyage reflected in lines such as “Mich trennt das
Boot vom Glück so weit!” elicits a slow, stylized “wave” pattern from Schumann
(Example 5.2a), not entirely unlike that in “Loreley” (Example 5.2b), a ballad
from Op. 53 composed in April 1840. Schumann wrote other barcarolles, of
course, though sunnier ones, such as the Venetian gondola song in the third
volume of Myrthen, Op. 25, with text by Thomas Moore (of “ ’Tis the Last
Rose of Summer”). In other ways “Abschied von Frankreich” exhibits the
“irregularities” of the late style, but its topos at least offers instant recognition
for anybody playing it at home (the piano part is not difficult). The much
more structurally complicated sonnet “Abschied von der Welt” nonetheless
elicits another readily accessible topos, an apposite funeral dirge cum plaint
(Example 5.3a). These too appear regularly throughout Schumann’s output of
songs, from “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome” to “Der Soldat” to “Ich hab’ im
Traum geweinet” (Example 5.3b), which, in its sparse texture, repeated-note
melody, and halting progress, bears a passing resemblance to “Abschied von
der Welt.” These two comparative examples show at a glance the difference
between Schumann’s earlier and later approaches to setting text. The duple
and duple-triple compound meters aside, the two songs distribute their texts
differently, the later one irregularly in such a way as to efface meter, the earlier
one regularly in such a way as to emphasize it. To be fair, this results in part
from the structure of Vincke’s translation: lines of pentameter will always
require more notes to accommodate extra syllables. Heine, on the other hand,
deliberately produces a lyric in Langzeilenvers: “Ich háb’ im Tráum gewéi-nét.”
But the choice of a dirge topos for “Abschied von der Welt” also regularizes the
underlying phrase structure inherent in a march, far more than in some of
the composer’s other settings from this period. The topoi in the Mary Stuart
songs reveal Schumann’s concern for accessibility, even in the face of his later
vocal style.
Example 5.2a. Beginning of “Abschied von Frankreich.”

Example 5.2b. Beginning of “Loreley.”

Example 5.3a. Opening of “Abschied von der Welt.”

Example 5.3b. Openings of “Ich hab’ im Traum,” stanza 3.

82 Popular Influences

This same concern for accessibility governed the semantic content and genre
of text in both “Nach der Geburt” and “Gebet.” These are both prayers, and for
this reason Schumann treats them as prose rather than adhering to the pentam-
eter in the former and the dimeter (Vincke’s rendering of the original Latin
tetrameter) in the latter. As preghiere they receive accompaniments built from
block chords almost devoid of motivic content and therefore seem, by virtue of
prosodic declamation and lack of pervasive lyricism, like something between
recitative and arioso (see Example 5.4 by way of illustration). Only the variety of
the harmony, with its fairly explicable secondary dominants, introduces a slight
degree of complication. Again, however, the accompaniment would be
unproblematic for a proficient amateur player and the vocal range undemanding
for an amateur singer. If the verse proceeded from and appealed to middle-class
sentimentality, the demands of the performance needed to fit the venue of the

Example 5.4. Beginning of “Gebet.”

Only the third number, “An die Königin Elisabeth,” demands more of singer
and pianist than the limits of Hausmusik would suggest, the exception that
proves the rule and also reveals the crossroads at which Schumann’s composi-
tion of Lieder stood in late 1852. Indicatively, this more technically difficult
setting comes in response to one of Vincke’s two formally elaborate poems, a
sonnet proceeding not from the tradition of German verse but from the family
of Romance languages in which its exemplar was cast (Italian). The translation
therefore falls in the traditional form: an octave subdivided into two quatrains,
followed by a sestet composed of two tercets. Schumann handles the octave’s
two quatrains logically enough in two parallel stanzas. But his treatment of the
sestet departs from an outline of strict poetic structure to seize the drama of the
sentiment, building in tension through the initial tercet but vivisecting the sec-
ond one syntactically in order to emphasize the apothegm. Mary fears “naught
from thee, Sister! But the rule of fate / Oft lacerates the sail in which we trust.”
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 83

The composer addresses the last enjambed sentence with arioso. Before this
point in the sestet, however, Schumann requires some vehemence from the pia-
nist and places some fairly dramatic leaps in the vocal part (Example 5.5). This
song, more than any other in the cycle, assumes an operatic mien that looks pre-
sciently toward the public Liederabend and the age of recordings by professional

Example 5.5. Opening of the sestet from “An die Königin Elizabeth.”

The Interstice between Popular and Classical

The songs in Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, then, lie at a juncture between
several levels of culture. Most of the texts proceed from and appeal to a
middle-class tradition of sentimentality, which includes an interest not only
in tragic death but also in the fortunes and misfortunes of celebrities, both
currents that suffuse popular culture today but express themselves with particular
vividness in the mid-nineteenth century. With the exception of the two sonnets,
Vincke’s translations are middle-brow—more elevated than Mrs. Crawford’s
lyrics, but not entirely different in kind. Schumann’s settings, more finely wrought
and sophisticated than the music of George Barker, still lie mainly in the domain
84 Popular Influences

of a loftier Hausmusik. Our quandary comes in what to make of this intersection

between popular sentimentality and classical setting. Just raising this question
disturbs some readers and even elicits protest. But acknowledging the conflicting
currents of culture lies at the heart of understanding this music and its milieu.
Schumann participated in the popular currents of his time in two ways (if we
understand popular in its mid-nineteenth-century sense of catering to the mid-
dle classes, either commercial or intellectual, and not in its present-day sense of
aiming toward mass culture with a wider range that includes the working classes
as well—a phenomenon in its infancy during this period). Some of the com-
poser’s pieces actually aim to be more widely accessible, while others employ
popular culture in an almost modernist sense, as the raw material of ironic
In his treasured biography of the composer, John Daverio offers a fine com-
mentary on this quandary involving the first kind of middle-brow content in
“Schumann and the Biedermeier Sensibility”:

If Romantic music tends toward an esotericism that drives composers and

their public even farther apart, then the music of Biedermeier culture is
sustained by a variety of institutions, the choral society and choral festival
chief among them, in which the gap between the producer and consumer is
considerably narrower. . . . . Here Carl Dahlhaus’s analysis of that sensibility
may help us assess Schumann’s ties with it. For Dahlhaus, Biedermeier culture
combines conviviality, bourgeois self-display, and an educational function, all
of which are in turn projected in actual musical technique. . . . . The convivial
side of Schumann’s art during [his later] period is clearly reflected in his assid-
uous cultivation of unaccompanied choral music and his active engagement
with the institutions that sustained it.40

Of course, the Dresden Liedertafel also occasioned in part the composer’s

renewed interest in solo songs (since they too appeared on programs of choral
societies). And to Dahlhaus’s list we could add “fashionable sentimentality,”
especially in postrevolutionary Germany.
We must count many other pieces among these Biedermeier works in
Schumann’s catalogue. In the popular middle-class vein we encounter Album
für die Jugend, “the locus classicus of Schumann’s pedagogically conceived
Hausmusik of the later 1840s.”41 To this we could add the Drei Klaviersonaten für
die Jugend, Op. 118, the Lieder für die Jugend, Op. 79, and the Sieben Lieder nach
Elisabeth Kulmann, Op. 104 (the last with distinctly sentimental roots in the vast
poetic literature on the death of children). To realize how deeply works in this
family struck into the popular consciousness, we need only think of Op. 68’s
“Fröhlicher Landmann, von der Arbeit zurückkehrend” (no. 10), which still
serves as the very symbol of an idyllically uncomplicated agrarian life in the
soundtrack for the opening of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. All of these Schumann
collections trace their roots to Kinderszenen, Op. 15, written as an adult
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 85

retrospective, but with a nostalgic sentimentality also found in works like the
Kerner Liederreihe, Op. 35. Such pieces were meant as comfort for both hearth
and home, “to be found,” as Goethe once wrote in his review of Des Knaben
Wunderhorn (a touchstone in Schumann’s Op. 79), “at least where sensible peo-
ple dwell, on the sill under the mirror, or wherever else song- and cookbooks are
wont to be placed, to be opened at moments of high or low spirits.”42
In seeking to account for this seeming preoccupation with sentimentally
nostalgic poetry of modest quality during Schumann’s later years, Ulrich
Mahlert writes in conjunction with Sechs Gesänge nach Wilfried von der Neun,
Op. 89 (as mentioned earlier, dedicated to Jenny Lind), that it touched on a
certain “post-March” dejection. According to Mahlert this “retreat into the idyl-
lic” entailed the use of natural imagery focusing on the departure of spring (as
opposed to the expectant progression from winter to spring), on autumnal
scenes, and on valediction.43 This last theme also pervades the Elisabeth Kulmann
songs and the Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart. It reinforced the popular sen-
timentality pervading western European culture of the time and connected to
the tradition of which Zimmermann writes.
The second sense in which popular culture enters into Schumann’s music has
much more to do with the avant-garde process called “defamiliarization,” which
we see increasingly in late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century art. It
involves the construction of elaborate creations from commonplace objects. In
Schumann’s music we find this, for example, in Papillons, Op. 2, where the com-
poser molds a number of trivial pieces such as one might encounter at a dance
into a larger, more sophisticated composite. The effect can fascinate but also
disconcert (and it resulted in incomprehension in the composer’s day). How can
one make high art out of quotidian material? This dilemma, which becomes
acute in Mahler’s and Ives’s symphonies, among other works, lasts to the present
day. It provides a certain frisson when we recognize that we are listening to
revivalist hymns in the midst of a highly complicated and discordant symphonic
texture (or simple Russian folksongs transformed into fashionably scandalous
ballet, to recall Stravinsky’s Rite). Defamiliarization finds its place too in some
Schumann songs, especially the Heine settings, such as Op. 24’s “Anfang’s wollt’
ich fast verzagen” (which quotes the familiar chorale “Wer nur den lieben Gott
läßt walten”) or Op. 48’s “Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen” (with its frenetic reel).
Whether it be the shock of defamiliarization or the disparity between senti-
mental poetry and exquisitely wrought, esoteric setting, the intrusion of popular
elements into Schumann’s music and into all subsequent Western art music is
perilous to ignore (just as it is equally shortsighted to overlook the classical
culture in which many popular musicians are steeped by training). The tension
created by juxtaposing the various levels in our multifaceted culture provides a
source of aesthetic curiosity and pleasure. For this reason alone the Gedichte der
Königin Maria Stuart must represent more to us than just Robert Schumann’s
melancholy swansong, “so deeply impressed [are they] upon the imagination.”
86 Popular Influences

1. C. Johnson, ed., The Abbot, 187.
2. For “Boat Song,” see Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music, 263. Six Ballads
from the Poem of The Lady of the Lake (New York: Benjamin Carr, 1810).
3. See Finson, The Voices, 13–14.
4. See Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow; Hamm, Yesterdays, 1–88.
5. Hamm, Yesterdays, 76.
6. R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 3:340; hereafter cited as TB 3. See Margit L.
McCorkle, Robert Schumann: Thematisch-Bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis, 391;
hereafter cited as Verzeichnis.
7 . For the meeting with Gerhard, see TB 3, 176; for the catalogue of Burns set-
tings, see Schanze and Schulte, Literarische Vorlagen, 43; for the general as well as
political appeal of Scotland to Schumann, see Ozawa, “Robert Burns.”
8. R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 1:174; hereafter cited as TB 1. For Scott read in the
1840s, see TB 3, 398, 590.
9. Ozawa, “Robert Burns,” 550–2; translations are mine unless otherwise
10. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 450.
11. Sams, The Songs of Robert Schumann, 273.
12. Ozawa and Wendt, Critical Notes [Op. 135], 408–10.
13. See Kaldewey, “Die Gedichtabschriften Robert und Clara Schumanns,” 99.
14. Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 3:269.
15. For the history of the Liederstrauss, see Schwab, Sangbarkeit, 145.
16. For the details of Op. 135’s publication history, see Verzeichnis, 561–62.
17. Putlitz, Gustav zu Putlitz, 3:199.
18. Paulson, The Queens’ Encounter, 115, 122.
19. The foregoing list from ibid., 122–65, 171.
20. For the Donizetti Schumann did hear in performance, see TB 3, 157, 340,
21. See Whitton, “Robert Schumann.”
22. See Zimmermann, “Die Gedichte,” 321.
23. Sheet music in the Early American Sheet Music Collection of the Music
Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New Series, vol. 5, nos. 13–17;
information on Barker from J. D. Brown, Biographical Dictionary, 50.
24. See, among others, the copy in the Lester Levy Collection of Sheet Music in
the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University, Box 068, Item
25. For the contemporary English reaction, see Weir, The Life of Elizabeth I,
26. Quoted in Zimmermann, “Die Gedichte,” 309.
27. Ibid., 301–5.
28. Schanze and Schulte, Literarische Vorlagen, 419–20.
29. Zimmermann, “Die Gedichte,” 309.
30. Ibid., 310.
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical” 87

31. Weir, Elizabeth I, 125.

32. Zimmerman, “Die Gedichte,” 311.
33. Weir, Elizabeth I, 379.
34. Reproduced in Zimmermann, “Die Gedichte,” 316.
35. Ibid., 321–22.
36. Ibid., 312.
37. Ibid., 315.
38. Ibid., 301–7.
39. Read his review of Hugh Pearson’s Burns songs in Gesammelte Schriften über
Musik und Musiker, ed. Martin Kreisig (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1914), 2:85.
Joachim Draheim offers an insightful, if very brief account of Op. 135’s music in
“Bedeutung und Eigenart.”
40. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 396–97.
41. Ibid., 407.
42. A reprinting of Goethe’s review appears in Fallersleben, “Zur Geschichte des
43. Mahlert, “Rückzug in die Idylle,” 226–27.

Who Was Mignon? What Was She?

Popular Catholicism and Schumann’s
Requiem, Op. 98b

Roe-Min Kok

Remember Mignon, that enigmatic child? Her youthful naïveté, difficult life cir-
cumstances, love of music, inability to express herself in ordinary speech, half-
innocent half-erotic attraction to Wilhelm Meister? Her tragic, mysterious end?
“One of the strangest, most pathetic figures in the world’s literature,” writes
James Sime, she sings songs that “are among Goethe’s lyrical masterpieces,
remarkable equally for the depth of their meaning and the purity, sweetness,
and grace of their expression”; she is “calm, gentle, self-possessed, she conceals a
burning passion that in the end consumes her life; yet she is of so ethereal a
nature that she seems to glide through the world as one who in no way belongs
to it.”1 Much admired by literati, Mignon also dazzled generations of musicians.
The psychological depth and richness of her poetic texts inspired settings by
Reichardt, Beethoven, Hauptmann, Schubert, Gounod, Liszt, Hugo Wolf, and
Berg, among others.
Her death, however, drew no musical response, despite being similarly poetic.
Not until Schumann’s Requiem für Mignon, Op. 98b, premiered in Düsseldorf
on November 21, 1850.2
In a space of two years, eight reviews of the Requiem appeared in four major
journals.3 Penned by critics as dissimilar as Barthold Senff, Theodor Uhlig, and
Ludwig Bischoff, they were surprisingly united in their ambivalence. In this
essay I explore one cultural milieu behind the Requiem’s problematic early
reception, using the writings of the Cologne-based critic Bischoff as the lens
through which to view and probe it.4 By far the longest and most detailed of the
eight, his review questioned how faithfully Schumann had followed Goethe’s
text, but also—the subject of the present essay—contested Mignon’s identity in
death. Dissatisfied with Schumann’s Mignon, Bischoff proffered an alternative
portrayal of the child that magnified her similitude to innocent angelic children,
echoing an earlier move by the eminent Düsseldorf artist Wilhelm von Schadow

Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 89

in his controversial painting Mignon (1828). Bischoff also emphasized the child’s
difficult life and untimely death, tropes found in midcentury literature, including
fairy tales. In the heart of the Catholic Rhineland the angelic child archetype,
tragic fairy tale narrative, and allegorical representations carried strong religious
connotations. This essay contends that the reception of the Requiem was, to a
considerable extent, colored by the religious revival of Catholicism in the
Düsseldorf-Cologne region in the 1850s and the position within this culture of
a requiem for a troubled young girl who died tragically. Based on points made
by Bischoff and clues left by Schumann, I propose that the composer instead
modeled his Mignon after another child archetype, puer senex (cryptic child)
from Novalis’s Hymns to the Night.

“Then we would not like to conceal that the representation and the materials
used do not seem to be right. Large chorus and full orchestra, the strong, heavily
accented expression, do not correspond to the situation sketched by the poet
[Goethe] in the sense of the entire figure.”5 So complained an anonymous critic
of the Requiem. Admittedly the venture of translating literature, best-sellers in
particular, into another medium is a risky one. There are issues of accuracy, of
how closely or not the original should be followed. Questions abound as to how
to strike just the right tone, how to walk fine lines between interpretive stances
that are frequently open to debate. Alive, singing, dancing, and gesturing in
articulate if arcane ways, Mignon attracted responses galore. But dead, the lin-
gering mystery of her identity, clarified only during and after her interment in
Goethe’s novel, rendered musical setting challenging. If turning her poetic utter-
ances into song was a complex task (and some, such as Schubert, created mul-
tiple settings in attempts to capture her famously varied personality), embodying
in music her lifeless being, still unfathomed but now silent, would have posed
still more difficulties. In particular, her cultlike popularity among the reading
and concert-going public could complicate the reception of musical works
memorializing her.6
Mignon’s identity was a chief concern of Ludwig Bischoff in his review of
Schumann’s Op. 98, comprising Op. 98a, nine songs in Lieder und Gesänge aus
Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, and Op. 98b, Requiem für Mignon.7 Following publi-
cation of the entire opus and a performance of the Requiem by the Cologne
Concert Society on October 21, 1851, Bischoff’s lengthy review appeared in two
parts. Comments about the song cycle were published first, in Rheinische
Musikzeitung 2, no. 19 (1851), followed by the Requiem in the next issue, no. 20.
Bischoff began part I with a contentious preamble about the general quality of
texts chosen by contemporary composers, before lauding Schumann’s pick:
“Nevertheless the idea to set, finally, all the existing musical parts in Goethe’s
90 Popular Influences

Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, in a form for which the poet intended them, in
fact, [in a form] for which the poet had certainly left numerous words and hints,
is no ordinary one.”8 Bischoff launched next into a song-by-song description,
focusing on Schumann’s characterization of personalities from the novel. The
cycle includes four songs each for Mignon (nos. 1, 3, 5, 9) and the Harper (nos. 2,
4, 6, 8), along with one for Philine (no. 7). As is clear from his remarks, Bischoff,
himself a pianist and conductor,9 had not only studied Schumann’s scores, but was
familiar with Goethe’s text. Waxing animated about nos. 2, 4, 6, and 7 (less so
about no. 8), he concurred with Schumann’s musical characterizations of the
Harper and Philine. Amid those positive comments, his surprisingly negative
reactions to Mignon’s songs stand out. In fact he disapproved of them all. Her first
song, “Know you the land where the lemon blossoms bloom?” received the single
longest critique of any song in the review. After praising the beauty of the melody,
Bischoff detailed Schumann’s failure to portray the yearning of the young girl
along the lines given in Goethe’s text, citing along the way other settings.
No. 1. Know you the land? first set to music by Reichardt (and almost for-
gotten today), then Beethoven, Liszt and probably by many others, appears
here once more in a new melody. In spite of that, one could opine that there
can be only one [melody] for this song. The Schumann one is, in and of itself,
beautiful as a melody: only it seems to us not to correspond with the ideal that
was formed by the poet himself for the melody and performance, and was
hinted at to others. Goethe had expressed emphatically how he wanted the
song conceptualized and how he had conceived it in terms of sound. . . . The
first entry of the question, which in the Beethoven is broad and solemn (as in
Goethe’s conception) is here of the opposite character: [musical example]. We
cannot approve that [in Schumann’s version] the second question “You know
it, yes?” continues with the fourth line without [the] pause indeed required by
the declamation. . . . How else, when according to Goethe this question would
breathe mysteriously yet meaningfully and the urge of yearning first breaks
forth with the “Oh there, oh there!” Schumann declaimed this “Oh there!”
thus: [musical example] whereby one almost has the faint suspicion that the
composer wanted to do something quite different from his predecessors.
Now, this declamation is certainly new, but [it is] neither beautiful nor
right. . . . Furthermore, we doubt whether chords like the following form har-
monies with this g and e, that measure [portray] the musical expression for
yearning. We cannot accustom ourselves to such strong spices, it spoils our
The other three Mignon songs, nos. 3, 5, and 9, were also found wanting for
various reasons. Schumann set no. 3 for Mignon only, but Bischoff thought it
should have remained a duet between Mignon and the Harper, as stipulated by
Goethe. Faulty characterization again surfaced in Bischoff ’s comments about
Mignon’s no. 5, “Bid me not speak, let me be silent.” In charging that the setting
was overly dramatic and scene-like (as opposed to lyrical and songlike), Bischoff
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 91

made the point that Schumann’s version was too operatic to match the critic’s
mental image of the young girl wistfully yearning for the afterlife. Finally, in
comments about Mignon’s last song (no. 9) Bischoff cited a reason to which he
would return in his subsequent review of the Requiem: “No. 9 Mignon’s ‘So let
me seem till I become’ may be the least successful in the collection. The
melody . . . does not breathe the transfiguration of the childlike gaze in the
beyond, which adorns the lovely creature so beautifully in the poem.”11
Bischoff ’s complaints about Schumann’s Mignon settings may be summa-
rized as follows: the composer did not follow musical descriptions and pointers
provided by Goethe for characterizing Mignon. As a result, the composer’s
Mignon disappointed the critic. Which leads us to the question: Who was Mignon
in Goethe’s novel? Or, more precisely, who was Mignon for Bischoff? What were,
for him, her defining characteristics? In his criticism of the songs, Bischoff high-
lighted a few of her qualities: yearning, innocence (“childlike gaze”), physical
attractiveness (“lovely creature,” “adorn . . . so beautifully”), and otherworldliness
(“breathe,” “transfiguration,” “the beyond”). Significantly he would again empha-
size them in his appraisal of the Requiem. While these qualities are true of Mignon
at various points in the novel, when seen in the context of her overall character
(elaborated below), Bischoff ’s comments tended markedly toward an archetype
in literature and visual art that presented children as innocent and angelic, espe-
cially after death.12 This archetype can be found in religious teachings and
Romantic literature, poetry included.13 We see it in diary entries of the period as
well. In one case from England, for instance, a widower wrote to his fiancée about
his three-year-old son’s death from scarlet fever in early 1854: “Our darling is an
angel in heaven! His pure little soul parted from his sweet form about 1/2 past 3
oclock [sic] . . . Heaven is indeed the home of such innocents.”14
If we extrapolate from Bischoff’s comments on song no. 9, he was basically
chiding Schumann for not making Goethe’s Mignon sound more ethereal or
angelic (“The melody . . . does not breathe the transfiguration of the childlike gaze
in the beyond”). However, Bischoff’s version of Mignon was not the only one in
Goethe’s novel, as a closer examination of Goethe’s child character reveals.
When she first appears in the novel, Mignon is resilient, courageous, and
tomboyish (book 2, chapter 4). Abducted by traveling acrobats while very young
and trained to perform, she often rebeled at the risk of severe punishment. This
markedly independent child keeps her own counsel, refusing to divulge her
mysterious past (“Bid me not speak”) or sleep on anything resembling a bed
(book 2, chapter 7). She is repeatedly mistaken for a boy—by Meister (book 2,
chapter 4), the surgeon (book 4, chapter 10), and the Harper (book 7, chapter
4). Mignon runs up and down stairs; she likes sitting atop closets (book 2,
chapter 7) and rejects feminine garb (book 2 chapters 8, 9; book 4 chapter 2;
book 5, chapter 15). Moreover, in displays of truly unangelic fury and physical
strength, she once bit Meister’s arm (book 5, chapter 12), slashed at bandits with
her bowie knife (book 4, chapter 10), and saved little Felix from the mad old
92 Popular Influences

Harper’s murder attempt (book 5, chapter 13). Hardened by her difficult cir-
cumstances, the child’s tender side comes through most clearly in her relation-
ships with three men; Meister (book 5, chapters 1, 13, 14), Felix (book 7,
chapter 8; book 8, chapter 3), and the Harper (book 7, chapter 8).
In short, Goethe’s Mignon is a flesh-and-blood figure, and very much so: mys-
terious background and unconventional behavior notwithstanding, she displays a
spectrum of realistic human feelings, character flaws included. These attributes
Bischoff seem to have sidestepped. Instead he spotlighted qualities she demon-
strated toward the end of the novel. At a children’s birthday party charade directed
by Natalie (book 8, chapter 2), Mignon was dressed up as an angel to show the
other children that such apparitions were, in fact, real people in costume. After her
identity was revealed, however, she inexplicably refused to change her attire and
began speaking wistfully of her wish to be an angel, explaining the symbolism of
the lily she carried and her wings. Accompanying herself with a zither, she then
sang, “So let me seem, until I become” (Schumann’s song no. 9). Indeed Bischoff’s
comment about Mignon’s “transfigured childlike gaze” in song no. 9 was based on
her character at this point in Goethe’s narrative. As we shall see, it is this particular
image of Mignon that dominates Bischoff’s review of the Requiem für Mignon.

The Requiem evidently stirred the critic’s creative juices, for Bischoff took the
unusual approach of writing as though he were directing an imaginary
performance. First, although Schumann had already appended to the score
Goethe’s description of the Hall of the Past (book 8, chapter 8), the critic recom-
mended adding Natalie’s description of the birthday party. Notably he left out
Natalie’s rather more practical comments, presumably because they would have
interfered with the image of Mignon as angel.
The second volume [Op. 98b] contains the full score of the Requiem for
Mignon. In order to facilitate understanding of the music, the Introduction of
the Eighth Chapter of the Eighth Book of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship is
printed as the Foreword. We would also have added the description of
Mignon’s dress as an angel from the second chapter of the same book: “She
was clothed in a long, light white gown: there was a golden belt around the
chest, a tiara in the hair, and a pair of large golden wings.”15
Next Bischoff conceived yet more preliminary materials: an entire prologue in
memory of Mignon based on Natalie’s and the Abbé’s descriptions of her
(book 8, chapters 2, 9), preceded by a few piano or harp chords, and three songs
from Op. 98a.
I would, however, go even further, were I to direct such performances; for it
is unbelievable how a well-spoken word (that sets the listener in the mood
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 93

required by the succeeding music) can create a conducive impression. In the

present case I would begin, with a prologue, to remember Mignon rhapsod-
ically, after a few piano or harp chords. Goethe’s words, partly from the
Abbe’s speech, partly from Natalie’s narrative, would have to be used for this
purpose. I would weave into this performance the songs from the first
volume, “Bid me not speak, let me be silent,” “So let me seem, till I become,”
and also the Harper’s “Who never with hot tears ate his bread,” and have
these sung at the piano.”16

Bischoff ’s performance continued to stray from Goethe’s text and Schumann’s

The death of the lovely child would have to be mentioned; [we] should not
forget a short description of the Hall of the Past, in which the Requiem would
be sung, so that the usual ideas one would otherwise bring to these words
would remain outside. This time the main idea of the poet, which must also
penetrate the music that follows, that meaningful phrase on the scroll of the
picture-column: “Remember to live!” would step before the soul of the lis-
tener. . . . The last words of the performer indicate to us the picture of the
young girl with the broken heart, resting in her angel clothing on the sarcoph-
agus. . . . Overall, Schumann has captured well the nuances of color in the
painting; it is not the air of the vault and of the tomb that arises; [rather] it is
the soft breath that drifts from the blue heaven over fallen blossoms, that weds
sorrow with hope, death with life.17

A beautiful young girl in white gossamer gown, dead from a broken heart, lying
in eternal rest in a pastoral landscape amid soft breezes and drifting pastel petals:
this rounds off Bischoff ’s picture of Mignon. The image is reinforced in his
discussion of the third number, a chorus that clearly touched him:
One of the most beautiful numbers is chorus No. 3 . . .: “See the mighty wings!
etc.” The symbolic pointing to eternity and life that the chorus holds in front
of the children, the mention of the wings (which suggest more beautiful ones
that are not yet displayed), the pure robe, the golden headband, are inter-
woven here into an antiphonal song with the lament of the children . . . after
which, the chorus, as if moved by the truth of the children’s pain, only ven-
tures to reply gently: “see the pure gown”; the nostalgic remembrance: “As we
wreathed her head with roses,” that is expressed by both sopranos in tones,
that evoked the picture of tears that roll pearl-like over fresh-blooming

To the critic’s ear, the quartet of children and accompanying chorus were in
agreement with him; their music painted Mignon as tragic angelic heroine.
Moreover Bischoff ’s sentimental stance and regretful words (“death of the lovely
child,” “moved by the truth of the children’s pain”) call to mind two literary
tropes that were combined with the angel archetype in the 1840s and 1850s:
94 Popular Influences

earthly suffering and pathos-filled demise.19 Certain characters in tales by

Charles Dickens—Little Nell (The Old Curiosity Shop), Little Paul Dombey
(Dombey and Son), and David Copperfield’s child-bride Dora, for instance—are
virtuous children who endure all kinds of trouble before expiring in tear-induc-
ing scenes. Folk and fairy tales also made use of this combination archetype. For
example, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl (based on the Grimm
brothers’ The Star Talers, although there the heroine does not perish) and The
Little Mermaid both feature protagonists who undergo earthly trials and die
under sorrowful conditions.20 They then ascend to heaven. In particular The
Little Mermaid, written in 1837 and translated into German in the early 1840s,
is surprisingly close in structure, color, and character to Mignon’s narrative.
Table 6.1 charts parallels between the two characters and their stories.21 Whether

Table 6.1. Similarities between Mignon and the Little Mermaid

Mignon (1796) Little Mermaid (1837)1

Character: young girl in early adolescence Character: young girl in early to mid-adolescence
(12–13 years old at first sight). (10–15 years old).
Of noble ancestry, although this is not evident A sea princess.
until after her death.
From a beautiful, faraway land, seen as “exotic” From a beautiful, faraway land (under the sea),
by others. exotic in human eyes.
Childhood home a palazzo with lemon trees, Childhood home an underwater palace with red
marble columns and statues, green hilly landscape. and blue trees, golden fruit, and flame-like
flowers. Little Mermaid’s garden filled with
sun-red flowers, rose-colored weeping willow,
and a marble statue.
Personal characteristics: “strange,” taciturn, Personal characteristics: “strange child, quiet and
independent, courageous, tender in love. pensive,” independent, courageous (visit to sea
witch), tender in love.
Was lost at a body of water (mountain torrent Vanished from her father’s sea-kingdom and took
near lake, where her hat was found). up residence with the prince at his seaside palace.
Yearning an important characteristic: for Italy Yearning an important characteristic: for human
and her previous life. world and life, and prince’s love, for a human soul.
Voice is important element in her narrative: Voice is important element in her narrative: she
she communicates best in song but does not sings with the loveliest voice of all, but sells it to
express herself well in words. the sea witch in return for human legs. Her
muteness (i.e., inability to express herself in
speech) may have cost her the prince’s love.
Falls in love with Wilhelm Meister. Falls in love with a human prince.
Fiercely protective of Meister: saves him from Fiercely protective of prince: saves him from
disasters (fires, bandits). drowning and refuses to kill him in order to save
her own life.
Serves Meister, loves him devotedly. Serves prince, loves him devotedly.
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 95

Meister loves her as his child, without really “He loved her as one would love a dear, good
understanding her love for him. child, but it did not occur at all to him to make
her his queen.” (52) He calls her “my mute child”
(53) and “little foundling.” (51)
Meister yearns for the good, beautiful Amazon Prince loves the “holy” young girl whom he
(Natalie) who saved his life after the bandit attack. thinks saved him from drowning (52).
Meister is unaware of Mignon’s history. Prince is unaware of Little Mermaid’s history.
Dances (the Egg Dance) for Meister as an Dances gracefully for the prince to express her
expression of her love. love.
Meister has boys’ clothing made for Mignon at Prince had “men’s clothes made for her” (51).
her request.
Heart seizure and eventual death probably Death comes the night after prince marries
triggered by realization that Meister loves and someone else.
will marry Natalie.
Dies heartbroken. Dies heartbroken (54–55).
Body embalmed and dressed as angel; chorus Becomes beautiful transparent being with ethereal
sings of her ascent into heaven, the reward for voice; does good deeds to “create immortal soul”
her goodness and innocent suffering. so she may enter the Kingdom of God, as reward
for her suffering and endurance. (57)
“Whom do you bring to our silent company?” “To whom do I come?” Little Mermaid asks the
questions the invisible chorus. transparent beings (56).

1. From Hans Christian Andersen, “The Little Mermaid,” in Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, trans.
Patricia L. Conroy and Sven H. Rossel (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980), 34–58.

Andersen modeled his Little Mermaid after Mignon or other characters (such as
Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine of 1811, or the legendary water spirit
Melusine) is moot. The point is that Mignon as constructed by Bischoff shared
a narrative trajectory and archetype with Andersen’s character: stoicism in the
face of rejected love, martyr-like suffering, a pathos-filled death, and transfor-
mation into an angel. No wonder Bischoff avoided any mention of Mignon’s
spunky individuality, so colorfully and convincingly conveyed in Goethe’s novel;
it simply did not fit the archetype.22
Seen in this light, Bischoff ’s reproach of the Requiem’s final number is under-
standable. Schumann’s music in no. 6, a loud, merry call for the mourning chil-
dren to return to normal life, must have disturbed the critic’s sensibilities. Gaiety
and optimism for life (a reference to Goethe’s command “Remember to live!”)
were expressly not part of the angelic child narrative: “Perhaps he [Schumann]
went too far in the closing chorus No. 6 with the portrayal of the new upswing
for life at the separation from the sarcophagus, and gave [us] melodies [that
were] too cheerful in relation to the situation.”23 But nothing about this finale
could have pleased the critic, it seems. As it happens, Schumann did tame the
jubilance at the very end; the final seventeen measures are as spectacular as they
96 Popular Influences

are unexpected (mm. 103–19). Dropping suddenly into a piano dynamic, a four-
measure cadential progression (I-IV-V 6/4–7) appears twice (with the subdom-
inant emphasized throughout), followed by two measures reinforcing V 6/4–7,
before a seven-measure-long tonic takes hold, marked either pianissimo or piano
with diminuendo in all parts (Example 6.1 shows mm. 95–119). Bischoff opined
that this conclusion did not “unify” or provide enough closure to the work.
Finally the composer, perhaps with the right instinct that this is not the place
for a thunderous, brilliant finale, lets the chorus quietly fade out, and leads us
by this means again back to the softer, peaceful mood of the soul. It is exactly
this that causes us to express a wish, the realization of which would lead to
even greater unity of this requiem.24

Example 6.1. Schumann, Requiem für Mignon, Op. 98b, no. 6: “Kinder! eilet in’s Leben
hinan!,” mm. 95–119.
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 97

Example 6.1. Continued

Bischoff also disagreed with Schumann’s decision to end the work midway
through the funeral ceremony in Goethe’s narrative. Schumann had chosen to
conclude at the point in the text where the quartet and children were ordered to
stop mourning and return to normal, everyday activity. In the novel the scene
continues as follows: Mignon’s embalmed body was viewed by the assembled
company, during which the Abbé noted her attachment to the Catholic faith,
rolling up her sleeve to show the crucifix on her right arm. The Marchese realized
with a shock that she was his long-lost niece. Mignon’s body was finally lowered
into the marble sarcophagus, and a verse was sung by four young men. All these
Schumann had omitted from his Requiem (for reasons I speculate about later). To
rectify the situation Bischoff proposed extending Schumann’s setting:
Namely, we would like to induce Schumann to give the whole [Requiem] the
same conclusion which Goethe has given it, through [adding] a supplement
to the whole work. A solemn instrumental movement would imply the gradual
98 Popular Influences

sinking of the sleeping angel in the sarcophagus and upon it the four youths
can strike up their song. . . . In the last words the chorus would invade again, as
stated by Goethe, and in their meaning the gifted composer would surely find
the enthusiasm to strike the true character of a concluding chorus to Mignon’s
Requiem, which would articulate harmonically—how we should rescue, for
life, holy earnestness for joyful activity of life out of [our] pain over a beautiful
extinct being?25
Bischoff ’s suggested ending, with its palpable pity over the departed child
(“sleeping angel”) and plea for ceremonial music (“solemn instrumental
movement,” “true character of a concluding chorus”) diverged markedly from
Schumann’s. As John Daverio has pointed out, in Schumann’s conclusion, opti-
mism for life and “the business of the living, that is, to go on living their lives to
the fullest rather than losing themselves in maudlin lamentation,” were of para-
mount importance.26 However, there is more to this. In actualizing what Ehrhard
Bahr has recently observed, that “Mignon’s death . . . is a celebration of life,”
Schumann provided a key to his notion of Mignon.27 We shall return to this.

The value of Bischoff ’s review lies not so much in his opinion of Schumann’s
Requiem, as in what it reveals about how he and his society construed Mignon
in death, and how that affected reception of the work. Significantly, among con-
temporaries Bischoff was noted as a critic whose opinions frequently reflected
mainstream sentiment, and his journal had considerable regional clout.28 His
stated aim to “mediate between art and life” for the general public renders his
writings a valuable source and indicator of popular reception at that time.29 In
addition to the Rheinische Musikzeitung he also wrote for the Kölnische Zeitung
and participated actively in the city’s musical institutions. In short, his was an
influential and valued voice in the cultural life of the region where he lived for
forty-four years.
Bischoff ’s Mignon recalls an earlier depiction of her, in the visual arts.30 Some
two decades before the Requiem’s premiere, another Rhineland Mignon had
stirred controversy: a painting completed in 1828 by the renowned artist
Wilhelm von Schadow. Seated in front of long drapes, Schadow’s Mignon muses
wistfully, with dark flowing hair, disproportionately large wings, and fingers
poised on a zither-like instrument resting on her knees (Figure 6.1). Her dress is
long and white; her forehead and breast are encircled in golden bands; a graceful
spray of lilies stands on her right.31 The painting—like Bischoff ’s preferred
image directly drawn from Natalie’s description of the child dressed up at the
birthday party charade—unleashed lively critical debate about, among other
things, Schadow’s failure to capture Mignon’s colorful, many-sided character.32
As one particularly sarcastic reviewer wrote, “Why [has] our ingenious
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 99

Figure 6.1. Wilhelm von Schadow (1788–1862), Mignon,

ca. 1840. Oil on canvas, 119 x 92 cm. Photo: Ursula
Gerstenberger. Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig.
Photo credit: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art
Resource, New York.

Schadow . . . conceived precisely this critical moment from Mignon’s picture-rich

life, a moment in which even Mignon discards her entire individuality, in which
Mignon ceases to be Mignon[?]”33
Why indeed? In an analysis of the debate, Cordula Grewe convincingly argues
that Schadow, a Catholic convert who had recently been appointed director of
the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, had in his portrayal deliberately transformed
Mignon into “an unmistakably Christian image” by purging her androgyny and
decontextualizing her appearance in costume (by excluding Natalie, the chil-
dren, and the party from the painting, as Bischoff would similarly do in his
review). Under Schadow’s brush Mignon metamorphozed into a female angel,
and ultimately into an allegory of Christian art, her startlingly lifelike feather
wings expressing “strict Catholic devoutness,” in the words of a contemporary.34
There are further implications. The birthday party heralded Mignon’s end, as
readers may have already surmised from Bischoff ’s suggestion to add it to the
100 Popular Influences

foreword of Schumann’s Requiem. In the novel Goethe seems to have staged

Mignon’s funeral in such a way (her embalmed body frozen into sculpture) as to
drive home his well-known preference for the aesthetics of classical antiquity,
which shunned Romanticism’s “Catholicizing” tendencies.35 By casting a white-
robed, winged girl as the definitive image in his painting, however, Schadow in
effect rewrote Mignon’s ending, so that she not only died a Christian, but also
became an angel.36 Arguably it was Schadow’s stance that reverberated in
Bischoff ’s review more than two decades later.37 Bischoff, too, essentially
Christianized Mignon’s funeral with his suggestions for Schumann’s Requiem:
among other things, mention of the child’s appearance in winged costume and
of the death of Mignon, as well as alterations to the work’s inappropriately
cheerful conclusion.
Seen in this light, certain details in Schadow’s and Bischoff ’s interpretations
of Mignon gain in religious significance. Flowers accompanying the child, a lily
(book 8, chapter 2) and roses (book 8, chapter 8), were popular symbols of the
Virgin’s chastity and love, respectively.38 Schadow elaborated upon the single lily
in Goethe’s narrative; his spray contains three full blooms as well as buds.
Perhaps he wanted to draw attention to Mignon’s purity and youth, with the lily
buds in close proximity to a trinity of open blossoms. Bischoff, on the other
hand, might have been thinking of the most popular Marian prayer, the rosary,
when he repeated the mention of roses from Goethe’s text (“As we wreathed her
head with roses”).39 “Tears that roll pearl-like” appear nowhere in Goethe, but
perhaps Bischoff evoked the lustrous gem because it symbolizes religious salva-
tion; pearls were frequently sewn onto Madonna statues’ clothing (and Schadow’s
Mignon wears a headband studded with pearls).40 Little wonder that Bischoff
greeted the harp’s appearance in no. 3 with delight: “Effective instrumentation
[is also present], among which we point especially to the entry of the harp,
which whispers suddenly over the pianissimo C-major triad of the trombones,
horns, and bassoons.”41 Here, the harp as holy instrument buttressed Bischoff ’s
belief in Mignon as angel.42 Eliding with the end of the children’s exclamation
“See the mighty wings!,” its music might announce Mignon’s entry as angel,43
reminding audiences of her zither as well as newfound femininity (the instru-
ment was gendered feminine in nineteenth-century thought). Last but not least,
the critic’s injunction to Schumann, “The death of the lovely child would have
to be mentioned,” if carried out, would recall the tragic circumstances of
Mignon’s death; she “shot up, clasped her heart . . . and fell with a cry” (book 8,
chapter 5). By adding this bit of Mignon’s story, missing from Schumann’s
Requiem, Bischoff would complete the fairy tale narrative of a child who had
endured a troubled life and met an untimely end filled with pathos, before find-
ing release as an angel. While most of these elements are also hinted at or other-
wise found in Goethe’s novel, the critic arguably magnified them beyond the
proportions allotted by the author into a quasi–“Life of Mignon,” by Ludwig
F. C. Bischoff.
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 101

Mignon as angel seems to have been Bischoff ’s (and Schadow’s) solution to

questions of identity raised by Goethe’s masterfully constructed mystery child
or puer senex, literally “old boy (child).” As described by Reinhard Kuhn, puer
senex is a cryptic child figure whose characteristics include inscrutability,
wisdom, an inability to communicate—some do so through music—and pre-
mature death.44 While claiming to remain faithful to Goethe’s Mignon in criti-
cizing Schumann’s Requiem, Bischoff ’s reading of Mignon actually mixed
elements from the novel with popular visual and literary sources: Schadow’s
painting, angel archetype, and fairy tale narrative.45 It is intriguing that Schadow
and Bischoff, working some twenty years apart, would respond in such similar
ways to Goethe’s fictitious figure. A significant factor in this continuity must
have been the distinctive confessional culture of the Rhineland region in which
both lived and worked.46 The trickle-down (if any) of religious overtones in
Schadow’s painting into Bischoff ’s review would have coincided with a strong
revival of Catholicism in the region beginning around 1850.47 At this time—that
is, immediately prior to the premiere of the Requiem—Marian sodalities led by
parish priests began to dominate community life.48 Dedicated to the Virgin,
sodalities celebrated communion on her festivals and feast days. Like traditional
brotherhoods before them, they had consecrated banners, marched together in
processions, appeared as a group at members’ funerals, and held their own
religious ceremonies. Moreover, members were held to high moral standards
(chastity, frequent communion, and avoidance of taverns). Although open to all
parishioners, sodalities tended to be divided by gender and marital status; mem-
bership encompassed entire villages and small towns and was popular even
among urban dwellers. As a form of popular Catholicism sodalities were a strong
cultural influence in the Rhineland.
It is plausible that Schumann’s Requiem für Mignon was coolly received because
it did not offer the religious-consolatory gestures that satisfied standards of popular
morality as defined by such Marian sodalities.49 “The death of a child,” Pat Jalland
reminds us, “was the supreme test of Christian faith,” a situation recognized in the
impressive amount of consolation literature explaining such deaths in Christian
terms.50 In addition, unexpected demise could be especially troubling because it
allowed little time for spiritual preparation and contrition for past sins.51 Under
these conditions Mignon’s sudden passing would have provoked considerable
spiritual concern; here was a devout Catholic child who had kissed a crucifix fer-
vently before breathing her last. Understandably, Catholic audiences (the majority
of whom had probably marched in the funerals of fellow sodalites) expected the
unfortunate child’s end to be justified and her send-off accomplished in unambig-
uously Christian terms. That is what Bischoff (and Schadow) achieved in their
reinterpretations of Goethe’s puer senex. However, as we shall see, Schumann had a
different notion of Mignon, one that affected musically his Requiem for her.52
102 Popular Influences

So how did Schumann envision Mignon? In a letter to Emanuel Klitzsch on

December 19, 1849, about Op. 79, Lieder-Album für die Jugend (“Know you the
land . . .?” is the album’s last song), Schumann provided a clue, if not a definitive
answer to this question. Significantly, he cast Mignon not as angelic sufferer, but
as contemplative and knowing in mysterious ways. She looks to the future:
“Mignon closes [the Album], directing her gaze presciently towards a more
active life of the soul.”53 Come what may, Schumann intimates, this child will
continue to live, if in another, more spiritual domain. Among literary predeces-
sors this image comes remarkably close to one by an author Schumann knew
and admired. In Novalis’s Hymns to the Night (1799–1800), a miraculous child
appears: “With divine fervor the prophetic eyes of the blossoming child looked
toward the days of the future.”54 Like Mignon, this puer senex is predestined to
die young. In the course of his brief life, however, he inspires much and many,
from far and wide, including a minstrel who serenades him in homage. Visionary
are the song’s closing lines: “In death eternal life becomes manifest, / You are
death and at last make us well.”55 Novalis’s child perishes shortly thereafter.
Following a period of mourning, however, he is resurrected to life everlasting in
a burst of glory, surrounded by angels.
Although Schumann left no other hints about his Mignon, given the tantalizing
links between her and Novalis’s wondrous child, the latter part of this tale provides
a helpful interpretive framework for the final number in Schumann’s Requiem. Two
other elements Bischoff discussed will also be considered: Schumann’s decision not
to set the entire funeral ceremony, and the thunderous final chorus with its dramatic
closing cadential passage. What do these tell us about what Mignon and her end
meant for Schumann? Intriguingly, by omitting the second half of her funeral (in
which the Marchese recognizes her as his niece) Schumann was in effect withholding
Mignon’s earthly identity in his work. He wanted her to remain, like Novalis’s
unnamed child, a cipher to the last. In addition, by cutting short Goethe’s scene,
Schumann also prevented the entombment of Mignon’s body, which has implica-
tions for the concluding chorus. The text of this final number—“Children, hurry
to life! In the beauty of pure garments Love meets you with divine gaze and the
garland of immortality! Up! We return to life! Up!”—underlines its overarching
joy, so perturbing to Bischoff in its triumph. Triumphant it is, for it is no less than
music of resurrection. Her redemption, mentioned by so many commentators, is
only part of the story. Mignon returns—body and soul—not as a mere angel, but
as Love incarnate to life perpetual in the kingdom of the spirit. Angels surround her
in those final seventeen measures, bathed in musical references to the “softer, peace-
ful mood of the soul,” in Bischoff’s words.56
No martyr to be mourned, but herald of immortality in death—that is how
Schumann envisioned Mignon. In this sense, his Requiem for her is an antire-
quiem; it does not lay her to rest, but infuses her with new life. In his funeral
music she lives on—and on and on and on: an exulting, unexpected end for this
enigmatic child.57
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 103

1. Sime, Life of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 142–43.
2. The work was composed in the summer of 1849 (see also Benjamin’s essay in
this volume). Over twenty years later, in 1872, Anton Rubinstein set Songs and
Requiem for Mignon from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre for solo voices and
chorus with piano accompaniment.
3. Rheinische Musikzeitung, edited by Ludwig Bischoff (henceforth RMz); Signale
für die musikalische Welt, edited by Bartholf W. Senff (henceforth SmW); Neue
Zeitschrift für Musik, edited by Franz Brendel (henceforth NZfM), Die Grenzboten
(henceforth Gb). The reviews are SmW 8, no. 49 (1850); SmW 9, no. 8 (1851); RMz 2,
no. 17 (1851); *SmW 9, no. 44 (1851); *RMz 2, no. 19 (part 1, 1851) and 2, no. 20 (part
2, 1851); NZfM 35, no. 21 (1851); SmW 10, no. 2 (1852); Gb 11, no. 2 (1852). Asterisks
denote those kept in Schumann’s folder of press clippings. For an overview and anal-
ysis of the reviews, see Kok, “Romantic Childhood,” 127–65. I thank Kazuko Ozawa for
drawing my attention to them. All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.
4. For a comprehensive introduction to the Requiem, see Krummacher, “Requiem
für Mignon.” With regard to reception, Krummacher and, more recently, Hansjörg
Ewert focused on Theodor Uhlig’s surprisingly positive review, NZfM 35, no. 21
(1851). I say surprisingly, because pro-Wagner editorials by Uhlig dominated the
journal between 1850 and 1852, a period during which Schumann’s works generally
suffered under the pen of the music journalist, who died in 1853. See Thym, “Schumann
in Brendel’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik”; Ewert, “Lieder, Gesänge und Requiem.”
5. Gb 11, no. 2 (1852): 258. “Dann mögen wir nicht verhehlen, dass uns die
Darstellung und die dazu verwendeten Mittel nicht die richtigen scheinen. Großer
Chor und volles Orchester, die kräftige, schwer accentuirte Ausdrucksweise entspre-
chen nicht der von dem Dichter im Sinne der ganzen Figur gezeichneten
6. See Gille, Goethes Wilhelm Meister, for firsthand responses to the novel. Many
focus on Mignon and Harper (see responses by Schiller, Schlegel, Novalis, Maria
Mnioch, and Bettina von Arnim, for instance).
7. Ludwig Friedrich Christian Bischoff (1794–1867) was a leading music critic
and, from 1850 to 1853, founder and editor of the Cologne-based Rheinische
Musikzeitung. RMz’s stated aim was to reach “every educated person, not just the musi-
cian.” With its regional emphasis on the Rhineland and a marked bias against the New
German school, it has been described as a literary voice for the conservative Rhenish
school. See Curtis, Ludwig Bischoff. My analysis of Bischoff’s review of Schumann’s
Requiem diverges considerably from Curtis’s reading of the same (253–54).
8. RMz 2, no. 19 (1851): 561. “Aber dennoch ist der Gedanke, allem in Göthe’s
Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahren vorhandenen Musikalischen endlich einmal die Gestalt
in Tönen zu geben, für welche der Dichter es bestimmt, ja, welche er selbst meistens
mit einigen bezeichnenden Worten und Winken angedeutet hat, kein gewöhnlicher.”
In “Requiem für Mignon,” Krummacher shows that Schumann did not actually set all
the verse texts in the novel.
9. Curtis, Ludwig Bischoff, 11, 22–23.
104 Popular Influences

10. RMz 2, no. 19 (1851): 563.

Nr. 1. Kennst du das Land? zuerst von Reichardt in Musik gesetzt und heute fasst
vergessen, dann von Beethoven, von Liszt und wohl noch von manchem Andern,
erscheint hier noch einmal in einer neuen Melodie, und doch sollte man meinen,
es könne für dieses Lied nur Eine geben. Die Schumann’sche ist an und für sich als
Melodie schön: allein dem Ideal, welches sich der Dichter von der Melodie und
dem Vortrag dieses Liedes selbst gebildet und Andern angedeutet hat, scheint sie
uns nicht zu entsprechen. Göthe hat es ausdrücklich gesagt, wie er das Lied aufge-
fasst haben will und wie er es sich in Tönen gedacht hat . . . Der erste Eintritt der
Frage, der bei Beethoven nach Göthe’s Sinn breit und feierlich ist, hat hier den
entgegengesetzten Charakter: [musical ex.] Dass die zweite Frage “kennst Du es
wohl?” sich ohne Pause, welche die Declamation durchaus verlangt, an die vierte
Zeile schließt und sich mit einer Steigerung in der Tonleiter und im crescendo
wiederholt, können wir nicht billigen: wie anders, wenn nach Göthe’s Sinn diese
Frage geheimnissvoll [sic] und doch mit Bedeutung hingehaucht wird und der
Drang der Sehnsucht erst mit dem “Dahin! dahin!” ausbricht. Dieses Dahin! hat
Schumann so declamirt: [musical ex.] wobei man fast auf den leisen Verdacht
kommen könnte, als habe der Componist es durchaus anders machen wollen, als
seine Vorgänger. Nun, neu ist freilich diese Declamation, aber weder schön noch
richtig, . . . Ob dann ferner zu diesem g = und e = Accorde wie folgende: [musical
ex.] Harmonien bilden, welche dem musikalischen Ausdruck der Sehnsucht
angemessen sind, möchten wir bezweifeln. Wir können uns nun einmal an dergle-
ichen starkes Gewürz nicht gewöhnen, es verdirbt uns den Genuss.
11. RMz 2, no. 19 (1851): 563. “Nr. 9 Mignons: ‘So lasst mich scheinen bis ich
werde’ dürften die am wenigsten gelungenen der Sammlung sein. Die Melodie des
letztern athmet nicht die Verklärung des kindlichen Blicks in das Jenseits, der in dem
Gedicht das holde Geschöpf so schön ziert.”
12. On child archetypes see, for example, Kuhn, Corruption in Paradise, espe-
cially 76–77, 106–11.
13. DeVries, “‘Be Converted.’” See also poetry by Brentano, Mörike, Eichendorff,
and Uhland quoted in Marjorie Hirsch, Romantic Lieder, 104–6.
14. Quoted in Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 126.
15. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 569.
Das zweite Heft enthält die Partitur des Requiems für Mignon. Um das Verständniss
[sic] der Musik zu erleichtern, ist die Einleitung des achten Capitels des achten
Buchs von Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahren als Vorwort abgedruckt. Wir würden
auch die Beschreibung von dem Anzug Mignons als Engel, aus dem zweiten
Capitel desselben Buchs hinzugefügt haben: “sie war in ein langes, leichtes weisses
Gewand gekleidet: es fehlte nicht an einem goldnen Gürtel um die Brust, an einem
gleichen Diadem in den Haaren und einem Paar großer goldner Schwingen.”
In Goethe’s novel the passage is:
I chose Mignon to play the part of the angel, and on the appointed day, she was
clothed in a long, thin white garment with a girdle of gold around her chest and a
golden crown in her hair. I first thought I would omit the wings, but the women
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 105

[sic] who dressed her insisted on a pair of big golden wings with which she could
demonstrate her skill. (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 315)
16. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 569.
Ich würde indessen noch weiter gehen, wenn ich dergleichen Aufführungen zu
leiten hätte; denn es ist unglaublich, was ein gut gesprochenes Wort, welches den
Zuhörer in die Stimmung setzt, die für die nachfolgende Musik verlangt wird, für
einen förderlichen Eindruck macht. In dem vorliegenden Fall würde ich nach eini-
gen Piano oder Harfenakkorden mit einem Prolog beginnen lassen, der rhapso-
disch an Mignon erinnerte—Göthe’s Worte theils aus der Rede des Abbe’s, theils
aus Nataliens Erzählung müssten dazu benutzt werden—in diesen Vortrag würde
ich aus dem ersten Heft die Lieder: “Heiss mich nicht reden, heiss mich schweigen”
und “So lasst mich scheinen bis ich werde”, auch des Harfners: “Wer nie sein Brod
mit Thränen ass”—verweben und diese am Klavier singen lassen.
Mahlert, Fortschritt und Kunstlied, 152–56, discusses musical relationships between
Opp. 98a and 98b, with which John Daverio agrees. See Daverio, Robert Schumann,
17. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 569–70.

Der Tod des holden Kindes müsste erwähnt werden; ja selbst eine kurze Schilderung
des Saales der Vergangenheit, in welchem das Requiem gesungen wird, dürfte
nicht fehlen, damit die gewöhnlichen Vorstellungen, die man bei diesem Worte
sonst mitbringt, dieses Mal draussen blieben und der Hauptgedanke des Dichters,
der ja auch die folgende Musik durchwehen muss, das bedeutsame Wort auf der
Rolle der Bildsäule: “Gedenke zu leben!” vor die Seele des Hörers träte. Wenn als-
dann die letzten Worte des Vortragenden uns das Bild des Mädchens mit dem
gebrochenen Herzen, ruhend in seinen Engelkleidern auf dem Sarkophage, zei-
gen, . . . Schumann hat den Farbenton des Gemäldes überhaupt getroffen; es ist
nicht die Luft der Gewölbe und der Grüfte, die daraus emporsteigt, es ist der milde
Hauch, der vom blauen Himmel auch über die fallenden Blüthen weht, der die
Trauer mit der Hoffnung, den Tod mit dem Leben vermählt.
The “scroll on the picture-columns” was actually a scroll held by the effigy of Natalie’s
uncle in the Hall of the Past. Also see Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship,
18. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 570.
Eine der schönsten Nummern ist der Chor Nr. 3 . . .: “Seht die mächtigen Flügel
doch an! u.s.w.” Die symbolischen Hindeutungen auf Ewigkeit und Leben, die der
Chor den Kindern vorhält, die Erwähnung der Flügel, welche schönere vorstellen,
die noch nicht entfaltet sind, des reinen Gewandes, der goldnen Stirnbinde, sind
hier mit den Klagen der Kinder . . . verwebt . . . worauf der Chor, wie von der
Wahrheit des Schmerzes der Kinder ergriffen, nur leise zu entgegnen wagt: “seht
das reine Gewand”—; die wehmüthige Erinnerung: “als wir mit Rosen kränzten
ihr Haupt”, die von den beiden Sopranen [sic] in Tönen ausgesprochen wird,
welche das Bild von Thränen, die über frisch blühende Wangen perlen,
106 Popular Influences

19. Lerner, Angels and Absences, 82–125, especially 113–25.

20. See “The Star Talers,” in Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, 338–40.
21. Andersen, Tales and Stories, 34–58.
22. Although Mignon displayed a growing spirituality toward the end of her life
(book 8, chapters 2, 3), up until the moment she died she was full of energy (book 8,
chapter 5).
23. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 570. “Vielleicht ist er in dem Schlusschor Nr. 6 in
Darstellung des neuen Aufschwungs für das Leben beim Scheiden von dem
Sarkophage zu weit gegangen und hat ihm im Verhältnis zu der Situation zu heitre
Melodien gegeben.”
24. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 571.
Zuletzt lässt der Componist, wahrscheinlich in dem richtigen Gefühl, dass ein
rauschend glänzender Schluss doch hier nicht an der Stelle sei, den Chor leise
verhallen und führt uns dadurch wieder in die sanftere, ruhige Seelenstimmung
zurück. Eben dies veranlasst uns einen Wunsch auszusprechen, dessen
Verwirklichung unserer Meinung nach dies Requiem zu einer noch grössern
Einheit abrunden dürfte.
25. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 571–72.
Wir möchten nämlich Schumann bewegen, durch einen Nachtrag dem Ganzen
denselben Schluss zu geben, den ihm Göthe gegeben hat. Ein feierlicher
Instrumentalsatz würde das Versenken des schlafenden Engels in den Sarkophag
andeuten und darauf die vier Jünglinge ihren Gesang anheben: . . . In die letzten
Worte fiele der Chor wieder ein, wie es Göthe angiebt, und in ihrem Sinn würde
der geniale Tonsetzer sicher die Begeisterung finden, den wahren Charakter eines
Schlusschors zu Mignon’s Requiem zu treffen, welcher harmonisch ausspräche,
wie wir aus dem Schmerz über ein erloschenes schönes Dasein den heiligen Ernst
zu freudigem Wirken uns für das Leben retten sollen.
26. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 438.
27. Bahr, “Wallensteins Tod,” 172.
28. Bagge, “Prof. L. Bischoff.”
29. Curtis, Ludwig Bischoff, 25–27; James Deaville, “Ludwig Bischoff,” in Musik in
Geschichte und Gegenwart: Personenteil, 2nd ed. (Kassel et al: Bärenreiter, 1999),
2:1683, 1685.
30. For depictions of Mignon in the visual arts, see Grewe, “Mignon als Allegorie
des Poetischen.”
31. Schadow’s father, Johann Gottfried, made a copper engraving, Marianne
Schlegel als Mignon, in 1802. There are a few similarities between this Mignon and
his son’s: both wear a white dress, carry a zither-like instrument on their knees, and,
most strikingly, have feathered wings. J. G. Schadow’s engraving is reproduced in
Maaz, “Nicht unter Goethe und Raffael,” 133.
32. Grewe, “Beyond Hegel.”
33. M. [Romeo Maurenbrecher], “Gemäldeausstellung in Düsseldorf im August
1828,” Kunst-Blatt 9, no. 81 (1828): 323, quoted in Grewe, “Beyond Hegel,” 204.
Who Was Mignon? What Was She? 107

34. Seidel, “Ueber W. Schadow’s Mignon,” 280.

35. Grewe, “Beyond Hegel,” 191–92, 208.
36. Ibid., 208.
37. I have not found evidence that Bischoff knew Schadow’s painting.
However, the RMz had a mandate to bring art and society closer together and
regularly listed regional happenings in the other arts (see Curtis, Ludwig
Bischoff, 54, and facsimile reproduction of an issue, 400–403). As a longtime
denizen of the Rhineland, Bischoff must have been aware of Schadow, who
besides being a highly prominent artist drew nationwide attention for turning
the Düsseldorf Academy of Art into an internationally famous institution.
While there Schadow nurtured the celebrated Düsseldorfer Malerschule, a
group of Academy students with a unified style (Grewe, “Beyond Hegel,” 196).
Schumann met with Schadow several times after his move to Düsseldorf. See
Bernhard Appel, “Robert Schumann und die Malerei,” in Schumann und die
Düsseldorfer Malerschule , 7–27.
38. Fulton, “The Virgin in the Garden,” quotes a medieval preacher: “These are
[the flowers] with whose sweet perfume you filled the house of God, O Mary: . . . the
lily of chastity, . . . the rose of love” (1).
39. On the rosary (from Lat. rosarium), see ibid., 1–6.
40. Matthew 7:6, Matthew 13:45. See Ferguson, Signs and Symbols, 43. Bridget
Heal describes pearls on the Virgin’s clothing in The Cult of the Virgin Mary,
41. RMz 2, no. 20 (1851): 570. “Dazu kömmt die wirksame Instrumentirung, in
der wir besonders den Eintritt der Harfe bezeichnen, welche über dem im pianis-
simo ausgehaltenen C dur-Dreiklang der Posaunen, Hörner und Fagotte plötzlich
42. I Chronicles 13:8, Revelation 5:8. In his sermons St. Augustine explains the
Ten Commandments in terms of the ten strings of David’s harp. See Ferguson, Signs
and Symbols, 175–76.
43. A moment for “Lebende Bilder” perhaps? See Appel, “‘Mehr Malerei als
Ausdruck der Empfindung,’” especially 259.
44. According to Kuhn, this archetype dates back to late antiquity and was
popular in hagiographies of the Middle Ages (Corruption in Paradise, 24–30, also
234 n. 8).
45. On the religious significance of mythology (which included fairy tales), see
Williamson, The Longing for Myth. Bischoff had studied with Friedrich August Wolf
and August Boeckh, influential thinkers in the movement that established the status
of German mythology.
46. Unlike Schadow, Bischoff ’s religious persuasion is unclear, but having been
born in Dessau outside Berlin, he was probably a Protestant. However, over half his
life was spent in the Catholic Rhineland, including the city known as “Holy”
47. Sperber, Popular Catholicism; Sperber, “Roman Catholic Religious Identity”;
Sperber, “The Transformation of Catholic Associations.”
108 Popular Influences

48. Information on sodalities is from Sperber, “Transformation of Catholic

Associations,” 255. Marian worship at popular and elite levels of society had a long
history in Cologne; see Heal, The Cult of the Virgin Mary, 207–61.
49. Op. 98b was composed before Schumann’s move to the Catholic Rhineland
and its subsequent premiere there. On Schumann’s attitudes toward religion
(including Catholicism and Protestantism) and the reception of his later Requiem,
Op. 148, see Harwood, The Genesis of Robert Schumann’s Liturgical Works, 182–217.
Tunbridge, Schumann’s Late Style, 59–68, discusses the reception of Schumann’s
Mass, Op. 147 and Op. 148.
50. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 122.
51. Ibid., 59.
52. Despite its title, Op. 98b’s genre is open to interpretation. For an overview of
Schumann’s experiments in genre at this time, see Ewert, “Die großbesetzten vokal-
instrumentalen Werke,” 480. Harwood, The Genesis, 91 n. 81, finds that parts of
Op. 98b share greater similarities with the death scenes in Manfred, Op. 115 and
Szenen aus Goethes Faust, WoO 3 than with Schumann’s two Latin settings titled
Requiem (Op. 148 and the last song in Op. 90). Harwood does not elaborate, but
Daverio, Robert Schumann, 437, offers a few examples of allusions to WoO 3; these
for him indicate the “inner unity of the entire Goethe project” and redemption for
Mignon similar to that for Gretchen and Faust.
53. “Mignon schließt, ahnungsvoll den Blick in ein bewegteres Seelenleben rich-
tend.” In R. Schumann, Briefe: Neue Folge, 324. Translated in Finson, “Schumann’s
Mature Style,” 232.
54. “Mit vergötternder Inbrunst schaute das weissagende Auge des blühenden
Kindes auf die Tage der Zukunft.” Novalis, “Hymnen an die Nacht,” in Samuel,
Novalis Band I, 167. Translation from Kuhn, Corruption in Paradise, 46.
55. “Im Tode ward das ewge Leben Kund / Du bist der Tod und machst uns erst
gesund.” Novalis, “Hymnen an die Nacht,” in Samuel, Novalis Band I, 167. Translation
modified from Kuhn, Corruption in Paradise, 46–47.
56. For an interpretation that views Mignon’s suffering as symbolic of all man-
kind, see Janz, “‘Kennst du das Land.’”
57. Questions of Schumann’s religious persuasion aside (too complex to be given
full justice here), he seems to have held a range of notions about death, of which his
handling of Mignon’s death would be but one. I have established that in another
work from 1849, the vocal duet “Wiegenlied am Lager meines kranken Kindes,” Op.
78, no. 4, Schumann demonstrated a clearly neoclassical sensibility about death; see
Kok, “Falling Asleep.” Another death-related text Schumann set for chorus and
orchestra in 1849 was Hebbel’s Nachtlied, Op. 108; I discuss it in Kok, “Schumann’s
Choral Music.” Elsewhere in this volume Burnham explores Schumann’s late style
with death as a subtext from a cultural studies point of view.

Schumann, Raphael, Faust

Nicholas Marston

In his envoi to the reader of The Last Chronicle of Barset (1866–67), Anthony
Trollope observes the following:
There are those who have told me that I have made all my clergymen bad, and
none good. I must venture to hint to such judges that they have taught their
eyes to love a colouring higher than nature justifies. We are, most of us, apt to
love Raphael’s madonnas better than Rembrandt’s matrons. But though we
do so, we know that Rembrandt’s matrons existed; but we have a strong belief
that no such woman as Raphael painted ever did exist.1
We can but imagine what, if anything, Schumann might have made of
Mrs. Proudie, Archdeacon Grantly, Obadiah Slope, and all the other characters
who people Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire. But we do know that he
shared the “strong belief ” to which Trollope refers. Twenty years before the nov-
elist set down his view, Schumann’s diary entry for March 9, 1846, records an
evening visit by his friend the Dresden painter Eduard Bendemann:
We talked a great deal about painting, and I, as always, listened (gladly) with
reverence. I asked whether he believes that Raphael’s Madonnas might have
been painted from life, and whether anything historical is known about that.
Bendemann ruled this out altogether: they must surely have been ideal
[figures] of his imagination, which would explain why his Madonnas are so
easy to recognize.2
So firmly entrenched is our image of Schumann as the most literary of com-
posers that we easily ignore his familiarity with and great interest in the visual
arts. Of the few writers who have explored this topic, Leon Botstein has noted
his contacts with members of the Dresden and Düsseldorf Schools during his
residence in those cities, and suggests that his stylistic development as a com-
poser may partly have been driven by his artistic tastes and experience.3 In
Botstein’s view, works such as the Märchenerzählungen, Op. 132, and the

110 Popular Influences

Märchenbilder, Op. 113, can perhaps be related to the small forms of the
Düsseldorf painter Alfred Rethel, while Schumann’s turn to large forms such as
oratorio and opera may have been a consequence of his enthusiasm for the
“richly colored, spacious, scenic and narrative depictions” of Dresden artists
such as Bendemann and Lessing.4
“Evident in the paintings with which Schumann was most familiar and that
he most admired,” claims Botstein, “was a constant reference either to the past
or to the flight from the moment—toward legend, myth, and, periodically,
Christianity.” And beside his involvement with his contemporaries, he also ven-
erated earlier painters, chief among whom was Raphael: “Schumann’s engage-
ment with Raphael would be lifelong.”5 The point is borne out not only by
Schumann’s diary entries but also in his music criticism. Already in February
1830 he was pondering a distinction between “universal” and “ideal” artists,
placing Michelangelo in the former category along with Shakespeare and
Mozart, and Raphael in the latter together with Schiller and Handel. An 1838
review contrasts the Six Caprices, Op. 4, by Ambroise Thomas, with a
Divertimento by Carl Eduard Hering in terms of the eyes of a Raphael Madonna
(Thomas) and the nut-brown hair of a Dutch head by Teniers, while in 1840 an
entire heavenful of “Raphael’scher Madonnenaugen” (Raphael-like Madonna
eyes) was evoked to describe the chorus “Ich harrete des Herrn” from
Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang; later in that same year Schumann noted laconically
that “Madonnas by Raphael and Murillo cannot remain hidden for long” as he
predicted future worldwide fame for Mendelssohn’s setting of the prayer
“Verleih’ uns Frieden gnädiglich,” which he had recently heard performed for
the first time in Leipzig. Indeed one of the very last references to art in his
Tagebücher mentions a visit in March 1852 to an exhibition of Raphael engrav-
ings in Leipzig.6
Of all Schumann’s remarks on painting, however, and on the Madonnas of
Raphael in particular, none is so provocative and germane to the subject of the
present essay as an 1833 entry in the “Denk- und Dicht-Büchlein of Master
Raro, Florestan and Eusebius.” Here Schumann posits that “the educated musi-
cian can profit as much from studying a Raphael Madonna as can a painter from
a Mozart symphony. And what is more: . . . to the painter, the poem becomes a
picture, [while] the musician transposes the painting into tones.”7
Moreover during his years in Dresden (1844–50) Schumann would regu-
larly have been able to contemplate in the original a picture that he would
already have known from many reproductions. This was the so-called “Sistine”
Madonna (Figure 7.1), one of the most famous of all Raphael’s works and a
picture that many of his contemporaries regarded simply as “the most precious
painting in the whole world.”8 Painted in 1512–13 as an altarpiece for the
Benedictine monastery church of San Sisto in Piacenza, it had been installed in
1754 in Dresden, where Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland,
intent on elevating the cultural status of the city and indulging his passion for
Entzückt 111

the visual arts, was instrumental in creating the collection of the Gemäldegalerie.
Schumann would have seen the “Sistine” Madonna displayed on the wall of the
Stallgebäude (subsequently the Johanneum), alongside stylistically related
works, but in 1855 it was removed from its existing position and redisplayed in
a heavy gold frame atop an altar-like base in a gallery of its own within the
newly constructed building by Gottfried Semper (the Sempergalerie), recov-
ering thereby—albeit now in a secular context—something of its original,
sacred purpose.9
Indeed the painting had been an object of intense contemplation and vener-
ation almost from its arrival in Dresden, inspiring not only countless copies but
also quantities of poetry and prose. The librettist of Schumann’s Genoveva,
Friedrich Hebbel, published his poem “Auf die Sixtinische Madonna” in 1851,
opening with the thought that no human hand could have executed this painting;
rather it must, like the rainbow, originate in some pledge or guarantee of the
divine (“göttlich Unterpfand”). Julius Hübner, who was among Schumann’s
artistic circle in Dresden, likewise published a “Sistine”-inspired sonnet in

Figure 7.1. Raphael, “Sistine” Madonna, Gemäldegalerie alte

112 Popular Influences

1857,10 and in July of the following year Trollope’s slightly younger contempo-
rary George Eliot noted in her journal the extraordinary effect that this painting
had on her:
I sat down on the sofa opposite the picture for an instant, but a sort of awe, as
if I were suddenly in the living presence of some glorious being, made my
heart swell too much for me to remain comfortably, and we hurried out of the
room. On subsequent mornings we always came in the last minutes of our
stay to look at this sublimest picture, and while the others . . . lost much of their
first interest, this became harder and harder to leave.11
By the time of her visit Eliot would have been able to assess not only Hebbel’s
and Hübner’s rather overwrought poetic reactions to this extraordinary picture,
but also a much lengthier and technically informative, if no less fulsome, com-
mentary. Published in 1857, this was the work of Carl Gustav Carus (1789–
1869), royal physician, scientist, naturalist, psychologist, painter, and follower of
the artist Caspar David Friedrich, who had lived and worked in Dresden from
1798 until his death in 1840.12
Carus presents his aesthetic credentials straightaway: he is writing only for
those who know the artist and the picture well, and will therefore refrain from
any kind of description in favor of addressing the painting’s “peculiarly pro-
found conception” and its “inner organicism” (111). Before discussing the pic-
ture as a totality, he explores the individual figures: Madonna, infant Christ,
Pope Sixtus II, Saint Barbara, and the two cherubs, which he likens to the
Rückenfigur familiar in German landscape painting (not least the work of
Friedrich), serving rather as a pair of ideal viewers to draw us, the real viewers,
into the picture. As for the Madonna herself, Carus too clings to the view that
this is an ideal representation rather than one taken from life (116). Turning to
the organization of the whole, he identifies three factors that account for the
extraordinary effect of the painting on the viewer: the “simplicity in the multi-
plicity of its parts”—in effect, the concentration on three main forms; the sym-
metry, which is in fact an imperfect symmetry, of the overall composition; and
the visionary conception of the whole, by which, as he subsequently explains, he
means Raphael’s goal of reproducing a vision (120). The principal technical
means by which he achieved this goal was the unconscious departure from the
conventional rules of perspective, whereby three perspectival horizons are
simultaneously in operation, creating for the viewer the momentary “impres-
sion of a certain mystical but happy freedom from the bounds of reality”
Pursuing the distinction between vision and reality—between, in Schumann’s
terms of March 1846, the ideal and the real—Carus notes that what we term
“visionary” or “mystical” is marked precisely by “the abandonment of the
normal laws of every mental process” (124). Tellingly he turns here to music in
order to illustrate his point, quoting Mozart’s celebrated, supposed account
Entzückt 113

(actually fabricated in 1815 by Johann Friedrich Rochlitz) of his compositional

process: of that dream state during which his best ideas would come unbidden
into his mind, and how, “provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges
itself . . . and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished
in my head, so that I can survey it in my mind, like a fine picture or a comely
form at a glance.”13 In an essay on Rochlitz’s fraudulent publications, Maynard
Solomon notes his drawing here on “a long-standing trope about Creation and
creativity,” another manifestation of which is to be found in the literary and
pictorial tradition, reaching back to Herder and Wackenroder in the mid-1790s,
of “Raphael’s dream,” in which the “Sistine” Madonna appeared to the artist in
a dream-vision.14 Carus is content to withhold comment on the likely truth or
otherwise of this tradition, observing instead that all creation necessarily
involves some kind of paranormal “vision” which need not take the form of an
everyday dream (125).
While for Herder, Hebbel, Hübner, and so many others, Raphael’s painting
was the inspiration for poetry, a distinctive aspect of Carus’s commentary is that
it transposes the relationship of these two arts (“To the painter, the poem
becomes a picture”): both at the outset and conclusion of his commentary (111,
128–29), Carus cites the “Chorus mysticus,” the famous eight closing lines of
Goethe’s Faust II (1831; Figure 7.2).
The Madonna, of course, is the Ewig-Weibliche (“Eternal Feminine”); “Das
Unbeschreibliche/Hier ist’s getan” describes Raphael’s achievement in repre-
senting “the most mystical, artistically most beautiful and sublime, humanly
most significant” subject matter there could be; the painting, finally, is a demon-
stration of the ideal become real, of Gleichnis made Ereignis. As more than one
recent commentator has observed, Goethe may have been using the word

Alles Vergängliche All that must disappear

Ist nur ein Gleichnis; Is but a parable;

Das Unzulängliche What lay beyond us, here

Hier wird¢s Ereignis; All is made visible;

Das Unbeschreibliche Here deeds have understood

Hier ist es getan; Words they were darkened by;

Das Ewig-Weibliche Eternal Womanhood

Zieht uns hinan. Draws us on high.

(Goethe, Faust: Texte, 464, II, 12104–12111) (Goethe, Faust Part II, 239)

Figure 7.2. Goethe, Faust II, “Chorus mysticus.”

114 Popular Influences

Ereignis in its more archaic sense of Eräugnis, “something grasped by the eye.”15
Whether or not Carus understood the word in this sense in the late 1850s, the
etymology is nonetheless pertinent to a context in which Goethe’s famous lines
are transposed into the realm of art criticism while Raphael’s painting con-
versely becomes a commentary on Goethe.16
It goes without saying that Schumann could not have read Carus’s published
commentary; by 1857 he was dead. But Carus, although careful to admit that
the full significance of the “Sistine” Madonna had become clear to him only in
the past few years, since the 1855 relocation and some restoration work in the
following year, nevertheless emphasized at the outset that his familiarity with
the painting reached back well over a half century (108–10). As for Goethe,
Carus had known him personally and was a significant and influential disciple.
He published a study of Goethe’s work and thought in 1843; earlier, in 1835, the
third of his Briefe über Goethe’s Faust had presented an analysis of the “Chorus
mysticus,” though without mention of the “Sistine” Madonna.17
And Carus was yet another of Schumann’s Dresden circle. The first mention
of him in the Haushaltbücher dates from the end of December 1844, shortly after
the Schumanns’ arrival in the city.18 On occasion Schumann took medical advice
from Carus, but their contact during these years was mainly social, sometimes
including the company of Bendemann. Indeed the Carus and Bendemann house-
holds were among the very last of whom the Schumanns took leave at the end of
August 1850 as they set out for Düsseldorf.19 Among the compositions that
Schumann took with him on that journey were his Faustszenen. The setting of
the final scene had first occupied him in the second half of 1844 and was “com-
pleted as best I can” on December 23.20 He returned to the “Chorus mysticus” in
April 1847 and finished orchestrating it that month, but shortly thereafter com-
posed and scored a second version between late May and late July. What became
part III of the work was completed only after a further addition (of no. 7/iv,
“Gerettet ist das edle Glied”) in 1848, whereupon a private performance was
finally given on June 25. The eventual parts I and II followed subsequently, in the
period July 1849–May 1850. The Overture was composed in 1853, and the whole
work was published posthumously, including both versions of the “Chorus
Mysticus,” in 1858, the year of George Eliot’s swooning in the Gemäldegalerie.21
Schumann’s Faustszenen, then, belongs very much to the Dresden years, those
years of association with Carus, Bendemann, and other artists. Critical opinion
of the work has always been divided, though it is in any case hardly familiar
through performance. It has attracted more scholarly notice over the past decade
and a half, as Schumann’s late works in general have been treated to a thorough-
going reevaluation. Unsurprisingly two constant strands in its reception have
been the extent to which it forms a coherent whole, and the relationship of
Schumann’s music to Goethe’s text:22 Schumann himself acknowledged the
magnitude of the undertaking when he wrote to Mendelssohn on September 24,
1845, concerning the final scene: “The scene from Faust rests on my desk. I’m
Entzückt 115

downright afraid to look at it again. Only because the sublime poetry of pre-
cisely this closing scene grips me so would I venture [to resume] work; I don’t
know whether I’ll ever publish it.”23 But we need not allow the admittedly com-
pelling image of the composer reckoning his powers against this extraordinary
and intractable literary edifice to blind us to the possible relevance of other
stimuli, not least visual, pictorial ones, including the complex skein of connec-
tions to Raphael’s painting outlined above.
The work is, after all, called “Scenes from Goethe’s Faust.” Reception of
Goethe’s drama had from the first been mediated by the pictorial representation
of favorite scenes; Schumann would have known Peter Cornelius’s series of
1811–16 and also, perhaps, that of Delacroix (1828). Both of these, though, nec-
essarily dealt only with the first part of the drama, the second not having been
published until 1832. Among those who provided illustrations for both parts
was Moritz Retzsch, and a detail from the eleventh of his 1836 line drawings
illustrating Faust II is significant in the present context.24 In Goethe’s text, fol-
lowing his death Faust’s “immortal part” is borne upward by angels (before l.
11934), while the Mater Gloriosa “hovers into view” (“schwebt einher”: follow-
ing l. 12031) some lines later. Retzsch’s illustration (Figure 7.3), the last of the

Figure 7.3. Moritz Retzsch, Umrisse zu Goethe’s Faust: Erster und zweiter Theil
(Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1836), n.p.
116 Popular Influences

series, represents this “immortal part” as a small child placed in the arms of a
centrally posed female angel; the reference to the Madonna with Child tradition
in the visual and plastic arts is unmistakable. Also notable, as will become clear
in relation to Schumann’s score, is the fact that the angelic harps are Retzsch’s
invention; however clichéd they may be, they have no source in Goethe. A
further indication of the extent to which specifically the “Sistine” Madonna was
bound up with responses to the end of Faust II is demonstrated in one of
Engelbert Seibertz’s engravings for an edition of the drama published in 1858
(Figure 7.4).25 Again a subtle re-vision of Goethe’s text is involved. Whereas in
the drama the Mater Gloriosa encourages “a Penitent woman once known as
Gretchen” to raise herself to higher spheres, whither Faust will follow her when
he senses her (ll. 12094–95), Seibertz shows Faust and Gretchen already reunited,

Figure 7.4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust. Eine

Tragödie von Goethe. Mit Zeichnungen von Engelbert
Seibertz. Zweiter Theil (Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1858),
facing 212.
Entzückt 117

hand in hand, receiving the Mater Gloriosa’s benediction. Allowing for the
reversed positions of foreground male and female, the composition of the three
main figures again alludes very strongly to Raphael’s painting.26
Nonetheless it is Schumann the reader rather than Schumann the viewer
who continues to claim attention. The very subtitle, for example, of John
Daverio’s extended and extremely positive reassessment of the Faustszenen,
“Faust as Musical Novel,” immediately indicates the tenor of his argument.27
Daverio is concerned to rescue the composition from the characteristic accusa-
tion that it is essentially fragmentary, marked by no “overriding sense for the
whole” (367). For Daverio, “Schumann’s settings undeniably create the impres-
sion of a series of discrete fragments” (369), but these fragments work together
to form “not a harmonious unity, but a heterogeneous totality, a system of musi-
co-poetic fragments” (387), and this kind of “wholeness,” Daverio wants to per-
suade us, is most characteristic of the novel.
It is ironic that in developing this “novelistic” defense against the charge of
fragmentariness Daverio draws first upon one of the three factors that made
Raphael’s “Sistine” Madonna so exemplary in Carus’s eyes: the presence of mul-
tiple symmetries. In Daverio’s scheme, Schumann’s seven numbered Szenen are
reflected in the seven-part structure of the seventh scene (part III) itself, which,
however, falls plausibly into three “principal sections” with no. 4 (the chorus
“Gerettet ist das edle Glied”), at the center, thereby replicating the three-scene
structure of both parts I and II (and mirroring the three-part design of the
whole). This chorus, the “heartpiece” of the final scene, corresponds in Daverio’s
reading to the fourth scene (part II, “Anmutige Gegend”), which “comes at dead
center.” And since the fourth and final section of this scene gives us Faust’s great
monologue ending with the key line “Am farbigen Abglanz haben wir das Leben”
(l. 4727), Daverio regards it as an instance of the literary “mirror in the text”
beloved of Jean Paul, Novalis, and others, providing “a condensed summation of
the total narrative”—in this case, “the notion that the divine is only accessible
through the reflective medium of art” (370).28
It should be obvious that the strictness of these symmetries is exaggerated;
even Daverio admits that the relative lengths of the seven parts of part III
“duplicate the proportions of the seven scenes” only “roughly,” and his subsequent
acknowledgment that such symmetries are “essentially inaudible” (370) ought
to remind us that to conceive the structure of the work in this way is essentially
to visualize or spatialize it. Still, as Carus was clear to point out, it was precisely
the constant imperfection of Raphael’s symmetries that gave his painting such
force.29 Also, the well-attested textual cross-reference (“mirroring”) between
Gretchen’s prayer to the Mater Dolorosa in part I, scene 2 (“Ach neige, Du
Schmerzenreiche”: ll. 3587–88) and her plea to the Mater Gloriosa (“Neige,
neige, Du Ohnegleiche”: ll. 12069–70) in part III, no. 6, if not strictly a “mirror
in the text” in Daverio’s sense, can also be enriched by an appeal to Carus’s
linking of Raphael and Goethe. In the former scene Gretchen prays before an
118 Popular Influences

unidentified picture (Andachtsbild: Goethe’s direction is retained in Schumann’s

score) of the Mater Dolorosa; for Carus and, as I shall suggest, Schumann,
Raphael’s painting—unidentified, literally unseen, visionary—“hovers” above
the latter moment.30 In Daverio’s terms, the real, physical representation of the
Mater Dolorosa is the earthly “reflective artistic medium” through which the
unrepresentable divine is prefigured.
Carus further emphasized the essential simplicity of Raphael’s design, with
its concentration on three main forms. Moreover, in a further step in his con-
nection of the painting with Goethe’s Faust, he conflates Raphael’s depiction of
Sixtus II with Goethe’s Dr. Marianus, and though he does not actually name
Gretchen, his description of St. Barbara as representing a picture of woman-
hood that has not yet reached the ideal state represented by the Madonna herself
comes as close as one might to conflating those two characters also.31 In Daverio’s
“novelistic” view, Schumann’s criterion in selecting the six scenes that comprise
parts I and II of his work was to choose those which, “for him, captured the
essence of the farflung action and [to set] them in the order in which they appear
in the original drama” (367). Leaving aside the question of how one might hope
to discern the “essence” of Goethe’s Faust in its entirety, Daverio’s claim is barely
sustainable when one considers Schumann’s wholesale marginalization of
Mephistopheles, for example, or the complete absence from his scheme of the
wager between Mephistopheles and Faust. The import of Faust’s self-pro-
nounced death sentence, “Verweile doch, Du bist so schön!” (l. 11582), near the
end of Schumann’s part II, scene 6 is unintelligible from the context of
Schumann’s composition alone; it requires detailed knowledge of both parts of
Goethe’s drama.
Rather than seeking to read some highly compressed narrative or dramatic
continuity across Schumann’s composition, we may do better to approach it
from a more spatial and visual perspective. Schumann was far from seeking
somehow to distill the essence of Goethe’s “farflung action”; he sought instead
what Carus discerned as an overall “simplicity in the multiplicity of parts,”
foregrounding first Gretchen and then Faust against the host of characters
among whom they move in Goethe’s play. In a recent essay Helmut Loos
understands the total assemblage in religious allegorical terms: sin or guilt
(Schuld) is central to both parts I and II in relation to the two principal pro-
tagonists, who in their dependence on one another become the “essential
bearers” of part III; the “self-contained unity” of the whole rests upon the
polarity between sin and redemption.32 The very idea of Faust and Gretchen as
“bearers” of the final part brings to mind the compositional relationship of
the three adult figures in the “Sistine” Madonna.33 By extension we might see
the Faustszenen as indebted to the form of the triptych, albeit one whose
central panel (part III) has been displaced to the right of its two flanking
panels (parts I and II). A further painterly analogy would be to the genre of
pendant canvases, as exemplified in the work of Caspar David Friedrich and
Entzückt 119

others, each complete in itself but so placed in relation to the other(s) that it
is enabled to signify beyond its frame without necessarily giving rise to the
“self-contained unity” argued for by Loos.34
All of which brings us back to Daverio’s diagnosis of “heterogeneous totality”
as opposed to “harmonious unity.” And if one seeks a musical means whereby a
mid-nineteenth-century composer might hope to “signify beyond the frame,”
then techniques of thematic and motivic transformation come easily to mind.
Prior to Edda Burger-Güntert’s recent major study of the Faustszenen, one of the
most thoroughgoing attempts to analyze the work from this perspective had
been Donald Mintz’s 1961 study, concerning which Daverio cautions that this
“argument for a network of . . . ‘symbolic’ or ‘interpretative’ cells is unconvincing
largely because the neutral character of the cells mitigates their assumption of a
referential role” (559 n. 134).35 Krummacher speaks merely of characteristic
“melodic shapes” that are idiosyncratic to Schumann’s musical language.36
Meanwhile Daverio himself borrows Thomas Mann’s concept of Wagner’s
Beziehungszauber, or “associative magic,” to characterize the elusive (and allu-
sive) web of references and relationships that weaves throughout Schumann’s
score, in particular “the increasing density of its allusions to the surrounding
music” that characterizes “the central choral complex [‘Gerettet ist das edle
Glied’] of the Schlussszene” (381). In elaborating this point he addresses one of
the most sonically arresting moments in the entire work: the point at which
Dr. Marianus, “in the highest and purest cell,” turns his “enraptured” (entzückt:
following l. 11996) gaze toward “the Queen of Heaven,” the Mater Gloriosa
(Example 7.1).

Example 7.1. Schumann, Faustszenen, III, no. 5: “Hier ist die Aussicht frei.”
Example 7.1. Continued
Example 7.1. Continued
Example 7.1. Continued
Entzückt 123

Entzückt: between his noticing her and beginning his song in praise of the
“Höchste Herrscherin der Welt,” there intrudes upon Marianus’s music a solo
oboe, gorgeously accompanied by muted strings, harp, and horns and articulating
a highly distinctive motive (bars 18–19) that will recur, unchanged, in bars 25–26
and 42–43. Daverio notes first its immediate derivation from “a neutral, declama-
tory gesture” in bars 7–8 of the introductory recitative passage, but also hears its
connection to the moment in the preceding chorus when the Blessed Boys
command “that Faust’s spirit shed its ‘flaky cocoon.’” His next move seems more
obscure: “Just as Goethe’s Dr. Marianus, poised ‘in the highest, purest cell,’ serves
as a foil to Faust brooding in his study at the beginning of the drama, so Schumann
firms the connection between the two figures with a concise, but suggestive
musical gesture” (381). The musical connection can hardly be doubted; nonethe-
less Daverio’s swerve here from a connection between music for Marianus, on the
one hand, and the Blessed Boys, on the other, to a more general connection bet-
ween Marianus and Faust seems forced. But is the more local motivic progenitor,
in Marianus’s bars 7–8, really as “neutral” as Daverio claims? Marianus is speaking
of the as yet unidentified female figures (“Frau’n”) who appear “schwebend nach
Oben,” and it is these three words that are set to Daverio’s “neutral, declamatory
gesture.” Immediately thereafter Marianus realizes that chief among these women
is the “Himmelskönigin” (Heavenly Queen) herself. In Goethe’s text the first
explicit naming of this main object of Marianus’s gaze comes more than thirty
lines later, with the stage direction “Mater Gloriosa schwebt einher” (following l.
12031): note the recurrence of the verb schweben.37 Yet in Schumann’s score this
direction appears (part III, no. 6, b. 33) as “Mater Gloriosa schwebt näher.” If this
is not merely the result of error, its implications are considerable inasmuch as it
suggests the extent to which Schumann has been “seeing” the scene through
Marianus’s eyes: the Mater Gloriosa, already visible for some time, now comes
more prominently into view. The site and vehicle of her first arrival on the scene
is surely the oboe motive in Dr. Marianus’s song of praise. Whatever its precursors,
I would argue that it is only here that this figure becomes marked for conscious-
ness and attains a fixed, a “real” identity as a motive.38 Schumann succeeds in
achieving what, for Carus and others, Raphael achieved in the “Sistine” Madonna:
the representation, the realization of a vision. What in Goethe’s text is established
only through a bald stage direction and Dr. Marianus’s exuberant report is ren-
dered by Schumann as an aural event, an entry upon the stage of his music; das
Unzulängliche—the insufficient, inaccessible—is made Ereignis/Eräugnis.39
In a recent arresting study of the reception of the “Sistine” Madonna, partic-
ularly in its relationship to mid-nineteenth-century Kunstreligion, Hans Belting
notes that the repetitions of the word Hier in Goethe’s “Chorus mysticus” evoke
“the spatial presence of a picture, as though we could see with our own eyes
what in fact only takes shape in our imagination. Raphael’s painting, too, had
only been the locus where viewers were profoundly moved by an inner image of
their own.” Furthermore:
124 Popular Influences

Though an inanimate artifact, [the painting] appeared to the beholder as a

living vision. Behind the thoroughly corporeal curtain that seems to be open-
ing at the very moment the viewer steps in front of the picture, the Madonna
approaches, floating on a heavenly cloud . . . . As in Faust, the “Eternal Feminine”
was not the subject in the picture, but actually the embodiment of the look
that the beholder directed towards the picture.40
This analysis of the psychology of viewing can lead us back to Schumann’s
and Bendemann’s evening conversation in March 1846. Recent Raphael scholar-
ship has sided against Bendemann (and Trollope) over the question whether the
Madonnas were idealized figures of his imagination or drawn from life.41 Belting
reminds us that the “real” woman, the woman we “really” see, is in either case
“ideal,” arising from the projection of our own imagination onto the object
viewed. William Blake had anticipated the point wonderfully already in 1810,
the year of Schumann’s birth:
When the Sun rises, do you not see a “round disk of fire somewhat like a
Guinea”? O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host cry-
ing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal
or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a
Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it.42
Schumann’s oboe motive in Dr. Marianus’s solo likewise evokes the presence of
the Mater Gloriosa, “as though we could see with our own eyes what in fact only
takes shape in our imagination.” And the motivic elusiveness—if such it be—of
the Faustszenen reminds us that motivic and indeed formal relationships reside
not so much in music as in the attitudes we bring to it: we are possessed of a
Corporeal Ear, too.43 In exploring Schumann’s composition in the context of his
own and the mid-nineteenth century’s reception of Raphael, and the “Sistine”
Madonna in particular, I have wanted both to recognize his keen appreciation of
the visual arts and to test his claim that “the educated musician can profit as
much from studying a Raphael Madonna as can a painter from a Mozart
symphony.” Perhaps nowhere in the Faustszenen is Schumann’s claim more pow-
erfully illustrated than in his rapt music for Dr. Marianus. We should follow that
enraptured gaze, for this is music that invites us not only to hear, but to see.

1. Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, 860.
2. R. Schumann, Tagebücher (hereafter cited as Tb), 2:398.
3. Intersections between Schumann’s music and visual art have also been dis-
cussed in Kok, “Falling Asleep”; Tunbridge, “Euphorion Falls”; Appel, Schumann
und die Düsseldorfer Malerschule; Hofmann, “Schumanns Einflussnahme.”
4. Botstein, “History, Rhetoric,” especially 35–39 (“German Romantic Painting
and the Music of Robert Schumann”).
Entzückt 125

5. Ibid., 9, 35.
6. R. Schumann, Tb, 1:230; R. Schumann, Gesammelte Schriften (1985; hereafter
cited as GS), 2:280; 3:246, 284; Tb, 2:432, noted in Botstein, “History, Rhetoric,” 37.
7. GS, 1:42–43. More generally on the relations between painting and music in
this period, see Morton and Schmunk, The Arts Entwined.
8. Börsch-Supan, “Where Did German Romantic Painting Thrive?,” 42. See also
Werfelmeyer, “Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.”
9. For the historical detail in this paragraph I am indebted to Walther, Raffael,
especially 1–2, 8–9, 27–31, and Brink and Henning, Die Sixtinische Madonna.
10. The indispensable source for the literary reception of the “Sistine” Madonna
is Ladwein, Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna; see 103–6 (Hebbel) and 129–30 (Hübner).
Ladwein observes that Hübner’s poem was the last to be written about the painting
for some sixty years and that Hübner subsequently scorned this poetic tradition. In
his role as director of the Dresdner Galerie Hübner succeeded Schumann’s acquain-
tance Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, who held the position from 1846 and was in
post when the “Sistine” Madonna was relocated to the Sempergalerie: see Ladwein,
Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna, 107–8. Indeed the idea of displaying the painting
entirely on its own originated in 1853 with von Carolsfeld: see Brink and Henning,
Die Sixtinische Madonna, 87–88.
11. Harris and Johnston, The Journals of George Eliot, 325. Compare Goethe’s
reaction on first encountering the Dresden collection, at that stage housed in the
Johanneum, early in 1768: “The profound silence that reigned, created a solemn
and unique impression, akin to the emotion experienced upon entering a House of
God, and it deepened as one looked at the ornaments on exhibition which, as much
as the temple that housed them, were objects of adoration in that place consecrated
to the holy ends of art” (quoted in Duncan, Civilizing Rituals, 15). For the original,
see Goethe, Aus meinem Leben, 350. It would seem that Goethe did not encounter
the “Sistine” Madonna on this occasion: see Goethe, Von Frankfurt nach Weimar,
663–64 (note to p. 121, 10, “die Gallerie”).
12. For the text of Carus’s account, see Ladwein, Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna,
108–29; specific page references are cited in parentheses. Carus’s painting of
Schumann’s “ideal” and “universal” artists Raphael and Michelangelo is reproduced
in Koerner, Caspar David Friedrich, 241. Carl Gustav Carus should not be confused
with Ernst August Carus (1797–1854), a physician at Colditz Asylum and professor
at the University of Leipzig; Schumann befriended him and his wife, Agnes, in the
late 1820s.
13. Solomon, “Beethoven’s Creative Process,” 129. Solomon observes that this
quickly became “the best known of all Mozart letters” after its first publication.
14. Ibid., 132. For Herder, Wackenroder, and “Raphael’s Dream,” see Ladwein,
Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna, 32–39; Belting, The Invisible Masterpiece, 50–70.
15. For example, Goethe, Faust Part II (1994), lxxviii; Goethe, Faust: Kommentare,
814–15. All subsequent quotations and line numbering from Goethe’s text refer to
Goethe, Faust: Texte.
16. Belting suggests, without offering supporting evidence, that Goethe’s lines
were themselves a response to Raphael’s painting, but that, prior to its resurrection
126 Popular Influences

in Carus, this connection “very quickly fell into oblivion, so that the poetic work was
preserved from any comparison with the painting” (The Invisible Masterpiece, 63).
The possible allusions to the “Sistine” Madonna in pictorial representations of the
closing scenes of the drama discussed below may, however, be taken to indicate the
extent to which the painting was generally bound up with readers’ understanding of
the end of Faust II in the first decades after Goethe’s death. This is not to say, of
course, that other works of art have not been implicated in Goethe’s conception.
Albrecht Schöne has proposed paintings by Titian and Benedetto Caliari as possible
sources; see Goethe, Faust: Kommentare, 805. These suggestions reappear in Goethe,
Faust: A Tragedy, 342 n. 2, 488–89.
17. See Carus, Goethe.
18. R. Schumann, Tb, 3:377.
19. R. Schumann, Tb, 3:536.
20. Ibid., 3:376.
21. McCorkle, Robert Schumann, 627–29.
22. This is true of the major study by Burger-Güntert, Robert Schumanns “Szenen
aus Goethes Faust.” See also Leven-Keesen, Robert Schumanns Szenen aus Goethes
23. R. Schumann, Briefe: Neue Folge (1904), 250; translation from Daverio,
Robert Schumann, 366.
24. Retzsch, Umrisse zu Goethe’s Faust, n. p.
25. Goethe, Faust: Eine Tragödie, facing 212.
26. As with Carus’s commentary on the “Sistine” Madonna, Schumann could
not have seen the Seibertz engraving. Yet Burger-Güntert, in Robert Schumanns
“Szenen aus Goethes Faust,” 169–70 and n. 100, reasons that the reuniting of Gretchen
and Faust after death was of particular interest to Schumann and notes his proposal
of a closing tableau showing their union before the Mater Gloriosa in a letter to Liszt
of July 21, 1849. Burger-Güntert mentions in passing the “Sistine” Madonna as a
likely influence on Schumann’s conception of the scene, but does not develop the
point further.
27. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 364–87; specific page references are cited in
28. Daverio misquotes Goethe here: “Am fest’gen Abglanz.” Robert Schumann,
370, emphasis mine.
29. Carus refers to “die Symmetrie (welche doch keine vollständige Symmetrie
ist) in der allgemeinen Anordnung” (Ladwein, Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna, 120).
30. Opinion is divided as to whether or to what extent Schumann’s music reflects
the textual cross-reference: compare, for example, Daverio, Robert Schumann, 383–84,
with Burger-Güntert, Robert Schumanns “Szenen aus Goethes Faust,” 563–64 and
n. 526. It is interesting to note in this connection that Herder’s “Sistine” Madonna poem
is entitled “Das Bild der Andacht”; see Ladwein, Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna, 35–36.
31. Ladwein, Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna, 120–21: “So lösen sich hier . . . auch nur
drei große Gestalten.” The discussion of the figure of St. Barbara appears on 119.
32. Loos, “Szenen aus Goethes ‘Faust,’” 388–89.
Entzückt 127

33. And even more so what I have taken above to be Seibertz’s reworking of that
painting (Figure 7.4), in which Raphael’s Sixtus II becomes Seibertz’s Faust and St.
Barbara his Gretchen. Burger-Güntert, Robert Schumanns “Szenen aus Goethes
Faust,” 527–28, notes (while rightly emphasizing its implausibility) a critical tradi-
tion, spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that identifies Dr. Marianus
with Faust himself. Meanwhile we have seen that in Carus’s interpretation, Raphael’s
Sixtus II becomes Goethe’s Dr. Marianus and his description of St. Barbara may
easily be applied to that of Gretchen at the end of Faust II.
34. Recall that Schumann’s experience of the “Sistine” Madonna would have
been in the context of stylistically related paintings. Although I have been unable to
find precise details of its hanging during Schumann’s Dresden years, Walther, Raffael,
30–31, illustrates and discusses a “complex” arrangement of cross-referring paint-
ings with the “Sistine” Madonna at the center which was adopted in the period
35. Burger-Güntert, Robert Schumanns “Szenen aus Goethes Faust”; Mintz,
“Schumann as an Interpreter of Goethe’s Faust.”
36. Krummacher, “‘An Goethe vorbei’?,” 194–95.
37. Hübner’s poem “Die sixtinische Madonna” likewise begins “Sie schwebt
herab!” (Ladwein, Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna, 129–30).
38. To the precursors mentioned by Daverio might, for example, be added the
two-bar figure that breaks into the Overture at bars 111–12 (repeated in bars 115–16
and 123–24), as well as Gretchen’s concluding “Auf baldiges Wiedersehn” at the end
of the “Scene im Garten” (part I, no. 1). But such is the elusiveness of Schumann’s
writing that the precise status of such connections must remain largely subjective.
And just as Carus attributed the “visionary” quality conveyed by the “Sistine”
Madonna to Raphael’s unconventional treatment of perspective, so the “associative
magic” shunning what Daverio calls “leitmotivic syntax” (381) may engender across
the Faustszenen something like Carus’s “impression of a certain mystical but happy
freedom from the bounds of reality,” as opposed to the “inner coherence and com-
pleteness” that Burger-Güntert, for example, hears arising from Schumann’s use of
“delicate motivic ‘poetic fingerprints’” (Robert Schumanns “Szenen aus Goethes
Faust,” 196).
39. Daverio’s claim (Robert Schumann, 381) that the oboe motive is “soon elab-
orated by other instruments and the voice as well” seems untenable; only in bars
43–44 (basses) does it migrate to another part and another pitch level. (Compare the
much greater use made throughout of the cadential figure in the first cello at bars
8–9, and especially from bar 30: this motive remains unexamined by Daverio.) That
the oboe motive is preserved so exactly in part III, no. 5 and remains so aloof from
the supporting orchestral fabric sits well alongside Dr. Marianus’s description of the
Mater Gloriosa as “unberührbar” (l. 12020).
40. Belting, The Invisible Masterpiece, 64, 65.
41. See, for example, Oberhuber, “Raphael’s Vision of Women,” in Raphael,
42. Blake, “A Vision of the Last Judgement,” in The Note-Book, 135.
128 Popular Influences

43. In relation to this and the general concerns of this essay, it is not without
interest to note an account given to Goethe by Zelter of an event staged in Berlin on
April 18 (Good Friday) 1820 to mark the three-hundredth anniversary of Raphael’s
birth. A catafalque bearing a copy of a portrait of Raphael was positioned beneath
juxtaposed copies of the “Sistine” Madonna, the Madonna del Pesce, and Raphael’s
picture of St. Cecilia with SS Paul, John the Evangelist, Augustine, and Mary
Magdalene. A hundred-member choir performed a requiem by Zelter, a Crucifixus
(probably the well-known eight-part setting) by Lotti, and a Gloria by Haydn.
Between these last two items Zelter addressed the audience. Speaking of the Lotti
work, he emphasized the transformation of sound into sight: while in the picture of
St. Cecilia “the observing eye [becomes] an ear, so in this music does the ear by
means of the inner imagination [become] a spiritual eye before which the eternal
Cross wonderfully and gradually rises up whereby the sin and shame of the whole
world is expiated.” Goethe, Sämtliche Werke nach Epochen seines Schaffens, Einführung,
Kommentar, 509–10. For Zelter’s letter of April 19, 1820, see Goethe, Sämtliche
Werke, Text 1799–1827, 597–98. For a further exchange (June—July 1820) between
Zelter and Goethe concerning the audibility of the music in the picture of St. Cecilia,
see 620 and 624 in the same volume.

Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation

Dana Gooley

In an often cited diary entry, Schumann wrote that he had initiated around 1845
a new mode of composition in which he worked out “everything” in his head
before writing it out, in contrast to his early years when he wrote out his inspi-
rations immediately as they came to him.1 He seems to have viewed this new
practice, which followed upon an intensive recommitment to counterpoint, as a
sign of maturity—a refining of concentration, compositional oversight, and
contemplative depth. There is a long history of admiring these qualities as evi-
dence of higher wisdom acquired by experience and labor, or a transcendence of
the physical by the mental. Schumann imagined that this more thoroughly
mental approach would guarantee a more direct transfer of spirit or fantasy to
composition. In 1852 he recommended to an ambitious young musician,
“Accustom yourself . . . to conceiving music freely in your imagination, without
the help of the piano,” for it would enable him to produce music of “ever greater
clarity and purity.”2
A possibility that apparently never occurred to Schumann is that in detach-
ing his compositional activity from direct physical engagement with the piano,
performance, and embodied sound, he may have been cutting off a vital source
of inspiration. In his early years he had been an avid pianist, formulating and
reformulating musical ideas at the piano and reveling in the unimpeded flow of
improvisation. One early diary entry, written after an evening of improvisation,
records his almost animistic sense of the piano as an extension or repository of
his sentimental life and memory:
When I think of my childhood or the year 1826 I fall upon A-minor tonalities
etc.; when I think of last September harsh dissonances in pp. pp. are automat-
ically unleashed. Whatever thoughts come in the moment will seek expression
in tones. The heart has already felt each tone on its keys, just as the keys on the
piano must first be touched before they sound. In the moments when one
thinks of nothing or of trivial things, the fantasy becomes flatter and the
playing paler; when one thinks of music itself, contrapuntal phrases and
fugues come forth easily.3

130 Popular Influences

In a near inversion of his later stance, Schumann privileges here the affective
immediacy of improvisational performance, the tactile connection to a key-
board that stores affective memories, and the continuity between improvisation
and counterpoint. Although he is not discussing composition in this quotation,
pianist-composers of his generation cultivated a symbiotic relationship between
improvisation and composition and did not always make a hard and fast dis-
tinction between the two. In the keyboard-composer tradition from Bach to
Stravinsky improvisation plays an integral role in testing and developing ideas
as well as providing expansive, regenerative relief from the rigors of composi-
tion.4 Johann Nepomuk Hummel, writing about the free fantasy in 1825, saluted
its ability to refresh and relax: “Though I was busy in the daytime giving lessons
and usually composing at night, I took advantage of the twilight hour to give
myself over to my inventions (my ideas, knowledge and feelings) with improvi-
sation at the piano, here in the galant style, there in the strict and fugal style.”5
It is worth exploring why Schumann, who clearly knew Hummel’s treatise,
ceased in later years to view the improvisation-composition relationship in this
complementary manner. When he was coming of age in the 1820s improvisa-
tion was a pervasive practice among the pianist-composers he most admired.
Leading postclassical pianists such as Weber, Meyerbeer, Moscheles, and
Hummel all improvised both in public and private and were highly regarded for
it.6 Talented teenagers of the 1820s such as Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt were
no less inclined to improvise in a range of contexts. The young Schumann was
musically less precocious than all of these figures and possessed less of the rig-
orous theoretical and pianistic training that grounded improvisational skill. His
diaries nevertheless show that he was improvising often in the years 1827–31,
the period in which his somewhat erratic student life in Leipzig and Heidelberg
gave way to serious piano studies, to intensive exercises in counterpoint, and to
a resolution to pursue a musical career.
Any attempt to reconstruct Schumann’s improvisational practices is essen-
tially provisional due to the obvious shortage and uncertainty of documenta-
tion. There is potentially a large gap between what a treatise like Czerny’s
Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Klavier (1829) prescribes and the actual
practice of pianists around 1830, especially considering the archaic tone of parts
of the treatise. Yet a consideration of Schumann’s improvisations offers an
opportunity to consider what attitudes and thought processes extemporaneous
playing might have stimulated in Schumann as pianist and composer, and what
influence his improvisations may have left in his works. My goal here is to
assemble some of the attitudes and practices of improvisation that he probably
absorbed from the virtuoso pianist school of the 1820s, and to trace some of the
possible consequences for his early piano compositions.
Unlike most composers of his stature, Schumann’s early relationship with the
piano was relatively amateurish, intuitive, and free of didactic mediation. He
became a pianist before he had even learned to read music fluently. As he later
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 131

confided to his first teacher, Friedrich Wieck, in the early years he “improvised a
great deal and rarely played from music.”7 Although he attributed his tendency
to improvise partially to his “complete lack of training, in listening, technique,
and especially theory,” it was also clearly a source of intense pleasure and imag-
inative play. His diaries from 1828 forward are filled with short, clipped sum-
maries of his activities of the day, and improvisation (fantasieren) comes up
over and over again, sometimes on a nearly daily basis. He improvised most
often in the evening hours, and sometimes at great length. “When I was in
Switzerland,” he recalled in 1841, “I often improvised well into the night.”8 On
one occasion he logged six solid hours of extemporaneous bliss. In July 1832,
though playing piano somewhat less than earlier, he records having improvised
“at length and overflowingly.”9
Schumann’s youthful improvisations appear to have been intense, rhapsodic,
and passionate, providing an outlet for inchoate adolescent energies. Friedrich
Wieck’s first impression of the young pianist was that he was an “enragé auf dem
Piano,” suggesting an undisciplined, dramatically compelling sort of playing
somewhat out of line with postclassical ideals.10 When Schumann jotted down
memories of his teen years for a potential autobiography he listed urgency
and impulsiveness as his strong points: “Free improvisation [many hours
daily] . . . Overwhelming desire to play piano when I have not played for a long
time . . . At my best in free improvisation . . . entraining fire of my playing” (ellipses
in original).11 If Schumann’s earlier piano works incorporate so many esoteric
and personal meanings, it may be partly due to this strong bond between the
instrument and his fermenting subjective world. It is telling that many of his
earliest attempts at composition, those preceding Op. 1, are not for solo piano
but rather for voices, orchestra, choir, and four-hand piano, as though protect-
ing a special private place for the solo piano.
In several examples from Schumann’s teenage diaries his sense of exaltation
and self-expansion during improvisation is linked with erotic fantasy. On July
13, 1828, returning from the home of his first love, Agnes Carus, he wrote, “She
is probably sleeping now; I improvised well; for she lives in my fantasies together
with the entire universe of tones.” During a trip to Milan his playing managed
to attract the attention of his fellow lodgers, and soon his music was getting
mixed up with socializing and flirting: “the Englishwoman—the beautiful
woman—the husband—smiles—enquiries about me—piano-enthusiasm—
improvisation—the other woman livelier, always looking round, red, like Agnes
in Gera.” After a soirée at the Wieck residence in 1832 he went home and wrote,
“[I] sat myself down at the piano, and it was to me as if flowers aloud and gods
came out of my fingers, the thought streamed so out of me.”12 The source of
inspiration in this case was the memory of a kiss he had just given a Dutch
sweetheart, and the diary tells us his spontaneous bass line was C-F-G-C. A few
years later, as he focused his erotic urges on Clara, he superimposed one of her
melodies upon this bass to produce his Op. 4.
132 Popular Influences

Schumann’s improvisations also gave him the opportunity to demonstrate

prowess in the university milieu of Heidelberg, where young men competed for
social distinction and more often demonstrated masculine virtue in sword
fighting. Though he had not yet settled on a career as a performer, he was reap-
ing the social advantages of his special talent in the salons and becoming a local
hero. Anton Töpken, a close companion during this period, left the most
complete description of this:

After social conversation there normally followed on his part free improvisa-
tion on the piano, in which he unleashed all the spirits. I will admit that these
direct musical effusions of Schumann gave me a pleasure unmatched by any
other great artist I heard. Ideas flowed to him in inexhaustible richness. Out
of a single thought, which he made appear in all different guises, everything
streamed and poured forth as if from within itself and thereby drew
characteristic feeling to its depth and with all poetic magic, while at the same
time with the clearly recognizable features of his musical personality, both the
energetic and powerful side and his softly sweet, reflective-dreamy
thoughts. . . . He had already charmed everyone in larger circles, who funda-
mentally counted on his appearing, with his free improvisations and would
then have an opportunity to appear before the larger public.13

The improvisations clearly impressed audiences and opened up possibilities

that his compositional achievements to date could not match. Töpken was
repeatedly “astounded by this self-confidence in playing, this consciously artistic
performance,” and Schumann was highly attuned to his effect upon listeners.
Sometimes he reported a “good fantasy and little attention on the part of the
listeners” or “little applause after a good fantasia,” while in better circumstances
he would produce a “good fantasia and internal and external praise.”14
Even before his transformative experience hearing Paganini in concert
(1830), Schumann’s experiences at the piano had brought about a self-con-
sciousness concerning the performer’s power over audiences. With no particular
provocation he reflected, “Passionate movements during piano playing inspire
the audience just like the expressions and gestures of an orator.” A couple of
weeks later he argued for the ethical advantages of music as performed, event-
oriented art: “That is just the advantage of music and of acting: we can enjoy
them collectively and are entranced or moved in the same moment; the other
arts do not have this . . . not even poetry when it lacks its midwife, acting, which
brings it to public life.”15 These are significant words in light of Schumann’s
indecision as to whether he would become a poet or a musician. They also
remind us that his earliest experiences improvising at the piano were accompa-
niments to “musical-declamatory” theater skits at his school.16 Paganini seemed
to take the magnetic, self-aware element of performance to new heights and
strengthened Schumann’s resolve to acquire or develop such entraining power.
When his finger injury made this aspiration unattainable, Schumann sublimated
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 133

his extroverted, improvisatory history into the personal mythology of Florestan,

who was in John Daverio’s words “the rambunctious improviser, his persona a
mixture of Paganinian virtuosity and Schumann’s inclinations in the same
In spite of the absorptive pleasure Schumann took in improvisation, and its
capacity to channel erotic and aggressive impulses, he did not throw himself
into it without reservation or self-censure. As noted above, he harbored some
guilt that he improvised for lack of more rigorous training. In his diaries he fre-
quently congratulated himself on “good” or “beautiful” improvisations but
sometimes judged them merely “conventional,” “decent,” or even worse: “at home
very lame improvisation and frustration over my piano playing.” Extem-
poraneous playing, no matter how “free,” pleasurable, or preconscious, still
needed to be observed and judged. And even as he enjoyed the benefits of
impressing people, sometimes the “external praise” was out of sync with his
“inner praise.” On one occasion Töpken’s perpetual raptures struck him as over
the top or naïve: “[He] rants and raves ‘how I improvise’ and praises me and ‘just
can’t believe it.’ ”18 This skepticism about the integrity of improvisation would
gain the upper hand in his future development and eventually make him value
complete distance from the piano.
Schumann may be the first figure for whom improvisation was decoupled
from the study of theory and composition. In the musical careers of Mendelssohn,
Liszt, and Chopin improvising was just one of the range of skills that went into
the mastery of pianism and composition and was not marked for special
agencies. Performance, improvisation, and composition belonged to a con-
tinuum of musical practice.19 For Schumann, however, improvisation came first
and “organically.” Only later, around 1831, did he pursue “theory” as a way of
shifting his activities toward compositional productivity and achievement. This
decoupling, which tends to polarize improvisation and composition conceptu-
ally (rather than see them as part of a continuum), made it possible for him to
map improvisation onto subjective experience and psychological exploration.20
If the process of subject formation through Bildung involves some kind of oscil-
lation between schaffen (creating) and bilden (shaping), for Schumann improvi-
sation is all schaffen, calling forth a demand for correction, oversight, or, as he
eventually decided, contrapuntal theory.
But should we buy Schumann’s own account of his extemporaneous experi-
ences? This is not a question merely of the sincerity of his private utterances;
there may always have been an element of strategic revisionism to his reporting
of his improvisations. The larger question is whether his improvisations should
be correlated primarily with his interior creative world, which he documented
and redocumented so richly in his writings and which has long served as the
central anchor of Schumann studies. A diary entry such as “The fandango idea
came upon me at the piano—that made me uncommonly happy” is normally
treated as part of the Entstehungsgeschichte of a composition, in this case the
134 Popular Influences

Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor.21 But this entry might also be read as part of the
history of postclassical improvisation, with its wide-open field of topoi and
styles, including the Spanish dances exploited by Weber, Chopin, and Schumann
in their published works. Besides opening another door to his subjective world,
then, Schumann’s improvisations point to conventional practices of postclas-
sical pianism, even if he submitted these conventions to the powerful empire of
his imagination.
Schumann’s recent biographer John Worthen has underscored Schumann’s
taste for improvising, and persuasively argued that “what he wanted to be was
a virtuoso, an improvising pianist who (incidentally) composed. And this was
the ambition that Wieck had supported him in.”22 So completely does
Schumann seem to embody the poetic sensibility of Romanticism that it is
easy to forget his early investments in the tradition of postclassical pianism.
One of his most enduring childhood memories, from 1818, was sitting behind
the master Ignaz Moscheles at a concert; he later considered pursuing studies
with him in Vienna. Before encountering Beethoven’s piano works he learned
pieces by main representatives of the school such as Ries, Czerny, Field,
Kalkbrenner, Moscheles, Cramer, and Weber. His dissatisfaction with the tute-
lage of Wieck provoked him in 1831 to seek out Johann Nepomuk Hummel,
Kapellmeister in Weimar, as a potential alternative teacher. He may have been
inspired by Hummel’s thorough and long-awaited treatise on pianism (1825),
whose final chapter is devoted to the free fantasia. Thus while Schumann was
discovering the compositions of the recently deceased Schubert and Beethoven
and feeding on the riches of their styles, his living heroes were two keyboard
titans of the 1820s who were famous for their brilliance in extemporaneous
playing: Moscheles and Hummel.23 Two of the works Schumann took special
efforts to master as he became serious about piano-playing were by these com-
posers: Hummel’s concerto in A-Minor and Moscheles’s Variations on the
Alexander March, both of them touchstones of “modern” bravura pianism and
both adaptable to solo formats. On a good day he was pleased to find himself
approximating the clean tonal ideal of stile brillante pianists: “Up early—my
sobriety rewarded; played extremely well—soft pearly touch and pearl-like
It is nonetheless difficult to imagine Schumann as a model postclassical pia-
nist. Plenty of evidence, including the indiscipline that Wieck noted, points to a
dramatic, Sturm-und-Drang type of musical personality. Unlike pianists of the
stile brillante school, he seems to have used the pedal heavily.25 Wieck found his
playing a little heavy, muddy, and monotonous and hoped to compensate by
pushing for more “Paganinian” zing, wit, and sparkle.26 A revealing comment
about his pianistic ideals comes from the year 1833, when he went to a Leipzig
concert by the pianist Wilhelm Taubert. Taubert played Beethoven’s C-Minor
concerto, which did not impress Schumann much, and finished with an impro-
vised fantasy:
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 135

His elegance and agility reveal themselves here more significantly than in the
concerto. I did not hear beautiful ideas; nor that rapture that seems oblivious
to itself, nor that genius that seems to work without a body—plenty of good
and capable things, ripe and articulate things. It did not seem prepared, at
most contrapuntal details.27
Schumann was clearly impressed by the technical competencies that allowed
Taubert to form coherent thoughts in the moment; the demonstration of
learning and mastery almost always emphasized in the reception of Hummel.28
But his negative comment that Taubert’s fantasy lacked flashes of revelatory
genius and performative rapture registers a conception of improvisation as
poetic inspiration unfettered by learning and rules. In the same set of notes he
implicitly traced his own performative genealogy back to Beethoven, whose
fiery improvisations were the stuff of legend. Schumann was bothered that
Taubert, in the rondo of the concerto, played all thematic reprises the same
way, an approach that was “certainly contrary to Beethoven’s fantastic
performing manner.”29 In this “Kreislerized” vision of Beethoven’s playing,
thematic returns and repetitions never sound the same, but should perpetu-
ally unfold new “poetic” dimensions of the theme. Schumann’s dynamic
markings for the second strain of his Abegg theme (Example 8.1), if they

Example 8.1. Schumann, Variations on the name “Abegg,” Op. 1, mm. 17–32.
136 Popular Influences

reflect his own predilections, demonstrate his own instinct to vary repetitions
in one way or another.
A link between Schumann’s improvisational interests and his image of
Beethoven appears to be clinched by the first movement of the Fantasie, Op.
17, whose title itself points to improvisational origins.30 The Fantasie not
only includes a free-associative citation from “An die ferne Geliebte” but also
alludes to Beethoven in its performance indication “Durchaus phantastisch
und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen,” which closely echoes Beethoven’s indica-
tion for Op. 90: “Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und
Ausdruck.” Schumann’s performance indications in the early drafts of the
Fantasie suggest a less explicit association with Beethoven. The original
marking “Allegretto,” generic and unspecific, belongs more to the world of
postclassical pianism and assigns responsibility to the performer to read fan-
tasia codes off the score. This was first replaced with “To be played with
strong feeling and completely freely throughout” (“Mit durchaus heftiger
Empfindung and ganz frei vorzutragen”), thus still leaving much to the per-
former in the sense that an aurally transmitted sense of how to play “freely”
is a precondition for a good performance. The final revision of this marking
replaces “ganz frei” with “phantastisch.”31 Although these words are essen-
tially synonyms, the differences are telling: they displace a performative
quality with an aesthetic or characterizing “designation” by the composer.
Schumann notably does not choose “phantasieartig,” which might invoke the
conventions of the free fantasy, but “phantastisch,” with its broader, nonge-
neric implications. In sum the shifting performance indications reveal the
gradual displacement of improvisation, performance-oriented thought
toward composerly thought.
Schumann’s interest in the improvisation-rooted keyboard fantasia style also
found expression in his great admiration for Hummel’s sonata in F-sharp Minor
(1819), which he described as “a truly grand, epic titan-creation.”32 Hummel’s
sonata opens with a dramatically intense musical paragraph filled with dynamic
and registral contrasts, harmonic surprises, and an alternation of hesitant and
bold gestures, together with the specifically keyboardistic idiom of the arpeg-
gios—all pointing toward the free fantasia style (Example 8.2). It is not sur-
prising that Schumann would gravitate toward such music, which is not typical
of a Hummel sonata and seems to emulate the improvisatory, stop-and-start
rhetoric of Beethoven’s middle-period sonatas. At the opening of his Allegro in
B-Minor, Op. 8, Schumann clearly picked up on Hummel’s sonata and reconfig-
ured its rhythmic, motivic, and gestural elements. Yet he pushed it further
toward the improvisatory by dispensing with bar lines and indicating “senza
tempo” (Example 8.3). Music without bar lines is extremely rare in this period
but does show up, for example, in Moscheles’s treatise on improvised preludes
(Example 8.4).
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 137

Example 8.2. Hummel, Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11, first movement.

When Schumann’s allegro proper gets underway it announces no recogniz-

able theme but simply offers up an impassioned figurative pattern in the bril-
liant style. The three-note motto is superimposed upon the figuration twice
but then again abandoned to pure figuration until the arrival of D-Major,
after a transition employing the simplest chordal progression. Overall the
Allegro, though hardly rough-hewn, has an unfinished feel. Its lack of contra-
puntal patterns, its reliance on sequential patterns, and the looseness of
development suggest a closer relationship to the kind of thing Schumann
Example 8.3. Schumann, Allegro, Op. 8.

Example 8.4. Moscheles, 50 Préludes ou introductions dans tous les tons majeurs et
mineurs, Op. 73 (Paris: Schlesinger, 1828).
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 139

might really have improvised than the Fantasie, which by comparison looks
detailed, worked over, and calculated even in its disruptions. The Allegro’s sec-
ond theme, for example, adapts the three-note motive of the introduction in
the manner of paraphrase, one of the central techniques of postclassical free
Joel Lester has noted a lower-level influence of Hummel’s sonata on
Schumann. The double-note figures that conclude Hummel’s exposition
resemble certain passages in Schumann’s Toccata, Op. 7 (Examples 8.5a and
8.5b). It matters little whether this resemblance is a matter of direct influence or
coincidence, for it indexes a common vocabulary of conventional figures that lie
at the heart of postclassical pianism. The Czerny Toccata in C-Major, for
example, is arguably the more direct source for Schumann’s figures (Example
8.5c). Such figures are commonly ignored in musicology since they do not par-
ticipate in thematic, harmonic, or formal process, but as Jim Samson argues
they are central to the inventive and improvisatory practices of postclassical pia-
nism: “The story of keyboard virtuosity is partly the story of such idiomatic
figures. They are among the most transparent embodiments of instrumental
thought available to us, and as such they document a medium-sensitive approach
to composition. . . . For obvious reasons they involve the ancient craft of impro-
visation.” Idiomatic figures are part of a broader repertory of music-making
conventions that Samson calls “musical materials,” which “can embrace every-
thing from formal and generic schemata of various kinds to motivic and
harmonic archetypes, and conventional figures, imbued with history.”33 Modern
virtuosos differed most from earlier pianists (from Clementi back) in their
systematic invention of figures that fit comfortably in the ambitus of the hand
without disorienting shifts and finger crossings, and in the use of the pedal to
work the notes into blended effects. Such figures, when practiced sufficiently in
several keys, facilitated the immediate recall so indispensable to the course of a
successful improvisation. Hummel’s double-notes are a good example. Clementi
was famous for his clean parallel thirds but mainly in scalar passages where the
hand shifts are awkward to manage. Hummel’s figures obtain a different sonority
that, with a little help from the pedal, are more adapted to the hand in measures
2, 4, and 5. The main, alternating figure of Schumann’s Toccata, similarly, is
based on a novel double-note pattern uniquely adapted to the shape of the right
hand—much more so than the Czerny model.
Postclassical pianists invented and elaborated figures above all in the étude,
a genre they cultivated in droves. The étude was aimed at developing and sus-
taining the competences that would allow fluent playing of larger pieces and
improvisations. In the hands of Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt the genre was
moving away from didactic and toward aesthetic goals, but there are didactic
elements in the output of all three composers. Schumann, as he sought to
master the piano, deliberately engaged the postclassical dialectic in which the
study of figures and musical materials are complemented by the study of
Example 8.5a. Hummel, Sonata in F-sharp Minor, I, closing section of exposition.

Example 8.5b. Schumann, Toccata, Op. 7, mm. 1–3.

Example 8.5c. Czerny, Toccata, Op. 92.

Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 141

large-scale compositions and impromptu fantasia. In the pedagogical intro-

duction to his Études after Caprices of Paganini, Op. 3, he states that the student
need not play through any of the compositions whole, but could choose parts
according to which technical problem he or she wanted to address. The goal of
the étude is to address pre-performance capacities and generalizable keyboard
command independent of individual works or “interpretation.” His pedagog-
ical comments even include some exercises to help the pianist prepare to play
the études—literally études for études.34 These exercises show Schumann
experimenting with double- and triple-note figures based on a chromatically
descending line. The chromatic line is often harmonized with a tritone-to-mi-
nor sixth figure just like the main figure of the Toccata (Example 8.6). It is thus
not surprising that earlier incarnations of the Toccata bore the titles “Étude”
and “Exercise fantastique en double-sons.”35 The romantic, fantastique tone of
the Toccata is furnished by Schumann’s exploration of this standard postclas-
sical pattern in chromatic space (Example 8.7).

Example 8.6. From pedagogical Preface to Études after Caprices of Paganini, Op. 8.

Example 8.7. Schumann, Toccata, chromatic figures.

142 Popular Influences

But postclassical antecedents can be found. Czerny’s treatise on preluding

(separate from his treatise on improvisation) includes a prelude “in connected
chords” (Example 8.8a) whose voicings and progressions are more or less iden-
tical to a segment of Schumann’s Toccata (Example 8.8b). And Kalkbrenner, in a
treatise giving models for improvised preluding, offers a passage that moves
halfway toward such chromaticism (Example 8.9).

Example 8.8a. Czerny, L’art de préluder mis in pratique pour le piano, Op. 300 (Paris:
Schlesinger, n.d.).

Example 8.8b. Schumann, Toccata.

Example 8.9. Fréderic Kalkbrenner, Traité d’harmonie du pianiste (1849?).

Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 143

Although the Toccata harbors postclassical traces, Schumann made efforts to

distance the work from whatever improvisational history it might have had. The
melodic motive that arrives with the second key area seems motivated by a need
for formal contrast and harmonic resolution, and for relief from the repetitive
double-note figures, and it would be difficult to link such concerns to improvisa-
tional practice. In addition, after much experimentation with the ending of the
piece Schumann settled on a poetic slow fade that aspires to cancel the memory
of étude and bravura. In these ways the Toccata registers the growing authority of
the work concept and Schumann’s whole-hearted investment in it. The point of
emphasizing the postclassical horizon of the piece is not to reimagine it as a writ-
ten-out improvisation, which it is not, but to locate its roots in the concrete,
material practices specific to the composer-virtuoso tradition, including impro-
visation, rather than conceive of it as an emanation of pure imagination and com-
poserly fantasy. Schumann articulated the work’s double horizon of reference
both in the phrase étude fantastique, which is something of an oxymoron, and in
the phrase double-sons (a pun on double-sens).
In Schumann’s early piano works of the 1830s improvisational terminology
appears in only two passages. In the mosaic-like finale of the piano sonata in
F-sharp Minor, Op. 11, there is a short transitional passage that links the first
period, a maestoso in A-Major, with a subsidiary idea in the secondary key E-flat
Major (Example 8.10a, mm. 16–23). This transition returns later in transposition
to rotate from E-flat back to A-Major, but this time it is marked “quasi improvi-
sato” (Example 8.10b, m. 64). This marking offers no easy interpretation as a

Example 8.10a. Schumann, Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11, finale, mm. 1–28.
144 Popular Influences

Example 8.10a. Continued

Example 8.10b. Schumann, Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11, finale, mm. 61–76.

performance direction since it is also marked “marcatissimo,” leaving little room

for rhythmic push and pull. Perhaps it is a sudden intrusion of the impetuous
improviser Florestan-Paganini, come to ironize or undermine the heroic preten-
tion of the maestoso; the staccato figure certainly resembles a Paganinian, cross-
string spiccato gesture. Yet there are other, more traditional improvisational
resonances in this passage. The enharmonic magic that moves so smoothly bet-
ween A-Major and E-flat Major was a specialty of keyboard improvisers. Radically
open-ended enharmonic transitions can be found, for example, linking the dis-
crete sections of Kalkbrenner’s supposed improvisation, Effusio musica, as well as
in the Chopin composition that has been considered especially close to improvi-
sation, the F-sharp Major Impromptu. In the earlier occurrence of this transition
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 145

(mm. 16–24) Schumann complements this stunning harmonic shift with a com-
parably radical inversion of the character of the leading sixteenth-note motive,
which starts off decisive and martial (m. 16) but is transformed into something
dreamy, uncertain, and perhaps a little coy (m. 24). In a sonata obsessed with
doubles and polarities, the quasi improvisato passage explores a liminal space
where opposites can be mediated.
The second explicit reference to music of improvisatory character appears at the
opening of the last section of Variations on the Name “Abegg,” Op. 1, which is
marked “Finale. alla Fantasia.” Because this marking applies to music that lacks all
traces of dramatic fantasia rhetoric or paraphrase, it demands an explanation that
leaves Schumann’s Romanticism far behind and points more unambiguously
toward the practices of postclassical pianism.36 The finale opens with an arc-shaped
phrase that announces no theme or motive but simply unfolds a four-bar cadential
chord progression over a dominant pedal (Example 8.11, mm. 1–4). This progres-
sion, which serves as a sort of theme for the finale, is immediately repeated twice
with different brillante figurative patterns before the bass unfreezes and launches
an extended progression toward a tonic cadence (mm. 5–12). The form of the finale
is shaped by two reprises of the progression-theme (mm. 40 and 74), with inter-
vening free-form digressions, and rounded off with a fade-out codetta. Each of the
seven iterations of the progression-theme varies it with changes of figure, tempo,
dynamics, and chord voicings, even superimposing a contrapuntal voice in the case
of the first reprise. These variations, sometimes minute and subtle, give the impres-
sion that Schumann spent considerable time exploring the variative possibilites of
this progression at the piano (see Example 8.11). With tonic 6/4 sonorities on the
downbeats of bars 2 and 4, it creates a circular, quasi-hypnotic sense of time, and it
can be repeated ad infinitum.

Example 8.11. Schumann, Variations on the name “Abegg,” Op. 1, finale, iterations of
the chord progression.
Example 8.11. Continued
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 147

Such experimental elaboration of simple harmonic progressions was stan-

dard practice for the pianist-composers of the 1820s and earlier. The progres-
sions were part of the postclassical pianist’s bag of musical materials.
Improvisations by postclassical pianists such as Moscheles and Meyerbeer were
most often built on popular songs and comic opera melodies that took some
sort of periodic form. But as an exercise for developing extemporaneous skill,
the short nonperiodic chord progression served as an ideal vehicle. The ability
to flesh out elementary patterns in variation was particularly important for
improvising dance music at social salons, something we know Chopin and
Schubert did and that Schumann probably did as well. Chopin’s Berceuse, origi-
nally entitled Variantes, appears to be closely related to his lifelong pursuit of
improvisation—an extreme case of the short chordal progression as a vehicle
for rich variative invention.37 Kalkbrenner, in his treatise on preluding and
improvising, recommends that beginners start with simple elaborations of basic,
closed harmonic progressions and gradually proceed to greater degrees of elab-
oration (Example 8.12). And as mentioned above, we know Schumann once had
a heyday improvising obsessively on the cyclic bass C-F-G-C.

Example 8.12. Kalkbrenner, Traité d’harmonie du pianiste.

148 Popular Influences

Schumann was surely aware of the baroque practice of improvising vari-

ations on standard progressions, but we cannot assume that he based his
keyboard improvisations on Baroque models. For all his interest in Bach, he
did not obviously think of the Baroque master as a “variation” composer.
His diaries from 1827 to 1831, when he improvised the most, only rarely
mention specific pieces he improvised on, but the few he does mention are
typical of postclassical pianism rather than Baroque practice. The complete
list includes Himmel’s “An Alexis send’ich dich,” Weber’s Invitation to the
Dance, the drinking song “O du lieber Augustin,” “the Field concerto,” and
Schubert’s Sehnsuchtswalzer. We don’t know which motive from the Field
concerto Schumann was using, but the other four themes were all familiar,
indeed popular melodies in the German-speaking world. With the exception
of the harmonic digression in the Schubert, they are harmonically elementary,
mostly pivoting between tonic and dominant. The first strain of the Schubert
waltz, for example, replicates the beginning of Kalkbrenner’s model pro-
gression of Example 8.12. A more striking commonality among these four
tunes is that they are all in triple meter: the Schubert and Weber are of course
waltzes, “O du lieber Augustin” is what we know today as “Three cheers for
the bus driver,” and “An Alexis send’ ich dich” is given in Example 8.13.

Example 8.13. Himmel, melody of “An Alexis send’ich dich,” taken from A. W. Bach,
Variationen für das Piano-Forte über den beliebten Gesang von Himmel (Berlin: Lischke,
ca. 1818).
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 149

Schumann’s strong gravitation toward simple triple-meter models in his

improvisations favors an interpretation of the conclusion of the Abegg varia-
tions as some sort of stylization of his improvisational practices circa 1830. His
choice of a waltz theme is completely atypical of concert variation sets of the
time, but it is understandable for a pianist whose primary activities were in the
salons rather than the public concert space. Although it is marked 6/8 and is
thus not in triple meter, Schumann’s “alla Fantasia” finale is clearly to be heard
as an acceleration of waltz theme in 3/4; its pace is no faster than Weber’s
Invitation to the Dance. Other aspects of the finale suggestive of improvisational
character include the relatively loose joints between the episodes and the reprises,
the complete lack of thematic material, the extended passage of trademark
chromatic figures in the second episode, which sound complex but fit under the
hand conveniently, and the variative repetition of a short cadential formula in
the coda. A sense of improvisatory freedom furthermore pervades the slow sec-
tion that immediately precedes the finale. It opens with a citation of the Abegg
theme, but instead of launching another variation it becomes an open-ended,
improvisatory cantabile and dissolves into a cadenza. The potentially improvi-
satory history of the Abegg finale should not, however, take us to the conclusion
that these variations are somehow less a “work.” For all its debts to the tradition
of brilliant virtuosity, the piece arguably critiques the conventions of the vir-
tuoso concert work.38 Its mysterious title, the density and detail of the first two
variations, its relative compactness, and especially its quiet ending set it apart
from contemporary concert variations and betray a will to “poeticize” within
the variation-set format.

The conflict Schumann felt between the pleasures and creative agencies of impro-
visation and the need to rein it in for the sake of compositional productivity
points to larger tension in the Bildung-based model of subjectivity that was con-
solidating among the bourgeoisie in the 1830s. Improvisation establishes a
situation of open-ended play and potentially violates ethical principles of thrift,
economy, and efficient productivity that were increasingly enforced as norms of
bourgeois behavior, perhaps most intensively in Schumann’s context. The moral
economy of the German bourgeoisie promoted freedom and creative play, but at
the same time insisted it must be disciplined, channeled toward productive and
lasting ends—whether those products came in the form of scores and composi-
tions or in the form of children, respectability, and household income.39
As moralists increasingly expressed a desire to control or channel experiences
of subjective play and experimentation, they also reinforced the association of
improvisation with creativity, transgression, and genius. The new fascination
with improvisation manifested itself in a revival of interest in the Italian tradi-
tion of performed, extemporaneous poetry (which may lie in the subconsci-
ous of Schumann’s Florestan-Paganini amalgam). These improvisers, most of
150 Popular Influences

them of Italian origin, elaborated lengthy poems in rhyme schemes on subjects

offered by the audience. Topics were usually derived from classical literature and
drama, and the performance was normally accompanied by music. The literary
historian Angela Esterhammer has traced the effect of this revival on early nine-
teenth-century literature. Byron, Mary Shelley, and Madame de Staël, among
others, represented the Italian poetic improvvisatore as a figure of genius, but his
status as a public performer playing for money also made him “an unstable
agent potentially disruptive to gender, class, and economic systems.” According
to Esterhammer the disruptive potential was strongest in the German context:

The representation of the improviser as an inconsistent or unreliable agent,

both in literature and in life, takes on its fullest dimensions in nineteenth-
century German culture. . . . The young protagonists are exposed in the process
of their Bildung to a variety of theatrical experiences that include improvisa-
tional performance. But . . . these experiences of improvisation represent the
kind of spontaneous, anti-establishment behavior that the young men must
learn to sublimate if they are to assume appropriate social roles.40

Schumann not only internalized these literary representations of the impro-

viser, but also encountered poetic improvisers in his own milieu. In Leipzig he
heard a performance by the internationally renowned German-language impro-
viser Maximilian Langenschwarz. Although he dismissed Langenschwarz as a
“charlatan,” he probably shared the general admiration for the Jena professor of
literature O. L. B. Wolff, who spent his early career performing virtuoso improvi-
sations all over Germany and occasionally still made appearances.41 A particularly
telling document of the suspicion directed toward improvisation in Schumann’s
cultural milieu is Hans Christian Andersen’s novel The Improviser (1835). The
novel is partly autobiographical. As a teenager Andersen was known to Copenhagen
society for his brilliantly acted comic improvisations, landing him commissions to
write Singspiel libretti.42 In 1833 the success of some of his books earned him a
royal stipend to travel through Europe, and he charmed the salons everywhere
with his irresistible manner of reading aloud his fantastic tales. The trip brought
him to Italy, where he continued to visit the salons and began writing his novel,
which was translated into many languages and marked his international break-
through. Andersen’s trajectory bears certain direct parallels with the aspirations of
the young Schumann. Andersen was both a writer and a performer, but his per-
former role—his ability to fascinate in the salons with his storytelling—to some
extent overshadowed his status as writer. And like many aspiring poets, he was
plagued by a sense that performance and improvisation were achievements of a
lesser order; when a Copenhagen colleague criticized his singspiels he threw up his
hands, lamenting “I am nothing but an improviser!”43
These tensions are at the center of Andersen’s novel, which is part Italian
travelogue and part Bildungsroman. The Italian protagonist, Antonio, born into
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 151

poverty and orphaned, is endowed with a natural capacity for extemporaneous

poetic invention that soon lands him in the elite salons of Rome. Antonio’s
problems stem from his incapacity to turn his improvisational genius to socially
productive use. His traffic in salons lands him neither a profession nor a success-
ful amorous partner, and his evasion of such stable commitments eventually has
him running from the law. His personal growth in the novel depends on chan-
neling his talents to ends that are both productive and public. At one of the
novel’s critical moments his friend implores him, “You have glorious abilities,
which must be developed, but that they must actually be, Antonio! Nothing
comes of itself! People must labor! Your talent is a charming society talent; you
may delight many of your friends by it, but it is not great enough for the public.”44
The fulfillment of this goal finally arrives when Antonio gives a splendid public
improvisation at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, thereby raising money for indi-
gent fishermen.
There are striking resonances between Antonio’s trajectory and that of
Schumann. In 1831 Schumann was twenty-one years old and had not a single
published opus behind him. The Wiecks noticed that in spite of the strides he
was making as a pianist, he was not getting anywhere with composition. At the
end of May 1831 Clara urged him, “Dear Robert, I beg you—do produce
something that’s finished.”45 The pressure from Wieck had its intended effect: by
the end of the year Schumann had published the Abegg variations and Papillons,
Op. 2. Ironically this was advice that Robert later turned back upon Clara. In a
letter from 1838 he admonished her “not to improvise too much”: “Too much
gets uselessly lost that way. Make up your mind to get everything down on paper
at once.”46
Critical opinion about Schumann’s early works echoed the accumulating
resistance to improvisation in the 1830s and 1840s. In an 1844 issue of the Neue
Zeitschrift Carl Kossmaly wrote an essay on Schumann’s piano works as a whole
and found fault with the relatively undirected flow of the early works: “The
extravagance of which the composer is so particularly fond sometimes degener-
ates into bombast and complete incomprehensibility, as if the striving for origi-
nality occasionally loses its way.”47 Kossmaly’s judgment, though harsh, reflects
Schumann’s own judgment of his early works as “too small and too rhapsodic to
make any great impact”; his list of such works included the Paganini studies, the
Abegg variations, Papillons, and the Allegro.48 The good news in Kossmaly’s cri-
tique was that Schumann had transcended his improvisational past in more
recent works such as the Kinderszenen and the Humoreske, which sustained the
listener’s attention with greater clarity in the flow of ideas.49 Hanslick, who idol-
ized Schumann and inherited much from the Neue Zeitschrift perspective,
stressed his transcendence of the early Sturm-und-Drang period and the clarifi-
cation of formal and processual thought: “From this latter work [Op. 22] for-
ward one sees a decisive clarification in Schumann’s music. The small forms
152 Popular Influences

broaden out, the earlier mosaic-like connection of ideas becomes development,

poetic willfulness bows to the law of musical beauty. Schumann soon found the
transition from genial rhapsode to mature master.”50 The consistency of this
narrative is striking. It marks the definitive defeat of improvisatory values as
represented in digressive figurative passages, discursive discontinuities, and
variative repetitions of simple structures. At the same time it marks the triumph
of the Bildungsbürger values of rational autonomy and economic productivity
as the ideal telos of subject formation. Schumann’s compositions after the early,
piano-centered phase consigned his wild youth—marked by travels, sexual
experimentation, bouts of heavy drinking, and extensive pianistic improvisa-
tion—to the superseded past.
For Schumann, then, the agencies of improvisation were both aesthetic and
social. Musically it gave him a space to invent and experiment with figures, rhet-
orics, and forms of elaboration that fed directly into his early compositions.
Socially it gave him a medium for experiments in masculine self-assertion—
before his university peers, before his teachers, and before his prospective erotic
partners. I have drawn attention to how he appropriated improvisatory prac-
tices of postclassical pianism and strove to recast them according to Romantic
values of free association and mental caprice. Schumann’s history with improvi-
sation, however, should be an occasion to question whether this transfer of
values from performance to composition, from piano to mind, from postclas-
sical material to romantic metaphor, always has salutary effects. The sense of
abstraction or distance in late Schumann, which has led commentators to inter-
pret it “in terms of mental or creative failure and exhaustion, of an inability to
communicate with the outside world,”51 may stem precisely from his rejection
of improvisatory orientation so central to his early creative years.

I would like to thank Kenneth Hamilton and Roe-Min Kok for their comments,
advice, and insights on this essay.
1. R. Schumann, Tagebücher (hereafter cited as Tb), 2:402. Schumann’s “new manner”
has been discussed most recently in Tunbridge, Schumann’s Late Style, 9, 104–7.
2. R. Schumann, Briefe: Neue Folge (1904), 356. Similar ideas are reiterated in
Schumann’s Hausregeln notebook.
3. R. Schumann, Tb, 1:112:
Wenn ich an den lezten September denke, so löst es sich wie von selbst in harten
Misstönen auf pp. pp. Was einem gerade einfällt, sucht man mit den Tönen
auszudrücken. Jeden Ton hat aber schon das Herz auf ihren Tasten gefühlt, wie die
Tasten am Clavier erst berührt werden mussen, ehe sie klingen. In den Minuten,
wo man an nichts oder Geringes denkt, wird auch die Fantasie matter u. das Spiel
fader; wenn man an die Musik selbst denkt, so kommen leicht contrapunctische
Sätze u. Fugen hervor.
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 153

4. Employing a language uncomfortably reminiscent of gymnastic holism,

Herbert Schramowski writes, “The character of the improvisation influence is not a
work-oriented one but a stimulating one. . . . Improvisation fulfills a positive purpose
with its relaxing and loosening tendencies, which for their part contribute to
restoration of energies and the raising of mental and bodily activity and thus to a
regeneration of the complex creative faculties” (“Der Einfluss,” 8).
5. Hummel, Ausführliche theoretisch-practische Anweisung, 461.
6. I borrow the term postclassical from Jim Samson, who uses it to describe the
styles and practices of piano music from roughly 1800 to 1830 in Virtuosity and the
Musical Work. A concentrated, provisional summary of postclassical practice is
found on p. 17:
A world of post-Classical concert music [was] firmly centered on the piano, and
designed principally for performance in benefit concerts and salons. This was
music designed to be popular, and happy to accept its commodity status. Its basic
ingredients were a bravura right-hand figuration that took its impetus from the
light-actioned Viennese and German pianos of the late eighteenth century and a
melodic idiom, associated in its early stages with English and French instruments,
that was rooted either in Italian opera, in folk music or in popular genres such as
marches (including funeral marches), dance pieces, pastorales or barcarolles.
7. Worthen, Robert Schumann, 37.
8. Tb, 2:173–74: “So hab’ich in der Schweiz oft bis in die Nacht hinein
9. Tb, 1:411.
10. Eismann, Robert Schumann, 1:44.
11. Ibid., 1:18.
12. Tb, 1:94 (“Jetzt schlummert sie wohl; ich fantasierte gut; denn sie lebte in
meinen Fantasien u. der ganze Tonhimmel mit ihr, wie ihr doch so heilig seyd, ihr
Töne”), 258, 400.
13. Eismann, Robert Schumann, 55. Töpken’s reminiscence is from September
30, 1856:
Nach der gemeinschaftlichen Unterhaltung folgten dann in der Regel von seiner
Seite freie Phantasien auf dem Klaviere, in denen er alle Geister entfesselte. Ich
gestehe, dass diese unmittelbaren musikalischen Ergüsse Schumanns mir immer
einen Genuß gewährt haben, wie ich ihn später, so große Künstler ich auch
hörte, nie wieder gehabt. Die Ideen strömten ihm zu in einer Fülle, die sich nie
erschöpfte. Aus einem Gedanken, den er in allen Gestalten erscheinen ließ, quoll
und sprudelte alles andere wie von selbst hervor und hindurch zog sich der
eigentümliche Geist in seiner Tiefe und mit allem Zauber der Poesie, zugleich
schon mit den deutlich erkennbaren Grundzügen seines musikalischen Wesens,
sowohl nach der Seite der energischen urkräftigen, als auch der duftig zarten,
sinnend träumerischen Gedanken. . . . Er hatte bereits in weitern Zirkeln, die
wesentlich auf sein Erscheinen berechnet, durch seine freien Phantasien alles
entzückt und sollte nun auch Gelegenheit haben, vor dem grosseren Publikum
154 Popular Influences

14. Tb, 1:203, 209, 297, 217.

15. Ibid., 1:110 (“feurige Bewegungen beym Clavierspiel entflammet den
Zuhörer, wie überhaupt Mienen u. Gesten beym Redner”), 154 (“Das ist eben der
Vorzug der Musik u. der Schauspielkunst, dass wir sie gemeinschaftlich geniessen
können, in demselben Moment zugleich ergriffen oder entzückt werden; die anderen
Künste haben dies nicht . . . selbst die Poesie nicht, wenn nicht die Schauspielkunst
ihre Hebamme ware, die sie zum allgemeinen Leben bringt”).
16. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 22.
17. Ibid., 75.
18. Tb, 1:201 (“zu Hause sehr lahme Fantasie u. Zorn über mein Claverspiel”),
203 (“[Topken] sperrt Maul u. Nase auf, wie ich fantasire, lobt mich u. kann’s gar
nicht begreifen”).
19. A link of improvisation with the study of harmony and counterpoint was
already established in one of its early practical examples, A. E. M. Gretry’s Méthode
simple pour apprendre a préluder en peu de temps avec toutes les ressources de
20. On improvisation as a channel of subjectivity, interiority, and the irrational,
see Richards, The Free Fantasia.
21. Tb, 2:38: “Am Clavier kam der Fandangogedanke über mich—da war ich
ungemein glüklich.”
22. Worthen, Robert Schumann, 37. For a more detailed chronicle of Schumann’s
pianistic ambitions, see Macdonald, “Schumann’s Piano Practice.” Macdonald traces
Schumann’s gradual alienation from the instrument and its social values starting in
23. On Hummel’s reception, see Sachs, Kapellmeister Hummel. Moscheles,
visiting Karlsbad in 1816, “created quite a furore with his Alexander variations and
fantasias” (Moscheles, Recent Music, 16). We can assume that Schumann heard the
same repertory in 1818.
24. Tb, 1:300: “weicher Perlenanschlag u. Perlenfantasie.”
25. Worthen, Robert Schumann, 69.
26. Ibid., 54.
27. B. Bischoff and Nauhaus, “Robert Schumanns Leipziger Konzertnotizen,” 47:
Seine Gewandtheit u. Fertigkeit stellen sich hier schon bedeutender heraus, als wie
er’s im Conzert zeigen konnte. Schöne Gedanken fand ich nicht; auch jene
Schwarmerei nicht, die sich selbst zu vergessen scheint, auch jenen Genius nicht,
der ohne Leib zu wirken scheint—Gutes und Tuchtiges vieles, Jugendstarkes u.
Verständiges. Vorbereitet schien nichts zu sein, höchstens contrapunctische
28. See the reviews of Hummel collected in Sachs, Kapellmeister Hummel.
29. Ibid., 45, emphasis added.
30. Schumann only settled on “Fantasie” after trying out other titles. The first
movement, conceived before the others, was originally entitled “Ruines. Fantasie
pour le Pianoforte.” See Marston, Schumann, 7–8.
31. The changes in nomenclature are discussed in ibid., 17.
Schumann and Agencies of Improvisation 155

32. R. Schumann, Jugendbriefe, 80, letter dated November 6, 1829.

33. Lester, “Robert Schumann and Sonata Forms”; Samson, Virtuosity, 46–47,
34. Macdonald, “Schumann’s Piano Practice,” 530, mentions similar exercises
that Schumann devised for himself as he tried to master Chopin’s variations, Op. 2.
35. For a detailed history of the Toccata before its publication, see Boetticher,
Robert Schumanns Klavierwerke, vol. 1.
36. Worthen, Robert Schumann, 56, claims that at a rehearsal for an 1830 concert
Schumann improvised the Abegg variations in part and then did the same in the
evening, but I have been unable to find confirmation for this.
37. Nowik, “Fryderyk Chopin’s Op. 57,” 25–40.
38. Mathias Hansen discusses the work in connection with Schumann’s attitudes
toward virtuosity in “Robert Schumanns ‘Virtuosität.’”
39. On these virtues in German bourgeois culture, see Bausinger, “Bürgerlichkeit
und Kultur,” 122; Münch, Ordnung, Fleiss und Sparsamkeit.
40. Esterhammer,“The Cosmopolitan improvvisatore,” 163, 161–62. Esterhammer
develops the deviance theme in a follow-up essay, “The Improviser’s Disorder:
Spontaneity, Sickness, and Social Deviance in Late Romanticism,” European Romantic
Review 16, no. 3 (2005): 329–40.
41. Ignaz Moscheles encountered Wolff in Vienna in 1844: “There was an eve-
ning party at Court yesterday, where the Improvisator, Professor Wolff, of Jena, was
the attraction. There was music as well” (On Music, 305).
42. Celenza, Hans Christian Andersen, 13–14.
43. Ibid., 25.
44. Andersen, The Improvisatore, 272.
45. Tb, 1:344.
46. R. Schumann and Schumann, Briefwechsel, 1:307, emphasis in original.
Although Clara is not generally considered a voluble improviser, she did leave some
unpublished preludes that are discussed in Goertzen, “Setting the Stage.” Eugenie
Schumann left an interesting account of Clara’s pretour practice regime, which is
strongly suggestive of improvisation:
Scales rolled and swelled like a tidal sea, legato and staccato; in octaves, thirds,
sixths, tenths, and double thirds; sometimes in one hand only, while the other
played accompanying chords. Then arpeggios of all kinds, octaves, shakes, every-
thing prestissimo and without the slightest break, exquisite modulations leading
from key to key. The most wonderful feature of this practicing was that although
the principle on which it was based was always the same, it was new every day, and
seemed drawn ever fresh from a mysterious wellspring. (Busch, Memoirs of Eugenie
Schumann, 17)
47. Kossmaly, “On Robert Schumann’s Piano Compositions,” 310.
48. Quoted from autobiographical sketches in Worthen, Robert Schumann, 64.
49. Kossmaly, “On Robert Schumann’s Piano Compositions,” 311–12.
50. Deutsche Musik-Zeitung, July 14, 1860, reproduced in Eduard Hanslick,
Sämtliche Schriften (2005), vol. 1, book 5, p. 205:
156 Popular Influences

Von dem letzteren Werke an kann man eine entschiedene Klärung der
Schumann’schen Musik wahrnehnen. Die knappen Formen erweitern sich, was
früher musivisch sich aneinander fügte wird Entwicklung, die poetische Willkür
beugt sich hinter das Gesetz der musikalischen Schönheit. Schumann fand bald
den Übergang vom genialen Rhapsoden zum besonnenen Meister.
51. Tunbridge, Schumann’s Late Style, 2.

Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife

Ivan Raykoff

In 1853, three years before his death, Schumann published three “declamation
ballades,” or melodramas, for narrator with piano accompaniment. “Schön
Hedwig” (Fair Hedwig), Op. 106, and “Ballade vom Haideknaben” (Ballad of the
moorland boy), Op. 122, no. 1, are both settings of poems by Friedrich Hebbel;
“Die Flüchtlinge” (The fugitives), Op. 122, no. 2, sets a German translation of a
ballad by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Combining the speaking voice with musical
accompaniment creates “a very peculiar effect,” Schumann wrote to his Viennese
friend Carl Debrois van Bruyck. “It is a type of composition that is perhaps
entirely novel, and so we are always grateful to those poets above all for inspiring
us to new artistic paths.”1 This was not the only occasion when the composer felt
he was exploring new creative genres and forms late in his career. In a letter to
Franz Liszt in 1851 Schumann expressed some concern over how his recently
composed Manfred would be categorized: “The whole thing should not be
advertised to the public as an opera or Singspiel or melodrama, but rather as ‘a
dramatic poem with music.’ That would be something completely new and
Despite Schumann’s claims to innovation, both Manfred and the declama-
tion ballades fit into the larger historical context of melodrama already
established in theater and opera by the mid-nineteenth century.3 The most
famous uses of melodrama in opera include the grave-digging scene in
Beethoven’s Fidelio (1805) and the Wolf ’s Glen scene in Weber’s Der Freischütz
(1821); Beethoven’s Egmont (1810) and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s
Dream (1842) are well-known examples of this technique in incidental music
for theatrical plays. What was unusual about Schumann’s three pieces, it seems,
was their reduction of melodrama’s orchestral underscoring to the piano alone,
which removes them from the dramatic realm of opera and theater to the more
poetic world of the Lied and the more intimate space of the salon. (Unbeknownst
to Schumann, Schubert had already composed a recitation with piano accom-
paniment some two decades earlier.)4 Today Schumann’s declamation ballades
remain obscure works, usually relegated to brief asides in discussions of his

158 Popular Influences

music; they are rarely performed or recorded,5 and they have received at best
mixed appraisals from critics and scholars over the years. But these neglected
pieces can provide a new perspective on the concept of “speaking through
music” and on the significance of melodramatic effects in other cultural pro-
ductions that incorporate music as an accompaniment to speech.
The juxtaposition of music and the spoken word has long provoked aesthetic
debates about the relationship between music and language in general, espe-
cially about the capacities of the speaking voice as opposed to the singing voice
for conveying expressive meaning in a musical context. The concept of speaking
through music is probably most familiar from opera, where the recitative
functions as a special kind of singing approaching the natural rhythms and
inflections of speech; in instrumental music a comparable declamatory quality
is often labeled parlando (as opposed to cantando or cantabile, in a singing style).
In melodrama, on the other hand, speech approaches song but rarely gets too
close; vocal delivery may vary in pitch and dynamics, it may pause or wait for a
musical gesture, but it remains firmly rooted in elocution. In melodrama the
spoken text stands out from its musical context, privileging linguistic compre-
hensibility, while the music often retreats into a subservient role by providing an
evocative accompaniment. In this regard melodrama seems to contradict the
Romantic aesthetic hierarchy that asserts music’s ability to transcend spoken or
written language and thus convey the “unspeakable” essence of things.
Recent criticisms of Schumann’s declamation ballades still demonstrate a
concern over this reversal of aesthetic priorities. Martin Cooper suggests that
the piano writing is “merely ‘background’” in these works, “a role that music
obstinately refuses to play and the melodramas are complete failures.”6 Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau believes that “no unified musical impression was achieved” in
these works: “Spoken words and musical action never coalesce: they only exist in
proximity of each other. It is as though Schumann looked to melodrama to
escape from his difficulties in writing opera. But the tension between words and
music . . . gives way to the supremacy of the spoken text, and the result is failure.”
Nevertheless Fischer-Dieskau acknowledges the expressive intensity this tech-
nique can achieve, noting “the fascinating effect that the spoken word can have
(more so than sung recitative) in moments of greatest dramatic tension.”7
Similar reservations were expressed in Schumann’s own time. Eduard
Hanslick was diplomatic about the challenges of such a synthesis after hearing
Clara Schumann and Marie Seebach perform the two Hebbel ballade settings in
Vienna in 1856: “Although we are fundamentally opposed to the genre of melo-
drama—in which the music primly separates from the spoken word like oil
from water, and the two arts interfere with instead of supplementing each
other—in this case we were nevertheless able to enjoy a relatively unsullied
impression.”8 Asserting the “purity” of art forms as a prerequisite for their
aesthetic integrity and intelligibility, Richard Wagner disparages melodrama in
his 1851 treatise Opera and Drama: “Indeed music would behave in relation to a
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 159

staged literary drama almost exactly as it would if played to a painting in an

exhibition, thus the so-called melodrama has been justifiably dismissed as a
genre of the most unedifying mixture.”9 Publishing his declamation ballades in
1853, Schumann seems to have been countering a trend away from the melo-
drama, which had already outlived its appeal for other serious composers and
A more accommodating assessment of this union of word and tone comes
from Goethe, writing about melodrama a few decades earlier, in 1815, around
the time Beethoven and Weber were composing their classic examples: “It is now
time to think of music, which in this context can be regarded as the sea upon
which that artistically decorated boat [of drama] is carried, as the favorable
breeze which gently but sufficiently fills the sails and willingly obeys all the sail-
or’s movements in whatever direction.”10 Goethe’s two metaphors for music
capture the ambivalence of its role in melodrama: Is music the infinite and ele-
mental “sea” upon which a dramatic text may float (around the same time
Arthur Schopenhauer refers to the necessary subordination of words to “the
inexpressible depth of all music”)?11 Or is it a brief and blustering “breeze” that
merely serves every dramatic gesture the actor may make? In the end Goethe the
dramatist praises the moderation of the composer “who did not try to hear
himself, but rather tried to promote and support the performance with a chaste
economy” in the musical accompaniment.12
This essay considers Schumann’s declamation ballades as a starting point for
a further exploration of melodrama’s interplay of music, speech, and dramatic
sentiment not on the theatrical or operatic stage, but in the more personal space
of the salon and parlor—“in the sociable circles,” as Schumann puts it—where
they were most often performed.13 It also explores melodrama’s inherent inter-
mediality by examining how “speaking through music” occurs in other art forms
that make use of Schumann’s music, particularly literature and cinema. These
three pieces were followed by similar works for narrator and piano by Liszt and
other Romantic composers who pursued this genre in subsequent decades,14
while melodrama as a compositional technique persisted to become one of the
conventional modes of cinematic underscoring in the twentieth century. In this
sense Schumann’s declamation ballades were indeed innovative and for-
ward-looking works: they anticipate melodrama’s continuing evolution into
one of the most popular and prevalent cultural forms, intersecting the realms of
theater and Lieder and later literature and film.

Melodrama as Technique and Aesthetic

First, to clarify terms. Melodrama in its broadest and most familiar sense refers to a
theatrical, literary, and cinematic style or aesthetic characterized by dramatic action
and overt sentimentality, but the term also has a more specialized definition: a
160 Popular Influences

compositional technique whereby a dramatic text is spoken over a musical accom-

paniment more or less precisely synchronized to the recitation of the words.
Beyond its basic etymology, reaching back to the originating model of ancient
Greek tragedy (melos, meaning “song” or “melody,” plus drama, or “theatrical
action”), melodrama in both senses of the word has its modern origins in a spe-
cifically musical aspect of popular theater in eighteenth-century France. To
appeal to wider audiences the plot of a typical mélodrame tended toward more
sensational incidents and hyperbolic situations than the staid tragedies or clever
comedies of classical theater, giving rise to the familiar association of melo-
drama with exaggerated behavior, intense emotions, and manipulative senti-
mentality. In such stories virtuous characters typically endure undue suffering
caused by hardship, injustice, or catastrophe, then gain redemption through
their brave endurance, some heroic deed or noble sacrifice, or a fortuitous twist
of fate. Characters and conflicts are stereotypical: a villain thwarts the hero and
threatens the heroine, a romantic impulse motivates the couple’s endurance or
sacrifice, and a climactic moment of confrontation enables virtue to triumph
over evil. These dramatic situations emphasize exaggeration and generate a
surplus or excess of emotional effect, one frequently noted aspect of the melo-
dramatic aesthetic.
These eighteenth-century theatrical melodramas were further innovative
because they incorporated newly composed musical underscoring to set the
scene and mood, mark characters’ entrances and establish their personality
types, enhance actors’ elocution and physical gestures, and facilitate spectators’
emotional involvement in the scene.15 In the nineteenth century these tech-
niques of musical underscoring became standard practice in popular theater,
with its formulaic conventions of “mood” and “action music,” musical cues col-
lectively known as melos.16 Such incidental music “usually accompanies the most
sentimental passages in the play,” explains a 1911 article about “old-school”
melodramas, “following the hero and heroine most obstinately. But the villain
too will also have his little bit of tremolo to help him along on his evil path.”17
From the realm of theater these practices easily evolved into the familiar manner
of melodramatic accompaniment to action and dialogue in silent films, radio
plays, television, and cinema of the twentieth century.18
The genre of the declamation ballade also contributed to this evolution in the
late nineteenth century, “when it flourished in European drawing-rooms and
recitals, before its gradual decline into the pit of the silent cinema,” as one com-
mentator puts it.19 David Mayer notes the confluence of the piano as the pri-
mary instrument of domestic and amateur musical entertainment, including
the “parlour and platform melodrama,” with technological developments of the
era that enabled the wider public presentation of such works, especially the pho-
tographically imprinted magic lantern slides that were popular by the 1870s.
“Now, in pre-cinema conditions, the reciter and his musical accompaniment
stood to one side of the projector and declaimed,” Mayer writes.
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 161

It is therefore no accident that ballad melodramas provided the subject matter

for early silent motion pictures. Because the first dramatic films on serious
subjects rarely exceeded a running time of ten minutes, their compressed
plots adapted more easily to film than those of full-length stage melodramas.
Such brief films readily lent themselves to projection in music halls and variety
theatres, where the ballad-based films were accompanied by incidental orches-
tral or piano music and live declamation.20

Today we take for granted the seamless synthesis of background music and spoken
word that pervades many of our technologically mediated art forms, forgetting its
origins in traditions of nineteenth-century melodrama and declamation predat-
ing the high-art Wagnerism that film music scholarship usually privileges.21
Considering their narrative content, Schumann’s declamation ballades fit the
paradigm of the melodramatic aesthetic proposed by the film scholar Linda
Williams: “a dialectic of pathos and action” enabling “dramatic revelation of
moral and emotional truths.” Hedwig’s tale, Schumann’s first ballade setting
(Op. 106), is one of pathos or deep emotional feeling, whereas the fugitives’
scenario (from Op. 122) exemplifies action, “the spectacular rescues, chases, and
fights that augment, prolong, and conclude pathos.” The ballade of the moorland
boy, the most complex and compelling of these three works, conveys both “the
paroxysm of pathos and the exhilaration of action.” Williams summarizes, “If
emotional and moral registers are sounded, if a work invites us to feel sympathy
for the virtues of beset victims, if the narrative trajectory is ultimately more
concerned with a retrieval and staging of innocence than with the psychological
causes of motives and actions, then the operative mode is melodrama.”22
The three poems also illustrate certain narrative paradigms that the literary
scholar Peter Brooks identifies as characteristic of the early French mélodrame.
Hebbel’s “Schön Hedwig” relates a conversation between a beautiful orphaned
servant girl and her master, a dashing and chivalrous knight, who interrogates
her virtues and suddenly decides to make her his bride. According to Brooks,
“the admiration of virtue” is a primary topic of the theatrical genre, and “the
expressive means of melodrama . . . correspond to the struggle toward recogni-
tion of the sign of virtue and innocence”—themes that easily apply to the rep-
resentation of Hedwig as a faithful, good-natured, hard-working, long-suffering
tender maiden. Brooks notes, “The play typically opens with a presentation of
virtue and innocence, or perhaps more accurately, virtue as innocence. We see
this virtue, momentarily, in a state of taking pleasure in itself, aided by those
who recognize and support it.”23
Schumann’s setting of Hebbel’s poem conveys these moral aspects of
character through musical means. The opening majestic fanfares in D-Major
depict knightly power, while the plaintive “song without words” texture for
Hedwig’s entrance (m. 28) conveys her beauty and delicacy, the music establish-
ing these two protagonists as idealized figures of masculinity and femininity.
162 Popular Influences

When the knight grasps Hedwig’s hand and asks her three questions, the under-
scoring changes to recitative-like music with chordal punctuations for the char-
acters’ verbal and physical gestures (beginning in m. 37). Strategic silences play
an important role in building dramatic tension and allowing the reciting voice
to stand out ominously or expectantly from the musical accompaniment; a
Große Pause marks the climax of the tale, when the knight asks a fourth ques-
tion—“Do you love me?”—and Hedwig hesitates to admit her true feelings
before the entire assembly (Example 9.1).24 In the typical melodramatic narra-
tive, Brooks writes, “confrontation and peripety are managed so as to make pos-
sible a remarkable, public, spectacular homage to virtue, a demonstration of its
power and effect.”25

Example 9.1. Robert Schumann, “Schön Hedwig,” Op. 106 (1849), mm. 67–78.

If Hedwig’s tale represents pathos, the turbulent mood of “Die Flüchtlinge”—

evident in both the poet’s verses and the composer’s music—conveys spectac-
ular action through its relentless energy. Shelley’s poem depicts a stormy sea that
imperils the elopement, on her wedding night, of another bride and the man she
really loves as they flee her jilted groom and her very upset father. In the second
stage of the theatrical-melodramatic format Brooks describes, “there swiftly
supervenes a threat to virtue, a situation . . . to cast its very survival into question,
obscure its identity, and elicit the process of its fight for recognition.” This sce-
nario of an abandoned wedding also fits
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 163

the topos of the interrupted fête, the violated banquet which . . . represents
the triumph of villainy, the fall, eclipse, and even expulsion of virtue. . . . For
the greater part of the play, evil appears to reign triumphant, controlling the
structure of events, dictating the moral coordinates of reality. Virtue,
expulsed, eclipsed, apparently fallen, cannot effectively articulate the cause of
the right.26
Tremolos, running chromatic figures, and sforzando chords convey the dramatic
tension of the scene, much like “hurry music” would do in the accompaniments
for silent films a few decades later (Example 9.2).27

Example 9.2. Robert Schumann, “Die Flüchtlinge,” Op. 122, no. 2 (1852), mm. 1–9.

Hebbel’s “Ballade vom Haideknaben” conveys both the pathos and the
action that Williams theorizes for the melodramatic aesthetic. In this sinister
tale a young boy is murdered for the money he carries on an errand across the
moors. The story’s action comes through the violence of his own imagined and
then actual murder, its pathos from the boy’s premonition of death and the
helpless fear he feels when confronted with his own tragic fate. The dramatic
climax occurs in stanza 18, where the poem’s rapid rhythm and fragmented
phrases of dialogue convey the physical struggle between the boy and his killer
(see text and translation in Figure 9.1), but the closing gesture of the ballad is
equally disturbing because of its detachment and moral ambiguity. The narra-
tor, addressing the listener directly, explains that a raven and a dove both wit-
nessed the event, but that their reactions to the murderous assault were quite
1 Der Knabe träumt, man schicke ihn fort The boy dreamt he was being sent off
Mit dreissig Thalern zum Heideort, to the moorland village with thirty silver coins,
Er ward drum erschlagen am Wege and that on the way he was beaten and robbed
Und war doch nicht langsam und träge. even though he was neither slow nor idle.
2 Noch liegt er im Angstschweiss, da rüttelt ihn Still sweating in fear, he was shaken awake
Sein Meister, und heisst ihm, sich anzuzieh’n by his master, who told him to get dressed,
Und legt ihm das Geld auf die Decke and put the money on his blanket,
Und fragt ihn, warum er erschrecke. and asked him why he was afraid.
3 “Ach Meister, mein Meister, sie schlagen mich tot, “Ah master, my master, they’ll beat me to death,
Die Sonne, sie ist ja wie Blut so rot!” look how the sun shines red like blood!”
“Sie ist es für dich nicht alleine, “It’s not shining like that just for you alone,
Drum schnell, sonst mach’ ich dir Beine!” so hurry up or I’ll make you get up!”
4 “Ach Meister, mein Meister, so sprachst du schon, “Ah master, my master, so you spoke in my dream,
Das war das Gesicht, der Blick, der Ton, that was your face, your look, your voice,
Gleich greifst du”—zum Stock, will er sagen, and soon you’ll grab”—the stick, he meant to say,
Er sagt’s nicht, er wird schon geschlagen. but he didn’t, he was already being beaten.
5 “Ach Meister, mein Meister, ich geh’, ich geh’, “Ah master, my master, I’m going, I’m going,
Bring’ meiner Mutter das letzte Ade! bid my mother a final farewell,
Und sucht sie nach allen vier Winden, and if she searches all over for me,
Am Weidenbaum bin ich zu finden.” she can find me by the willow tree!”
6 Hinaus aus der Stadt! Und da dehnt sie sich, Out of the city he goes, and there it stretches,
Die Heide, nebelnd gespenstiglich. the foggy grey ghostly moor,
Die Winde darüber sausend, the wind whistling across it.
“Ach, wär’ hier ein Schritt, wie tausend!” “Oh, if only one step were a thousand!”
7 Und Alles so still, und Alles so stumm, Everything so quiet, everything so mute,
Man sieht sich umsonst nach Lebendigen um, in vain one looks around for a living thing,
Nur hungrige Vögel schiessen only hungry birds dive down
Aus Wolken, um Würmer zu spiessen. out of the clouds to skewer up worms.
8 Er kommt an’s einsame Hirtenhaus, He comes to a lonely shepherd’s hut,
Der alte Hirt schaut eben heraus, the old man just stares out at him,
Des Knaben Angst ist gestiegen, the boy’s fear grows even greater,
Am Wege bleibt er noch liegen. so he still stays close to the path.
9 “Ach Hirte, du bist ja von frommer Art, “Ah shepherd, you’re a pious man,
Vier gute Groschen hab’ ich erspart, I’ve saved four farthings
Gieb deinen Knecht mir zur Seite, for your farmhand to stay by my side
Dass er zum Dorf mich begleite! and accompany me to the village.”
10 Ich will sie ihm geben, er trinke dafür “I want to give him them so he can enjoy
Am nächsten Sonntag ein gutes Bier, a good beer next Sunday,
Dies Geld hier, ich trag’ es mit Beben, but all this money here, I carry it with dread,
Man nahm mir im Traum drum das Leben!” since in my dream I was killed for it!”
11 Der Hirt, der winkte dem langen Knecht, The shepherd beckoned the lanky farmhand
Er schnitt sich eben den Stecken zurecht, who was already cutting himself a walking stick,
Jetzt trat er hervor—wie graute and now he appeared—how the boy shuddered
Dem Knaben, als er ihn schaute! when he saw him!
12 “Ach Meister Hirte, ach nein, ach nein, “Ah, master shepherd, oh no, no,
Es ist doch besser, ich geh’ allein!” it’s really better if I go alone!”
Der Lange spricht grinsend zum Alten: The tall one grinned to the old one:
Er will die vier Groschen behalten. “He wants to keep his four farthings.”

Figure 9.1. Translation by author of Friedrich Hebbel’s ballade set by Robert

Schumann as “Ballade vom Haideknaben,” Op. 122, no. 1.
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 165

13 “Da sind die vier Groschen!” Er wirft sie hin “Here, take the four farthings!”—the boy throws
Und eilt hinweg mitverstörtem Sinn. themdown and hurries away in distress.
Schon kann er die Weide erblicken, He can already see the willow tree
Da klopft ihn der Knecht in den Rücken. when the farmhand taps him on the back.
14 Du hältst es nicht aus, du gehst zu geschwind, “You’ll never make it, you’re going too fast.
Ei, Eile mit Weile, du bist ja noch Kind, Haste makes waste! You’re only a child,
Auch muss das Geld dich beschweren, and that money must be weighing you down,
Wer kann dir das Ausruh’n verwehren! who can refuse you a bit of rest?”
15 Komm’, setz’ dich unter den Weidenbaum, “Come, sit down here under the willow tree
Und dort erzähl’ mir den hässlichen Traum, where you can tell me about your terrible dream.
Ich träumte—Gott soll mich verdammen, I also had that dream—I’ll be damned
Trifft’s nicht mit deinem zusammen! if it’s not the very same as yours!”
16 Er fasst den Knaben wohl bei der Hand, He takes the boy firmly by the hand,
Der leistet auch nimmermehr Widerstand, the boy doesn’t resist any more,
Die Blätter flüstern so schaurig, as the leaves whisper so eerily
Das Wässerlein rieselt so traurig! and the water trickles so sadly.
17 Nun sprich, du träumtest—“Es kam ein Mann”— “Now what did you dream?”—“There came a man”—
War ich das? Sieh mich doch näher an, “Was it me? Have a closer look,
Ich denke, du hast mich gesehen! I think you’ve seen me before!
Nun weiter, wie ist es geschehen? Go on, how did it happen?”
18 “Er zog ein Messer!”—War das, wie dies?— “He took out a knife!”—“Like this one here?”—
“Ach ja, ach ja!”—Er zog’s?—“Und stiess”— “Oh yes, like that!”—“He drew it?”—“And stabbed”—
Er stiess dir’s wohl so durch die Kehle? “You mean he slashed your throat just like this?
Was hilft es auch, dass ich dich quäle! Oh, what’s the use of me torturing you!”
19 Und fragt Ihr, wie’s weiter gekommen sei? And do you wonder what happened next?
So fragt zwei Vögel, sie sassen dabei. Then ask the two birds that were sitting nearby:
Der Rabe verweilte gar heiter, the raven lingered rather cheerfully,
Die Taube konnte nicht weiter! the dove could not bear it.
20 Der Rabe erzählt, was der Böse noch tat, The raven will tell what else the villain did,
Und auch, wie’s der Henker gerochen hat. and how the hangman avenged the deed.
Die Taube erzählt, wie der Knabe The dove will tell how the boy
Geweint und gebetet habe. had wept and prayed.

Figure 9.1. Continued

divergent—the former experiencing the exhilaration of violence, the latter a

paroxysm of pathos.
“Haideknaben” is also well-served by the melodramatic techniques
Schumann employs here instead of resorting to a conventional Lied setting.28
As Graham Johnson asserts, “It was not only the blood-thirsty aspect of the
poem that rendered it impossible for singing voice and piano. The whole point
of the poem is the speed of its narrative, and the laconic manner of its
delivery. . . . [A] setting for the singing voice would, by its very nature, have
slowed it down unacceptably.”29 A short introduction presents the primary
motive of the piece, a descending six-note chromatic line in twisting
counterpoint with itself. This melancholy gesture appears throughout the bal-
lade to accompany the boy’s dejected pleas (in stanzas 3 and 5, mm. 10–11, 17)
and references to his ill-omened nightmare (stanzas 10 and 15, mm. 39–41,
63–64), or to depict the sighing of the wind over the moors (stanza 6, mm.
166 Popular Influences

24–25). There is some choppy musical punctuation for dramatic moments,

along with the diminished-chord cadences that underscore the master’s pun-
ishing blows (stanzas 2–4, mm. 8–9, 14–16) and the quick repeated chords that
accompany the farmhand’s aggressive questioning (stanza 18, mm. 82–89).
Familiar musical signifiers include a beckoning horn-call figure when the boy
spots the shepherd’s house on the moors (stanza 8, mm. 27–28), chorale-style
writing to represent the old man’s “pious” nature (stanza 9, mm. 29–32), and
tremolo effects for moments of impending danger (stanza 16, mm. 70–77).
Curiously, Schumann advised his publisher that “Schön Hedwig” could be
performed “just as well as a stand-alone piece without the declamation.” The
same suggestion was printed on the title page of the “Haideknaben” score, and
both Op. 122 ballades were advertised “für Declamation mit Pianoforte (oder
für Pianoforte allein).”30 Can these pieces realistically stand alone as coherent
musical works without the poetic recitations? One obstacle to musical unity
would be the frequent silences between musical phrases, where the unaccompa-
nied voice recites alone. Perhaps this was merely a marketing ploy to sell a set of
pieces in an unusual and “entirely novel” format to amateur pianists, who could
silently read the lines to themselves as an imaginary interior monologue while
they played the musical part, but it might also suggest that, in the composer’s
view, the solo piano could be an equal partner to the voice in terms of its
speaking capacity.
In a number of Schumann’s works this “voice of the piano” is not only a
familiar metaphor but an actual effect analogous to speech: there are moments
when the music does seem, literally, to stop singing and to start saying something
to the listener. Consider, for example, the declamatory passage in the middle of
“Der Dichter spricht” (The poet speaks) from Kinderszenen, Op. 15 no. 13, or the
recitative in the Scherzo of the Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11.31 In
Roland Barthes’s description of the parlando effect in Schumann’s piano music,
“someone declares himself ” in the fourth movement of Kreisleriana, Op. 16, per-
haps through the passages low in the bass that punctuate each melodic phrase
(Example 9.3). When a singing melody finally emerges in measure 12, following
a short recitative-like passage and a long-held silence, its expressive lyricism
seems a revelatory transformation of the preceding utterances. There, as in
Kreisleriana’s sixth movement, “what is spoken intensifies until it is sung.”32 Even
in the Lieder Jonathan Dunsby hears “the unfathomable eloquence of Schumann’s
piano voice, which usually does, indeed, have the last wordless word.”33

Literary and Cinematic Effects

This concept of speaking through music continues to circulate in descrip-

tions of Schumann’s piano writing well into the twentieth century, inspired
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 167

Example 9.3. Robert Schumann, Kreisleriana, Op. 16, no. 4 (1838), mm. 1–13.

by the eloquence of the instrument’s voice in his piano works and Lieder. A
1908 biography of Schumann asserts, “No one can hear the Carnaval well
rendered by a talented performer . . . and not be impressed by a feeling that
therein the piano speaks a word language, tender, dreamy, and, in a way, dar-
ing, yet entirely free from mere display or even show of the virtuosity which
it demands to render it adequately.”34 Similarly a passage from a short story
by the American writer August Derleth captures this idea of the piano’s artic-
ulate power:
He began then, lovingly, with Schumann’s “Vogel als Prophet.” . . . But the way
Joel Merrihew played it made it sound like a question that came to life and
haunted the room; it was something in the tonal quality of the music,
something in the way he lingered over certain notes, something that seemed
like a question lying far back in his mind, a question he could ask only in
Here the metaphor of the piano’s voice conveys a sense of interiority and inti-
mate communication, as if the instrument’s sound itself were a dramatic actor
speaking directly to the listener to convey an expressive message or mood.
168 Popular Influences

Literature presents another context for the musical technique of melodrama,

one not usually considered in histories and studies of the genre. As Brooks notes,
“Even though the novel has no literal music, this connotation of the term melo-
drama remains relevant. The emotional drama needs the desemanticized lan-
guage of music, its evocation of the ‘ineffable,’ its tones and registers.”36 The
following two examples of speaking through music in literature, both incorpo-
rating Schumann’s piano music, date from 1912 and 1924, near the beginning
and the end of the era of silent films, when live musical accompaniment for
onscreen drama was standard practice. These two examples also incorporate
music notation directly into the literary text, a rare phenomenon that approxi-
mates the role of musical underscoring for a melodramatic monologue, although
here the music can be “heard” only in the reader’s own imagination. In this sense
they also reflect Schumann’s innovation in transferring the technique of melo-
drama from the orchestral realm into the more intimate and personal space of
solo piano playing.
“Träumerei,” a short story by the American romance novelist Myrtle Reed
published in 1912, is melodramatic in both its technique and aesthetic.37 A
music critic sits bored at a symphony concert until he notices, across the hall,
a beautiful woman he had once loved. At that moment the orchestra begins to
play an arrangement of “Träumerei” from Kinderszenen (Op. 15, no. 8). Two
short excerpts of the piano score serve as a legible musical soundtrack for the
scene, enabling the reader to read and hear the music that accompanies the
man’s interior monologue: “Träumerei! Anything but that! Oh, God, this
needless pain! And he thought he had forgotten!” With these words the melody
reaches up to the high A of the second phrase (m. 6 in the piano piece), in
melodramatic correlation to the pain he feels at seeing his former lover again
(Figure 9.2).
Following this moment of recognition is a flashback scene triggered by the
music, a temporal transitional device that would become a familiar practice
in scoring for sound films three decades later. The man had listened to this
woman play “Träumerei” on the piano years before; he had embraced her and
“covered her face with burning kisses that were almost pain,” but their
romantic bliss was short-lived because of “a misunderstanding.” No music
notation accompanies the text of the story here, but a reader familiar with the
piece can hear the middle section of “Träumerei” (mm. 9–16), with its mod-
ulations into minor and the momentarily dissonant appoggiaturas of its
melody, underscoring this reference to their fleeting bittersweet affair. Here
too the man’s nostalgic daydream carries him away from the public space of
the concert hall back to the private space of their romantic encounter (“He
stood again in a little room”), a scene change that coincides with an implied
transition from the orchestral arrangement of “Träumerei” to its original
piano solo.
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 169

Figure 9.2. Excerpt from Myrtle Reed’s short story

“Träumerei,” in The White Shield (New York: G. P. Putnam’s
Sons, 1912), 170.

Reed’s prose seems to provide a literal correlate to the harmonic progres-

sion of the music itself, especially at the point when the opening phrase
comes back in the original F-Major (m. 17): “With a deeper throb of pain
than any he yet had known, the buried love came back, strong and sweet, as
in those dear days when the whole world seemed aglow with love of her.”
The dramatic highpoint occurs as he walks nervously to her seat in the hall
and whispers, “Forgive me—come out a minute—I want to speak to you.” At
this point the music would be approaching the G dominant-seventh chord
marked with a fermata (m. 22), a moment of suspended animation and
170 Popular Influences

expectant resolution: “Hardly knowing what she did, she followed him into
the dimly lighted, deserted foyer.” The final two measures of the piece, clos-
ing in the home key, accompany the happy ending to this tale, as the two
lovers reaffirm their devotion “with the last strain of that wordless love-
sweet song.”38
A comparable example of a melodramatic literary setting of Schumann’s
music is found in Arthur Schnitzler’s 1924 novella Fräulein Else, which incor-
porates quotations from Carnaval, Op. 9, into the story of a young woman’s
psychological breakdown.39 To help her father avoid financial ruin from an
unfortunate gamble on the stock market, Else must procure a large sum of
money from an old family friend, Herr von Dorsday, who is vacationing at
the same resort she is visiting. Dorsday agrees to provide the money in
exchange for the opportunity to look at Else’s naked body for a few minutes.
Faced with this scandalous request and her repressed sexual impulses, Else
grows increasingly hysterical as she debates her own morals and her family’s
reputation through an exhaustive interior monologue. Finally one evening,
naked beneath her white fur coat, Else enters the hotel’s music room, where a
pianist is playing for the guests, disrobes to reveal herself to Dorsday, and
faints in a delirium. Here, as in Reed’s “Träumerei,” solo piano playing sets
the melodramatic scene in the more intimate circles of the parlor or music-
Approaching this climactic moment in the story, Schnitzler places three
excerpts from the Carnaval score directly into the text, where they serve as a
kind of musical underscoring to Else’s impetuous actions and her fevered mental
soliloquy, her speaking (to herself) through music. The first two excerpts are
from the “Florestan” movement, perhaps the author’s intertextual reference to
Schumann’s own depiction of split personality through his famous pairing of
imaginary characters (Florestan representing the masculine side, Eusebius the
feminine). This gender play informs Else’s thoughts when she hears the pianist
playing “Florestan” in the music room: “She plays beautifully. Why she? Perhaps
it’s a he. Perhaps it’s a woman virtuoso?”41 The third excerpt the reader sees and
“hears” after Else enters the music room is from the movement titled
“Reconnaissance,” which accompanies Dorsday’s recognition of her nakedness
as well as the startled notice of the handsome young filou (swindler) Else lusts
after (Figure 9.3).
At moments of climactic action or emotional crisis in the theatrical melo-
drama, words can fail while the music still plays, and physical gesture takes over
the task of expressive communication. The clearest demonstration of this effect
is the tableau vivant, a static arrangement of characters in various poses, fixed
and frozen in place for the spectator’s gaze—often just before the curtain
falls—to emphasize a scene’s dramatic import. As Brooks explains, these posed
moments depict “emotions and moral states rendered in clear visible
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 171

Figure 9.3. Excerpt from Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Fräulein

Else, in Desire and Delusion, Three Novellas by Arthur
Schnitzler, trans. Margret Schaefer (Chicago: Ivan
R. Dee, 2003), 251. Reproduced with the kind permission
of the publisher.

signs . . . meaning-full though unspeakable. . . . In the silence created by the ‘gap-

ping’ of the traditional language code, mute gesture appears as a new sign mak-
ing visible the absent and ineffable.”42
This sublimation of the spoken word into mute but expressive gesture with
musical underscoring occurs at the tableau-like moment of Else’s disrobing as
the pianist plays “Reconnaissance.” Here Else expresses herself through the
language of physical gesture: “I’m ready. Here I am. I’m perfectly calm. I’m
smiling. Do you understand my look?” As she stands naked, Else’s spectators
also seem to be transfixed in a moment of shock as they read her revealing
172 Popular Influences

pose: “Dorsday is opening his eyes wide. Now he finally believes it. The filou is
standing up. His eyes are gleaming. You understand me, handsome fellow!”43
This scene elucidates Roland Barthes’s notion of the “somathemes,” or “figures
of the body,” that characterize Schumann’s piano music. Else’s pose may be
momentarily still, but it trembles with an inner intensity (“wonderful chills
up and down my body”) conveyed through its musical underscoring. Barthes
asserts, “The Schumannian body . . . sometimes makes a meditative gesture,
but does not assume meditation’s bearing, infinite persistence, and faint pos-
ture of subsidence. This is a pulsional body, one which pushes itself back and
forth, turns to something else—thinks of something else; this is a stunned
body (intoxicated, distracted, and at the same time ardent).”44 Inviting a link
to the theatrical tradition of melodrama, Barthes writes, “Schumann’s music
goes much farther than the ear; it goes into the body, into the muscles by the
beats of its rhythm, and somehow into the viscera by the voluptuous pleasure
of its melos.”45
Turning finally to popular cinema we reach the twentieth-century apotheosis
of melodrama as technique and as aesthetic. Song of Love, the 1947 Hollywood
account of Robert and Clara Schumann’s relationship, is a prime example of a
film melodrama incorporating Schumann’s music along with the intertwined
tropes of romance, struggle, tragedy, and redemption that constitute the stan-
dard melodramatic paradigm. The romantic aspect is prominent in Schumann’s
love affair with the celebrated pianist Clara Wieck; the dramatic conflict arises
from her domineering father’s resistance to their marriage, culminating in an
acrimonious court battle; the sensational element comes with the rumored
attraction between Clara and her husband’s talented protégée, Johannes Brahms;
the tragic story with Schumann’s gradual descent into madness and his climactic
suicide attempt and institutionalization; the sentimental epilogue with the
devotion to his music and his memory that Clara demonstrates for the next
forty years of her life.46
Melodrama as speaking through music also plays an important role in Song
of Love. In one scene the Schumanns’ family physician finds Robert composing
some disquieting music on the piano in his darkened study. “Strange sort of
melody,” the doctor observes. “Perhaps it’s the dissonances, but it’s not at all like
your usual things.” The piece is “Verrufene Stelle” (Cursed or Haunted Place)
from Waldszenen (Op. 82, no. 4), which was published with two stanzas from a
poem by Hebbel as an epigraph in the score (Example 9.4). This piece, like many
of Schumann’s later works, has invited speculation about whether its peculiar-
ities indicate something about the composer’s increasingly unbalanced mental
state at the time of its composition. According to Song of Love’s musical director,
Bronislau Kaper, “It is used [in the film] to divulge the first signs of Schumann’s
mental collapse. Through its oddness, Schumann’s mental disintegration is
brought into dramatic significance.”47
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 173

Example 9.4. Robert Schumann, “Verrufene Stelle” from Waldszenen, Op. 82, no. 4
(1849), mm. 1–11.

The inclusion of poetic verses above the musical score makes this piece an
obvious example of program music. “[Schumann] clearly felt it was important
to couple the baneful mood of the poem to his piece of music, it serving to cre-
ate an effect which the music itself could scarcely attempt on its own,” Eric
Jensen asserts.48 This combination of text and music almost invites a melodra-
matic rendition, which is how the piece is presented in the Song of Love scene.
The doctor simply reads the first stanza aloud:
The flowers here grow stone-tall,
Snow-white as if they were dead;
One single in the midst of all
Alone blooms scarlet red.
Robert then begins to play the piece, accompanying the doctor’s recitation with
music in the manner of a declamation ballade:
The red is not the reddish tan
Of sun, nor morning glow;
Her roots drank from the blood of a man
Which drenched the earth below.
174 Popular Influences

While he continues to play, Robert explains to the doctor why he chose these
verses as his inspiration: “The idea—one flower, drenched in blood, singled
out, standing alone. It’s horrid in a way, but it happens to people too some-
times, you know.” Here the poetic recitation transitions smoothly into the
delivery of the dialogue itself, while the piano music continues playing as
diegetic underscoring.
Song of Love is an unusual film in that all of its soundtrack music is diegetic,
or source music, ostensibly performed or perceived by characters within the
story itself. This fact raises the possibility, with one scene in particular, that the
actors were moving, gesturing, and reciting their lines with deliberately
synchronized timing and inflections over the musical selections prerecorded by
the pianist Artur Rubinstein for the film’s soundtrack. The scene begins with
Robert alone in the music room, playing the “Arabeske,” Op. 18, on the piano. As
the music changes to minor (at m. 16), the scene changes as well: Clara arrives
home to find Bertha, the housekeeper, forlorn at the prospect of Johannes
packing his bags and moving out of the house. For each of Clara’s questions to
Bertha, the music rises accordingly: “Who?” at measures 26–27, “Packing?” at
measures 30–31.
The soundtrack recording then cuts to the slower middle section of the
piece in minor (mm. 144–168, Example 9.5) as Clara hurries to Johannes’s
bedroom upstairs to persuade him to stay. Clara is solicitous and resistant to
his departure, Johannes resigned and evasive about why he’s leaving. In the
musical underscoring here each of the eight-bar phrases corresponds to an
emotional appeal from Clara, while Johannes’s responses tend to be spoken in
the short pauses between phrases; the music’s harmonic changes also seem to
mirror their dialogue:

(mm. 144–52, in A-Minor) “Johannes! What do you think you’re doing?”

Clara asks as he packs his suitcase. “Well, you know how it is, Clara,” he replies,
“I would have to someday.”

(Same phrase repeats) “Of all the idiocy!” she exclaims, taking the shirts back
to the dresser. Johannes tries to explain: “Clara, I can’t impose on you

(mm. 152–60, phrase begins in F-Major and cadences in E-Minor) “Johannes,

please don’t talk like that. You sound foolish!” Clara protests.

(Same phrase repeats) “Now stop that!” she demands, placing her hand on the
pile of folded clothes. Johannes responds helplessly, “Please, Clara—.”

(mm. 160–68, the first minore phrase transposed to E-Minor) Clara tries to
reason with him: “You’ve stayed with us through all the hard times, now things
get better. . . . It’s a silly time for you to leave.”
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 175

At Tempo I (m. 168) Clara’s cajoling continues more gently until Johannes
finally confesses, “I love you, Clara,” at the conclusion of this section (mm. 200–
208): “I’ve loved you, I suppose, from the first day I came here, from the first
moment when you walked into the room, and I was playing, and Robert was
listening.” With the slower coda (mm. 209–23, played through twice on the
soundtrack recording) Johannes reveals his true feelings and Clara sadly realizes
that he cannot stay: “We’ll miss you, Johannes. We’ll miss you terribly.”

Example 9.5. Robert Schumann, “Arabeske,” Op. 18 (1839), mm. 144–72.

These relatively precise correspondences between speaking and music qualify

this scene as another instance of the melodramatic technique, and the sentimental
dialogue makes it an example of the melodramatic aesthetic as well. Because the
structure of this entire scene precisely matches the form of the musical
composition as edited for the film, it can even be read as a projection of Robert’s
own imagination as he plays the “Arabeske” alone in his study. As another
example of speaking (to himself) through music, the dialogue between Clara
and Johannes may be all in his head, in the manner of a fantasy or flashback
scene, or as inner voices that speak to him privately through the music itself.
“Schumann is truly the musician of solitary intimacy, of the amorous and
imprisoned soul that speaks to itself, ” as Barthes puts it.49
Melodramatic is an appropriate term for these various literary and cinematic
applications because it suggests both the intensity of emotional feeling as well as
176 Popular Influences

the means of creating it, the synthesis of melos and expressive dramatic action.
The ability of Schumann’s music to communicate on a deep level of personal
feeling reflects these intricate connections between language and music, the
voice of the body or instrument, and the power of the declamatory effect.
Through such long-established techniques for moving and being moved by
musical language, Schumann’s “speaking” moments continue to exercise their
mysterious appeal.

Special thanks to Jacqueline Waeber and Dana Gooley for their very helpful com-
ments on this essay. An early version was read at the conference Music and the
Melodramatic Aesthetic held at the University of Nottingham in September 2008.
1. R. Schumann, letters to Carl Debrois van Bruyck, December 17, 1852, and
May 8, 1853, in Briefe: Neue Folge (1904), 363, 372:
Noch habe ich zu einer andern Dichtung von Hebbel Musik geschrieben, zur
Ballade “Schön Hedwig,” aber nicht durchcomponirt, sondern als Declamation
mit Begleitung des Pianoforte. Es macht in dieser Weise eine ganz eigenthümliche
Es ist eine Art der Composition, wie wohl noch nicht existirt, und so sind wir
immer vor Allen den Dichtern zu Dank verbunden, die, neue Wege der Kunst zu
versuchen, uns so oft anregen.

See also letter to Friedrich Kistner, December 17, 1852, 478. Already in 1845
Schumann had written in his diary, “Idee: Gedichte zu Deklamation und Pianoforte”
(Idea: poems for declamation with piano). R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 3:384.
2. R. Schumann, letter to Franz Liszt, November 5, 1851, in Briefe: Neue Folge,
350: “Das Ganze müsste man dem Publikum nicht als Oper oder Singspiel oder
Melodram, sondern als ‘dramatisches Gedicht mit Musik’ ankündigen. Es wäre etwas
ganz Neues und Unerhörtes.” John Daverio mentions “Schumann’s development of
a number of arguably ‘new’ genres” around this time (Daverio, Robert Schumann,
389–91). Laura Tunbridge notes, “the declamation ballades were not entirely without
precedent, . . . falling somewhere between the orchestral melodramatic music to
Byron’s Manfred, the declamatory style of some of the late Lieder, the unaccompa-
nied choruses published as Romanzen und Balladen (Opp. 67, 75, 145 and 146) and
the four choral ballades” (Schumann’s Late Style, 54).
3. For a comprehensive study of the history and theory of music and melodrama,
see Waeber, En musique dans le texte. Waeber discusses Schumann’s declamation bal-
lades and the “concert melodramas” by Liszt and others (247–98). See also Strehk,
“Eine ‘Art von Composition,’ ” and Jensen, Schumann, 299.
4. Schubert’s “Abschied von der Erde” (Farewell to the earth, D. 829) is more like
a spoken version of a conventional strophic Lied, and can easily stand alone as a
piano solo without the recitation. This short melodrama dates from 1826 but was
not published until 1873, almost two decades after Schumann’s death. Waeber, En
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 177

musique dans le texte, also discusses works by Zumsteeg and Weber as early models
for the declamation ballade.
5. There are two sets of recordings currently available: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
with pianist Christoph Eschenbach, Robert Schumann: Lieder, vol. 6 (Deutsche
Grammophon, 1975–79, CD reissue 1995), and Christoph Bantzer with pianist
Graham Johnson, The Songs of Robert Schumann, vol. 10 (Hyperion, 2007).
6. Cooper, “The Songs,” 112.
7. Fischer-Dieskau, Robert Schumann, 169.
8. Hanslick, Sämtliche Schriften (1995), 203: “Obwohl grundsätzlich gegen dies
melodramatische Genre eingenommen, in welchem sich die Musik vom gesprochenen
Worte spröde sondert, wie Oel vom Wasser, und eine Kunst die andere beeinträchtigt,
anstatt sie zu mehren,—konnten wir uns doch diesmal eines verhältnissmäßig sehr
reinen Eindrucks erfreuen.”
9. Wagner, Oper und Drama, 111–12: “Zu einem auf der Bühne dargestellten
Literaturdrama würde sich eine Musik allerdings fast ebenso verhalten, als ob sie zu
einem aufgestellten Gemälde vorgetragen würde, und mit Recht ist daher das soge-
nannte Melodrama als ein Genre von unerquicklichster Gemischtheit verworfen
worden.” Two decades earlier, in 1831, Wagner himself had composed a melodra-
matic setting of Gretchen’s prayer “Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche” (one of his
“Seven Compositions for Goethe’s Faust,” Op. 5). For a nuanced interpretation of
this famous quote and Wagner’s attitudes toward declamation as distinct from melo-
drama, see Waeber, En musique dans le texte, 405–10.
10. Goethe, “Proserpina: Melodram von Goethe, Musik von Eberwein,” in
Ästhetische Schriften, 19:711: “Nunmehr aber ist es Zeit, der Musik zu gedenken,
welche hier ganz eigentlich als der See anzusehen ist, worauf jener künstlerisch aus-
geschmückte Nachen getragen wird, als die günstige Luft, welche die Segel gelind,
aber genugsam erfüllt, und der steuernden Schifferin bei allen Bewegungen, nach
jeder Richtung, willig gehorcht.”
11. Schopenhauer, The World, 1:264.
12. Goethe, “Proserpina,” 715: “Auch darf man wohl zuletzt noch die Mäßigkeit
des Komponisten rühmen, welcher sich nicht selbst zu hören, sondern mit keuscher
Sparsamkeit die Vorstellung zu fördern und zu tragen suchte.”
13. R. Schumann, letter to Kistner, December 17, 1852, in Briefe: Neue Folge, 478:
“Es ist etwas, wie noch nicht existirt und von sehr eigenthümlicher Wirkung, wie sich
das in geselligen Kreisen kundgab, wo wir die Ballade manchmal aufführten.” On the
significance of private performance venues as opposed to public concerts for both
Robert and Clara Schumann’s musical careers, see Ferris, “Public Performance,” 351–
408. In an 1836 review Schumann differentiates between salons (“where now and then
the head of a famous artist disappears behind aristocratic shoulders”) and conversa-
tion-heavy “tea parties,” on the one hand, and private performances for “the most
cultured circles, who give the artist the attention he deserves,” on the other. R.
Schumann, Gesammelte Schriften (1888), 1:203. Ferris cites other contemporary
reviews that appreciate the value of musical performances in these “small,” “private,”
and “intimate” social circles (374). See also Fellinger, “Die Begriffe Salon,” 132–33.
14. Zelm, “Zur Entwicklung des Konzertmelodrams.”
178 Popular Influences

15. Pygmalion, Rousseau’s scène lyrique, first performed in 1770 with music
composed by Horace Coignet, is generally considered the earliest example of this
technique in a theatrical work. This combination of dramatic declamation and
music was widely imitated and developed in subsequent decades, most notably by
the Czech composer Georg Benda.
16. For an overview and specific examples of the relationship of music, dia-
logue, and drama in nineteenth-century theater, see Pisani, “Music for the
Theatre.” Pisani explains, “In the early decades of the nineteenth century, music
served a prominent role in the production of nearly every dramatic genre,
whether for tragedy, comedy, burlesque, English opera, ballet, melodrama, pan-
tomime, hippodrama, or spectacle” (72). For an extensive collection of standard
melos from the second half of the nineteenth century, see Mayer and Scott, Four
Bars of ‘Agit.’
17. O’Neill, “Music to Stage Plays,” 88.
18. On the evolution of musical underscoring from nineteenth-century opera
and theater into twentieth-century cinema, see Neumeyer, “Melodrama.” Neumeyer
Synchronized scores for silent films were more often than not a mishmash of quo-
tations from nineteenth-century concert or keyboard repertoire, popular or
commercial musics of varying styles, original motivic or developmental treat-
ments, and melodramatic transition or characterization cues that had acquired
the force of topical categories (such as “hurry,” “misterioso,” or “dramatic mae-
stoso”). (64)

Largely through the influence of Max Steiner and other European émigré composers
in Hollywood, the techniques of melodrama evolved to become “a ubiquitous prac-
tice in American film music” (66). Similarly Anne Dhu Shapiro asserts, “The
functions of music in melodrama were transferred very directly into music for the
early silent film. . . . It may well be that the published cue sheets for early silent film
hold some of the best evidence for what sort of music was used for late nineteenth-
century melodrama, especially for those which were made into silent films.” Shapiro,
“Action Music,” 66.
19. Editor’s note in The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, 326 n. 2.
20. Mayer, “Parlour and Platform Melodrama,” 218–19, 224–25.
21. Paulin, “Richard Wagner and the Fantasy of Cinematic Unity,” 58–59.
22. L. Williams, “Melodrama Revised,” 42, 49, 69.
23. Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination, 25, 28, 29.
24. For a further analysis of this piece and its synchronization of music and rec-
itation, see Andraschke, “Annäherungen an Schumanns ‘Schön Hedwig,’” 65–72. See
also Strehk, “Eine ‘Art von Composition.’” 172–83.
25. Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination, 25.
26. Ibid., 29, 31.
27. For example, “Hurry Music (for mob or fire scenes)” by John Stepan
Zamecnik, in Sam Fox Moving Picture Music (Cleveland: Sam Fox Publishing, 1913),
Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife 179

28. The dramatic mood of “Haideknaben” resembles Goethe’s “Der Erlkönig,”

which became one of Schubert’s most famous songs. While Schubert does not resort
to a melodramatic setting here as Schumann does with Hebbel’s poem, a “speaking
through music” quality is evident in the conversational interplay of the four charac-
ters (narrator, child, father, and Erlking), and the song concludes with a dramatic
declamatory gesture: “In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.”
29. G. Johnson, CD liner notes to The Song of Robert Schumann, 40. Schumann
dedicated his Op. 122 melodramas to Carl Debrois van Bruyck, a Viennese com-
poser who had previously sent Schumann his own setting of the “Haideknaben”
ballade for singing voice, oboe, and piano. “To some extent you’re to blame for my
setting of ‘Haidenknaben,’” Schumann wrote to van Bruyck, “since without your
setting, the poem’s suitability for music might have passed me by.” (“Sie haben
gewissermaßen auch Schuld an der Composition des ‘Haideknaben,’ denn ohne die
Ihrige wäre sie mir vielleicht als musikalisch behandlungsfähig entgangen.”) Letter
to van Bruyck, November 18, 1853, in Briefe: Neue Folge, 383. Johnson suggests,
“This is as back-handed a compliment as one might hope never to receive. What
Schumann means here is that the younger composer’s song had shown him how
impossible the poem was to set conventionally, and as a result he had reverted to that
‘idea,’ first mooted in his diary eight years earlier, that he should make a melodrama
out of the poem” (37).
30. “Diese Composition kann auch ohne Declamation als selbständiges
Clavierstück ausgeführt werden.” See Ozawa-Müller, “Aufführungspraktische
Notate,” 99, 103.
31. In Schumann’s music “the speech and song modes of enunciation play a
central role,” Kofi Agawu asserts. “In speech mode, the instrument speaks, as if in
recitative. . . . Song mode departs from the ‘telling’ characteristic of speech. The
impulse to inform or deliver a conceptually recoverable message is overtaken by an
impulse to affect, to elicit a smile brought on by a beautiful turn of phrase” (Music
as Discourse, 101, 99).
32. Roland Barthes, “Rasch,” in The Responsibility of Forms, 299–300.
33. Dunsby, “Why Sing?,” 119. Similarly, Beate Perrey notes:
The “voice of the piano” becomes an analytical issue closely bound up with this
idea of the singing voice. This also raises the question of meaning with respect to
the “piano’s voice” in the wordless preludes, interludes and postludes. In
Dichterliebe certainly, the piano does not merely form a supportive accompani-
ment to the voice, but rather keeps disrupting and contradicting it, remains silent
or speaks to itself once the singing voice has ceased. (Schumann’s Dichterliebe, 6)

34. Patterson, Schumann, 188.

35. Derleth, “The House of Moonlight,” 217–18. “Vogel als Prophet” is from
Schumann’s Waldszenen (Op. 82, no. 7).
36. Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination, 14.
37. Reed, “Träumerei,” 167–72.
38. Linda Williams draws an analogy between melodramatic structures and
harmonic progressions in terms of the tension and release of tonality in large musical
180 Popular Influences

forms: “Primed by the beginning tonic of the original theme—the register of the
original space of innocence—the narrative wants to return to this point of origin
and teases us throughout all subsequent development with the haunting threat of its
loss” (“Melodrama Revised,” 73).
39. These musical quotations did not appear in the original publication of the
novella (in the October 1924 edition of Die Neue Rundschau) but rather in the book
edition subsequently published by Paul Zsolnay; some later editions reproduce them
in different places in the text. Leventhal, Echoes in the Text, 86.
40. Leventhal notes “the significant contrast between public and private realms
of music-making in Schnitzler’s own life in music as well as in two of his most
admired novellas,” where performances of Schumann’s music take place in more
intimate social settings than the public stage or concert hall (ibid., 106).
41. Schnitzler, Fräulein Else, 249–50.
42. Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination, 62, 73, 79.
43. Schnitzler, Fräulein Else, 251.
44. Barthes, “Rasch,” 300, 307.
45. Barthes, “Loving Schumann,” in The Responsibility of Forms, 295.
46. In just its first eighteen minutes Song of Love presents a common narrative
arc of the mélodrame as theorized by Brooks, with a “recognition of error by those
set in the position of judges” that enables a “confirmation and restoration” of virtue,
in this case through the court decision permitting Robert and Clara’s marriage
(Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination, 31, 32). See also Tibbetts, Composers, 45–56.
Similar narrative threads of romance and mental illness run through two German
feature films on Schumann’s life, Träumerei (1944) and Frühlingssinfonie (Spring
symphony, 1982).
47. Cited in Tibbetts, Composers, 54.
48. Jensen, “A New Manuscript,” 84.
49. Barthes, “Loving Schumann,” 293.
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Meter and Expression in Robert

Schumann’s Op. 90

Harald Krebs

It has long been recognized that metrical conflict, or metrical dissonance, is a

central component of Robert Schumann’s musical style.1 By metrical dissonance I
mean conflict against the primary meter as it is represented by the bar lines and
the time signature. Such conflict takes two basic forms: displacement dissonance,
which involves the association of congruent but nonaligned durational layers
(Examples 10.1a–b), and grouping dissonance, which arises from the association
of different groupings of pulses, that is, the association of incongruent layers.
Grouping dissonance is illustrated in Example 10.2a, where a duple layer is super-
imposed on the metrical 3-layer. The grouping dissonance continues in the later
measures of the same song that are shown in Example 10.2b, but those measures

Example 10.1a. Displacement dissonance in Dichterliebe, no. 10.

Example 10.1b. Displacement dissonance in Dichterliebe, no. 11.

4 4
2 2 2


2 2 2 2
4 4 4 4

Example 10.2. Grouping and displacement dissonance in “Es leuchtet meine Liebe,”
Op. 127, no. 3 (1840).

(a) Phantastisch, markirt. mf

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

(3 3 3 3) 3 3 3 3

leuch - tet mei - ne Lie - be in

2 2 2 2 2 2

3 3 3 3

(b) 15
3 (3) 3 3 3 3 (3 3)

Da kommt der Rie - se der Wild - nis, die

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2


2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

3 (3) 3 3 3 (3 3 3)

ban - ge Jung - frau flieht.

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

sf sf

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 (2)
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 185

also contains displacement dissonance; nonaligned duple layers result from two
equally valid parsings of the eighth notes in the piano part.
Such metrical dissonances are more prevalent in Schumann’s oeuvre as a
whole than in that of any other early nineteenth-century composer. Their fre-
quency, however, plunges precipitously in Schumann’s music beginning in 1850.
Metrical dissonance still plays a major role in his compositions in the late 1840s
and in a few works of 1850; in the Piano Trios in D-Minor and F-Major (1847),
in the Manfred Overture (1848), and in the Third Symphony (1850), for in-
stance, one still finds extended passages of obvious metrical dissonance. In the
music after 1850, however, metrical dissonance virtually disappears; the met-
rical dissonances that do occur in the late music are generally short in duration
and more subtle than in earlier instances.
Metrical dissonance is undeniably a powerful expressive feature of Schumann’s
music before 1850. The frequent, extensive, and violent conflicts against the
notated meter and the subsequent resolutions of these conflicts infuse this music
with obvious curves of tension and relaxation that no performer and no listener
can miss. By abandoning metrical dissonance, then, Schumann deprived his
music of a highly effective expressive device. His music did not, however, become
less expressive after 1850, nor did he lose interest in his last years in the explora-
tion of expressive meter that had occupied him so intensely in his earlier music.
Rather Schumann changed his focus from one level of meter to another; he
turned to deep-level meter—meter beyond the level designated by the bar lines,
or hypermeter—as a source of expressive impact.
Numerous music theorists, including Edward Cone, Carl Schachter, Jonathan
Kramer, and William Rothstein, have written about hypermeter—meter at a
level higher than the bar.2 The theory of hypermeter is based on the observation
that bars in tonal music are often grouped into approximately equivalent
higher-level units, within which the bars function in a manner analogous to
beats within a single bar. To use the technical terminology coined by Cone and
further developed by Kramer, Schachter, and Rothstein, the bars are hyperbeats
within larger hypermeasures.3 The most common hypermetric grouping is that
of four bars, subdividing into two-bar segments; the odd-numbered bars are
accented, as would be the first and third beats of a bar of quadruple meter.4
Hypermeter is in general less obvious than surface-level meter, for there are no
notational signs that lay out the hypermetric structure for us. Several factors, how-
ever, prevent us from groping in the dark as we analyze hypermeter. The existence
of a four-bar norm is helpful; one can begin by searching for four-bar units,
although one should always be prepared to accept deviations from this norm (for
example, regular hypermeter in three- or five-bar units, or irregularities within a
basic four-bar hypermeter). Furthermore certain musical features provide clues for
hypermetric analysis. Parallelisms between musical passages constitute one such
feature; once one has assigned hypermetric beats to a particular passage, subsequent
corresponding passages should logically be analyzed in the same manner. Harmony
186 Analytical Approaches

is another important consideration. Hyperdownbeats, like surface-level down-

beats, are usually associated with harmonic change—often, indeed, with significant
harmonic resolutions and arrivals. It is unlikely that a bar with a downbeat function
would continue a harmony established during the preceding bar.
Normal four-bar hypermeter is not in itself expressive but merely functions as a
backdrop for other, more expressive aspects of music. Deviations from a hyper-
metric norm established within a given work, however, can generate profoundly
expressive effects. Richard Cohn has studied the dramatic use of hypermetric fluc-
tuations in the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.5 Most investi-
gations of expressive hypermeter, however, have focused on Lieder. One reason for
this focus probably lies in the fact that the expressive meaning of any musical fea-
ture, including hypermetric irregularity, can be recognized and described more
easily in the presence of a poetic text than in purely instrumental music. Another
possible reason that expressive hypermetric irregularity in Lieder has been dealt
with relatively frequently has to do with poetic structure. The poetic texts of most
nineteenth-century Lieder are regular in rhythm and line length and accordingly
suggest a regular hypermetric structure. Composers often match the poetic regu-
larity with unbroken four-bar hypermeter; it is common in Lieder for two poetic
lines to correspond to a four-bar hypermeasure. When composers set rhythmically
regular poetry to hypermetrically irregular music, however, the effect is striking
indeed; the irregularity becomes particularly prominent against the foil of the reg-
ular poetic rhythm. The relative salience of hypermetric irregularity in Lieder may
be another reason authors have gravitated toward this genre in their discussions of
expressive hypermeter. Among the relevant earlier writings are articles by Carl
Schachter, William Rothstein, and Frank Samarotto addressing songs of Schubert
and Beethoven; Ulrich Mahlert’s analysis of Schumann’s Kulmann songs, Op. 104
(he does not use hypermetric terminology but draws attention to a few deviations
from expected four-bar groupings); and my own investigations of the songs of
Josephine Lang.6 The present essay, too, focuses on expressive hypermeter in song.
Hypermeter was not an expressive element in Schumann’s early songs. As early as
1835 Schumann had evinced a theoretical interest in hypermetric irregularity; in his
review of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, he praised the flexible association
of even- and odd-numbered proportions of measures (i.e., juxtaposition of hyper-
measures of four bars and of odd numbers of bars).7 In his own compositions of the
1830s and 1840s, however, for all of their violent assaults on the bar line, he rarely
deviated from four-bar hypermeter. Examples 10.1b and 10.2b illustrate the encase-
ment of strong metrical dissonance within four-bar hypermeasures that is typical of
Schumann’s music before 1850. It was only in his last years that he began to
experiment with and to employ for expressive purposes the kind of higher-level
metrical flexibility that he had noticed many years earlier in his French contempo-
rary, while at the same time virtually abandoning metrical dissonance.
It is beyond the scope of this essay to demonstrate in detail this change in
Schumann’s metrical practice. My intention is to investigate a set of late songs
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 187

that illustrates Schumann’s transition from one type of expressive meter to

another, namely the cycle Sechs Gedichte von N. Lenau und Requiem, Op. 90.
Schumann composed this cycle in August 1850, just prior to his move from
Dresden to Düsseldorf, in homage to the poet Nikolaus Lenau. Schumann was
under the impression that the poet had just died (he actually lived two weeks
longer).8 John Daverio refers to the cycle as “in many ways represent[ing] the
crown jewel of Schumann’s second year of song [i.e., 1850].”9 It is indeed a won-
derful work. Each of the seven songs is strikingly beautiful, and the cycle as a
whole is supremely moving. It begins with a suitably cheerful setting in E-flat
Major of one of Lenau’s cheeriest poems, then moves through the pensive mood
of the second through the fifth songs to the deep melancholy of the sixth. After
the latter song’s closing reference to death, the seventh song, “Requiem,” opens
out into heavenly regions. It is a setting of “an old Catholic poem,”10 referring to
the final homecoming of the weary spirit. Schumann asks the pianist to play
with a harp-like tone and writes an arpeggiated piano part that evokes that
instrument. After the bleak E-flat Minor of the sixth song, the return in the final
song to the E-flat Major of the cycle’s beginning beautifully expresses a sense of
homecoming after an arduous journey through life.
There is much to say about the tonal structure and the musical and poetic
cohesion of the cycle,11 but I turn now to the metrical aspects of the work. It is
striking that the first two songs of the cycle are dominated by the types of met-
rical conflict that Schumann had favored in his earlier years; these songs use
metrical dissonance to a greater extent than any others from 1850. It appears
that Schumann consciously placed at the opening of his cycle two songs that
looked back at the metrical devices that had been so significant in his earlier
music. In the first song, “Lied eines Schmiedes” (Example 10.3), displacement
dissonance prevails. The pianist’s hands delineate consistently nonaligned half-
note layers, separated by a quarter-note beat (as shown by the 2s in the piano
staff at the beginning of the example). During the brief piano introduction the
listener would be hard put to determine which of the two hands is on the beat;
most listeners would likely guess that the left-hand layer is metrically aligned.
Once the vocal line enters, the poetic accents quickly make clear that the right-
hand half-note layer is metrically aligned and the left-hand layer displaced. This
metrical state continues throughout the song. Consistent displacement often
functions as an expression of tension and conflict in Schumann’s music, but
here, as Jon Finson has pointed out, the combination of nonaligned half-note
layers is simply onomatopoeic, suggesting either the sound of the blacksmith’s
hammer or the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves.12
Just as the first song of the cycle is dominated by displacement dissonance,
the second song, “Meine Rose” (Example 10.4a), is preoccupied with grouping
dissonance. In “Meine Rose” the eighth-note pulse is grouped into threes as
well as into twos, resulting in the consistent assailing of the notated six-eight
meter by a rival three-four meter. As in the first song, the piano introduction
Example 10.3. Displacement dissonance and hypermetric structure in “Lied eines
Schmiedes,” Op. 90, no. 1.

4 1 2 3
Ziemlich langsam, sehr markiert

1.Fein Röß- lein ich be - schla - ge dich, sei frisch und

2.Trag dei - nen Herrnstets treu dem Stern, der sei - ner

2 2 2 2 2 etc.

2 2 2 2 2 etc.
4 1 2 3 4

fromm, und wie - der komm, und wie - der komm!

Bahn hell glänzt vor - an, hell glänzt vor - an.

Example 10.4a. Grouping dissonance in “Meine Rose,” Op. 90, no. 2.

Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck

Dem hol - den Lenz - ge -schmei - de

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

Mit Pedal
(3 3 3 3 3) 3 3 3

der Ro- se, mei-ner Freu - de, die schon ge -beugt und blas - ser vom
2 2 2 2 (2) 2 2 2

3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 189

Example 10.4a. Continued


hei - ßenStrahl der Son - nen, Reichich den Be - cher

2 2 2 2 2

3 3 3 3 3 3


Was - ser aus dunk - lem, tie - fen Bron - nen.

2 2 2 2 2


3 3 3 3 (3 3

15 p

Du Ro - se m ei - nes H er - zens!
2 2 2 2 2

3 3 3) 3 3 3

is metrically deceptive. The right hand’s attacks clearly organize the eighth-
note pulse into twos, and the three-eighth-note layer that one expects in six-
eight time is not clarified until the vocal line enters in measure 3. Schumann’s
placement of stressed syllables on the fourth and first eighth notes of the six-
eight bars finally renders the three-eighth-note layer perceptible.13
The piano intermittently articulates the antimetrical duple layer during the
vocal portion of the first strophe (mm. 3–14), so that grouping dissonance con-
tinues; in measures 3, 6–9, 10–11, and 12 the duple layer is created by a combination
of vocal attacks and durational accents in the piano part. The remainder of the
vocal portion consists of two restatements of the same music—in the key of flat VI
(mm. 14–27), then again in the tonic (mm. 37–50), with a retransitional passage
in measures 27–36 to lead from flat VI through V back to the tonic; the metrical
state therefore remains constant in most of the song.14
190 Analytical Approaches

The consistent metrical dissonance of this song, like that in the first song,
has a text-expressive motivation. In the first strophe, the lyric I describes how
a rose, faded by the hot sun, can be revived with water. In the second strophe,
the lyric I expresses the wish that he could pour out his soul to the suffering
beloved, and that this outpouring could bring about the same joyful resur-
rection as the watering of the rose.15 There is no indication that the lyric I
actually does pour out his soul, let alone that the beloved reawakens to joyful
ardor; it is only a wish. Schumann’s virtually unremitting use of grouping
dissonance suggests that he interpreted the poem as implying an unresolved
tension between the two individuals. It is significant that the only prominent
resolution of grouping dissonance coincides with the poet’s most vivid
expression of the wish for reconciliation: during the aforementioned retran-
sitional passage in measures 32–34 (Example 10.4b). Here the desired resur-
rection of love seems within touching distance, but the resumption of
continuous grouping dissonance at the return of the opening suggests the
quashing of this short-lived hope.
The first two songs, both rich in metrical dissonance (albeit of different
types), differ significantly in hypermetrical structure. “Lied eines Schmiedes” is
reminiscent of the music of Schumann’s earlier period not only in its incessant

Example 10.4b. The retransitional measures of “Meine Rose.”


Könnt' ich dann auch nicht se - hen dich

1 2 3 4

2 2 2 2 2 2

3 3 3 3/ 3 3/ 3 3


freu - dig auf - er - ste - hen!

1 2 3 4

2 2 cresc.

3 3/ 3 3/ 3 3 3 3
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 191

use of metrical dissonance but also in its adherence to four-bar hypermeter. The
only disruptions occur at the ends of strophes; as the numbers above the vocal
staff in Example 10.3 reveal, the final bar of each strophe is a fourth hyperbeat,
and the first bar of the following strophe has the same hypermetric function
(the first vocal downbeat is definitely a hyperdownbeat). Such disruptions bet-
ween strophes are common in strophic songs; the ends and beginnings of suc-
cessive strophes rarely mesh into a continuous hypermeter. Schumann’s use of
hypermeter in this song, then, is not in any way distinctive or expressive. In
“Meine Rose,” on the other hand, Schumann adds a more substantial hyper-
metric disruption to the pervasive grouping dissonance (see Example 10.4c).

Example 10.4c. Hypermetric analysis of “Meine Rose.”

Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck 4 1

Dem hol - den Lenz - ge - schmei - de

p 1 2 3 4

Mit Pedal

5 2 3 4 1

der Ro- se, mei-ner Freu - de, die schon ge - beugt und blas - ser vom

1 2 3 4

2 3 4

hei - ßen Strahl der Son - nen, Reichich den Be - cher

1 2 3------------------
192 Analytical Approaches

Example 10.4c. Continued

1 2 3---------------------

Was - ser aus dunk - lem, tie - fen Bron - nen.

(3)------------------------------------------------------------4 1

(3)------------------------------------------------------4 1

Du Ro - se, mei - nes Her - zens!

2 3 4

The introduction of this song is not a mere vamp, as is that of “Lied eines
Schmiedes”; such a vamp, once the vocal line enters with a clear downbeat, can
be swept under the rug as a hypermetric upbeat gesture. But in the introduction
of “Meine Rose” the piano presents a melodic line that establishes an unambig-
uous four-bar hypermeter. If this were a piano solo we would have no trouble
hearing the hypermeter as shown between the piano staves in Example 10.4c. A
sign of the validity of this hypermetric interpretation of the piano part is the
association of the hyperdownbeats with important harmonies—for example,
the return of the tonic in measure 5 and the expressive dominant ninth chord in
measure 9.
It might be possible to interpret the vocal line as simply riding the piano’s
hypermetric wave and joining into its four-bar hypermeter. But Example 10.4c
shows an alternative interpretation of the vocal hypermeter: if the vocal line
were detached from the piano part, we would likely interpret its hypermeter as
shown by the numbers above the vocal staves. This analysis is determined to a
large extent by the main stresses of the poetry (“Dem holden LENZgeschmeide, /
der Rose, meiner FREUde, / die schon gebeugt und BLASser / vom heissen Strahl
der SONnen”); in my vocal analysis strong hyperbeats (1s and 3s) are coordi-
nated with these stresses.
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 193

It is noteworthy that the two analyses are contradictory; the vocal hyperbeats
never correspond to those of the piano. Most bars are in fact strong beats in one
instrument and weak beats in the other. This hypermetric misalignment bet-
ween voice and piano, which continues through most of the song, has an expres-
sive function: like the pervasive grouping dissonance it evokes the idea of tension
between two individuals. Significantly Schumann resolves the misalignment at
the point where the lyric I imagines the resurrection of wilted love; this passage
consists of two undisturbed four-bar hypermeasures (see the numbers in bold-
face in Example 10.4b).
In “Meine Rose,” in short, Schumann is not merely recalling his earlier met-
rical practices, but is, for expressive reasons, using in conjunction with them the
kind of higher-level metrical conflict that was to characterize his late style. In
subsequent songs of the cycle—those, that is, in which expressive meter is an
issue at all16—hypermetric conflict is more prevalent as an expressive device
than is metrical dissonance; metrical dissonance never again assumes the
prominent role that it plays in the first two songs.
The third song illustrates this preponderance of hypermetric irregularity
(Example 10.5). Metrical dissonance in this song is restricted to a few hemiolas
(see mm. 5 and 12) and a few dynamic accents on relatively weak beats in the
piano part (see mm. 4, 11, 13, and 28). A large part of the song, however, is char-
acterized by hypermetric irregularity. In the first half there are numerous hyper-
metric irregularities within the individual parts; neither the vocal line nor the
piano part parses into regular four-bar hypermeasures. There is no difficulty
locating the first hyperdownbeat in the piano part; the initial eighth-note figure
sounds like an anacrusis, causing measure 2 in turn to emerge as a downbeat.
The second hyperdownbeat in the piano part, however, is already more difficult
to find. Because measures 4–5 correspond to measures 1–2, the desire to label
similar bars in a similar manner would impel one to assign upbeat function to
measure 4 and downbeat function to measure 5. Measure 6, however, gives a
strong impression of downbeat function as well, since it contains the piano
part’s first resolution to tonic harmony. One could consider measures 5 and 6 to
be successive downbeats,17 or one could demote measure 5 from downbeat to
upbeat status, allowing measures 2–5 to coalesce into a four-bar hypermeasure.
I have adopted the latter strategy in Example 10.5, as shown by the numbers
within the piano staff.18 If we accept measure 6 as a hyperdownbeat, measures
6–9 fall into place as another four-bar hypermeasure; notice that the
corresponding passages measures 1–2 and 9–10 then fulfill the same hyper-
metric functions.
The attempt to maintain four-bar hypermeasures in the piano part encoun-
ters an obstacle at measures 13–14. Measure 14 should be a hyperdownbeat but
does not sound like one because it continues the harmony of measure 13; because
measure 13 introduces a new harmony it sounds more like a downbeat than does
measure 14. If we accept measure 13 as a hyperdownbeat, we have two three-bar
Example 10.5. Hypermetric analysis of “Kommen und Scheiden,” Op. 90, no. 3.

Mit inniger Empfindung 4 1

So oft sie kam, er -

p 4 1 2 cresc. 3 fp

Mit Pedal
2 3 1

schien mir die Ge - stalt so lieb - lich wie das

4 1 2

2 3 4 1

er - ste Grün im Wald . Und was sie sprach,

3 4 1 cresc.2 fp

2 3 4

drang mir zum Her - zen ein, süß wie des

3 4 ------------------------------------------------------


Früh - lings er - stes Lied. Und als Leb - wohl sie

5 1 1 2

Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 195

Example 10.5. Continued


wink - te mit der Hand, war's, ob der letz - te

3 4 1 2

23 zurückhaltend

Ju - gend - traum mir schwand.

3 4 im Tempo 1 2



[1 2] 3 4 1


hypermeasures in measures 10–12 and 13–15 (m. 16 is definitely a downbeat bar,

given the strong harmonic resolution at that point). An alternative analysis (this
is the analysis shown in the piano part of Example 10.5) would regard measures
10–15 as a single expanded hypermeasure. Either way there is no logical manner
of dividing measures 10–15 into four-bar units. Note that measures 10–15 con-
stitute a modified second strophe (compare the first strophe, mm. 2–9).
Schumann has compressed the two four-bar hypermeasures of measures 2–9
into two three-bar hypermeasures, or into a single six-bar hypermeasure.19
We return to the opening of the song to consider the completely different
hypermetric implications of the vocal line (see the numbers above that line in
Example 10.5). The opening vocal measure sounds like an anacrusis, and measure
4 like a downbeat (not only because it follows after an anacrusis, but also because
it suggests resolution of the dominant harmony of m. 3 to the tonic). Measure 7
appears to be the second vocal downbeat; among the factors that support this
196 Analytical Approaches

analysis are the strong poetic accent on “LIEB-lich,” the new E-flat Minor har-
mony (new to the voice part, that is), and the attainment of a high point (the
initial note of m. 7 is the highest vocal pitch thus far). If measure 7 is a downbeat,
measures 4–6 form a three-bar hypermeasure. The vocal hypermeasure beginning
in measure 7 is longer; measure 11, corresponding to measure 4, is the next vocal
hyperdownbeat and delimits the four-bar hypermeasure, measures 7–10.
The location of the next vocal hyperdownbeat is ambiguous. Measure 15 is a
candidate because of the strong statement of dominant harmony (within the
prevailing dominant key). Measure 16, however, with its resolution to the tonic
of that key, appears to supersede the downbeat function of measure 15, so that
measures 11–15 become a five-bar hypermeasure. Measure 17, with its strong
durational accent following an obvious anacrusis, appears to be another down-
beat, resulting in successive downbeats.
I do not claim that this rather convoluted hypermetric analysis of the first
half of the song is the only possible one, but I do assert with some confidence
that no analysis of measures 1–16 could result in regular four-bar hypermea-
sures, or in consistent hypermetric alignment of the two instruments. The anal-
ysis of measures 1–16 proposed in Example 10.5 manifestly does not feature
hypermetric coordination of voice and piano. Most of the measures that I have
designated as vocal downbeat bars, or as candidates for this status, do not coin-
cide with the piano downbeats mentioned earlier. The initial vocal hyperdown-
beat (m. 4), for example, is two bars removed from the piano’s first downbeat
(m. 2). The second vocal downbeat bar (m. 7) acts as a second hyperbeat in the
piano part. Measure 11 similarly gives the impression of being a downbeat in the
voice but a second hyperbeat in the piano.
Both the hypermetric irregularity and the nonalignment of the two instru-
ments are resolved in measures 15–17. At measure 15 there a feeling of hyper-
metric amalgamation of the two instruments; I have indicated this merging in
Example 10.5 by showing only a single layer of hypermetric numbers between
the vocal and right-hand piano staves beginning at measure 15. Furthermore,
after the successive downbeats of measures 16 and 17, the music parses for a
time into regular four-bar hypermeasures; measures 17–20 and 21–24 are con-
vincing four-bar hypermeasures in both voice and piano. Thus the hypermetric
irregularity of the opening is resolved into perfect regularity at measure 17.
In the postlude irregularity returns. Measure 25 is an acceptable hyperdown-
beat.20 Measure 29, four bars thereafter, however, does not make sense as a downbeat
since it continues the harmony of the preceding bar. It seems more reasonable to
think of measures 25–30 as an expanded hypermeasure—expanded, specifically, by
the repetition of the first two bars.21 The final bar of the song, which constitutes the
final resolution to tonic harmony, then emerges, appropriately, as a downbeat.
No listener can absorb all of these details of hypermetric structure (especially
in the first half of the song). What is readily perceptible, however, is the change
around measure 17: a shift from confusion to clarity and from nonalignment to
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 197

Table 10.1. Binary Oppositions in “Kommen und Scheiden”

Arrival Departure

Spring Fall/winter
Life Death

alignment. This change has a profound expressive effect. Schumann coordinates

the shift in hypermetric structure with an important dividing line in the poem:
the boundary between the sections that respectively address the titular concepts of
Kommen (arrival) and Scheiden (departure). The first two couplets of Lenau’s
poem (set in mm. 3–9 and 10–16, respectively) describe the sensations associated
with the beloved’s arrival, sensations akin to those engendered by the coming of
spring. The third couplet (mm. 16–24) contrasts these feelings with those trig-
gered by her departure; it was as if the last dream of youth had vanished. Table
10.1 shows the binary opposition that the poem implies: if the beloved’s arrival is
associated with spring and life, her departure must bring winter and lifelessness.
Schumann, interestingly, matches the portion of the poem that addresses the
positive side of the opposition with hypermetric irregularity, and the negative
portion with regularity. In this song, then, hypermetric irregularity suggests a
positive life force rather than tension and strife. The hypermetric rigidity of the
second part of the vocal portion, on the other hand, seems to evoke death, a met-
aphorical rigor mortis. The returning flexibility of the postlude can then be
interpreted as a nostalgic meditation on what has been lost.
In conclusion, let us look at the emotionally most highly charged song of the
cycle, “Der schwere Abend.” The text is the most desolate of the Lenau poems that
Schumann selected for this opus. The lyric I remembers a silent, sultry, starless
night, with dark clouds hanging down, during which he walked in the garden with
his beloved—a night that, like their love, was made only for tears. He recalls that
as he bade farewell to the beloved, he wished that both of them were dead.
To create a sense of tension and anxiety appropriate to this poem, Schumann
uses some metrical dissonance of both types. At the beginning of the first two stro-
phes (mm. 2–6 and 22–26 in Example 10.6a) there is obvious two-against-three
grouping dissonance between voice and piano, in the form of the superposition of
duplet and normal quarter notes. There is also some displacement dissonance.
Displacement of triple layers by two quarter notes occurs sporadically in the vocal
portion of the song; see, for example, the third-beat dynamic accent in measures 8
and 28,22 the third-beat density accents in measures 14–15 and 34–35, and the
third-beat accents of harmonic change in measures 48–49. This displacement dis-
sonance comes into its own in the postlude. In measures 59–60 the attacks of the
left hand are displaced from the downbeats (articulated by the right hand) by two
quarter notes. The displaced 3-layer predominates in measures 61–66, where the
entire texture is shifted by two beats in relation to the bar lines. This displacement
198 Analytical Approaches

aptly suggests the discord between the two lovers, a connotation for displacement
dissonance that Schumann had already explored in Dichterliebe ten years earlier
(Example 10.1 shows a relevant excerpt of that cycle).23
Even more central than metrical dissonance to Schumann’s expressive
strategy in “Der schwere Abend,” however, is hypermetric irregularity.24 It will be
helpful to consider a hypothetical hypermetrically regular setting of Lenau’s
poem before looking at the hypermeter in Schumann’s actual song. Since the

Example 10.6a. Hypermetric analysis of “Der schwere Abend,” Op. 90, no. 6.

4 1 2 3 4

Die dunk- len Wol - ken hin - gen her -

p 4 1 2 3 pp 4 1

7 1 2 3 p

ab so bangund schwer, wir bei - de trau - rig gin - gen im

1 2 3 4

2 sf 3 4 dim. p sfp



Gar - ten hin und her.

1 2 3 4-----------------------------1//

p p pp 4 1-----
Example 10.6a. Continued

22 1 2 3 4 1 2

So heiß und stumm, so trü - be und stern- los wardie Nacht,

(1)------------ 2 3 pp 4 1 2 sf 3


29 3 p

so ganz wie uns - re Lie - be zu Trä - nen nur ge - macht.

1 2 3 4 1 2 3

f 4 dim. p sfp p


4--------------------------------1// 4 1 2 3 4



als ich muß - te schei - den, und gu - te Nacht dir bot, wünscht
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1
200 Analytical Approaches

Example 10.6a. Continued


ich be - küm - mert bei - den im Her - zen uns den Tod.
2 3 4-------------------------------------------5 1

p p


2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1

f f

poem is perfectly regular in rhythm, an obvious setting (using the musical ideas
of Schumann’s song) would have been the regular, predictable one shown in
Example 10.6b. The two lines of each couplet, rhythmically virtually identical,
are here consistently associated with similar vocal rhythms; compare, for
example, the vocal rhythms assigned to the lines “Die dunklen Wolken hingen”
and “herab so bang und schwer” (mm. 2–9). The result of this strict
correspondence between poetic and vocal rhythm is that each line of the poem
coincides with a four-bar hypermeasure.
Schumann’s song (see Example 10.6a) differs markedly from this hypothet-
ical setting. The vocal line occasionally departs from the regular rhythm that the
poem suggests; these departures have a significant effect on the hypermeter.
Whereas Schumann sets the first line of the poem in a manner close to what one
would expect, his setting of the second line involves an abrupt acceleration; at
“[her]-ab so bang und” (m. 7), the expected two bars of duplets (corresponding
to those at mm. 3–4) are compressed to a single bar by the replacement of duplet
quarter notes with eighth notes. Similar accelerations occur at measures 27 and
58. These accelerations result in contractions of the expected four-bar hyper-
measures. At “herab so bang und schwer,” for instance, a hypothetical four-bar
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 201

Example 10.6b. Hypothetical hypermetrically regular version of “Der schwere Abend.”

4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

Die dunk - len Wol - ken hin - gen her - ab so bang und schwer, wir

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

be i - de trau - rig gin - gen im Gar - te n hi n und her. So

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

heiss und stumm, so trü - be und stern - lo s war di e Nacht, so

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

ganz wie uns - re Lie - be zu Tr ä - nen nur ge - macht. Und

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

als ich muss - te schei - den, und gu - te Nacht di r bot , wünscht

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

ic h be - küm - mert bei - den im Her - ze n uns de n Tod.

hypermeasure is contracted to three bars (see the numbers above the vocal line
in Example 10.6a).
Conversely Schumann at times expands harmonies, and therewith hyper-
beats and hypermeasures. At the end of the first strophe, for example (mm.
17–18 of Example 10.6a), he stretches a potential single bar into two bars. The
iv and V triads at this point could easily have occurred within a single bar,
whereby four-bar hypermeter would have been maintained (as is shown in
202 Analytical Approaches

m. 17 of Example 10.6b). Schumann’s elongation results in a five-bar hypermea-

sure (mm. 14–18 of Example 10.6a).
Another type of hypermetric irregularity occurs at the joint between the first
two strophes. As shown in measures 16–17 of the hypothetical setting (Example
10.6b), Schumann could have progressed seamlessly from the first strophe to the
second by stating the initial dominant of the second strophe during the final weak
hyperbeat of the first strophe. Instead he resolves the dominant corresponding to
that of measure 17 of Example 10.6b to the tonic to close the first strophe on a
hyperdownbeat (see mm. 18–19 in Example 10.6a). The second strophe then
begins, like the first, with an upbeat bar, resulting in a discontinuity between the
strophes. As was mentioned in connection with “Lied eines Schmiedes” (Example
10.3), such discontinuity is common in strophic songs, but it could have been
avoided here had Schumann wished to do so. Clearly, all of these hypermetric
irregularities have an expressive impact; the unpredictable changes in hypermetric
duration create a perfectly appropriate mood of disquiet and anxiety that is com-
pletely absent from the hypothetical regular version.
The fairly traditional hypermetric devices of contraction, expansion, and
discontinuity between strophes are trumped in terms of expressive impact by a
misalignment of voice and piano even more striking than those described in the
second and third songs of the cycle. For both harmonic and rhythmic reasons
the piano introduction sounds like an upbeat-downbeat gesture; this effect
arises from the V-I resolution during these measures and from the motion from
relatively short durations during the dominant harmony to a long duration as
the tonic arrives. Hence I label the first two complete bars of the song hyperbeats
4 and 1, respectively, and continue counting 2, 3, and 4 in the following bars of
the piano part (as shown by the numbers between the piano staves in Example
10.6a). The vocal line, however, also begins with an upbeat-downbeat gesture,
misaligned with that of the piano, and the vocal setting of the first line clearly
suggests a four-bar hypermeasure with a downbeat at “dunklen” (as shown by
the numbers above the vocal staves in mm. 3–6 of Example 10.6a). A further
example of nonaligned upbeat-downbeat successions occurs in measures 5–7;
the piano reiterates its initial dominant-tonic gesture in measures 5–6, and the
voice follows in measures 6–7 with an anacrustic leap of a sixth that also
expresses a dominant-tonic motion. The sense of nonalignment of voice and
piano is exacerbated at the beginning of the second strophe (mm. 19–23), where,
after the piano’s upbeat-downbeat gesture, Schumann makes us wait a bar
longer than before for the vocal echo.
Schumann does at times allow the voice and piano to merge into a single
hypermetric scheme. I have shown these alignments in Example 10.6a with
single series of hypermetric numbers between the vocal and the treble piano
staves. The first two instances of alignment are at measures 10–19 and 30–39,
that is, at the ends of the first two strophes; both of these strophes move from a
state of hypermetric nonalignment or dissonance to a state of alignment or con-
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 203

sonance. In the final strophe (mm. 39 to 59) voice and piano align throughout,
so that the song as a whole describes the same progression from nonalignment
to alignment as does each of the first two strophes.
The hypermetric misalignment in “Der schwere Abend” aptly expresses the
meaning of the text. Lenau’s poem is about two individuals who are physically
together but spiritually apart; what better way musically to represent this
situation than to allot independent hypermeters to two apparently collaborating
instruments? Schumann’s resolution of the hypermetric conflict in the third
strophe has an expressive function as well. This resolution coincides with a piv-
otal moment in the poem: the lovers’ farewell. Along with the concomitant
modulation to the relative major, it arouses in the listener the expectation of a
last-minute reconciliation and a happy ending. The cataclysmic postlude, with
its restoration of misalignment (albeit on a lower metric level), is all the more
effective after this hopeful moment.
In 1835, when Schumann commented on the hypermetric freedom in
Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, he acknowledged that such freedom was alien
to the Nordic temperament and that it tended to arouse feelings of discomfort
in listeners accustomed to regularity.25 In Op. 90 we find Schumann beginning
to liberate himself from his own northern proclivities, and succeeding brilliantly
in channeling the expressive possibilities of hypermeter. What I wrote in Fantasy
Pieces with reference to Schumann’s use of metrical dissonance is just as true
with respect to hypermetric structure in this cycle and in later works: “The
moves from one metrical state to another in Schumann’s music . . . contribute
greatly to the impact of his works; the resulting waves of tension and relaxation
cannot fail to bear us as listeners with them, in fact to move us.”26

1. I have discussed this aspect of Schumann’s style in detail in Krebs, Fantasy
Pieces. Examples 1 and 2 are adapted from Fantasy Pieces, 163 and 168.
2. See Cone, Musical Form; Schachter, “Rhythm and Linear Analysis”; J. Kramer,
The Time of Music; Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm. For a concise introduction to the con-
cept of hypermeter, see Krebs, “Hypermeter and Hypermetric Irregularity.”
3. Cone, Musical Form, 79.
4. It is important to note that, although many phrases in tonal music are also
four bars long, hypermeasures are not equivalent to phrases. Hypermeasures are
metric units, whereas phrases are formal units. In this essay I deal exclusively with
hypermeasures, not phrases.
5. Cohn, “The Dramatization of Hypermetric Conflicts.”
6. Schachter, “Rhythm and Linear Analysis,” 17–22; W. Rothstein, “Beethoven
with and without ‘Kunstgepräng,’ ” 166–69; Samarotto, “Multiple Voices”; Mahlert,
“ ‘. . . die Spuren einer himmlischen Erscheinung zurücklassend,’” especially 129, 139;
Krebs, “Hypermeter and Hypermetric Irregularity,” 27–29.
204 Analytical Approaches

7. R. Schumann, Gesammelte Schriften (1914), 1:74.

8. Laura Tunbridge in Schumann’s Late Style, 16, and Jon Finson in Robert
Schumann, 200–201, describe the origin of the cycle and its relation to Lenau’s death.
9. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 440.
10. The poem is a translation of a lament for Abelard, ascribed to Heloise; see
ibid., 440; Finson, Robert Schumann, 200.
11. For discussions of these topics, see Tunbridge, Schumann’s Late Style, 17–18;
Finson, Robert Schumann, 201–08.
12. Finson, Robert Schumann, 202.
13. The increase in perceptibility of the 3-layer is shown in the example by the
emergence in m. 3 of the 3-layer from its initial enclosure within parentheses.
14. A brief resolution of grouping dissonance is discussed below. In the postlude
Schumann abandons the three-against-two grouping dissonance in favor of a dis-
tinctive new dissonance: the sequence of two falling diminished fifths in the melody
in mm. 52–53 creates a five-eighth-note layer, dissonant against the metrical triple
15. I have applied a masculine pronoun to the lyric I because the poet was a man,
who wrote many of his poems with a beloved woman, Sophie von Loewenthal, in
16. The fourth, fifth, and final songs of Op. 90, wonderful compositions though
they are, are less interesting from a metrical standpoint than the first three and the
sixth, and are not discussed here.
17. For an explanation of this concept, see Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm, 58–63.
18. My decision privileges harmonic arrival over parallelism as a criterion for
downbeat status.
19. Schumann eliminates one of Lenau’s rhymes to facilitate this compression;
“Und was sie sprach drang mir zum Herzen ein” (mm. 10–13) should rhyme with
“süß wie des Frühlings erstes Lied im Hain,” but Schumann omits the words “im
Hain.” Such drastic tampering with the poem is rare in Schumann’s Lieder.
20. It may appear inconsistent to label m. 25 a hyperdownbeat, in light of the
earlier labeling of similar bars (mm. 1 and 9) as upbeats. The harmonic context,
however, necessitates a reassessment of the hypermetric function of this material. If
the harmony of m. 25 were to resolve to the tonic in m. 26, the latter measure would
sound like a downbeat. Measure 26, however, contains a neighboring IV6 triad, with
the result that m. 25 sounds more strongly accented than m. 26. The harmonic
situation is the exact opposite of that in the apparently corresponding earlier mea-
sures, where a IV triad leads to a stronger V harmony. This harmonic change in mm.
25–26 justifies the hypermetric relabeling of this material.
21. This expansion by repetition is shown in the example by the use of square
brackets around the second statement of hyperbeat numbers 1 and 2.
22. The dynamic accents on the second beats of mm. 8 and 28 result in displace-
ment by one quarter-note pulse; this displacement, however, is not as significant in
the song as a whole as the displacement by two quarters.
23. I discuss the expressive function of displacement dissonance in Dichterliebe
in Fantasy Pieces, 162–63.
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann’s Op. 90 205

24. Finson mentions the “uneven groupings” in “Der schwere Abend” and con-
trasts the irregularity of this song with the “quadratic symmetry” of the somewhat
similar Liederjahr song “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet” (from Dichterliebe); see Robert
Schumann, 207.
25. R. Schumann, Gesammelte Schriften (1914), 1:74.
26. Krebs, Fantasy Pieces, 114.

Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later

Works of Robert Schumann

William Benjamin

Basic Concepts and Definitions

Hypermeter is the phenomenon of meter applied to the pulse articulated by a con-

tinuous stream of downbeats.1 It treats these downbeats just like the beats within
bars, in this way producing a cyclic succession of variously strong and weak bars no
different in principle than the beats within bars themselves. Like the bars them-
selves, hyperbars are real only when we hear accents at their onsets, but the accents
that generate hyperbars are normally of a different kind from those that generate
bars. Ordinary meter typically results from dynamic accents, agogic accents, accents
of melodic discontinuity (leap accents), and accents produced by harmonic change.
Accents of these kinds often reinforce hypermetric downbeats, but they do not nor-
mally create hypermeter on their own. Instead hypermeter typically has its accen-
tual basis in the music’s grouping structure.2 It is thus a function of the grouping
structure but, as I will now explain, does not collapse into the latter.
This difference in accentual foundation between ordinary meter and hyper-
meter has been a source of great confusion in music theory for well over a hun-
dred years, and remains one to some extent.3 Consider, for example, the phrase
pair that opens the vocal line of the sixth movement of Schumann’s Der
Königssohn, a work I return to below. This is presented in Example 11.1.

Example 11.1. Der Königssohn, no. 6, mm. 9–16, vocal line.

Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 207

It seems perfectly natural to regard the successive downbeats of this

melody as being iambically organized, that is, to hear even-numbered mea-
sures as relatively strong. The leap accent to the downbeat of measure 10 (the
second measure of the excerpt) and the agogic accents on those of measures
12 and 16 support this reading, as does the striking chromatic note in the
bass on the downbeat of measure 12 (see Example 11.3). Measure 14 compli-
cates matters, since its downbeat is part of a rising motion to a local registral
and dynamic climax on the downbeat of measure 15. Despite this complica-
tion, it make obvious sense to understand the music as implying a textual
prosody that highlights four syllables, as follows: “Der König und die KÖnigin,
sie stehen auf dem THROne; da glüht der Thron wie MORgenroth, wie
steigende Sonn’ die KROne.” From this point of view, the measures of Example
11.1 really are weak, strong, weak, strong, and so on, and reading the two
phrases as a Riemannian period seems the logical next step. But this has
nothing to do with a hypermetric reading, the results of which exactly oppose
these. From the point of view of hypermeter as I understand it, the music’s
groups organize its measures in twos and fours. At the two-bar level, there-
fore, there are hypermetric downbeats at the beginnings of measures 9, 11,
13, and 15, while at the four-bar level the hypermetric downbeats are at mea-
sures 9 and 13. This does not mean, however, that we are calling the same
thing by two different names (groups and hypermeasures). This is easily seen:
the two-bar group of measures 9 and 10 begins with an upbeat and ends with
the third quarter of measure 10; the corresponding hypermeasure begins on
beat 1 of measure 9 and ends with the fourth quarter of measure 10; they are
different in extent. More generally and importantly, the accent that charac-
terizes the group is contingent on its specific content, which in this case
determines an emphasis on the downbeat of measure 10, while the accent
that characterizes the hypermeasure is a function of the property of being the
first downbeat of the group, thus determining emphasis on the downbeat of
measure 9. These first-downbeat-of-the-group accents are what substantiate
hypermetric downbeats, if they (the accents) are regularly spaced. From a
hypermetric standpoint, then, the measures of Example 11.1 scan as strong,
weak, strong, weak, and so on at the two-bar level, but this in no way contra-
dicts the group-determined reading given above. In what follows, please
understand strong to be hypermetrically accented, though not necessarily
strongly emphasized by other kinds of accent.
The subject of this essay is hypermetric dissonance. I use this term to describe
passages in which there is doubt, for some number of measures, as to which of
two ways of creating hyperbars is the best one. That is, both ways seem quite
plausible because there are two convincing ways of grouping the music at some
level, but they contradict one another. For example, in Figure 11.1 a succession
of bars is grouped in twos in two ways, each relying on reasonable criteria, but
the two ways are incompatible because according to the way appearing above
208 Analytical Approaches



Figure 11.1. Hypermetric dissonance in the abstract.

the staff, the odd-numbered bars are strong, whereas on the other view repre-
sented below the staff, strength attaches to even-numbered bars.
The astute reader will see, upon reflection, how this way of viewing metric
dissonance differs from the well-known ideas expressed in Krebs.4 In the cases
investigated by Krebs, there is a notated meter, more or less clearly asserted by
accentual phenomena, and one or more pulse trains, similarly asserted, that are
either (1) commensurable with one of the notated meter’s component pulse
trains but displaced with respect to it (“displacement dissonance”), or (2) dis-
tinct from any of the notated meter’s component pulse trains though ultimately
commensurable with one of more of these (“grouping dissonance”). In some of
Krebs’s examples a case could be made that the dissonant pulse trains are inde-
pendently metric, in the sense of containing their own hierarchy of strong and
weak beats, and that it is feasible to perceive the notated beats and downbeats in
these examples as dissonant with respect to their inferred counterparts; how-
ever, this is not normally the case. Normally the dissonant trains are received as
systematically applied syncopation. And in virtually all cases, of course, Krebs is
discussing meter at the notated level. By contrast, the following discussion is
exclusively of hypermeter, and because hypermeter must always be inferred and
depends less on accent than on grouping, all my examples are instances of a sort
of aural illusion: they allow for hearing the same passage in two equally cogent
hypermetric interpretations, each of which can impose itself on the other as its
So simple is the situation depicted in Figure 11.1 that it is easy to forget that
its presentation masks three procedural difficulties. First, if both interpretations
are plausible, perhaps the sensible approach is to deny the existence of hyper-
meter. Let’s be clear what’s at issue here. If each of two hypermetric interpreta-
tions is convincing, this must be because there are two equally plausible grouping
structures at the same level. Perhaps in such cases it is better to say that the
music is, in effect, too continuous to be segmented at the level in question, and
that the asserted groups lack enough salience to be taken seriously, on their own
or as a basis for hypermeter.5
Second, as noted above, a downbeat can be strongly accented without being
hypermetrically strong. The same observation applies to a succession of 4/4 bars
in which the second beats have dynamic accents. One can speak of these beats as
syncopated without wanting to assert that, in all or even most cases, there is a
shadow 4/4 meter starting a beat later than that which is notated.6 In the same
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 209

way, one might note a persistent conflict between hypermetric downbeats at

some level and syncopated downbeats at the same level, without wanting to
claim a coexistence of hypermeters.7
The third and final procedural question has to do with deciding between
ambiguity and conflict. Perhaps one would like to say that two hypermetrical
interpretations are possible, that neither is obviously wrong, without claiming
that one can hear both at the same time. But for a conflict, for dissonance to be
experienced as such, one must indeed hear both interpretations at once, in some
The situations I discuss in this essay, then, are those in which these proce-
dural difficulties are not at issue because three conditions apply. The propriety
of two distinct groupings at the same level is not at issue (which cancels the first
difficulty); neither hypermetric accent is better accounted for as a syncopation
(canceling the second); and there are circumstances that impel one to hear both
hypermeters at the same time (the third). Of these three conditions the first two
arise from the particulars of each case, but the third demands a more general
account. For this, refer to Figure 11.2.
The subconditions outlined in the table in Figure 11.2 require some explana-
tion. First I deal with the basic constraints, which are listed in the top portion of
the table, and apply to all contexts.
1. We can spontaneously experience each of two hypermeters on its own.
Each relies on a grouping that presents itself without special effort on
our parts, though we can choose to relegate one grouping to the
background while concentrating on the other.
2. The two hypermeters, A and B, are at the same level. They both group
the same number of bars, starting at different points.

Basic constraints
1. We can spontaneously experience each of two hypermeters on its own.
2. The two hypermeters, A and B, are at the same level.
Cumulative experience Hypermetric modulation
3.1 We start by hearing A, but eventually
it breaks down. 4. As A, which unequivocally begins the
3.2 As a result, we notice B, which has music, begins to weaken, B insinuates
weak spots but does not break down. itself more and more, eventually taking
3.3 We understand B as the controlling over.
hypermeter, but retain an impression
of A as its dissonant counterpart.
Fundamental requirement
5. We experience some aesthetic gain through the coexistence, in our consciousness,
of A and B.

Figure 11.2. Circumstances that permit hearing two hypermeters at once.

210 Analytical Approaches

Then, corresponding to the left side of the midportion of the table, there are the
following subconditions:
3.1. We start by hearing A but eventually it breaks down. Let us say that A is
more salient for us as the music starts. We follow the music according
to A and try to keep it going, but at some point we are forced to give up
on A because the groupings no longer support it.
3.2. As a result we notice B, which has weak spots but does not break down.
We are able to hear the passage as a whole in terms of B, though in
certain places grouping does not correspond very well to B.
3.3. We understand B as the controlling hypermeter, but retain an impres-
sion of A as its dissonant counterpart. Because A impressed itself upon
us more strongly at first, we remember it even as B takes over in our
consciousness, especially during B’s weak spots, interpreting A as
dissonant to B for as long as we bear them both in mind.
The source of dissonance here has to do with a chronology of impressions, with
the lingering effects of a strong first impression on a somewhat weaker but more
coherent second impression. It may be said to arise out of cumulative
The right half of the midportion of the table deals with a form of hypermet-
rical dissonance that is perhaps more integral to the music’s design and less
dependent on our impressions. Its subcondition is this:
4. As A, which unequivocally begins the music, begins to weaken, B
insinuates itself more and more, eventually taking over. In such cases
there is a transitional period of hypermetric coexistence in which neither
hypermeter is unequivocal. Both may be doubted, but neither can be
forgotten or discounted.
Here, one may speak of hypermetric modulation as the source of dissonance.8
One might posit varieties of hypermetrical dissonance additional to those
described by subconditions 3.1–3.3 and 4, but these two seem to me of special
importance. What they have in common, perhaps with others, is that one is, for
a time, actually hearing both hypermeters at once, rather as one hears voices in
a polyphonic texture, because there is really no way to avoid it while making the
best possible sense out of the music. This leads me to observe, in amplification
of condition 5, expressed in the bottom portion of the table, that hypermetrical
dissonance arises only where a fundamental condition is met.
5. We experience some aesthetic gain through the coexistence, in our
consciousness, of A and B. We aren’t after all forced by cumulative
experience, or by a modulatory shift in the music, to hear A and B at
once. We could still choose to hear A here and B there, or only one of the
two where it suits us. But we conclude that there is some added aesthetic
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 211

value in listening to the music as involving the coincidence of A and B in

certain of its passages even though there are more direct or simpler ways
to listen to it. As always it’s a separate question whether, as analysts, we
can account for this aesthetic gain, but the challenge is there in any case.


I turn now to examples that illustrate these two possibilities in direct fashion.
The first is taken from the still rarely played third piano trio, Op. 110, from 1851.
Example 11.2 presents part of the principal theme of the first movement, a

Example 11.2. Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 110, first movement, opening.
212 Analytical Approaches

Example 11.2. Continued

Given the absence of melodic activity in measure 1, and the crescendo to an Sf

at the downbeat of measure 2, I find it most natural to hear measure 2 as a strong
measure, which means discounting measure 1 as a preparatory measure, of the
type often encountered in songs. In fact measures 2 and 3 are convincingly artic-
ulated as a strong-weak pair by the onset of an idea in the violin, which I have
labeled X, on the downbeat of measure 2. Measures 4 and 5 are more problematic,
since measure 4 begins as a near repeat of measure 3, but they may nonetheless be
heard as bound together by the contrasting idea Y, in which the appoggiatura
figure Bb, A in measure 4, is imitated by G, F-sharp in measure 5. These four bars
comprise a compound idea that is reinitiated by the cello in measures 6–7, where-
upon two-bar fragments, based on X, appear in the violin, in measures 10–11 and
12–13, respectively. We seem to be dealing with a typical sentence, and the dynamic
markings that accent the downbeats of measures 2, 6, 10, and 12 tell us that it is in
every way a proportionally and perhaps hypermetrically standard sentence.
So far we have noticed a hypermeter, that we can call A, in which even-num-
bered measures are strong. But something goes awry at measure 13, where the
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 213

fragmentation intensifies, since there can be no doubt that, being sequentially

imitated by measure 14, measure 13 is also a strong measure, and that from
measure 13 until the cadential tonic is reached in measure 25 there is a sequence
of strong-weak pairs.
If we now go back over the course of the music thus far, we need to admit that
some of our decisions were a little dismissive of contrary evidence. In the first
place, while grouping in the bass line is ambiguous, agogic accents at odd-num-
bered downbeats in that part clearly suggest a conflicting hypermeter (B), indi-
cated in the example with dotted-line brackets under the music. And what about
the slur in the violin that pairs measure 6 with measure 5, or the falling fifths in
that instrument that group measure 8 with measure 7? What about measure 8,
in fact? Is it not a point of half cadence? Do these data not suggest that B might
be present in the melodic line, if only latently, right from the start? Perhaps,
then, we should reconsider the role of measure 1 and consider its downbeat to
be strong, along with those of all subsequent odd-numbered bars. This is far
from easy to do until we get to measure 6 and hear it as an imitation of measure
5, and it becomes hard again in measure 9. But it makes for a result that has no
breaking points over the entire course of the theme.
If it is simpler to hear odd-numbered bars as strong, why not leave it at that?
Precisely because it is so mechanical, and thus unmusical, a way to hear a passage
that is always changing its mind about how its bars affiliate with one another;
because meter, as Chris Hasty has emphasized, is rhythm, and not the product
of working at the slicer in a deli.9 The real choice is between hearing the theme
as hypermetrically dissonant—with an at first latent but foundational two-bar
hypermeter starting in measure 1 and continuing throughout, and a dissonant
two-bar hypermeter starting in measure 2 and petering out in measure 13—and
hearing it as nonmetrical above the level of the bar. This is an aesthetic decision.
I will not defend my way of making it here, but will deal with the issue in
subsequent examples.
Example 11.3 returns to a work discussed in Example 11.1; like the third
piano trio it was composed in 1851 and is only very rarely performed. This is
Der Königssohn, a ballad for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, on a text by Ludwig
Uhland (modified by Moritz Horn). The excerpt is from the finale, in which a
prince, unable to inherit a share in his father’s kingdom because of his status as
third-born son, arrives to claim another throne by virtue of courageous deeds.
This number, in Schumann’s best heroic-populist vein, opens with a sixteen-
measure period that modulates to the dominant.10
Well-wrought as it is, the music might not escape the charge of triteness were
it not for the masterful handling of hypermeter in the next pair of phrases, span-
ning measures 16–27. Before discussing this, however, some attention to the
larger formal context is needed for the light it may shed on what the aesthetic
purposes of the structure I am about to describe may be, other than complexity
for its own sake.
Example 11.3. Hypermetric intrigue in Der Königssohn, no. 6, first section.
Example 11.3. Continued
216 Analytical Approaches

This piece is a large-scale bar form, AAB, of which Example 11.3 presents the
first of the two Stollen, the first A. As just indicated, the first sixteen bars are a
modulating period, very typical of classicizing Romanticism in its proportions
and character. At measure 17 we begin what looks to be a middle section, with
sentence-like proportions, except for its expanded and strangely unbalanced
continuation phrase in measures 21–27. This interpretation of 17–27, as a mid-
dle section, would seem to be confirmed by the return of the opening motive
over a root-position tonic in measure 28. But measures 28–45 are not, as it turns
out, a reprise. Instead they offer another continuation to the opening sixteen
measures, this time in the form of a sixteen-measure sentence that is oriented
toward the subdominant.
In effect, then, measures 17–45 are a two-part continuation section, not a mid-
dle section. Schumann naturally avoids any authentic cadence in such a section,
saving it for the subsequent cadential passage—in this piece, for the Abgesang, or
large B section. But in his late work, in shorter movements that do not fully stabi-
lize secondary keys, he also avoids the tonic harmony within extended continua-
tions, on hypermetrically strong downbeats, even if it is in first inversion. How,
then, to explain the root-position tonic harmony at measure 28?
This is where hypermetric considerations become important. I pointed out
that the first continuation begins at measure 17, but this completely overlooks
the very strong effect of elision at measure 16, where the orchestra sings out the
opening motive on the dominant. And in fact measures 16 and 18 are much
more convincing as strong bars than are measures 17 and 19. It will not do, how-
ever, to forget about measures 17–18 and 19–20 as hyperbars, for if we do, we
not only overlook the voice’s groups, but also distort the effect of measure 20.
Measure 20 is clearly weak throughout the texture, since right there the orchestra
changes its mind, deferring to the voice and reverting to the placement of hyper-
metric downbeats on odd-numbered bars, to wit, measures 21 and 23. In effect
measure 20 in the orchestra sounds like the third, weak bar of a three-bar group,
indicated by a dotted-line extension (under m. 20) of the bracket below the
music, and by the use of “3.” Just at measure 21, however, the voice does the very
same thing, treading water for a bar, and adopting in measure 22 the orchestra’s
way of doing things since measure 16, its even-numbered strong bars. In effect
we have a crossing of hypermetric patterning between voice and orchestra,
hardly what we might have expected given the music’s conventional stance at
the outset.
By measure 24 the listener is apt to be confused precisely because there really
is no way of forgetting about either of the two conflicting hypermeters. This
result is tantamount, by our definition, to a condition of hypermetric disso-
nance. Here, however, the eventual outcome allows us to speak of a hypermetric
modulation, because it is the new hypermeter, initiated with the elision in mea-
sure 16, that wins out—both in the voice and in the orchestra: clearly measures
24–25 and 26–27 are strong-weak pairs in the texture as a whole. This unanimity
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 217

of effect comes about because there is an elision within the orchestra part itself
in measure 24, whereby measures 24 and 25 constitute a new group, one that
overrides the backward-referring group of 23–24. In this way the orchestra
bends once again to the voice’s authority in measure 24, for the first time since
measure 15.
Something more is afoot, however. Although it is true that two pairs of bars
are needed here to stabilize the new hypermeter—after all, we could hardly
know that the new hypermeter, with even-numbered strong bars, had won out
if the phrase were to end in measure 25—it was not necessary to write measures
24–27 as Schumann wrote them. Having only one line of text left over, he might
have confined it to two bars, like all the other lines thus far, and given the remain-
ing two bars to the orchestra. Instead he slows down the rate of text delivery by
a factor of 2.
The result is that the expansion of phrase length in measures 21–27 from
four to seven measures also entails the possibility of making hypermeter at the
four-bar level more salient, for the first time, than the two-bar kind we have
been following. Schumann might have acted on this possibility by beginning
the next stanza with another four bars that set one line of text, but this would
have slowed down the music in an intolerable way, producing a recessive effect
that would have acted to further prepare an immediate reprise, rather than pro-
moting the desired continuation.
Schumann hit upon the happy stratagem of maintaining tension by intro-
ducing a hypermetric conflict at the four-bar level. The four-bar unity of mea-
sures 24–27 has already been accounted for in terms of the slower rate of text
setting in these measures, but it is evident as well in the progression of four
whole notes in the bass and the strongly dominant-oriented motion they trace,
which in fact leads to a half-cadential V in measure 27. This grouping is indi-
cated with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 placed over the vocal staff. There is nothing out
of the ordinary about emphasizing the four- over the two-bar level in the
approach to a cadence. What is less ordinary, however, is the fact that, from mea-
sure 24 to measure 33, it is possible to form convincing four-bar groups every
two measures. Measures 28–31 work as a four-bar group that begins with the
head-motive on the tonic and ends with a plagal ornamentation of the IV (in
mm. 30–31); measures 30–33 constitute the first vocal phrase of the next stanza,
beginning on the IV and prolonging it via a cadence on its major mediant, the
E-Major chord of measure 33. Both groups are indicated with numbers, the first
above the vocal staff, the second below the piano part. There remains one group
of four bars not yet accounted for: measures 26–29. But Schumann has somehow
contrived to clinch the desired effect (that these bars, too, should group together).
He does this by imitating the dissonant diminished fifth in measure 27 with a
diminished fourth in measure 29, a parallelism that, to my ear, is just strong
enough to make measures 26–29 into the desired four-bar group (indicated
below the piano part).
218 Analytical Approaches

As a result of what I’ve just described we have a succession of four-bar groups

beginning in measure 24 and another such succession beginning in measure 26.
If we interpret these groupings as inducing conflicting hypermeters, neither of
which clearly predominates—until around measure 32, where the group formed
by the content of measures 28–31 has no successor—we have the preconditions
for asserting the presence of hypermetric dissonance at the four-bar level. It is
precisely this dissonant condition that undermines the metric weight that mea-
sure 28 would have if it were the downbeat of an unchallenged hypermeter. But
the real point here is that the strength of the tonic chord in measure 28 is thus
undermined as well. So disturbed is its stability by rhythmic circumstances that
we wonder, even at the downbeat of measure 28, if it is not just a V/IV, which is
what it turns out to be. The downbeat of measure 28 remains a hypermetric
downbeat, but as such it is not as untroubled, or as stable, as we might expect it
to be, considering it as we might have done in first coming upon it, as the
beginning of a reprise. One aesthetic reason to hear this hypermetric intrigue is,
therefore, that it enables us to feel Schumann’s intent for the harmony in mea-
sure 28, which is that it should not sound like a return, but as something that
pushes onward to further continuation.
In general, though, it is difficult to sustain hypermetric dissonance at the
four-bar level, where the conflicting hyperdownbeats are two notated bars apart.
Why? For the simple reason that this forces the music to make every second bar
strong, and such a situation is almost indistinguishable, except in unusual cir-
cumstances like those adduced in this example, from ordinary hypermeter at
the two-bar level. For this reason hypermetric dissonance at the four-bar level is
more effective when the conflicting meters are separated by only one bar, as in
Figure 11.3.
An example of this occurs in Example 11.4, which is a piano reduction of the
last half of the third movement of the motet for double men’s chorus, Verzweifle
nicht im Schmerzensthal. This was composed in 1849 as an a cappella work and
later supplied, first, with a simple organ accompaniment, then with a symphonic
accompaniment that mostly doubles the vocal parts.11 I will begin by discussing
the passage from measure 68 to measure 91.
My first take on this passage is that it consists of four-bar hyperbars, with
downbeats at measures 68, 72, 76, 80, and so on. In effect I hear the last three
quarter notes of measure 67 as an upbeat to the downbeat of a hyperbar. Similar
three quarter-note upbeats occur to subsequent hyperdownbeats, for example
to those at measures 72 and 76. The content of the first two hyperbars, measures

1 2 3 4 1

1 2 3 4 1

Figure 11.3. Four-bar hypermetric displacement dissonance at the distance of a bar.

Example 11.4. Verzweifle nicht im Schmerzensthal, Op. 93, no. 3, second half.
Example 11.4. Continued
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 221

68–71 and 72–75, can be heard as phrases ending in half-cadences, or as the

basic ideas of an eight-measure presentation phrase. I prefer the second inter-
pretation because these two blocks of material are so similar. Adopting the sec-
ond interpretation, we can say that a continuation begins in measure 76,
preceded by the characteristic upbeat figure. This takes us through two more
hyperbars and various tonicizations, leading to the subdominant harmony in
measure 83. A cadential action then begins on the hyperdownbeat at measure
84, leading to a half-cadential dominant at measure 91.
So far, so good. Or is it? Measure 91 is clearly not a hyperdownbeat, this being
due only at measure 92. At the same time it is clearly a strong measure, the
beginning of a dominant pedal that initiates a second, more extensive cadential
action, one that brings the movement to a close. Perhaps, then, measure 91 is
strong only by virtue of elision, a case of the weak cadential measure of a hyper-
bar being made strong by tiling a new beginning over it. But this interpretation
does not stand up under scrutiny, since it is clear that measure 89, supposedly
the second of the hyperbar’s four bars, is stronger than either measure 88 or
measure 90, the first and third. One need only imagine the music through
to measure 91, beginning with the three quarters of upbeat in measure 83, to
hear that it is impossible to sustain the established hypermeter through these
measures. It begins to dissolve at measure 86; by measure 88 it is lost, and by
measure 89 we are ready to hear measures 89–90 as a strong-weak pair and thus
prepared for what turns out to be a new hypermetric downbeat at measure 91.
From measure 91 to the end, a new four-bar hypermeter is sustained, with the
final hypermetric downbeat in the last measure of the movement, the first
hypermetric downbeat to present a tonic harmony, in any inversion, since mea-
sure 72.
We seem to be dealing with an instance of hypermetric modulation some-
where in measures 84–91. But if that’s what it is, it is nonetheless a clumsy
instance of the technique when compared with its artful deployment in Der
Königssohn. In my experience, though there is clumsiness in some of Schumann’s
very late works, it is rare even there, and nonexistent in the music composed in
1849. What may first appear to be clumsy is usually the result of mishearing by
the listener or performer and can be expunged by achieving a better under-
standing of the score.
Returning to the case at hand, consider the opening measures of the excerpt
in Example 11.4. The first seven bars, measures 52–58, are as idiosyncratic a
phrase as Schumann ever penned. Almost seeming to call up the ghost of a late
Renaissance part song, Schumann has switched over to 3/2 time, writing against
the alla breve signature and in opposition to the preceding music, in which a
hypermeasure of two 3/4 bars, and thus of 6/4, is the norm. Figure 11.4 docu-
ments various tempo and metric relations in measures 46–58, the first six mea-
sures of which represent the end of the music that precedes Example 11.4.
Because of a protracted acceleration in the first half of the movement, the
222 Analytical Approaches

quarter note reaches 176 by measure 46, and then remains at 176 over the bar
line at measure 52. As a result the implied 3/2 bars that follow are exactly as long
as the preceding 6/4 hyperbars. There is thus a double dose of metric conflict
beginning at measure 52, the 3/2 conflicting both with the notated alla breve and
with the preceding 6/4. There is also clearly a new hypermeter beginning at
measure 52, with a time signature of 6/2, consisting as it does of two 3/2 bars.
Consider now where we stand at the downbeat of measure 58, the last bar of
Figure 11.4. We have just heard two hyperbars made up of 3/2 bars, that is, two
6/2 hyperbars. Our strongest expectation for this downbeat must therefore be
that it will initiate another such hyperbar. A second, weaker expectation is that
the music will present only a single bar in 3/2. And then there is a third, less
likely possibility, that we might revert to the preceding 6/4 hypermeter, that is,
to pairs of bars in 3/4. In fact none of these possibilities is realized, and we get
instead a single cadential bar in cut time, making measure 58 one of the odder
half-cadences in tonal music, both rhythmically and melodically.
Is there a warrant for this waywardness? I believe there is. Measure 59 is plau-
sibly viewed as the beginning of a new subsection: the dynamic shifts from ff to p,
there is a new textual beginning, and the motive from measure 52 is resumed in a
lower register. Interestingly it is the same motive exactly, but because it is canoni-
cally imitated in measure 60, at a distance of two beats (one bar), it no longer
produces the effect of triple time inferable at measure 52. The most direct way to
take in what happens, beginning at measure 59, is that a four-bar model extends
through measure 62 and is then sequenced, with some modification, in the next
four bars (mm. 63–66). This model-sequence pair serves to prolong dominant
harmony with a linear progression of a descending fourth—F4 in measure 59, Eb4
in measure 60, Eb5 in measure 63, Db3 in measure 64, Db5 in measure 66, C5 in
measure 67—and the V harmony that initiates the passage at measure 59 returns
forcefully at measure 67. It then anchors the immediately following music by
recurring at the downbeats of measures 71 and 75. All of this adds up to a very

= 176 6/4 hypermeasure


Quarter-note remains at 176, but beat shifts to half-note at 88;

one bar of 3/2 equals preceding 6/4 hypermeasure; new beat and new
52 hypermeasure are both at one half the old tempo.

is the perceived meter single cadential

bar, in 2/2 time
6/2 hypermeasure

Figure 11.4. Metric and tempo relations in mm. 46–58 of Verzweifle nicht.
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 223

strong case for hypermeter at the four-bar level, with downbeats at measures 59,
63, 67, 71, and 75. Let us call this hypermeter B. Note, however, that B conflicts
with the prima facie case, presented earlier, for what we should now call hyper-
meter A, which has hypermetric downbeats at measures 68, 72, 76, and so on, that
is, one bar later than B. Interestingly, A persists quite strongly through measures 80
and 84 but, as noted above, breaks down thereafter. B, in the meantime, fades a bit
at measures 79 and 81, though not enough to disappear from consciousness. And
B then reasserts itself, strongly at measure 87 and overwhelmingly at measures 91,
95, 99, 103, 107, and 111, continuing right through to the last bar of the movement,
where we find the root-position tonic chord.
In this case, then, hypermeter B proves to be foundational. It carries through
unbroken from measure 59 to the end of movement. But hypermeter A cannot be
dismissed on that account. It is too strong to be erased from consciousness in the
region where it was noticed, and noticed first, and thus persists there as a disso-
nant counterpart to B. The foundational quality of B is not merely a matter of its
persistence, but also derives from the fact that B’s harmonic effect is stronger than
that of A. Where the two hypermeters come most clearly into conflict, the hyper-
bars of A begin on root-position tonics (in mm. 68 and 72), while those of B begin
on dominants (in mm. 67 and 71). In effect they are tonal inverses of one another.
But to begin a hyperbar on I is to accent I, and that is something Schumann avoids,
as a rule, for long stretches of music preceding a final cadence. In B there is no
tonic chord on any hypermetric downbeat anywhere in this entire passage until
the final bar, where a cadential I occurs. Remarkably there has not been one for the
entire 115 bars of this movement, excepting those in A, of course.
The net effect of the combination of A and B is very much like that of
Krebs’s displacement dissonance, in which two 4/4 meters are heard, the second
starting one quarter after the first (D4 + 1).12 A situation of this kind might be
represented schematically, as in Figure 11.5. Part of the aesthetic gain obtained in
hearing this type of hypermetric dissonance in this music is that the hypermetric
level can now be heard as a higher level projection of the musical surface, in
which rhythms of the type schematized in Figure 11.5 abound, for example, in
measures 70, 71, 73, 75, 76, and so on.
It may be objected that all this talk of A as “first” and B as “second” is mere ana-
lytical artifice. After all, we hear B first, at measure 59, and A second, at measure
68. One might reasonably argue, on this basis, that A is an epiphenomenon,
unlikely to be noticed to a degree consistent with calling it an independent hyper-

> > > >

4 Πq q q qw q q q qw q q q qw q q q
4 w

Figure 11.5. Displacement dissonance (D4 + 1), after Krebs.

224 Analytical Approaches

meter. Perhaps, in other words, A is better understood as syncopation within B.

This raises a problem endemic to all analysis of metric dissonance or conflict: Is
there a clear dividing line between syncopation within a single meter and displace-
ment dissonance between two meters (see note 6)? I rather doubt that there is, but
in the present case I would argue for the reality of displacement dissonance bet-
ween hypermeters. The reason is that, as B is initiated at measure 59, it is already
being shadowed by an incipient form of A. Recall that the length of measure 59 is
a surprise. Because of the preceding, implied 3/2 music, and the expectation that
this will continue, the first beat of measure 59 does not sound unequivocally, as it
comes upon us, like a first beat. It still has something of the quality of a third beat
(in 3/2), especially because the harmony does not change over the bar line from
measure 58 to measure 59. This has the paradoxical effect of making the canonic
imitation at measure 60 sound as if it might be the real beginning of a new subsec-
tion, with measure 59 acting to prepare it. This impression is buttressed by what
happens at measures 63–64, four bars later. Measure 63 can certainly be looked at
as the beginning of the sequence to measure 59’s model, but demands the
admission that it is a strange beginning for all that. In the first place, the motive
from measure 59 is sequenced in a peculiar way, with the drop of a ninth from beat
1 to beat 2; then there is the change of dynamic, not at the start of measure 63, but
on its second beat. Finally there is the harmonic rhythm, which ties measure 63 to
what precedes it, and measure 64 to what follows. These factors conspire to sug-
gest that one might hear measure 64 as the start of a sequence to a model beginning
in measure 60. But this is nothing but an argument for A’s starting at measure 60
rather than at measure 68, and I have indicated this possibility in Example 11.4 by
beginning the brackets that denote A at measure 60, although using dotted lines
until measure 68, where A seems to me, at least arguably, to predominate.
If this reasoning persuades, it justifies a claim that B and A coexist from mea-
sure 59 to approximately measure 86. An argument can be made for the pre-
dominance of one or the other, in this or that stretch of the music, but neither
can be dismissed at any point until A fades out after measure 84. Although B
proves to be foundational, for the reasons adduced above, A is never to be con-
fused phenomenologically with mere syncopation.
There remains one further twist to the metrical intrigue that plays itself out
here. Once A is abandoned there is a danger of the music’s sounding metrically
impoverished. Indeed, I find that it does when it is performed without any
change of tempo at measure 91. In my opinion a noticeable increase in tempo is
demanded at this point. The slowing of the harmonic rhythm, to a rate of
roughly one harmony every two bars, seems to demand it. But this slowing also
has a metrical side effect. Beginning at measure 95, if a sufficiently fast tempo is
taken, the whole note emerges as the tactus, and the emergent time signature is
2/1. Schumann composed a number of his most effective finales using this as the
implicit time signature. While he usually notates the music in a fast 2/2 time, the
perceived beat is in fact the whole note, two of which fill out the perceived bar. I
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 225

call these Schumann’s “whole-note finales.” They are found in many works, for
example, the first part of Das Paradies und die Peri, the Symphony No. 2, and the
Requiem für Mignon. I discuss the last-mentioned work presently.
Applying the concept of four-bar hypermeter to a 2/1 time signature gener-
ates a hyperbar lasting eight notated (2/2) measures, with a count every two
measures, as shown in Figure 11.6. Four bars after the final dominant pedal is
reached, in measure 91 of Example 11.4, on the second beat of bar 95, a melodic-
harmonic group starts to unfold, lasting eight notated measures. This is suc-
ceeded by a parallel group, which ends with the climactic secondary dominant
of measure 111. If these groups are viewed in terms of 2/1 time, their first down-
beats occur on the downbeats of measures 97 and 105, respectively. Accordingly,
I have labeled these points with a 1, understanding the music in terms of four-
double-bar (or four-breve) hypermeter. As this very broad level of hypermeter
emerges, B coexists with it. Significantly, though, the 1s of B and those of the
new, higher-level hypermeter do not coincide, as can be seen from their
placement in the example. This is not really an instance of hypermetric conflict
such as we have been looking at, since the two hypermeters are on different time
scales. Nevertheless the conflict between them is apperceptible. Its resolution
comes exactly at measure 111, where the four-breve hypermeter folds into B and
disappears. I have shown this as the 4 of the former becoming a 1, in the manner
of an elision, although this is really a theoretical fiction meant to show that one
hears this point as a 1 and only as a 1.
This brings me to my final example, from another work composed in 1849
and one I believe to be unarguably a masterpiece. This is the Requiem für Mignon,
Op. 98b, Schumann’s foremost contribution to the genre of musical wisdom
literature inaugurated by The Magic Flute. Setting a scene that comes near the
end of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, the funeral rites for the muse-like young
woman known as Mignon, Schumann’s music is a thrilling clarion call to reject
depression, stagnant memory, and the longing for death, and, by engaging in a
creative embrace of life, to cultivate joy and take on the challenge of change.13
“Kinder!” the music proclaims, “Eilet in’s Leben hinan!” (Children! Hasten
[back] into life!) This might be termed the very motto of Schumann’s later
career, one that enabled years of stunning productivity after the miseries of the
Example 11.5 presents measures 25–49 of the choral finale (movement 6). At
measure 30 the text I cited is homophonically declaimed. Several factors point

1 2 3 4 1
1 w w w w w w w w w
Experienced foreground meter = 2/1

Figure 11.6. Four double-bar hypermeter in Schumann’s “whole-note finales.”

Example 11.5. Requiem für Mignon, finale (no. 6), mm. 25–49.

Example 11.5. Continued

228 Analytical Approaches

Example 11.5. Continued

to this bar being the first bar of a hypermetric four (as is indicated by the num-
bering over the piano reduction)—the beginning of a new line of text, the subito
piano, the arrival on a dominant pedal, the change in register and orchestration,
and the modified repetition of the content of the four measures that begin here,
four bars later. But try to keep counting by fours from this point and one will
soon encounter an extra bar, specifically at measure 38, where there is a half-
note rest preceding the words “begegn’ euch.” The obvious solution is to delay
the hypermetric count by one measure, beginning it at bar 31, on the word
“eilet,” as is indicated by the numbering over the soprano part. I will call the first
interpretation A, because it seems the most obvious one, and the second B.
These labels appear in the figure, just before measure 30. B eliminates the
problem at measure 38, which becomes a 4, and works nicely through measure
43, which is clearly a 1.
In line with the procedure I have been advocating, one should now see if
either A or B can be extended backward from where I located their first 1s, that
is, from measures 30 and 31, respectively. Unfortunately neither can be. In the
immediately preceding bars a striking subdominant turn, reminiscent of the
Missa Solemnis, sets the words “und dem Kranz der Unsterblichkeit!” The word
“Kranz” seems the obvious candidate for downbeat status, but five bars separate
it from “Kinder,” at measure 30, and six from the other putative hyperdownbeat,
on “eilet.”
Here again we face an aesthetic choice, between abandoning hypermeter and
doing something creative to save it. As readers will no doubt have noticed, I
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 229

prefer the latter option. In this instance, however, a tactic is required that
demands some leniency in applying the idea of hypermeter, or, to put a more
positive slant on the matter, some imagination. This tactic consists in viewing
this movement as another of Schumann’s “whole-note finales,” last movements
in which the implicit tactus is the whole note and the implied time signature is
2/1, a measure of which is actually a compound of two notated 2/2 bars. But
there is a twist in the way this metric must be applied to make sense of the pre-
sent context. Because of shifts in the rate at which textual accents occur, as well
as of the harmonic rhythm and the rate of motivic repetition, the music shifts
several times, and in different ways, from ordinary four-bar (= four-whole-
note) hypermeter to four-double-bar (= four-breve) hypermeter, beginning
with the former and ending with the latter. In effect, with the exception of two
spots, one of which (discussed above) is at measure 30 and the other at measure
95, there is no superposition of conflicting hypermeters. Instead hypermetric
intrigue arises here by way of the artful juxtaposition of hypermeter at two dif-
ferent levels.
The tremendous feeling of allegiance to life that pervades this movement
comes in part from Schumann’s highly imaginative deployment of the process
of counting in fours. Instead of allowing the fours to plod predictably along, he
begins with regular four-bar hypermeasures, switching into the four-double-bar
kind and back out of it for specific emotional effect. For example, the switch to
the faster count regularly occurs in connection with the text I quoted above. It
thus symbolizes but also enacts the act of rushing, and it stimulates a physical
rush in the body of the listener who feels what is going on. By the same token the
switch to the slower count occurs, in a remarkably skillful manner, in connec-
tion with intimations of heaven and immortality in the text. Table 11.1 shows
where and how the switching back and forth occurs. The actual count that
reflects it is shown in Example 11.5.
Table 11.1 should be largely self-explanatory once the complete score is con-
sulted. The only region requiring more explanation is perhaps in the neighbor-
hood of measure 93. Example 11.6 presents the relevant passage. Measures
91–92 are a 4 at the level of the breve, which makes measure 93 a 1. But at that
point, despite the intoning of “Unsterblichkeit,” the presence of a strong textual
accent on the downbeat of every notated measure suggests a switch to the faster
hypermetric scheme. At the same time the persistence of the V/V harmony from
the preceding passage suggests delaying the switch until measure 95, where the
tonic six-four arrives. This has the nice consequence of producing a very con-
vincing final perfect authentic cadence, since the requisite tonic occurs on a 1 at
measure 103. One might therefore speak of this second interpretation as A. In
fact it was this interpretation that occurred to me upon first looking at the clos-
ing measures. Nevertheless, I think Schumann intended for us to hear measure
93 as a 1. We can call this way of hearing B. It has the advantage of fitting more
smoothly with the preceding music. If measure 93 is a 1, we proceed directly
Table 11.1. Hypermetric Juxtaposition in the Finale of the Requiem für Mignon
m. Level of hypermeter Feature(s) provoking the shift Special rhythmic and textual circumstances

1 four-whole-note
9 four-breve Rates of harmonic rhythm and motivic repetition are Passage deals with “Unsterblichkeit”
halved; likewise the rate at which textual accents occur
(at m. 17)
29 four-whole-note Harmonic rhythm doubled; likewise the rate at which Switch occurs on a 3, with hypermetric displacement
textual accents occur (at m. 30), to one per bar dissonance at m. 30; switch prepares for “Kinder! eilet ins
Leben hinan!”
43 four-breve Rates of harmonic rhythm and occurrence of textual Elision at m. 49, where a 4 is reinterpreted as a 1; passage

accents halved deals with “Unsterblichkeit”

65 four-whole-note Rates of harmonic rhythm and occurrence of textual At “Kinder! eilet in’s Leben hinan!”
accents doubled, to one per bar
85 four-breve Motivic repetitions at two-bar intervals clarify the count Passage deals with “Unsterblichkeit”
in spite of static harmonic rhythm and very widely and
irregularly spaced textual accents
93 four-whole-note Textual accents now occur at one per bar Persistence of V/V harmony from m. 87 though m. 94 makes
it possible to hear a switch at m. 95, where tonic 6/4 occurs,
but this makes mm. 93–94 a hypermetrical 5 at the level of
the breve
105 four-breve Textual accents every two bars Four-whole-note level peters out at m. 111
Example 11.6. Requiem für Mignon, finale (no. 6), mm. 91–113.


A: 1

2 3 4 1 2

3 4 1 2 3 4

232 Analytical Approaches

Example 11.6. Continued

1 2 3 4

from the 4 at measure 91, making the switch to a faster metric at measure 93. If
we wait until measure 95 to hear the switch, measures 93–94 must be heard as
an anomalous 5 in the slower metric. Even more persuasive, to me, is the fact
that A fades out where the 3–4 of measures 109–110 are repeated as measures
111–112. B is, in effect, an interpretation that flows smoothly all the way through
the movement, allowing for the seven shifts described in Table 11.1.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, I want to stress my intention to avoid overgeneralizing. Though

Schumann is in no sense a composer addicted to the four-bar phrase—many of
his phrases, however one defines phrase, are lengthy constructs—he is a com-
poser for whom hypermeter at the four-bar level is an essential tool. But there
are in most of his late works, some more than others, passages that resist hyper-
metric counting entirely. And there are other aspects of rhythmic intrigue in the
late works, such as changing time signatures (not always notated) and extreme
syncopation, though the latter is much less prevalent than in the composer’s
earlier music. If there is a generalization I feel comfortable making it is that in
his later music with texts—and at least 80 percent of the later music falls into
this category—Schumann succeeded in moving largely outside the orbit of his
earlier Lied framework. He created an approach to setting text that allowed for
fluidity in the rate at which the text is delivered, thus accommodating longer,
more philosophical texts; that permitted a wide range and more sudden changes
of intensity, thus facilitating dramatic expression; and that was able to serve as a
Hypermetric Dissonance in the Later Works of Robert Schumann 233

vehicle for religious as well as secular, and collective as well as individual, utter-
ance. He did this while respecting the human ear’s difficulty in operating without
direct reference to a remembered tonal center. In effect, it was by relying on
rhythmic innovations, more than on chromatic expansion, that he created a
new style for ambitious, texted works, a style touched by some of the same
impulses as those underlying the work of Berlioz and Wagner but responding to
those impulses in a manner more consistent with practices familiar to most
musicians, including skilled amateurs. In a word, it is rhythmic life that makes
Schumann’s late music—and especially the late vocal music, which rarely strays
from well-traveled harmonic paths—so wonderfully new.

1. The term hypermeter was coined by Cone in Musical Form and Musical
Performance, although its coiner actually argues there against extending meter
uncritically to higher levels. Subsequent theorists who employ the term, and there
are many, usually conceive of it as involving a regular recurrence of strong and weak
measures, all of the same length. Examples are found in Lerdahl and Jackendoff, A
Generative Theory, 20–25, 99–104; Benjamin, “A Theory of Musical Meter,” 403–13;
Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm, chapter 1.
2. I make this point in Benjamin, “A Theory of Musical Meter.” Because it has not
been taken up by theorists in general, I attempt to make it more simply and clearly
3. Confusion was sowed by Hugo Riemann, who understood meter as super-
vening on group structure, but in an inverted way: for him, every group is, by defi-
nition, iambic, or end-accented. In our own time many theorists have been influenced
by Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s strict dualism, by which meter and grouping are viewed
as essentially distinct and independent dimensions of rhythmic structure.
4. Krebs, Fantasy Pieces.
5. The effect might be, for example, that of musical prose, in the Wagnerian
sense. See Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm, chapter 8.
6. The shadow common-time meter, with accented second beats as downbeats,
might fail for the simple reason that one could not perceive the preceding (notated)
first beats as fourth beats. As noted above, in Fantasy Pieces Krebs makes little dis-
tinction between dissonant pulse trains that are metrically self-sufficient and those
that are not.
7. Schumann’s early piano music is replete with instances of accents being con-
tinuously and consistently displaced at a fixed distance from the tactus, without
thereby acquiring the status of a secondary tactus. The Impromptus, Op. 5, and the
Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, provide examples on almost every page.
8. No reference is intended to Elliott Carter’s term “metric modulation,” which is
really a technique of tempo modulation.
9. Hasty, in Meter as Rhythm, makes a detailed argument for meter as arising from
a complex cognitive process, involving memory, expectation, and projection—a fully
234 Analytical Approaches

phenomenological process because temporally situated rather than spatially

10. John Daverio in “Schumann’s Ossianic Manner” has identified the style of
the orchestral ballads Schumann composed in 1851–53 as Ossianic, but this would
seem to apply to the more heraldic or bardic sections of these works, including the
Abgesang of this movement, and not to lyrical passages like the one cited.
11. The edition of this work, in the Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, edited by
Brigitte Kohnz and Matthais Wendt, contains an extensive work history.
12. The concept of displacement dissonance is discussed, along with the comple-
mentary concept of grouping dissonance, in Krebs, Fantasy Pieces, 31–39.
13. For other aspects of the Requiem, see Roe-Min Kok’s essay in this volume.

Associative Harmony, Tonal Pairing, and

Middleground Structure in Schumann’s
Sonata Expositions
The Role of the Mediant in the First
Movements of the Piano Quintet, Piano
Quartet, and Rhenish Symphony

Peter H. Smith

Many of Robert Schumann’s compositions are framed by tonal pairing, in which

two keys, usually a third apart, intertwine throughout a work. Perhaps the most
famous instance arises in “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,” the first song of his
song cycle Dichterliebe, where the keys of Fs and A intermingle to such an extent
that it is difficult to determine the boundaries between the keys or indeed even
which of the two keys functions as the song’s governing tonality. Such tonal
pairing may likewise be found, with varying degrees of intensity, in many other
of Schumann’s songs and also in his shorter instrumental works, as has long
been recognized.1
Traditionally critics and scholars have argued that, although tonal pairing
may function successfully in such small-scale compositions, the technique fits
less comfortably with Schumann’s large-scale instrumental forms. In particular,
the kaleidoscopic wavering between keys associated with tonal pairing might
seem incompatible with the overarching tonal momentum characteristic of
sonata form. The contradiction would appear especially glaring in the exposi-
tion, where contemporary formal theories have taught us to listen for a clear and
directed opposition between two tonalities.2 Tonal pairing nevertheless plays an
important role not only in Schumann’s songs and character pieces, but in his
larger forms as well. In some of his sonata-form expositions, for instance, the
key of the secondary area may be foreshadowed as a tonicization within the first
key area, the home key may be tonicized within the secondary area, and other
cross-references to these two keys likewise may appear throughout the movement.

236 Analytical Approaches

As a result, in some of these sonata forms, as with some of the shorter works, it
is not always easy or completely possible—or indeed even desirable—to distin-
guish the boundaries of the two keys.
It is in part perhaps a result of this penchant for tonal pairing that Schumann’s
handling of tonality in sonata contexts either has met with criticism, by scholars
such as Charles Rosen, or has been largely ignored. Even defenders of Schumann’s
sonata forms, such as Joel Lester, seem to suggest that these movements lack an
overarching tonal trajectory and instead center on “novel tonal drama[s]” not
well accounted for by either traditional or Schenkerian methods of analysis,
with their emphasis on hierarchical and teleological concepts of tonality.3 I argue
instead that there is no contradiction between Schumann’s proclivity for tonal
pairing and his deft handling of large-scale form. On the contrary, the interac-
tion between tonal pairing and tonal momentum in many of his sonata forms
lies at the heart of their musical drama. This may be seen in the three works that
form the focus of this essay: the first movements of the Piano Quintet, Piano
Quartet, and Rhenish Symphony.
The expositions of these movements form an appropriate focus of study for
a number of reasons. First, as a group they demonstrate the same variety of
construction that Lester hears among Schumann’s sonata designs overall, but
within a subcategory of compositions that hew somewhat more closely to eigh-
teenth-century precedents. They therefore demonstrate that even when we find
Schumann in a more conservative mood, he avoids a schematic conception of
sonata form in favor of the formal spontaneity more often associated with the
classical style.
Second, all three movements exemplify ways that Schumann finds a home for
his personal harmonic sensibility even in contexts in which the radical edge of that
sensibility softens in response to the demands of a more traditional formal concep-
tion. It is not the case that Schumann abandons his compositional persona in these
movements and falls into an epigonistic mode of invention. Rather the strategies of
tonal pairing that Rosen disparages and Lester champions in sonatas of more idio-
syncratic design resonate in these movements, even if in less overt ways.4
Third, these expositions demonstrate Schumann’s rightful place within the
sonata tradition in the sense that they exhibit a breadth of expository strategies
derived from the eighteenth century. His conception of traditional sonata form,
like that of his more radical extensions of that form, was emphatically not the
textbook recipe that eventually was to take hold in the Formenlehre tradition.
Even in this selective sampling we see Schumann flexibly engaging conventions
of the main expository types cultivated by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and
Schubert: a two-part exposition with medial caesura and contrasting secondary
theme in the quintet, the Haydnesque alternative of a continuous exposition in
the quartet, and in the symphony a Schubertian three-key exposition.5
We will see that tonal pairing works in the service of the diverse exigencies of
these three formal types rather than at cross-purposes, as Schumann’s critics
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 237

often claim. In the quintet Schumann intertwines the tonic with fIII to achieve
a large-scale shift from Ef Major to the flat-side realm of Ef Minor/Gf Major.
This tonal pairing interacts organically with the form in the sense that the dark-
ness of the flat-side reorientation highlights the arrival of the medial caesura’s
IIn (V/V) by allowing this IIn to manifest a sudden turn to the bright sharp-side
world of the dominant, thereby forcing Ef “to sink below the horizon,” in Tovey’s
apt metaphor for this traditional sonata practice.6
By contrast, the diatonic continuity of a I-iii pairing in the quartet creates a
web of associative connections across tonic and dominant areas in the service of
the breathless sweep of a continuous exposition. Finally, analysis of the symphony
reveals a pattern of tonal imbrications involving yet another I-iii pairing.
Harmonies that were once structural pillars return as subsidiary entities in
subsequent formal sections, while previously salient embellishing harmonies
emerge as pillars. These reversals intertwine tonic and mediant in a manner
reminiscent of the tangled tonal hierarchies in Schumann’s songs and piano
works. Here, however, they serve yet another essential sonata function: to coun-
terbalance a tendency toward self-contained lyricism in the middle section of
the symphony’s three-key exposition.

The Two-Part Exposition of the Piano Quintet

Let us begin with what formal theory has taught us to think of as the most rep-
resentative expository type: the two-part layout exemplified by the quintet. It
will be helpful first to survey the large-scale organization of the exposition
before we engage details of tonal pairing as they interact with the movement’s
sonata trajectory. To this end, Table 12.1 outlines some of the exposition’s main
formal divisions and tonal articulations. It also tracks the contrast between pas-
sages of heroic extroversion and dreamy lyricism through which the tonic area
instantiates a characteristically Schumannesque expressive duality. In particular
the Florestan-like exuberance of the initial statement of the main theme and its
return in the dominant (mm. 17–26) contrasts sharply with the lyrical Eusebian
transformations that follow. The exposition nevertheless manifests a number of
traditional features in its large-scale organization and in that sense reflects a
quintessential nineteenth-century reinterpretation of classical sonata practice.
Most obviously the exposition follows the particulars of a two-part design of
tonic and dominant key areas, with this main tonal division articulated by a
medial caesura and the subsequent entrance of a contrasting second theme.
Similarities with traditional practice extend beyond these general design
characteristics to engage time-honored patterns of middleground voice leading.
The exposition’s main I–IIn–V Stufengang coordinates with its formal design in
a manner characteristic of the eighteenth century, as Figure 12.1 illustrates.
Moreover Schumann marshals his tonal resources in the service of a classical-style
238 Analytical Approaches

Table 12.1. Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44, I, Formal Outline of Exposition

Measure Numbers Formal Function Harmonic Orientation

Tonic Key Area In Ef:

1–9 Main theme (1a): Florestan I
9–17 Sequence based on 1a: Eusebius I to V (tonicized)
17–26 Standing on V based on 1a: Florestan V (tonicized)
27–30 Lyrical development of 1a: Eusebius fIII (tonicized)
31–34 Continues and merges into transition i
35–42 Transition i to fIII (tonicized)
43–50 To arrival of IIn and medial caesura Ger. 6/5 to IIn (V of Bf)
51–56 Caesura-fill IIn (V of Bf)
Dominant Key Area In Bf:
57–73 Second theme (2a) I to V (tonicized)
73–78 Caesura-fill returns V
79–95 Second theme (2a) I to V (tonicized)
95–98 Caesura-fill returns V
99–108 Motion to closure Ger. 6/5–V-I
108–116 Nearly identical to standing on V of mm. I (transformed back into
17–26 V for exposition repeat)

polarization of key areas: the motion to Bf is hardly surreptitious but rather is

dramatized as part of the formation of a large-scale dissonance with the tonic.
The tonicizations of Gf within the tonic area (mm. 27–30 and 39–42) partici-
pate in an overarching shift from Ef Major to Ef Minor, as I previously noted.
This reorientation in turn helps to mark the arrival of the large-scale IIn (V/V)
since it allows that arrival (m. 44) to articulate an abrupt shift from the darkness
of a six-flat Ef/Gf tonal pairing to the tense sharp-side world of Bf. Indeed
because F is itself locally tonicized, Schumann carries us a step beyond the dom-
inant in the tonicizing motion clockwise on the circle of fifths, just as Haydn,
Mozart, and Beethoven often do. The arrows on the clock faces above the graph
in Figure 12.1 illustrate this dramatic leap to the sharp side. Both the brightness
of the F harmony and the emphasis it achieves through its own leading-tone
chromaticism (En)—not to mention the sumptuous prolongation it receives—
emphatically reorient the form around the subsequent Bf as local tonic, thereby
expressing the very sonata-style impulse that Rosen and others have found lack-
ing in Schumann.
It is important to recognize that this dramatic polarization is a necessary
consequence neither of the mere presence of a medial caesura nor the entrance
of a new theme, nor even a large-scale I–IIn –V progression. Rather, as in the
masterpieces of the eighteenth century, the quintet’s formal character arises
from the interaction of its tonal structure and design, in all their details, and not
from aspects of one or the other dimension considered superficially or in isola-
tion. Consider, for a moment, the exposition of the first movement of Schumann’s
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 239

Figure 12.1. Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44, I, graph of mm. 1–57.

A-Major String Quartet as a counter-example. Its middleground progression

follows a similar trajectory, as the graph in Figure 12.2 indicates. Likewise its
design articulates a two-part exposition with tonic area (m. 8), medial caesura
(m. 45), and second theme (m. 46) all in ready view. The character of the quar-
tet’s tonic-dominant relationship, however, stands worlds apart from the
large-scale dissonance projected by the quintet. The tonal instability of the
quartet’s tonic area, the brevity of its modulation to V, the internal emphasis its
second theme places on the local subdominant—an A tonicization that echoes
the overall A tonic—and the strong motivic connections between its main and
second themes give rise, not to a large-scale dissonance, but to what Lester
describes as “a tonal/thematic interaction [between tonic and dominant
material] lasting until the end of the movement.”7
240 Analytical Approaches

Figure 12.2. Schumann, A-Major String Quartet, Op. 41, no. 3, I, graph of mm. 1–46.

The comparison highlights two salient attributes that are often undervalued
in critical responses to Schumann’s instrumental music: the resourcefulness and
flexibility of the composer’s approach to sonata composition. When his material
lends itself to supple interaction with traditional sonata practice, he is quite wil-
ling to engage that practice. He is fully capable of creating a polarization of tonic
and dominant when he deems it appropriate to the formal context. By the same
token Schumann is far from a slave to tradition and is unafraid to develop idio-
syncratic strategies in the context of “higher forms,” as Lester’s analysis of the
string quartet and other works demonstrates. Sympathetic engagement with
Schumann’s sonata practice reveals that he was neither an epigone, who
attempted to force progressive content into incompatible old patterns in a piece
like the quintet, nor a composer whose less traditional sonata strategies in the
string quartet and elsewhere betray a lack of insight into eighteenth-century
One aspect of the quintet that illustrates Schumann’s deft integration of tra-
ditional and progressive characteristics is the interaction that develops between
tonic and mediant harmonies across the exposition. As I noted at the outset, this
tonal pairing reflects a compositional approach more often associated with the
composer’s “progressive” character pieces for piano from the 1830s rather than
the reputedly more “conservative” chamber works of 1842.8 Yet rather than work
against the traditional process of polarization in an awkward mix of progres-
sivism and epigonism, the pairing contributes to that polarization, as closer
scrutiny of the exposition reveals.
The quintet’s Ef/Gf interaction begins in the passage that follows the
emphatic dominant expansion of measures 17–26. The exposition articulates a
clear hierarchy of harmonic relationships through to this point: the opening
phrase expands the tonic, the sequential passage that follows carries us from
tonic to dominant, and the dominant clearly controls the expansion that follows.
The graph in Figure 12.3 illustrates this clarity, which is plain to the ear both
Figure 12.3. Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44, I, graph of mm. 1–25.
242 Analytical Approaches

from the synoptic perspective of the graph and from the perspective of less final
moments of perception during real-time performance.
Following the dominant expansion, however, the exposition begins to
suggest associative harmonic connections that complicate the notion of a
clear prolongational hierarchy. Consider the initial tonicization of Gf in
measures 27–30. This tonicization falls within further expansion of the
dominant and thus has a relatively shallow structural status, as indicated in
the graph of Figure 12.1. Indeed the Gf tonic does not even function as a
quasi-independent Stufe, but rather arises as a byproduct of a contrapuntal
5–f6 motion within the prolonged dominant. The Gf tonicization neverthe-
less causes the return of the structural tonic at measure 31 to sound like a vi
chord and thus causes the two harmonies to intertwine: is Gf fIII/Ef (or fVI/
Bf) or is Ef vi/Gf? From the perspective of the whole, Ef remains the
controlling harmony and Gf functions as embellishment of Ef’s dominant.
But in the local context Ef has been made to sound like a harmony that is
subsidiary to Gf.
The process of tonal pairing continues with the more forthright progression
to Gf that follows immediately after the equivocal return of Ef. The overarching
middleground motion extends from the opening tonic Stufe to the arrival on IIn
at measure 44. In this sense the second Gf harmony in measures 39–42 remains
subsidiary like the first, despite its new status as a foreground Stufe: it functions
as upper-third of Ef. Yet the second tonicization of fIII is thematically parallel to
the first and therefore forms a strong associative connection with it. The Ef
chord in measure 31 falls within a Gf key orientation, at least at its point of
entry. But the subsequent cadential progression in Ef (mm. 31–34) and the rep-
etition of that progression (mm. 35–38) work to convince us again of Ef’s tonic
status and middleground significance. The 6/3 position of the second Ef tonic
(m. 35), however, reemphasizes Gf, and the progression then almost immedi-
ately shifts back to orientation around fIII. In the dimension of associative
hearing, Gf eventually comes to frame Ef, and earlier perceptions of Ef as a
subsidiary vi chord thereby receive retrospective support. Thus even as the syn-
optic perspective of my graph in Figure 12.1 indicates a straightforward hier-
archy of harmonic relationships, the moment-to-moment listening process
intertwines Ef and Gf, causing us to question which harmony might function
locally as tonal referent. Although this decentering of harmonic relations is less
intense than in many passages of tonal pairing in Schumann’s character pieces
or songs—not to mention passages of dual tonic emphasis in Wagner and other
later nineteenth-century composers—something of the same tonal sensibility
informs the beautiful Eusebian development of the quintet’s main-theme
Note the contrast with the function of the A/E pairing in the A-Major string
quartet—Lester’s tonal/thematic interaction—where tonic and dominant inter-
twine in a relationship that displaces tonal polarity as a driving force for the
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 243

exposition. Schumann does not develop his strategies artificially in these move-
ments but rather in conjunction with the totality of their forms. In the quintet
the pairing enhances a polarity that arises organically from the tonal stability
and thematic contrast of the key areas. In the quartet pairing substitutes for
polarity in response to the instability and integration of the formal sections.
The quintet’s Ef/Gf pairing further resonates in a broader motivic interaction
between Gn and Gf that is also crucial to the evolution of the form. Mixture and
the Gn/Gf dichotomy continue to have a significant impact on sonata-style artic-
ulation both in the passage of caesura-fill that prepares the entrance of the sec-
ond theme (mm. 51–56) and in the final tonal delay that leads to closure at the
end of the Bf key area (mm. 99–108).10
In the first instance we find a process of linkage of which Brahms could be
proud. Continuity arises when the entrance of the caesura-fill picks up the
thread of the transition’s Gf–F neighbor, even as it reinterprets the function of
the chromaticism. As Figure 12.4 traces, Gn becomes the neighbor in measures
51–56, while Gf/Fs still remains present in its new role as embellishment of the
structural voice leading. The melodic idea of the caesura-fill then becomes the
basis for the sentential second theme, complete with the theme’s emphasis on F,
Fs, and Gn in both the statement and repetition of its basic idea. The optimistic,
upward striving of the theme, with its rising F—Fs motions to G and beyond,
beautifully reverses both the transition’s “dark” Gf–F neighbors and the top-
voice resolution of Gn to F across the entrance of the second theme, as arrows
indicate in Figure 12.4.
The second instance of Gn/Gf development contributes to continuity at the
other end of the Bf area. Schumann engages similar methods of linkage in both
locations, as a means of confronting one of the central challenges of sonata
composition in his day: how to satisfy a proclivity for self-contained lyricism,
especially in secondary material—the lyrical second theme in the reification of
nineteenth-century Formenlehre—while nevertheless attending to the larger
exigencies of an ongoing sonata dynamic. The circular organization of the quin-
tet’s second theme compounds the challenge. Schumann exploits circularity to
beautiful effect in his songs and character pieces, but a circular construction
would appear to be incompatible with the larger tonal sweep of sonata form.
The initial statement of the theme culminates in a tonicization of F, whose
arrival at measure 73 overlaps with a return of the material of the caesura-fill.
The caesura-fill’s immediate reinterpretation of the local F tonic as V/Bf carries
the form back to where it had been at the end of the transition, and the circular
process does indeed continue with a repetition of the second theme (m. 79).
How will Schumann break out of this potentially endless loop and reengage the
larger sonata trajectory?
Just as the second theme reaches the threshold of what threatens to be an
excessively repetitious third statement, the pattern breaks, at measure 99, with a
sudden con fuoco intrusion that recalls the Gf emphasis earlier in the exposition.
244 Analytical Approaches

Figure 12.4. Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44, I, graph of mm. 42–65.

As Figure 12.5 indicates, Gf once again enters as a byproduct of a 5–f6 motion

above Bf, as it had in the tonic area. Remarkably, however, and in further
development of the Gf/Fs dialectic, it pushes upward to Gn and onward to A
rather than downward to F as it had at the medial caesura. Gf nevertheless again
participates in the dramatic, sonata-style articulation of a large-scale tonal goal:
the chromatic intrusion helps to delay resolution of the secondary area’s F dom-
inant and thus helps to dramatize closure on Bf when that closure eventually
arrives at measure 108. Figure 12.5 charts the voice leading of this delay and
highlights the melodic play of Gn and Gf that creates linkage across the bound-
aries between caesura-fill, con fuoco material, and codetta.

The Continuous Exposition of the Piano Quartet

The exposition of the piano quartet exhibits a similar blend of traditional and
progressive characteristics. The movement is noteworthy for its extensive delay
of the dominant Stufe that more typically enters around the midpoint of a
sonata exposition. There is nevertheless ample precedent for the procedure
Schumann adopts here: the quartet follows eighteenth-century conventions of
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 245

Figure 12.5. Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44, I, graph of mm. 95–108.

continuous rather than two-part exposition.11 It includes neither a medial cae-

sura nor a second theme, in contrast to the clear bipartite design of the quintet.
Schumann instead follows Haydn’s characteristic practice and composes across
the shift from tonic to dominant key areas. The secondary material remains cen-
tered on its own local V as part of this continuity, until the long-delayed resolu-
tion to Bf finally arrives at the exposition’s point of closure (m. 119).
These traditional Haydnesque conventions remain fresh in part through
their interaction with a more characteristically Schumannesque tonal dialectic
between tonic and mediant, which serves as a red thread of unification across
the various sections of the exposition. Here the focus is on diatonic relation-
ships among tonal pairs, which serves Schumann’s strategy of formal continuity,
in contrast to the modal mixture of the quintet, where articulation takes prece-
dence. In place of the contrast between flat- and sharp-side orientations of the
polarized articulation in the quintet, the quartet exploits the invariance of Ef
Major and G Minor to create continuity across the key areas. Thus we see again
that tonal pairing functions as an inherent component of the form: classical and
Schumannesque characteristics work in consort rather than as the contradic-
tory impulses of a fundamentally flawed formal conception.
A preliminary overview again will facilitate our engagement with details of
Schumann’s tonal dialectics as essential formal components. Table 12.2 provides
a summary of the exposition’s main sectional divisions and tonal articulations.
246 Analytical Approaches

Table 12.2. Schumann, Piano Quartet, Op. 47, I, Formal Outline of Exposition
Measure Numbers Formal Function Harmonic Orientation

Introduction In Ef:
1–12 Foreshadows main theme (1a) I to V
Tonic Key Area In Ef:
13–26, 26–35 (A) Main theme (1a) I–ii–V–I
35–51 (B) Based on 1a I to V (tonicized) with subsidiary
tonicization of iii
52–64 (A’) 1a returns I with closure
Transition merges into
64–76 Transition iii (tonicized) with Ef emphasis
76–80 Leads to III as V of C
80–88 Arrival of IIn, but medial IIn (V of Bf)
Expansion Section In Bf:
88–92 Sequence: model (based on V
material from transition)
92–96 Sequential Rep. 1 V/Bn
96–103 Sequential Rep. 2 G as V/C and then tonicized
103–107 Based on 1a V/G (IIIs)
107–120 Motion to closure (based on iii–iv–V–I
material from transition)
Introduction In Ef:
121–136 V–I–V (Ger. 6/5 of D)

Note that although the tonic area closes at measure 64 and a transition immedi-
ately ensues, no decisive articulation emerges thereafter to divide the exposition
in the manner of a two-part pattern. The closest the form comes to a medial
caesura is the arrival at measure 88 on F, a locally tonicized harmony as in the
quintet, but V/V or IIn in the larger expository scheme. Yet rather than treat this
arrival as a turning point in the form, Schumann prepares it unceremoniously
and then forges onward with a sequential passage that eschews both the tonal
stability and melodic profile of a second theme. The bulk of the nontonic
material, in other words, functions as an expansion section, as is typical for a
continuous exposition. Once F finally resurfaces on the foreground at measure
115 the time for a medial caesura has long passed and the sonata-style emphasis
on this large-scale harmonic arrival functions in the service of Bf closure rather
than Bf initiation.
The first hint of G’s importance as a harmony paired with the tonic arises
within the second main section of the tonic area (mm. 35–51). As the graph in
Figure 12.6 illustrates, this phrase tonicizes the mediant within a larger tonic
expansion, which eventually progresses to the dominant at measure 51. Several
characteristics of this transient G tonicization reward closer scrutiny, as they
will emerge as broadly motivic throughout the exposition. First, observe the
prominence of melodic interactions between Ef and D, as Schumann enters,
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 247

expands, and exits the mediant tonicization. Brackets in Figure 12.6 highlight
this Ef–D motivic dyad as it appears in various functional configurations.
Second, note that although the graph depicts the Ef entrance at measure 47 as an
offshoot of the tonic Stufe, the local harmonic context makes this “tonic” sound
like VI of G-minor. Ef and G already begin to intertwine in the sense that the
mediant emphasis forces us to hear a foreground manifestation of the middle-
ground tonic as a subsidiary chord within the local G tonicization. From the
synoptic perspective of the graph, the music has rearticulated the overriding
structural Ef at measure 47 with the G harmony functioning as embellishment.
But the moment-to-moment progression raises some doubt about which har-
mony we are to perceive as the local tonal referent.
This tonal duality resurfaces on a larger formal level as the close of the tonic
area at measure 64 overlaps with the onset of the transition. A full close on an Ef
tonic might threaten to obstruct formal progress just when the exposition needs
to forge ahead in the sonata dynamic. Schumann again remains responsive to
broader sonata exigencies through the continuity provided by linkage tech-
nique. Just as the motivic D–Ef dyad is about to fulfill the melodic imperatives
of closure at measures 63–64, a disruptive shift back to D and a jolting syncopa-
tion open the formal process to continuation. The abrupt tonicization of G that
accompanies this disruption solidifies a motivic connection with the tonic area’s
G-Minor phrase, with its own Ef –D interactions highlighted by brackets in
Figure 12.7. Moreover the transition’s subsequent pairing of tonic and mediant
further intensifies the relationship.
At the moment it enters, there is no question that we hear the G har-
mony of the transition as subsidiary to Ef: the form has just concluded an

Figure 12.6. Schumann, Piano Quartet, Op. 47, I, graph of mm. 36–57.
248 Analytical Approaches

Figure 12.7. Schumann, Piano Quartet, Op. 47, I, graph of mm. 64–88.

expansive tonic area unequivocally oriented around Ef on the middle-

ground. But the subsequent return to Ef in the transition (m. 68) raises
similar questions of local tonal priority encountered within the primary
theme group. Does this Ef connect to the Ef of the tonic area’s closing
cadence and thus function as an offshoot of the opening tonic Stufe? Or is
it subsidiary to the G Stufe and thus related to the previous Ef articulation
only associatively, as graphed in Figure 12.7? The parallelism of D–Ef dyadic
statements in measures 64 and 68 encourages an aural connection between
the two Ef articulations. Yet the eventual incorporation of Df in this second
Ef flourish and the dominant function it implies—note the parallelism with
the V/G orientation in measure 64—weakens the connection, or at least
momentarily holds tonal interpretation in abeyance. The harmonic inter-
pretation shown in the graph of Figure 12.7 comes into full focus only ret-
rospectively as Ef resolves to Af and Af emerges as a fII chord in a further
extension of G Minor.
This first phase of the transition thus provides a reversal of previous
harmonic relationships between Ef and G, following the conventions of tonal
pairing. The tonic area retains Ef’s structural connection at measure 47 with
the Ef tonic Stufe even as it suggests a subsidiary function for this Ef as VI/G.
The transition, by contrast, does indeed articulate Ef as a subsidiary VI/G even
as this VI/G nevertheless maintains an associative connection with the tonic
area’s closing structural Ef chord. Moreover echoes of the sound, if not the
function, of the Ef tonic continue to reverberate as the G emphasis extends
further into the transition. Note that the double neighbor configuration
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 249

bracketed in the bass of Figure 12.7 reengages both the Ef–D motivic dyad and
the reinterpretation of Ef as VI in the local G context.
G continues to function as a locus of tonal activity throughout the remainder
of the transition in its foreground capacity as V/C, as Figure 12.7 indicates.
Interactions with Ef, however, fade from the foreground as the G prolongation
eventually yields to V/Bf at measure 88. Ef and G nevertheless both continue to
play significant roles in the prolongation of V/Bf that governs the remainder of
the secondary area. It is in this prolongation that we hear the Ef–G tonal pair
work in the service of the relentless sweep of a continuous exposition: emphasis
on these motivic harmonies across both key areas contributes to formal conti-
nuity and dominant delay, in contrast to the articulated polarity of flat- and
sharp-side orientations in the quintet.
The first part of the quartet’s V/Bf prolongation unfolds sequentially in three
stages, as labeled in Figure 12.8. The third stage of measures 96–103 tonicizes
G Minor, and the gradually increasing tension of the rising sequential transpo-
sitions culminates in a dramatic arrival on V/G. Although a structural G tonic
never reemerges, the emphasis on the key of G reawakens the motivic train of
thought established by the Ef–G pairing earlier in the exposition.
Similarly the prolonged middleground F dominant returns on the musical
surface at measure 115 via a preparatory Ef—now reinterpreted as iv of Bf—and
this Ef receives emphasis in measures 107–111 through its own applied domi-
nant. There is no question of a prolongational connection of this Ef with the
opening Ef Stufe, notwithstanding the hint of tonicization. The Ef here falls
within prolongation of the overriding F dominant on its way to Bf, as indicated
in Figure 12.8. Yet it seems suggestive nevertheless that Ef as expanded harmony
here and G as a key in the immediately preceding passage retain their salience in
these later stages of the exposition, following their earlier motivic interactions.
Observe that the arrival on V/G in the sequential passage also progresses to a
local V-I motion in Bf via an Ef–En–F bass line (mm. 103–105), similar to the
approach to closure. Moreover both of these progressions recall the initial Ef–G
interaction in the tonic area, as Figure 12.9 summarizes.12 Indeed Ef and G con-
tinue to function as motivic harmonies even beyond the close of the exposition.
Ef returns along with the movement’s introductory material in measures
123–135 following the Bf cadence, and the development progresses from an
initial tonicization of D Minor to a brief G-Minor statement of main theme
material in measures 144–148.13
The development’s G-Minor passage has an obvious surface transience and
therefore fulfills a clearly subsidiary role in the structural hierarchy. The Ef of
the introductory material, however, raises similar questions of tonal priority we
have encountered in previous passages that involve these motivic harmonies.
The expository close on Bf achieves some strength despite its brevity, as a
consequence of its long delay. An argument can be made on the basis of this
delayed fulfillment in support of Bf’s structural priority in relation to the
Figure 12.8. Schumann, Piano Quartet, Op. 47, I, graph of mm. 88–119.
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 251

Figure 12.9. Schumann, Piano Quartet, Op. 47, I, bass line parallelisms.

more expansive Ef that follows, as outlined in Figure 12.10.14 The notion of a

structurally superior Bf receives additional support in the “floating,” indeed
introductory (i.e., tense and preparatory) character of the Ef harmony. Likewise
the foreground rearticulation of Bf at measure 134 joins the previous Bf to form
a frame around Ef, and it is this second Bf, not Ef, that propels the form onward
to the D Minor that initiates the development.
These characteristics notwithstanding, it is important to acknowledge that
the initial arrival on Bf at measure 119 is both short-lived and immediately
destabilized through syncopated repetition. Moreover, Schumann refuses to
confirm the Bf resolution with a codetta and instead immediately reinter-
prets the harmony as V/Ef on the foreground. The Ef return of the introduc-
tory material initially sounds like an expository repeat, and the parallelism
with the front edge of the opening tonic Stufe raises the question of whether,

Figure 12.10. Schumann, Piano Quartet, Op. 47, I, graph of mm.

252 Analytical Approaches

despite all the efforts of the exposition, the movement might remain under
the control of the tonic on later levels of the middleground. The form has
struggled to arrive at its dominant pole in favor of Ef/G interactions, and
once it finally articulates Bf it appears immediately to slip back into the orbit
of the tonic. If pushed to make an either/or decision regarding harmonic
relationships here, I would come down in favor of a subsidiary role for the
local Ef tonicization as suggested in Figure 12.10. I nevertheless believe that
it is equally important to acknowledge the musical impact of the abruptness
of the Bf articulation, the relative expansiveness of the Ef that follows, and
the resulting tension between structure and embellishment that animates the
form here as elsewhere in the movement.15
I hasten to add that the destabilization of the dominant goal in favor of a fore-
ground turn back to the tonic hardly disqualifies the exposition as an effective
reinterpretation of classical practice. It is true that both the absence of a codetta
and the tonic return undercut the solidity of the dominant. But the resulting
brevity of articulation corresponds with the spirit of mobility that underlies the
idea of a continuous exposition. Moreover such brevity reflects a sensibility of
compositional economy in the harmonic dimension fully in, rather than against,
the spirit of the sonata style. And the practice of following the exposition with a
tonic rearticulation before the main business of the development gets under way
has ample precedent in earlier composers, as does the return of introductory
material and the momentary illusion of an expository repeat.16

The Three-Key Exposition of the Rhenish Symphony

Our final example, the first movement of the Rhenish Symphony, further illus-
trates the range of Schumann’s sonata practice by providing an instance of his
engagement with a three-key exposition. The movement’s secondary area falls
into two parts, the first of which tonicizes the mediant before the form prog-
resses to the dominant, as Table 12.3 indicates. The most distinctive thematic
idea of this two-part second group enters with the first section, following
Schubert’s standard practice. The Bf material that follows has the more generic
character of a codetta and indeed arrives at the point of closure in the domi-
nant at measure 165. The buildup to this codetta in measures 134–164 like-
wise features the urgent push toward closure that often characterizes the later
stages of secondary material. Paradoxically and characteristically, an expres-
sive tension arises between design and structure in the three-key context: the
more arresting thematic material—the G-Minor theme that initiates the
secondary area—corresponds with an area of transience in the tonal struc-
ture. It nevertheless makes perfect sense that the arrival of the structurally
more significant V corresponds with the onset of less distinctive thematic
ideas, since Schumann has delayed the arrival of that V until the exposition’s
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 253

Table 12.3. Schumann, Rhenish Symphony, Op. 97, I, Formal Outline of Exposition
Measure Numbers Formal Function Harmonic Orientation

Tonic Key Area In Ef:

1–21 (A) Main theme (1a) I
21–57 (B) I–iii (tonicized)–ii–V
57–77 (A’) 1a returns I
77–94 Transition (based on material from B G: iv–Ger. 6/5–V
section of tonic area: compare mm. 77–91
and 25–43)
Mediant Key Area In G:
95–101 Second theme (2a) i
102–110 2a III (tonicized)
111–127 Based on 1a III–V/v–v
127–133 2a v (tonicized)–V–i
Dominant Key Area In Bf:
134–165 Motion to closure V
165–183 I

final structural cadence. Motivic liquidation conventionally functions in

tandem with harmonic structure to create moments of closure in sonata and
other formal contexts.
Somewhat more difficult to interpret is the relationship between the G
and F Stufen that fall within the exposition’s overriding I-V framework.
Does the exposition articulate a I-iii-V bass arpeggiation with a strong
correspondence among tonal structure, key scheme, and thematic design, as
illustrated in Figure 12.11a? Or does the tonal trajectory follow the I—IIn–V
paradigm that we have observed in the quintet and quartet, as depicted in
Figure 12.11b? The difference of interpretation centers on the relative
structural priority of either iii or IIn, that is, of either the G Minor of the
lyrical theme or the F harmony that governs the subsequent drive toward Bf
Lauri Suurpää offers an interpretation in which the prolongation of IIn
achieves sufficient structural weight to form the main stepping-stone from tonic
to dominant, despite the emphasis G receives through tonicization and themati-
cism. In support of his argument he cites, in addition to F’s vast prolongation,
similar situations in Schubert and Brahms where nontonicized IIn harmonies
take precedence.17 But Schumann’s G-Minor passage is more stable tonally than
many second themes in three-key expositions of these composers: for example,
in the first movements of Schubert’s String Quintet and Brahms’s Second
Symphony. Schumann’s theme features its own i-III-V-i bass arpeggiation in
measures 101–133 as a complement to its thematic stability, as illustrated in
Figure 12.12. The Schubert and Brahms themes, by contrast, float among
254 Analytical Approaches

Figure 12.11. Schumann, Rhenish Symphony, Op.

97, I. (a) Graph of exposition with bass
arpeggiation. (b) Graph of exposition with
emphasis on IIn.

multiple keys and thus only weakly articulate an apparent secondary tonal center
within an expository I—IIn–V progression. Furthermore Schumann prepares
the entrance of his G Stufe with a prolongation of its dominant, which is itself
prepared by an augmented-sixth chord as goal of a transition—all conventional
signs for a medial caesura. These formal markers provide a more substantial
articulation for G than is often the case for the second key in a three-key expo-
sition, where abrupt or unprepared modulations occur frequently.
The Rhenish’s exposition presents us with a not uncommon interpretive
challenge arising from the complex set of factors that may influence tonal-for-
mal interpretation. There are multiple ways a formal section and its governing
harmony might achieve salience, and if we force ourselves into a decision about
competing claims, we may enter into a seemingly arbitrary elevation of one set
of criteria over another. This multivalence, however, in no way reflects a weak-
ness of the form. On the contrary, the complexity allies the form of the Rhenish
with the ethos of sonata style generally and with the expressive possibilities of
the three-key design in particular.
The alternative I-iii-V interpretation, for instance, finds a motivic justifica-
tion in the parallelism it forms with the similar progression that governs the
internal organization of the tonic area. The exposition articulates two main
arpeggiation patterns: the first, a lower level I-iii-V-I progression within the
main theme group (Figure 12.13), and the second, the I-iii-V motion that forms
the basis for the exposition’s three-key plan, as I have just described. (I use the
term arpeggiation pattern here, rather than Schenker’s Bassbrechung, because the
larger progression moves through root, third, and fifth only if we accept G as a
structural harmony, an interpretation that is less than certain, as Suurpää’s
I—IIn–V reading and my graph of Figure 12.12 suggest.) The lower level arpeg-
giation provides the first hints of the Ef–G pairing that will contribute to
Figure 12.12. Schumann, Rhenish Symphony, Op. 97, I, graph of mm. 57–135.
256 Analytical Approaches

Figure 12.13. Schumann, Rhenish Symphony, Op. 97, I, graph of mm. 1–57.

continuity across various formal levels. Here on the lower level there is really no
doubt about the relative structural priority of G and F, as indicated in Figure
12.13. G is not only tonicized, but it also receives three solid V-i articulations
(mm. 25–27, 33–35, and 42–43). Moreover its prolongation governs some
twenty measures. F, by contrast, stretches across only several measures and
enters without the added weight of tonicization.
Regardless of how one interprets the second, larger scale arpeggiation pattern,
however—as a structural I-iii-V progression or embedded within a I—IIn–V
motion—it seems not only plausible, but indeed desirable to hear a parallelism
between the harmonic action on the two structural levels. That is, even if we
accept Suurpää’s reading—and there are certainly good reasons to do so, not
least the energy that accrues with the expansion of IIn as a contrast to the more
languid and brooding character of the G-Minor theme—we should remain
open to the possibility that two instances of the same compositional idea might
manifest a contrast of internal structural relationships. To adhere strictly to
requirements for structural parallelism as a filter for identification of motivic
parallelism would result in an impoverished interpretation. Better for us to
follow Carl Schachter’s advice on such matters and consider this a both/and
rather than either/or situation.18
The pairing of Ef and G emerges as the exposition progresses from the tonic
area’s internal arpeggiation onward to the exposition’s larger motion to the
dominant. Schumann highlights Ef in its capacity as a subsidiary VI chord
several times within the first G tonicization, as indicated in Figure 12.13.
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 257

This reinterpretation occurs almost immediately after the exposition articu-

lates the front edge of the G tonicization at measure 27, while the sound of the
Ef structural tonic is still fresh. Ef, moreover, receives emphasis at measure 29
through an applied V4/3 chord, strengthening the possibility for an associa-
tive connection with the structural Ef harmony the form has just exited. Ef
returns yet again after the passage has settled more firmly into G in the decep-
tive V-VI progression in measures 38–39. Note that here there is no structural
connection with the main Ef Stufe, in contrast to the V-VI progressions in the
mediant within the tonic area in the quintet and quartet (mm. 29–31 and
46–47, respectively). In those movements the return to Ef as VI/G picks up the
thread of the main opening tonic and participates in a structural I-V progres-
sion. In the symphony VI/G remains subsidiary by virtue of a subsequent V-i
motion in G.
Now a skeptic might dismiss the idea of associative connections among these
structural and embellishing Ef sonorities as a case of analytical wishful thinking.
It is not at all unusual for VI to appear as a generic harmony; might the VI/G
chords simply arise as a consequence of conventional harmonic progression
without any larger motivic significance? Admittedly the potential to hear extra-
prolongational connections tangling Ef and G is more delicate in this context
than in the quintet and the quartet. I nevertheless believe that the possibility for
such subtle harmonic connections exists here, and moreover that these connec-
tions initiate a pattern of motivic interaction that extends across larger formal
levels. The transition (Figure 12.12), for instance, marks the arrival of V/G at
measure 87 with multiple statements of an Ef augmented-sixth chord coordi-
nated with a return of the melodic idea from the G-Minor passage within the
tonic area (compare mm. 84–91 and 36–43). The resulting emphasis on the
Ef–D dyad in the bass recalls the similar function the dyad fulfills within the
tonic area and also foreshadows its prominence in the top voice of the G-Minor
theme, as brackets in Figures 12.12 and 12.13 indicate.
To summarize: the two motivic harmonies intertwine in the manner of a
tonal pair in the sense that G of the tonic area is subsidiary to Ef but articu-
lates its own subsidiary Ef harmonies that form associative connections with
the Ef Stufe. Moreover this harmonic intertwining occurs on multiple formal
levels: within the tonic area and across the tonic area into the secondary
material. The larger motion to G recalls the internal emphasis on Ef of the
more local G tonicization, even as this second G itself remains subsidiary to Ef
as its upper third, at least when heard according to Suurpää’s I–IIn–V middle-
ground interpretation.
It is also the case that Schumann appears unwilling to abandon G even after
the form has progressed to the exposition’s main IIn harmony. The expansion of
this IIn includes its own deceptive motion at measure 152 to G Minor or vi in the
local Bf context, with a viio7/G harmony providing a hint of tonicization to
strengthen the association. There exists a parallelism here with the situation
258 Analytical Approaches

Figure 12.14. Schumann, Rhenish Symphony, Op. 97, I, motivic connection of Bf


within the tonic area, where the modulation to G highlights the recently exited
Ef by means of a V-VI progression at measure 39. Similarly and across a still
larger formal level, the development begins at measure 185 with an immediate
outburst on G (subito fff ), which functions as V/C but nevertheless enters via a
preparatory Fs and thus recalls the deceptive progression within the third sec-
tion of the exposition.
Finally, it might even be possible to hear an associative connection between
the Bf tonicization within the G-Minor lyrical theme—the third in the G–Bf–
D–G Bassbrechung in measures 101–133 of Figure 12.12—and the exposition’s
goal Bf dominant.19 The hint of an associative relationship between these other-
wise generic harmonies is encouraged by the motivic repetition of melodic frag-
ments common to both, as Figure 12.14 highlights. Schumann’s concept of form
here and throughout appears to be organized around tonal imbrication: past
tonal areas and structural harmonies linger associatively in subsequent regions,
even as those regions anticipate key areas and Stufen still to come. In the process
of this imbrication harmonies that were once structural pillars return as
subsidiary entities, while salient embellishing harmonies emerge as pillars.
These reversals of perspective serve to intertwine the harmonies in a manner
reminiscent of the more overt ambiguities and tangled hierarchies of tonal pair-
ing in Schumann’s piano works and songs. Here, however, they fulfill an inherent
function in the sonata context: they serve to integrate the disparate sections of
the three-key exposition and thus help to sustain a larger formal trajectory
across the subdivisions of the form.


Schumann is scarcely the only nineteenth-century composer whose sonata

forms have faced harsh criticism, even as pieces such as the piano quintet, piano
quartet, and Rhenish Symphony remain among his most popular instrumental
works. Indeed, for an influential writer like Charles Rosen, much of the history
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 259

of post-Beethovenian instrumental composition centers on an irreconcilable

tension between the new stylistic proclivities of Romantic composers and their
desire to compose in a form whose principles of organization—at least as
defined by Rosen—were inextricably bound to late eighteenth-century modes
of musical thought. Even Schubert is judged to have composed sonata forms
that are “mechanical in a way that is absolutely foreign to his models. They are
used by Schubert as molds, almost without reference to the material that was to
be poured into them.” Only with late works such as the C-Major String Quintet
and G-Major String Quartet does Rosen allow that “Schubert returns to classical
principles in a manner almost as striking if not as complete as Beethoven.”20
What is noteworthy with respect to my exploration of Schumann’s sonata
practice is the prominence of passages of tonal pairing in the expositions of
both of these Schubert masterpieces. Rosen comments only briefly on the move-
ments, noting, “What is remarkable is the rebirth of the classical conviction that
the simplest tonal relationships can alone provide the subject-matter of music.”21
An analysis of any detail, however, could scarcely fail to acknowledge the tonal
dialectics of both movements’ secondary themes.22 The first part of the quintet’s
two-part second group intertwines major and minor versions of the tonic with
tonicizations of both fIII and the dominant in a highly complex tonal pairing, or
“tripling,” to be more precise. The interplay between En and Ef that emerges as
this tripling unfolds indeed may be heard as a consequence of a foundational
tonal relationship: the mixture introduced in the very opening measures of the
movement where Schubert contrasts En of the initial tonic with Ef of a disqui-
eting common-tone diminished seventh chord.23 This integration of detail with
the large-scale design clearly exemplifies what Rosen hears as a newfound formal
integrity in Schubert’s late works. The general recourse to pairing and the
organic interaction of that pairing with the movement’s form, however, is in no
way alien to Schumann’s strategy in the piano quintet, where, as we have seen,
mixture also plays a significant role.
Similarly the secondary area of Schubert’s G-Major quartet vacillates bet-
ween an Fs harmony, with a foreground V/B function, and the D tonic that
eventually comes to govern the material on the middleground. This pairing of a
tonic and its IIIs (V/vi) is precisely the harmonic relationship that has received
justifiable praise from numerous critics and scholars in the context of “Im wun-
derschönen Monat Mai” from Schumann’s Dichterliebe.24 Yet when Schumann
engages tonal pairing in a sonata context, Rosen and others inevitably judge the
results to be a failure. We are left to ponder the je ne sais quoi that allows harmonic
dialectics to succeed in Schubert’s sonata forms, while in Schumann the very
presence of the technique is felt to betray either compositional willfulness or,
worse, a lack of insight into the exigencies of sonata composition.
The same contradiction is evident in contrasting responses to Schumann and
Brahms. And here again I refer to Rosen’s writings, which, despite their many
salutary contributions, offer in this area what amounts to an unhelpful
260 Analytical Approaches

summation of long-standing negative attitudes about Schumann’s sonata

forms.25 Whereas Rosen hears “a continual disparity between traditional form
and musical idea” in Schumann, he judges sonata form to be “a congenial outlet
for [Brahms’s] gifts.” Brahms was among sonata form’s “most influential expo-
nents,” according to Rosen, and indeed was still able to widen its harmonic range
and “more than any other composer, [exploit] the possibilities of overlapping
sections, the ambiguities of the boundaries of sonata form.”26
Yet Brahms, like Schubert and Schumann, engaged tonal pairing throughout
his compositional career as part of this harmonic expansion in both two-part
and three-key expositions. In the three-key exposition of the Bf-Major String
Sextet of 1862, for instance, a pairing of F and A governs the harmonic structure
of the second theme. These harmonies function locally as I and IIIs of the
F Major that emerges as a structural harmony only at the arrival of the exposi-
tion’s third formal area. The F-Minor Clarinet Sonata’s (1895) second theme, by
contrast, exploits tonal paring not to allude to a harmonic goal that remains on
the horizon, but rather to sustain an opening tonic that refuses to recede to the
background until the third part of the three-key design. Indeed the tonic area
itself is marked by the pairing in its anticipation of the Df Major of the second
theme. In still another late work, the finale of the G-Major String Quintet of
1891, a tonal pairing of tonic and mediant colors harmonic relations not just in
the movement’s two-part exposition but also across the entire form.27 Again, it
is not clear why these strategies may be admitted as part of what is generally
understood to be a successful revitalization of sonata practice in Brahms, while
for Schumann they reflect either a failure to understand the exigencies of tradi-
tional instrumental forms or a willful attempt to force nineteenth-century com-
positional strategies onto those forms.28
More recent Schumann scholarship thankfully has made some headway in
overturning the received wisdom. Joel Lester, John Daverio, and Julie Brown,
among others, have engaged with Schumann’s sonata forms sympathetically,
and their positive reassessments can only be welcomed both for the insights they
provide into individual works and for the space they clear for fresh engagement
with a repertoire that has all too easily been neglected in light of its negative
reception history.
Also relevant to my concerns is the more nuanced view of Schumann’s sty-
listic development that has emerged recently among Schumann scholars. The
mutual importance of tonic-mediant pairings in works from the chamber year
like the piano quintet and quartet (1842), on the one hand, and a late work like
the Rhenish Symphony (1850), on the other, provides evidence of compositional
consistency across what have traditionally been viewed as distinct style periods.
Indeed one of Schumann’s most thoroughgoing essays in tonal dialectics, the
A-Minor Violin Sonata, Op. 105, also dates from the late period (1851).
The point here is twofold. First, as Julie Brown has cogently argued, strategies
like tonal pairing, which traditionally have been praised as masterful innovations
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 261

in the songs and piano music of the 1830s, resonate in the reputedly more con-
servative works of 1842. Rather than erect a wall between a compositionally
“progressive” approach of a fruitful early period and a supposed conservative
retrenchment in subsequent large-scale instrumental works, Brown traces sty-
listic continuities as a source for what she regards as the compelling reinterpre-
tation of traditional forms that Schumann achieved in the chamber year.29
Second, she suggests that the much-maligned late works also may reflect
some of these very same strategies, a point borne out by my analysis of the
Rhenish exposition here and of the A-Minor Violin Sonata elsewhere.30 If we are
prepared to appreciate popular and frequently performed works like the piano
quintet and quartet—and why should we not be?—then why should we close
our ears to late works, which on close examination can be seen to employ many
of the same strategies with similar success? To do so would be to fall into the
same trap as that unfortunate sophomore immortalized in Schoenberg’s “New
Music, Outmoded Music, Style and Idea,” a student who, through uncritical
acceptance of entrenched attitudes about Schumann’s reputed compositional
shortcomings “will never listen to the orchestra of Schumann naively, sensi-
tively, and open-mindedly.”31 Certainly a creative spirit as brilliant as Schumann’s
deserves at least that much.

An abridged version of this essay was read at the 2008 annual meeting of the
Society of Music Theory in Nashville, Tennessee. The author wishes to thank Poundie
Burstein, Frank Samarotto, and the editors of Rethinking Schumann for the critical
feedback they provided while the manuscript was in preparation.
1. Robert Bailey coined the term tonal pairing and the related term double-tonic
complex. For a representative discussion of these concepts, see his “An Analytical
Study of the Sketches and Drafts,” in Prelude and Transfiguration, 113–46. Further
analytical applications and an extensive bibliography may be found in Kinderman
and Krebs, The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality.
2. The most influential of these sonata theories oriented around the idea of
“large-scale dissonance” or “tonal polarity” remains Rosen’s Sonata Forms.
3. For Rosen’s negative assessment of Schumann’s sonata practice, see The
Romantic Generation, 699–710. He expresses similar negative conclusions in
The Classical Style, 451–60 and Sonata Forms, 365–408. Lester’s welcome and worth-
while defense appears in “Robert Schumann and Sonata Forms.” For additional
positive reevaluations, see Daverio, Robert Schumann; Daverio, Crossing Paths; J. H.
Brown, “ ‘A Higher Echo of the Past.’”
4. The less overt character of the pairings also distinguishes them from the intense
challenges to tonal centricity Bailey and others have attributed to the double-tonic
complex in Wagner. I nevertheless believe that Schumann’s tonal dialectics here and
elsewhere participate in the broader nineteenth-century trend toward pairing even if,
in his chamber music, he ultimately remains committed to monotonality.
262 Analytical Approaches

5. I adopt much of my terminology (two-part exposition, medial caesura, etc.)

here and throughout from Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory.
6. Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis: Symphonies and Other Orchestral Works, 12.
7. Lester, “Robert Schumann and Sonata Forms,” 194.
8. Here I develop a thesis argued persuasively by Julie Hedges Brown: that there
are significant elements of continuity of compositional approach among the 1842
chamber music and the works of the previous decade, notwithstanding the long
critical tradition that hears a conservative retrenchment accompany Schumann’s
turn to traditional instrumental forms. See her “ ‘A Higher Echo of the Past.’”
9. A further parallel with Schumann’s practice of tonal pairing arises in the
mediation of a third harmony in the process; as Lester highlights, Schumann’s tonal
dramas often involve a nexus of harmonies rather than a pairing of just two tonics.
Ambiguity in the relationship between Ef and Gf engages associative connections
involving Cf, which easily functions as a pivot between the keys, both in the tradi-
tional sense of a common link for a pivot-chord modulation and in the expanded
sense of a mediating harmony between two, more broadly intertwined tonal areas.
Cf first enters prominently within the Gf cadential progression as a local IV chord at
m. 28. It then returns twice, in mm. 34 and 38, precisely at moments when cadential
resolution to Ef would have the potential to confirm Ef’s return as controlling tonic.
In the first instance, in m. 34, the association of fVI/Ef with the previous IV/Gf is
subtle yet audible. In the second, the relationship comes into sharper focus: the fVI/
Ef becomes IV/Gf as pivot for the modulation to Gf.
10. For a discussion of caesura-fill, see Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata
Theory, 40–45.
11. The dichotomy of these exposition types sits at the foundation of Hepokoski
and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory. See especially the overview of the continuous
type they present in chapter 4, 51–64.
12. As noted by J. H. Brown, “ ‘A Higher Echo of the Past,’” 197–98.
13. Emphasis on G Minor extends beyond the bounds of the first movement as
well: immediately after the Ef close of the first movement, the mediant reemerges as
key for the scherzo, whose main theme continues to highlight the D–Ef motivic
14. For a discussion of the complex relationship between structural priority and
durational emphasis, see Schachter, “Rhythm and Linear Analysis: A Preliminary
Study,” 290–98.
15. J. H. Brown has even less confidence in the articulative strength of the Bf res-
olution. She develops an insightful analysis of the quartet movement based on what
she calls the “monopolizing” Ef tonic here and throughout the exposition (“ ‘A
Higher Echo of the Past,’” 187–205).
16. Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata serves as the locus classicus for the return of
introductory material; his F-Major String Quartet, Op. 59, no. 1, exemplifies the
illusion of an expository repeat. For discussion of sonata forms that touch back on
the tonic at the beginning of the development, see Adrian, “The Ternary-Sonata
Form,” and “The Function of the Apparent Tonic.”
Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions 263

17. Suurpää, “The Undivided Ursatz,” 71. More specifically, he cites analyses of
these Schubert and Brahms movements by Beach, “Schubert’s Experiments,” and
Schachter, “The First Movement of Brahms’s Second Symphony.”
18. Schachter, “Either/Or,” 176–79. For a provocative exploration of tensions
between structural description and motivic parallelism in Schenkerian scholarship,
see Cohn, “The Autonomy of Motives.”
19. Suurpää suggests just such a connection in the parallel passage in the recapit-
ulation. He hears the Ef tonicization that enters at m. 471 as part of the recapitula-
tion’s C-Minor transposition of the secondary material, as an associative reference
to the Ef structural tonic that Schumann forgoes at the beginning of the recapitula-
tion and delays until the point of closure at m. 527 (“The Undivided Ursatz,” 73).
20. Rosen, The Classical Style, 456, 459.
21. Ibid., 459.
22. As Rosen does for the quintet in his somewhat more detailed discussion in
Sonata Forms, 257–58.
23. David Beach posits a motivic relationship between the opening En–Ef juxta-
position and the En–Ef interplay in the second theme and elsewhere in the exposition
in “Schubert’s Experiments,” 13. I discuss the interaction among C, Ef, and G and its
relationship to middleground structure in Smith, “Harmonic Cross-Reference,”
24. As for instance in Rosen, The Romantic Generation, 41–48. Insightful analyses
of the Schubert movement may be found in Beach, “Schubert’s Experiments,” 16–18;
Beach, “Harmony and Linear Progression,” 7–13; Burstein, “Lyricism, Structure, and
25. See note 3 for the relevant citations.
26. Rosen, Sonata Forms, 368, 395.
27. I analyze the formal influence of this tonal pairing in Smith, “Brahms’s Motivic
Harmonies,” 88–100. For a discussion of the overlap of F-Minor and Df-Major key
areas in the clarinet sonata, see Smith, “Brahms and the Neapolitan Complex.”
28. The contradiction perhaps accounts for Rosen’s tendency to exemplify his
criticisms of Schumann with the composer’s more radical departures from eigh-
teenth-century practice and remain silent about compositions with less radical
formal designs like the movements I have analyzed here. In short it seems that he
discusses more extreme examples because they most easily can be made to support
his negative critical (pre-?) judgments. Rosen might respond that he confronts the
movements he does because they represent Schumann’s most characteristic contri-
bution to the sonata tradition. According to this argument, if we are to engage
Schumann, then we should do so on his most quintessentially Schumannesque
terms. But an alternative argument could just as convincingly stress the notion that
what is most characteristic of Schumann is his range of formal strategies, of which
movements exhibiting decentered tonal dramas constitute just one type. In this
regard Lester’s demonstration of both the variety and individuality of Schumann’s
sonata constructions is highly relevant.
29. J. H. Brown, “ ‘A Higher Echo of the Past.’”
264 Analytical Approaches

30. Smith, “Harmonies Heard from Afar.” The connection between earlier and
later works also suggests the possibility of Schumann’s commitment to key-specific
tonal pairs. Just as Ef and G intertwine in the (early) quintet and quartet and the
(late) Rhenish, so too do A Minor and F Major interact in both the A-Minor String
Quartet of 1842 and the A-Minor Violin Sonata of 1851. A concise discussion of A-F
pairings in multiple chamber works appears in Roesner, “The Chamber Music.” The
topic of key-specific pairs in Schumann is complex, as these pairings may very well
range across multiple genres (songs, character pieces, chamber music, symphonic
music, etc.), but with the possibility for distinct patterns of usage based on the local
generic or formal context. A comprehensive study is urgently needed.
31. Schoenberg, “New Music,” 114.

Schumann and the style hongrois

Julie Hedges Brown

From the late eighteenth century onward, evocations of Hungarian Gypsy

music found an increasingly prominent place in Western art music. Termed
the style hongrois, this folk reference first became popularized in Vienna and
surrounding regions. Gypsy musicians, the main performers of Hungarian
music, became established in the café music scene, their repertory and idio-
syncratic playing styles constituting an important type of vernacular music
making, and arrangements of Hungarian Gypsy dances became a very suc-
cessful form of commercial Hausmusik among amateur musicians. Classical
composers from Gluck to Beethoven began adapting traits of Hungarian
Gypsy music into their works, and by the mid-nineteenth century the style
hongrois had become such a familiar aspect of Western art music that its
appearance in compositions often solicited little if any comment from con-
temporary critics. (More obvious usages in the work of Liszt and Brahms are
often exceptions in this regard.) For twentieth- and twenty-first-century audi-
ences, the cultural origins of the style hongrois seem even more remote, a dis-
tance that in recent years has prompted new scholarship, most notably by
Jonathan Bellman, highlighting the influence of Hungarian Gypsy music on
Western composition.1
While traits of Hungarian Gypsy music became integrated into Western art
music (what Catherine Mayes has called a “domestication of the foreign”),
Bellman has also suggested that various nineteenth-century composers poeti-
cized the style hongrois, adapting it in ways that encoded their music with
meanings that resonated with cultural stereotypes of the Gypsy Other.2 These
subtexts could be positively inflected, for example by celebrating what many
Europeans saw as Gypsies’ innate musicality, or the supposed freedom in
which they moved and thought; or these subtexts might evoke negative asso-
ciations: deceitfulness, thievery, the demonic, and other stereotypes that
society had long associated with the Gypsy.3 For example, Bellman suggests
that Caspar’s revelry number in Weber’s Der Freischütz, “Hier im ird’schen
Jammerthal,” subliminally reveals the hollow nature of Caspar’s friendship

266 Analytical Approaches

with Max by invoking the style hongrois. Gypsies do not figure as characters in
the opera, but, Bellman argues, the music would have prompted Weber’s audi-
ences to make Gypsy associations, like supposed falseness of character and
links with the demonic.4 Bellman also brings attention to the pronounced
presence of the style hongrois in Schubert’s late works (written from 1823 on),
suggesting that perhaps in these last difficult years Schubert identified with
the Hungarian Gypsies, “whose mistreatment, ostracism, defiance, and reputed
reliance upon music as the expression of their sorrows had resonances in his
own life.”5 Bellman also highlights unique treatments of the style hongrois in
the music of Liszt and Brahms.
The influence of the style hongrois on Schumann has barely been raised. John
Daverio has suggested that although Schumann was “less of a connoisseur of the
style hongrois than Schubert (or Brahms, for that matter),” he nevertheless “made
some notable contributions to it as well.” Daverio cites the 1840 “Zigeunerleben”
for small choir, Op. 29, no. 3, and the late Phantasie for Violin, Op. 131, a work
whose bravura qualities and Hungarian Gypsy elements perhaps influenced
Brahms’s later Violin Concerto. Taking his cue from Bellman, Daverio also per-
ceives within the late Phantasie a poetic use of the style hongrois, since both this
style and Schumann’s late music are “emblems of exclusion.”6
Although Daverio does not elaborate on the Phantasie in this regard (the
essay emphasizes Brahms), he nonetheless opens an important hermeneutic
window for understanding some of Schumann’s music. I would like to widen
this window by exploring the influence of the style hongrois on Schumann’s
compositional development. As Daverio intimates, Schumann participated in
this style in various ways. Recognizing its commercial viability, he wrote var-
ious Gypsy-inspired works meant clearly for the amateur marketplace: the
1840 “Zigeunerleben” cited by Daverio; a “Zigeunerliedchen” from his Lieder
für die Jugend, Op. 79 (1849); an “Ungarisch” for four hands found in the Ball-
Szenen, Op. 109 (1851); and a “Zigeunertanz” in his third Clavier-Sonaten für
die Jugend, Op. 118 (1853).7 Yet Schumann also imbued the style hongrois with
his own poetic colorings. In three finales that I will explore (those concluding
the A-Major String Quartet, Op. 41, no. 3, and E-flat Major Piano Quintet, Op.
44, both 1842, and the 1835 F-sharp Minor Piano Sonata, Op. 11), Schumann
combines this stylistic reference with a highly unusual format: a refrain-based
“parallel” form featuring sustained tonal ambiguity and multiplicity, with
tonic definition treated only as an end-oriented goal (the only three move-
ments in Schumann’s output to behave wholly in this way). By resisting con-
ventional forms and by wandering through multiple harmonic landscapes
that defy any sense of a true tonal home, these finales evoke Gypsy stereotypes
common in Schumann’s day: a people seen as distant from sociocultural
norms, exploring the unknown through their peripatetic lifestyle. An 1837
entry in the Austrian National Encyclopedia described the Gypsies as “unfa-
miliar with all the benefits of civilization”: “[They] do not like to settle down;
Schumann and the style hongrois 267

most of them follow their overpowering partiality to the wandering life, and
roam with their tents through the land, where they prefer to seek out unbeaten
paths and gloomy mountain ravines.”8 Such an image could be doubly spun:
for the state the Gypsy figure often appeared threatening and uncontrollable,
a violator of boundaries; but for many late eighteenth- and nineteenth-cen-
tury artists this same figure became idealized, a model for artistic freedom and
innovation. (The latter explains the double meaning that the French term for
Gypsy, Bohémien, later assumed.)9 Schumann, himself perceived by his con-
temporaries as a frequent transgressor of boundaries, seems to have supported
the latter perspective. In the finales cited above, the highly irregular treatment
of form suggests that Schumann saw within the style hongrois a pathway for
experimentation, a musical style offering a degree of latitude in the treatment
of more traditional forms.10
Schumann’s expressive use of the style hongrois was probably most
inspired by Schubert. Schumann’s admiration for his predecessor is well
known, and he also knew a number of Schubert works inflected with the
style hongrois: the Grand Duo Sonata, Op. 140; the F-Minor Moment Musical
from Op. 94; the Symphony in C-Major, D. 944; the Sonata in D-Major, Op.
53; the F-Minor Impromptu from Op. 142—all were reviewed by Schumann
in his journal. Although remarking little on the idiom, Schumann clearly
recognized its presence. In an 1843 review of Mendelssohn’s A-Minor
Symphony, Op. 56 (mistakenly confused as the “Italian” as opposed to the
“Scottish” symphony), he likened its “original folk tone” to Schubert’s
C-Major Symphony, with this distinction: where the “graceful, civilized
character” of Mendelssohn’s music “places us under Italian skies,” Schubert’s
symphony suggests “a wild gypsy-like bustling of folk” (“ein wildes, zigeu-
nerisches Volkstreiben”), a description echoing a common European image
of Gypsy music and dance as wildly unencumbered in its expression.11 We
might ask why Schumann neglected to mention this Gypsy quality in his
famous 1840 review of Schubert’s symphony. Was this stylistic reference so
common by then that it merited no special remark? Yet Schumann suggests
that while Mendelssohn’s symphony is “less foreign,” the Gypsy character of
Schubert’s music represents one among “other distinctions,” the symphony
showing a “richer power of invention.”12
Elsewhere Schumann makes clear that the Hungarian Gypsy idiom could
conjure up deeper, even inexpressible feelings and images, offering access to the
unknown. In a diary entry of August 20, 1831, he evokes the impressions made
on him by Schubert’s Divertissement à l’Hongroise, Op. 54 (1824), the compos-
er’s most famous essay in the style hongrois:

Yesterday, Celia [Clara’s Davidsbündler name] was unwell and ill tem-
pered; at least I can now tell her about the world’s loveliest vulgarities [die
schönsten Grobheiten] without being misunderstood, which of course
268 Analytical Approaches

succeeds so rarely. Franz Schubert’s Hungarian Divertissement seemed to

put her back in order a bit. If I might put it into words, I could probably
say: I comported myself appropriately at a traditional Hungarian wedding
and stamped my feet much; but spare me, Florestan, from having to
somehow convey the yearning, the melancholy of this song and all of the
lovely forms flying by as if in a dance. Eubebius thought that the pedal
point at the end is like the blessings of the priest—and then they pull away,
with tambourines sounding noisily on and on into the far-off distance,
further and further away.13
The music, Schumann suggests, could function on multiple levels: as an out-
ward manifestation of a peasant folk culture, eliciting proper responses in
specific settings, but also as a referent for deeper, ineffable emotional states,
evoking the melancholy and mystery that Europeans also attached to Gypsy
life.14 Hence Schumann’s paradoxical statement, “die schönsten Grobheiten.” In
this inexpressible quality, the style hongrois, especially in the hands of a master
like Schubert, could serve not merely as musical prose but as poetry, an embodi-
ment of romantic yearning and romantic distance, sounding eternally into the
infinite expanse. In other words, the style hongrois seemed capable of surpassing
mere public, collective experience (in the form of a wedding rite, for example)
and offering access to the solitary world and emotional states of the romantic
wanderer, a wayfarer whose song (Schumann implies) could be that of the
In the finales cited above, Schumann went on to inject the style hongrois
with similar and other expressive qualities that accompanied experimentation
of a particular sort. To begin exploring these aspects, let us turn to the 1842
A-Major String Quartet, Schumann’s last completed work in this genre and
the culmination of a prolonged desire to write in the string quartet medium.
By this time the quartet was considered old-fashioned, a seeming relic of the
past. As Schumann lamented in early May 1842 (just weeks before beginning
his own Op. 41 quartets), the “[string] quartet has come to an alarming stand-
still.” Its revival, he believed, depended on composers who not only under-
stood their artistic heritage (especially the quartets of “Mozart, Haydn, and
another,” those whom Schumann called the “fathers” of the genre), but also
enriched it by transforming classical forms anew. In late May 1842, for
example, he was encouraged by one such quartet whose author, Hermann
Hirschbach, “wishes to be called a poet above all by avoiding stereotypical
forms,” a direction indicated, Schumann notes, in “Beethoven’s last quartets.”16
In the finale of the A-Major String Quartet Schumann followed his own com-
positional directive, drastically rethinking the formal functions of classical
rondo form. Accompanying these formal experiments is the style hongrois, a
folk reference that for Schumann seems to have connoted freedom from
established norms.
Schumann and the style hongrois 269

“Avoiding Stereotypical Forms”: The Finale of the A-Major

String Quartet

The formal irregularities of Schumann’s A-Major quartet finale have elicited

much commentary from recent scholars. For example, as Daverio and I have
both discussed, the movement presents a sectional rondo form not once but
twice (the central refrain dovetails the two halves):17
A B A C A D A B A C A D A ® Coda Differently: ABACAD
A B A C A D A ® Coda

The large-scale repetition creates an unusual “parallel” form, a structure devel-

oped in Schumann’s earlier experimental piano music but one that he now revives
within the conservative genre of the string quartet.18 Hans Kohlhase and Anthony
Newcomb have also remarked on the atypical refrain. Instead of a theme with
periodic phrasing, Schumann writes one that is additive and sequential in nature
(Example 13.1). The main idea comprises a brief cadential gesture (ii65-V7-I) that
appears six times in three different keys: A-Major, F-sharp Minor, then D-Major.19
Finally, as Kohlhase and Newcomb have also stressed, Schumann reverses the
functions of refrain and episode. Because subsequent refrains preserve the modu-
latory nature of the opening theme (Figure 13.1), they appear more unstable and
transitional in nature. The episodes, on the other hand, serve ironically as “islands
of stability” or “focal points” (Schwerpunkte); each features symmetrical periodic
phrasing and a rounded-binary form (though with varying patterns of repeats).
Indeed, as Newcomb observes, the disparity between refrain and episode increases
as each new episode reveals an ever more stable structure.20

Example 13.1. Schumann, String Quartet in A-Major, Op. 41, no. 3, finale, mm. 1–16:
the opening refrain and beginning of the first episode.
270 Analytical Approaches

Example 13.1. Continued

I would like to suggest that these collective formal irregularities may have
been inspired by the style hongrois. Although no one to my knowledge has ever
written about this reference, aspects of Hungarian Gypsy music saturate the
refrain, illustrated by the following traits: pronounced syncopated rhythms,
especially the fiery fourth-beat emphasis and the stomping alla zoppa pattern
introduced in measure 2 (short-long-short); pervasive dotted rhythms that
evoke the verbunkos, a Hungarian military recruiting dance; short repeated
Schumann and the style hongrois 271


A B A C A* D
mm: 1 15 35 49 65 73

keys: A -f # - D A —E E - c# - A f # (D-b) f # f #- A F


A B A C A* D A => Coda
mm: 113 127 147 161 177 185 225 235

keys: F-d-F C—G G-e-C a (F-d) a a - C - [V] E — A A - f #- A

* truncated returns

Figure 13.1. Schumann, String Quartet in A-Major, Op. 41, no. 3, formal overview of
the finale.

phrases and abrupt tonal shifts (albeit ones that emphasize major over the
more common minor mode); and a molto vivace tempo that reinforces the
furious Gypsy character. Subsequent statements, especially the second and
third refrains, only amplify the intensity by transposing the theme into ever
higher registers.
The second episode (C, mm. 49–64) continues the reference, stressing synco-
pation by continuously pelting the fourth beat with fp accents. Its narrow-range
melody also emphasizes repeated notes in triplets, evoking a frenzied tremolo
effect common to the cimbalom, a dulcimer-like instrument used in Hungarian
Gypsy bands. Although other episodes veer from the style hongrois character,
they too share some of its traits: the first episode (B) also stresses the fourth beat,
and the third episode (D), a lyrical gavotte more characteristic of a Bach suite
movement than an ungaresca,21 nevertheless emphasizes drone fifths, occasional
melodic triplets, and anapest rhythms (short-short-long), traits also found in
Hungarian Gypsy music. Overall the medley-like arrangement of the movement,
with its abrupt and mercurial shifts in mood, is also common to the style
The finale’s pervasive Hungarian Gypsy character and striking formal inno-
vation may each be notable in its own right. But what makes the movement
especially compelling is Schumann’s use of the two in conjunction with one
another, a blending that illuminates the significance of each. The Gypsy-inflected
refrain, for example, initiates a surprising reversal of formal functions that
distances the music from conventional rondo practice. In this regard the
movement also evokes perceptions of Gypsy communities as set apart from the
practices and conventions of settled bourgeois life (or, as the Austrian National
Encyclopedia put it, “unfamiliar with all the benefits of civilization”). The finale’s
272 Analytical Approaches

tonal construction also recalls the wandering life that, despite large numbers of
settled Gypsies, Europeans associated with this people. Because refrains modu-
late constantly, the movement unfolds without a well-established tonal home.
Indeed although the opening refrain begins in A-Major (the putative tonic), its
conclusion in D-Major suggests that A functions merely as V (a hearing influ-
enced by the preceding movement: we have just heard an Adagio in D-Major).
Moreover, unlike Classical rondos that coordinate tonal and thematic returns,
here A-Major surfaces in an unpredictable fashion, sometimes initiating refrains
(the first and last ones), at other times terminating them (the second, third, and
final refrains), perhaps disappearing altogether (the fourth and fifth refrains),
and even appearing within episodes (the first appearance of B and the last occur-
rence of D). Thus the so-called tonic, if one can yet call it that, behaves in a
migratory manner, surfacing in unexpected ways.
One might argue that Schumann adumbrates the A-Major tonic by treating
it as the tonal axis between its upper and lower fifth-related keys: where the
opening refrain modulates from A-Major to D-Major (or I to IV), the second
refrain counterbalances with motion from E-Major to A (or V to I). Yet little
time is spent within the tonic itself, and its tonal control seems always in
question. If anything the symmetrical movement around A-Major foreshadows
a lengthy tonal journey that emphasizes sharp-side keys (mm. 15–72; see Figure
13.1), then flat-side keys (mm. 73–180), before returning to the sharp side once
again (mm. 181–292). Indeed to underscore the shift to flat-side keys the finale
presents a near juxtaposition of vi or F-sharp Minor (mm. 49–68) with fVI or
F-Major (mm. 73–126). To further our sense of roaming, Schumann adapts his
parallel form in a new way: instead of initiating the thematic recapitulation at its
original pitch level (the case in his earlier parallel forms), it begins at a point
distant from it: F-Major–D-Minor (m. 113–126) instead of A-Major–F-sharp
Minor–D-Major, a move that draws the subdominant inflection of the opening
refrain into more remote flat-side regions.22
Although commentators frequently criticize Schumann’s penchant for repe-
tition, here the restatements play a crucial role in propelling the tonal journey.
The parallel repetition transposes much of the first half up a minor third (com-
pare mm. 123–180 with mm. 11–72), enabling a prolonged stay on the flat side.
This pattern, combined with sequential statements of the refrain in the first half,
allows the Gypsy-inflected main theme to roam through continually changing
harmonic landscapes. Given the almost dizzying array of keys and the lack of a
stable tonal “home,” the music projects a palpable sense of longing—Sehnen to
use Schumann’s word, a state characteristic of the wanderer trope and one
reinforced here (as in Schubert’s Divertissement à l’Hongroise) by the style
Because of this tonal wandering, unequivocal tonic definition occurs ulti-
mately as an end-oriented event, another subversion of tonal practice. Only in
the coda does the movement become definitively grounded in the A-Major tonic.
Schumann and the style hongrois 273

Dramatizing this tonal clarification, the music finally breaks free of the finale’s
rigid block-like construction, presenting the first sustained development of
material in the movement (beginning at m. 235). The coda now opens up the
movement’s basic idea (a cadential idea that previously has maintained its closed
nature for thirty-four statements!). Two swells each carry the music from the
original predominant harmony (ii65) to an expected but undelivered cadence,
measures 252–253, which returns us to ii65, and measures 278–279, where a strong
5̂-1̂ bass motion nevertheless brings a lowered seventh that alters the expected
tonic chord into V7 of IV. By delaying a stable, root-position A-Major chord by
almost fifty measures (m. 282), the coda throws the tonic into relief in a way that
the original cadential gesture never could. Even more surprising, Schumann syn-
copates this chord as a sforzando accent on beat four and provides it with no
cadential preparation. Thus in a final act of irony and defiance, the movement
technically ends without full closure, a fitting conclusion given that the refrain’s
cadential gestures have previously served largely to confuse tonal focus.
In the finale of the A-Major quartet Schumann injects new life into classical
rondo form (and hence also the string quartet) by avoiding stereotypical proce-
dures. As Newcomb remarks, the piece thus empowers once again the form
whose conventions it “mocks,” for the “attentive listener is forced to move
beyond static recognition of formal schemata to dynamic questioning of formal
procedures.”23 The style hongrois seems to facilitate this renewal by bringing with
it various connotations attached to the Gypsy: a fierce independence from
established norms, an “overpowering partiality to the wandering life” (to echo
the Austrian National Encyclopedia), and a prolonged sense of Sehnen. To pro-
vide further evidence that the quartet’s treatment of form and tonality derived
much of its meaning, if not its inspiration, from the style hongrois, I would like
to explore two other, related finales: that ending the F-sharp Minor Piano
Sonata, Op. 11, a piece composed in the mid-1830s, and the finale of the E-flat
Major Piano Quintet, Op. 44, a work that, as I shall argue, uses the quartet finale
(which preceded it by two months) as a springboard for further innovation.
Both movements combine the same sort of refrain-based parallel form with
sustained tonal multiplicity and tonic obscurity found in the quartet finale—the
only other movements in Schumann’s output to do so—plus Schumann inflects
each with the Hungarian Gypsy idiom. This correspondence suggests that the
association between the style hongrois and formal experimentation is more than
merely accidental.

“Earlier Efforts”: The Finale of the F-sharp Minor Piano

Sonata, Op. 11

Composed in 1833–35 (revised further in 1836), the F-sharp Minor Piano Sonata
provides a definitive prototype for the A-Major quartet finale. Though not
274 Analytical Approaches

highlighting ties between the two works, detailed analyses by Charles Rosen,
Linda Correll Roesner, and Hubert Moßburger, among others, clarify aspects of
the sonata that resonate with the later quartet: a large-scale refrain-based “parallel
structure,” as Rosen observes (Table 13.1), though one also evoking sonata form
elements (e.g., a “second group of themes” in mm. 25–49 and a thematic “reca-
pitulation” that, unlike the Op. 41, no. 3 finale, begins by restating the opening
theme at its original pitch level, mm. 190–205), and what Roesner has called a
“mosaic-like approach to composition,” which was received less than enthusias-
tically by critics.24 The finale also betrays a similar interest in sustained tonal
confusion and harmonic distance. The opening theme (Example 13.2a) blurs
tonal focus: it begins in F-sharp Minor but consistently orients itself toward
A-Major, the key confirmed by all cadences (mm. 4, 8, and 16). Schumann also
avoids coordinating tonal and thematic returns: subsequent reprises occur mostly
at different pitch levels. Indeed, indicating the interest in tonal distance, tritone
relationships dominate the movement, illustrated, as Rosen shows, by the appear-
ances of the refrain (Figure 13.2). As in the A-Major quartet finale, definitive
arrival in the tonic key occurs only at the end; because the final refrain transposes
the theme down a minor third, F-sharp finally receives the cadential confirma-
tion originally reserved for other keys (mm. 381–96, now emphasizing the major
mode). By freeing itself from normative practice, the sonata ultimately becomes,
Moßburger suggests, “poeticized,” embodying Schumann’s 1830 comment that
where “prose = limitation, poetry = boundlessness of form.”25
What commentators have not remarked upon are the style hongrois aspects of
the finale. The heavily textured main theme features percussive chords, a melody
that moves primarily in thirds (sometimes in sixths), jangling grace notes (third
phrase), minor shadings, and a tonal slipperiness (F-sharp Minor or A-Major?).
Although notated in triple (rare in the style hongrois), Schumann’s articulation
actually implies duple meter, alternating pairs of staccato eighths (an articula-
tion common to the style hongrois) with pairs of slurred eighths. Indeed all

Bars 1–16 F# minor/A major

C minor/Eb major
190–205 F# minor/A major Tritone


239–54 A minor/C major

381–96 D# minor/F# major Tritone

Figure 13.2. Rosen’s analysis of the finale from Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp
Minor, Op. 11: tritone relations underpinning appearances of the refrain. (From
Charles Rosen. Sonata Forms, revised edition. Copyright © 1988, 1980 by W. W. Norton
& Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.).
Table 13.1. Rosen’s Analysis of the Finale from Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11: Formal Overview
Bars Theme Key Bars Theme Key

1–16 A F# minor/A major 190–205 A F# minor/A major

17–24 B A minor ® Ef major 206–13 B A minor ® Ef major ® C major
25–32 C1 Ef major 214–21 C1 C major
32–38 D Ef major 221–27 D C major
39–42 C1 E major (ii over V) 228–31 C1 C major (ii over V)
43–49 C2 Ef major ® C minor 232–38 C2 C major ® A minor
50–65 A C minor/Ef major 239–54 A A minor/C major
66–73 B Ef minor ® A major 255–62 C1 Ef major
74–85 D A major ® F# minor 262–75 D Ef major ® C minor
86–97 C3 F# minor 276–87 C3 C minor
98–114 C4 ® A major 288–304 C4 ® Ef major
114–125 E A major 304–15 E Ef major
126–34 F A major 316–24 F Ef major
134–42 G A major 324–32 G Ef major
142–59 H 18 bars of 332–50 H 19 bars of modulation ® Bf
modulation minor
® F# minor
160–76 I F# minor 351–67 I Bf minor
177–89 Transition V of F# minor 368–80 Transition V of Ef minor
381–96 A Ef minor (D# minor)/ F# major
397–end Coda F# major

From Charles Rosen. Sonata Forms, revised edition. Copyright © 1988, 1980 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 382. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Example 13.2. Comparison of Themes. (a) Finale of Schumann’s Piano Sonata in
F-sharp Minor, Op. 11, beginning of the main theme (mm. 1–11). (b) Finale of
Schubert’s Grand Duo Sonata in C-Major, Op. 140 (D. 812), beginning of the main
theme (mm. 1–12); based on the edition found in Franz Schubert, Neue Ausgabe
sämtlicher Werke, Serie VII: Klaviermusik, Abteilung 1, Werke für Klavier zu vier Händen,
Band 2, BA 5514 © Bärenreiter-Verlag. Used with permission. (c) Finale of Schumann’s
String Quartet in A-Major, Op. 41, no. 3, beginning of the gavotte melody from the
third episode (D, mm. 73–80).
Schumann and the style hongrois 277

Example 13.2. Continued

subsequent reprises exaggerate this pattern by consistently thumping the first

note of the slurred pair with a sforzando accent, creating an overall stacc.–stacc.–sf
pattern, evoking the Hungarian anapest. In the subsequent lyrical theme (C, m.
25) the bass line stresses a Lombard rhythm (short-long, in a now perceptible
triple meter), and the melody borrows a pervasive alla zoppa rhythm from the
preceding B idea. To prepare the subsequent reprise of the main theme (at m. 50,
later at m. 239) Schumann subsequently transforms the lyricism of C into a
more frenetic, style hongrois–inflected statement (what Rosen calls C2): the
278 Analytical Approaches

melody and bass line return in thick chords spanning an octave or more and
underpinned by incessant sforzando accents (one per beat).
To appreciate these Hungarianisms we can compare the movement with
the finale of Schubert’s Grand Duo Sonata in C-Major, Op. 140, one of many
late works singled out by Bellman as imbued with the style hongrois, and one
whose main theme strongly resembles Schumann’s refrain (Example 13.2b).
Like the sonata theme, Schubert’s melody features driving eighths in a similar
staccato-slurred duple pattern, creating an anapest-type rhythm also reinforced
with a recurring accent. Schubert’s theme also highlights the same opening
melodic ascent (perceived initially as 1̂-2̂, 2̂-3̂) and a similar arched contour
(ascending and descending through an octave in largely stepwise motion, with a
middle leap from pitches heard as 5̂ and 8̂). Like Schumann’s refrain, the theme
presents ornamental figures (here grace notes and trills) and a rounded-binary
form (aa’ba”). Especially striking is Schubert’s similar blurring of relative keys:
introduced by a sustained pedal on E, the theme strongly implies A-Minor
throughout, though full cadences consistently confirm C-Major (mm. 12 and
45) or its dominant key, G-Major (m. 20).
The treatment of key nonetheless highlights crucial differences. Despite
some equivocation, Schubert’s theme ultimately confirms the tonic key,
C-Major, before modulating. Thus Schubert establishes the home key as a
definitive point of departure, against which the following sonata form can ori-
ent itself. Schumann’s theme, however, provides no such tonal landmark. It
consistently distances us from the home key, both at the outset and in
subsequent tritone-related statements, a far more radical treatment of tonal
norms. Ultimately Schumann draws different implications from his Gypsy-
styled theme, ones that resonate with the later quartet finale: the home key
serves not as a point of departure but as a longed-for, distant goal, whose
anticipation the style hongrois, with its attendant associations of wandering
and desire, seems to amplify.26
As many know, Schumann’s sonata was deeply tied to Clara: he borrowed
ideas from her music, fell in love with her the year he completed it (1835), and
subsequently stated that works like the sonata reflected “the struggles Clara
cost [him].”27 I would like to suggest that Schumann’s treatment of F-sharp
Minor as an end-oriented goal reflected his own distance from a personal goal:
betrothal to Clara. As Roesner has shown, the original version of the finale
more closely resembled sonata form by shifting “expositional” materials orig-
inally oriented largely around A-Major (mm. 66–158 in the final version) into
the realm of F-sharp Minor in the recapitulation. Roesner notes that docu-
mentary evidence suggests that on April 13, 1836, Schumann sent the first
three movements to the publisher but held onto the finale to make further
revisions, most notably by delaying true tonic arrival until the end.28 Combined
with biographical details from the spring of 1836, this evidence is telling. As
Daverio has suggested, in February Schumann still seemed hopeful that
Schumann and the style hongrois 279

Friedrich Wieck would accept his offer of marriage to Clara, yet on March 1
Schumann angrily noted, “[Wieck is] carrying on like a madman and forbids
Clara and me to have contact under pain of death” (an enforced separation
that lasted until August 1837).29 If Schumann’s revisions were indeed influ-
enced by Wieck’s rebuffs, we might envision Schumann himself as the Gypsy
Other, the persona non grata marginalized by Wieck, in search of a now seem-
ingly distant beloved.
Schubert composed his Grand Duo sonata in 1824, but the work appeared
only in 1838, when Diabelli published it as Op. 140. Thus Schumann’s sonata
derived its Gypsy-styled theme independently of Schubert. Nevertheless,
reviewing Schubert’s work in June 1838 perhaps reminded Schumann of his
earlier sonata, especially since Diabelli’s firm dedicated the work to Clara
(something she found disturbing but that Schumann saw as “tender and
poetic”).30 Significantly Schumann’s encounter with the Grand Duo coincided
with a time of string quartet composition: two started in early April and June
1838, and the beginnings of two others by June 1839.31 Although none was
completed, these quartets—along with Schubert’s music and its evocation of
Schumann’s Op. 11—perhaps planted the seeds for the finale of the 1842
A-Major quartet. Other events also highlighted the F-sharp Minor Sonata in
subsequent years: a new edition appeared in 1840; Clara played the work in late
1841 (“perhaps the first time in years . . . it delighted me anew! I consider it one
of Robert’s most magnificent works”); and just weeks after completing the
A-Major quartet Schumann began corresponding with Carl Koßmaly about
writing a review of his earlier piano repertory, prompting thoughts of youthful
works like Op. 11.32
All of the above suggests an unmistakable relationship between the early sonata
and later string quartet, providing additional evidence that Schumann saw within
the style hongrois an outlet for formal experimentation of a particular kind. The
links between the two works also belie the common notion that Schumann’s music
of the early 1840s broke cleanly from the music of his past. As Schumann wrote to
Koßmaly in 1843, “In earlier . . . efforts most often lie the seeds of the future.”33 That
Schumann potentially saw his Op. 11 sonata as foundational for future work is
suggested by yet another tie to the quartet finale. In the latter the gavotte melody
of the third episode (D) recalls the main theme of the sonata (and hence also
Schubert’s theme; Example 13.2c).34 Yet the melody also distances itself from this
prototype, transforming its spirited Gypsy character into a lyrical court dance
with “tamer” pastoral associations. In so doing the gavotte acknowledges the past
while also clearing space for a new Hungarian Gypsy theme that initiates another
unusual refrain-based parallel form. In this regard the gavotte, and the movement
as a whole, enact Schumann’s dictum that tradition is best sustained by using ear-
lier contributions as a point of departure for further innovation. In the E-flat
Major Piano Quintet, Op. 44, begun two months after the string quartet, Schumann
continued his artistic journeying.
280 Analytical Approaches

The “Seeds of the Future” in the Finale of the E-flat Major

Piano Quintet, Op. 44

Points of Departure and New Directions

Despite many irregularities in the quintet finale (or perhaps because of them),
commentators have tried squaring its structure with Classical norms. Almost
invariably they label the movement a “sonata-rondo” with extensive coda, a
reading prompted largely by the recurring refrain (A in Figure 13.3) and the
thematic recapitulation that begins at measure 137.35 Yet at this precise moment
the music reveals tremendous distance from the opening G-Minor tonic, for it
begins in G-sharp Minor, then quickly switches to D-sharp Minor, a tonal
remoteness that problematizes the notion of a recapitulation.
Schumann clearly seems to have modeled the quintet finale on the quartet
finale (which in turn modeled itself on the earlier sonata finale).36 He adopts
once again a refrain-based form that falls largely into a parallel design (the shift
to D-sharp Minor in m. 149 makes the parallel restatement almost wholly
sequential; compare mm. 149–220 with 1–85; mm. 86–136, sometimes called
the “development,” lie outside the parallelism, however). Schumann also stresses
once again nontonic returns of the refrain. At the outset the theme begins in a


(refrain-based parallel form)


[2nd group?]

A B A* B* C A* D -- C’
mm. 1 22 30 38 43 78 86 115

Keys: g Eb d Bb (G) ---- G b B - - - V/E® V/g#®

A B A* B* C A*
137 157 165 173 178 213

g#®d# B bb Gb (Eb) - - - - Eb g
[Sequential Repetition of mm. 1–85]


* truncated returns

Figure 13.3. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44: formal overview of the
refrain-based parallel form (mm. 1–220).
Schumann and the style hongrois 281

well-established G-Minor, but then we hear either full or truncated returns in

D-Minor (mm. 30–37), B-Minor (mm. 78–85), G-sharp and D-sharp Minor
(mm. 137–156), and B-flat Minor (mm. 165–172), before returning once again
to G-Minor (mm. 213–220). Because of these shifting keys, Schumann once
again blurs the identity of the tonic, and indeed, like the earlier finales, true
tonal resolution—which in the quintet must ultimately crystallize around E-flat
Major—becomes much delayed, until well into the extensive coda.
As before, these anomalies are projected largely through the style hongrois,
especially in the main theme, whose appearances bind the structure together
(Example 13.3). The theme is heavily textured, featuring double stops in the
violins and a propulsive tremolo accompaniment evocative of cimbalom playing.
Schumann accents each note of the minor-mode theme in a sempre marcato
style. The Hungarian anapest reinforces this heavy peasant character, beginning
and ending each of the five phrases and often appearing with a sforzando accent.
The theme’s four-square phrasing, exact repetition of ideas, and straightforward
rhythms also strengthen the folk-like character.37
Despite clear ties to the earlier finales, the quintet movement takes things
further. While featuring a tonal multiplicity that also contrasts sharp- and flat-
side keys, the quintet travels more extensively around the circle of fifths (Figure
13.4a). Indeed to generate greater distance Schumann now frames his parallel
form with a symmetrical chromatic pitch structure (Figures 13.4b–c). In the
first half, long-range motion from G-Minor to B-Minor (mm. 1–85) becomes

Example 13.3. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, finale: beginning of
the opening theme (mm. 1–12).
282 Analytical Approaches

Example 13.3. Continued

balanced in the second half by similar motion from D-sharp Minor to G-Minor
(mm. 149–220), creating a transpositional symmetry that divides the octave by
major third (one that must assume enharmonic equivalence): g–b–d-sharp–
g. Nested symmetrical motion occurs around E-flat as well, emphasizing the
same tonics but in their parallel-mode versions: E-flat–G–B–E-flat (Figure
13.4c). This chromatic symmetry, very unusual for its time, ultimately enables
an even more ambitious tonal narrative than that found in the earlier finales.
As many have noted, the quintet finale features a progressive key scheme: it
opens strongly in G-Minor but ends in E-flat Major, the home key of the piano
Schumann and the style hongrois 283

quintet. The unusual parallel form developed in Schumann’s earlier finales

accommodates this strategy perfectly. Because it stresses nontonic returns of the
refrain within a lengthy chromatic journey, the parallel form sets in motion the
gradual subversion of G-Minor. To make the transfer of tonal control more

a) the journey around the circle of fifths (contrasting sharp- and flat-side keys)

A B A* B* C A* D -- C¢

g Eb d Bb (G) - - - - G b B - - - V/ E ® V/g # ®

g # ®d # B bb Gb (E b) - - - - E b g
. . . . . . FLAT-SIDE KEYS

* truncated returns
b) symmetrical pitch space around G minor

A B A* B* C A*
1 78
g . . . . . . . . b

d# . . . . . . . . g
149 213

* truncated returns

c) symmetrical pitch space around E b major

A B A* B* C A*
22 43
g E . . . . . G b

d# B . . . . . E g
157 178

* truncated returns

Figure 13.4. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, finale, harmonic aspects
of the parallel form. (a) The journey around the circle of fifths (contrasting sharp- and
flat-side keys). (b) Symmetrical pitch space around G-Minor. (c) Symmetrical pitch
space around E-flat Major.
284 Analytical Approaches

obvious, Schumann pairs G-Minor with E-flat Major at both ends of the form,
then gradually recasts their hierarchical relationship. At the beginning G-Minor
underpins the refrain (mm. 1–21), a substantial theme evoking a rounded binary
without repeats (aa,baa). This formal stability clearly projects any E-flat flavor-
ings as VI, both in the theme’s contrasting middle section (b, mm. 10–11) and
in the brief pedal idea that follows (B in Figure 13.3, mm. 22–29). By the end of
the parallel form, however, the tables have turned. E-flat Major now returns
with idea C (mm. 178–212), a lengthy episode that modulates from its initial
tonicized key only to return and make it the goal of a climactic push toward
cadential closure. Thus E-flat receives much dramatic emphasis here. G-Minor
returns with the final refrain (mm. 213–220), but its presence is now quite
diminished. The theme returns in truncated form (aa), and a decrescendo under-
mines the impact of its tonal return, creating a G-Minor fade-out effect. Thus
although the parallel symmetry completes itself, the shift in tonal emphasis
leaves the music open to further exploration.
Departing from earlier examples, Schumann now treats the parallel structure
as part of a broader formal plan. Subsequent materials shift focus entirely
(Figure 13.5). A series of E-flat-centered closing passages (mm. 221–248, 287–
318, and 372–427) surround two fugatos: the first based on the finale’s Gypsy-
inflected theme (A, mm. 249–274), the second based famously on the first
movement’s main idea (mm. 319–371). Because of this cyclic return, Kohlhase
describes the second part of the movement as doubly oriented: measures 221–
318 provide a coda to the finale, measures 319–427 a coda to the entire
Although this second part seems to occupy a different world, I would argue
that it continues a pattern introduced in the parallel form and evocative of the
Gypsy wanderer trope: namely, a pattern of continuously shifting perspectives.
In the first part the parallel form ends by returning us once again to G-Minor,

(doubly-oriented coda)



(1st appearance) (based on main theme (cf.115) (based on main theme (2d Appearance)
of Finale, A) of first movement)
mm: 221 249 275 287 319 372 402

keys: Eb g ® V/c Eb Eb Eb Eb Eb


Figure 13.5. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, finale: formal overview
of the second half (doubly oriented coda).
Schumann and the style hongrois 285

yet the hierarchy of tonal relations has changed dramatically. The effect is spiral-
like, imbuing the tonal return with new meaning. The parallel form also brings
a series of thematic returns, yet refrains surface in different keys, propelling us
further around the circle of fifths and ultimately down the path of changing key
relations. By disavowing the hegemony of the “double return,” Schumann’s
treatment of key bears closer resemblance to Baroque practice (e.g., ritornello
form and fugal procedure) than Classical rondo practice. In this regard the fuga-
tos of part 2 provide an appropriate complementary response: each forces us to
hear familiar themes from new harmonic perspectives. Indeed, as we shall see,
the fugatos generate these new perspectives by building on subdominant shad-
ings established in previous movements.

The Double Fugatos and Plagal Commentaries

In the first fugato (mm. 249–274) a fugal transformation of the Gypsy-styled
main theme restores the key of G-Minor. By the end, however, the passage
undercuts its tonal control via a plagal move: the final harmony, an emphatic
G chord (m. 274), now functions not as tonic but as V of C-Minor, the sub-
dominant of G-Minor and the relative key of E-flat Major. This transforma-
tion arises from the fugato’s unusual harmonic structure, which balances the
opening tonic-dominant statements (mm. 249–256) with subdominant-tonic
presentations (given in stretto, mm. 257–62).39 This harmonic symmetry paves
the way for C-Minor to assume control, for a second subdominant statement
now appears (mm. 263–266), the final entry of the fugato and its culminating
moment: the subject occurs forte, the goal of the crescendo begun with the
first subdominant statement; the entry is doubled, appearing in both the piano
and violin; and all parts are active, making these bars the most expanded in
register and the texturally thickest yet. The following episode confirms the
transformation in tonal perspective by treating as its goal a G chord that
functions not as tonic but as V of C-Minor (m. 274), a tonal capitulation that
ultimately assures the primacy of E-flat Major. In all, the fugato provides a
new slant on the earlier parallel form, using nontonic returns to undermine
the control of G-Minor.
The fugato’s plagal orientation also magnifies an aspect of the original Gypsy
theme, which opened with an emphatic full measure of C-Minor harmony (m.
1). Thus the initial phrase and its subsequent repetitions (mm. 6, 14, and 18)
consistently began with a weak subdominant upbeat, a flavoring enhanced by an
internal tonicization of C-Minor (mm. 11–13). The first fugato reconfigures
this plagal element by now collapsing G into C-Minor as V.
Shay Loya has identified in Liszt’s style hongrois works the importance of var-
ious plagal elements: for instance, passages that generate ambivalence between I/V
and IV/I functions, and the related phenomenon of resolving a perceived tonic
into a subdominant tonality (“subdominant directionality”).40 Schumann also
286 Analytical Approaches

linked subdominant elements with the style hongrois, at least in 1842. We have
already seen strong subdominant elements in the finale of the A-Major quartet (an
opening theme that modulates to IV, anticipating subsequent flat-side keys, and a
coda that prevents final closure by turning an expected tonic into V of IV). In the
piano quintet Schumann expands this practice, not just within the finale but
throughout the entire work. As we shall see, each movement begins with a theme
that highlights IV at the outset. Moreover in the second and third movements epi-
sodes in the subdominant minor also bring passages saturated with elements of
Hungarian Gypsy music (mm. 92–109 in the slow movement, mm. 123–196 in the
scherzo). Because the slow movement also foreshadows the “subdominant direc-
tionality” of the finale’s first fugato, I would like to focus attention there.41
Cast as a sectional rondo form (ABACABA), the slow movement evokes
Schubert’s Divertissement à l’Hongroise by presenting a funeral march in
C-Minor, the very key that in Schumann’s finale definitively subverts G-Minor.
Unlike Schubert’s theme, however, Schumann’s march stresses the subdomi-
nant: outlining the chord in its melody, the theme opens with a full measure of
F-Minor harmony over a C pedal, a coloring reinforced in the theme’s middle
section by a tonicization of F-Minor (mm. 11–18). The following episode in
C-Major (B, mm. 30–61) recalls these plagal shadings, presenting a lyrical theme
over a C pedal with 1̂-4̂ lower-voice motion.
All of these “flat” elements receive full expression in the central F-Minor episode
(C, mm. 92–109), a turbulent Agitato inflected with the style hongrois; it features
numerous syncopated sforzandi accents, pervasive triplets, staccato articulation, and
rapid sixteenth-note string licks. Especially striking is how this subdominant epi-
sode comments on the movement’s initial subdominant emphasis. The agitated
Gypsy theme traces the march’s opening gesture, punning its pitches by transform-
ing their harmonic function from iv-i in C-Minor to i-V in F-Minor (Examples
13.4a–b). This metamorphosis will have telling consequences.

Example 13.4. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, comparison of
themes in the slow movement. (a) Opening of the funeral march theme (mm. 1–4).
(b) Opening of the Agitato Gypsy theme (mm. 92–94).
Schumann and the style hongrois 287

Illustrating the powerful effect of this Gypsy-flavored Agitato, subsequent

materials return in ways that bear its influence. The march tune recurs consid-
erably altered (mm. 110–132), no longer solemn but restless and impassioned.
Adopting frenzied tremolos and sforzandi accents the passage continues the
triplet eighths of the Agitato while also interjecting fragments of the Gypsy
theme into the second bar of each phrase (mm. 111, 115, 119, etc.). The triplet
eighths continue into the reprise of B, also straining its original sense of repose
(mm. 133–164); moreover this episode returns transposed down a fifth, a tonal
shift from C-Major into the major subdominant, F-Major. Last, the final reprise
of the march theme (mm. 165–193) begins not in C-Minor but the subdomi-
nant key of F-Minor, and while a shift to C-Minor prevents closure in F (mm.
171–173), the subsequent tonicization of (and cadence within) F-Minor now
sounds like a tonal return (mm. 177–180). Most strikingly F-Minor coloring
thwarts tonal closure at the movement’s end. The theme’s final phrase is unable
to cadence, stuck momentarily on a first-inversion C tonic chord (mm.
185–186). Suddenly a dynamic surge brings an emphatic dissonance foreign to
C-Minor but diatonic to F-Minor: over a G pedal, the notes D-flat–F pass into
C-Major harmony (mm. 187–188). The effect is remarkable: a Phrygian
inflection of C-Minor, combined with the resolution into major tonic harmony,
suggests a possible function of C as V of F-Minor, a “subdominant direction-
ality” presaged by the Agitato’s pun on the march tune. And while the following
bars stabilize the C-Major triad, this Phrygian approach prevents full closure in
the tonic key. As a result the last cadence of the movement is the earlier one,
tonicizing F-Minor (m. 180).
In all, the growing presence of the subdominant drastically alters conven-
tional procedures in this movement. Given the Agitato’s influence in this regard,
the movement seems to link the style hongrois once again with experimental
harmonic practice. By preventing full closure the subdominant colorings also
leave boundaries open, suggesting the possibility of further exploration.
Ultimately the movement’s transformation of tonic function becomes spun
once again by the finale’s first fugato: reorienting the plagal thrust now toward
C-Minor (the relative key of E-flat Major), the fugato cinches the tonal capitu-
lation of G-Minor and hence facilitates the tonal autonomy of E-flat Major.
In the finale the second fugato continues the pattern of evolving perspectives,
most obviously by transforming the first movement’s main theme into a fugal
subject, while also subduing the finale’s main theme into an accompanying
countersubject (mm. 319–371). Critics have pointed out various motivic ele-
ments that prepare this cyclic return.42 But also striking is how this second fugato
builds on, while also surpassing, a web of plagal associations built across the
entire quintet. Like the main themes of the second and final movements, the
theme—in its original appearance at the outset of the quintet—also highlights
the subdominant (Example 13.5a): its opening leap to D-flat turns the initial
tonic into V7 of IV. Yet instead of destabilizing E-flat, here the subdominant
288 Analytical Approaches

inflection prolongs it, with motion from I to IV balanced by motion from viio7 to
I, the whole underpinned by an E-flat pedal. Significantly this opening progression
and tonic pedal characterize all of the E-flat themes in the quintet, including the
scherzo’s main theme (Examples 13.5b–c, though V7 replaces viio7).

Example 13.5. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, comparison of
harmonic structure in the E-flat Major themes. (a) First movement, opening theme
(mm. 1–3). (b) Third movement, opening scherzo theme (mm. 1–8). (c) Last
movement, idea “B” (mm. 22–25).
Schumann and the style hongrois 289

Nevertheless, given the tonal procedures of the slow movement and the fina-
le’s first fugato, it is surely significant that the theme ultimately expunges this
subdominant inflection by transposing it down a fourth (Example 13.6a). That
is, in a symbolic protection of the tonal sovereignty of E-flat Major the theme
rids itself of the subdominant inflection that ultimately compromises the tonal
control of its third-related keys: C-Minor in the slow movement and G-Minor in
the finale’s first fugato. In so doing the theme’s opening gesture now becomes a
dominant-prolonging idea. This functional transformation first occurs in the
opening movement, when the main theme returns eight bars later in varied form
(mm. 17–25; see Example 13.6b). But the real tour de force occurs much later,
with the theme’s contrapuntal transformation in the finale’s second fugato, a
passage that, unlike the first fugato, stresses only tonic-dominant entries of the
subject. In the fugato’s climactic conclusion (mm. 355–371) a sixteen-bar domi-
nant pedal underpins eight statements of the subject’s head motive in augmenta-
tion (Example 13.6c); each occurs two bars later and a fourth higher than the last
(thereby emphasizing each scale degree of E-flat Major), with the entire series
framed by statements beginning on B-flat (mm. 355 and 369). Indeed as evi-
dence of its capacity to define (versus destabilize) the E-flat tonic, the final gesture
delivers the authentic cadence ending the fugato. In this way the fugato does not
merely cinch E-flat by reviving the theme that originally established this key, it
responds to previous moments by definitively conquering the plagal tendency
(and its association with the style hongrois) that brought about the downfall of its
third-related keys, C-Minor and G-Minor. Thus the fugato brings us to a new
summit, affording a fresh vantage point on earlier harmonic processes.

Example 13.6. Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, reincarnations of the
first movement’s main theme: expunging the subdominant inflection. (a) Abstracted
transformation. (b) First movement, varied return of the main theme (mm. 17–21). (c)
Finale, climactic conclusion of the second fugato (mm. 355–371; reduction).
290 Analytical Approaches

Example 13.6. Continued

Schumann as Gypsy Wanderer

In his 1858 biography of Schumann, Wasielewski held out generous praise for
the quintet, extolling its “rich power and originality of invention.” Though sup-
plying no particulars, nor commenting on the Hungarian Gypsy aspects of the
work, he nevertheless captured its continuously shifting perspectives with a
metaphor by now familiar to us: “In a sense this work offers an image of a wan-
derer, who—pulled by the rich, blooming scenery extending across the moun-
tain slope—climbs higher and higher to enjoy from the summit a final sweeping
view while contemplating the path left behind.”43
The marriage diary of Robert and Clara Schumann provides a striking
parallel experience, one that Wasielewski could not have known. During a
vacation in August 1842 (just weeks before composing the quintet) Robert
and Clara made several hikes in the Erzgebirge region of Bohemia. On
August 11 Schumann writes, “We climbed the Schlossberg. It was very strain-
ing for Clara, also myself. The reward at the top is great, however.” On the
following day they climbed the Milischauer, a “beautiful giant mountain”
whose ascent made for a day that, Schumann writes, “will remain unforget-
table.” He continues:
Schumann and the style hongrois 291

The ascent took place in already great heat and caused me much
trouble. . . . Finally it was climbed. At the top one is addressed by lovely com-
memorative sayings [Gedenksprüche], and the comfortable facilities offer
protection from storms and heat. And then the marvelous panorama! One
should even see beyond Prague. But on mountains I don’t like to slurp over
particulars, but prefer to let the whole thing wash over me. Then one feels
God’s beautiful world. I would have liked to remain up there easily for a
As for the Schlossberg, climbed the previous day, Schumann notes that it “lies at
one’s feet like a mole-hill.”
The higher perspective afforded by the Milischauer then becomes a meta-
phor for artistic development, for Schumann continues: “So it is also in life
and in art. Only when one is on greater mountains does one perceive the
smallness of those previously conquered, and if only yesterday one imagined
themselves to stand high, then on the following day one feels how with effort
and exertion they can reach even higher.” Taking his leave late in the day,
Schumann returns these accomplishments (both figurative and literal) to a
distant realm, one that initiates through its departure a state of infinite
romantic yearning: “Towards 5 o’clock we left the beautiful giant mountain,
which bid us farewell for a long time and finally shrouded itself (again) in
total darkness.”44
The piano quintet seems to enact this idea of artistic journeying. Composed
just weeks after their Bohemian trip, the quintet manipulates tonal and
thematic returns so that they continually yield new perspectives. But perhaps
the climbing metaphor could be extended further, such that Schumann him-
self becomes a heroic Gypsy wanderer, building upon past accomplishments
by continually seeking out new possibilities from the style hongrois. Indeed at
the outset of their Bohemian trip a chance encounter with an acquaintance
from Zwickau reminded Schumann of his youth: “Lovely hopes were placed
on me [then], as I again noticed from the conversation with him; they have
only just been partly fulfilled. It again occurred to me how much there remains
for me to do.”45 With the composition that followed Schumann reached a new
artistic summit, creating what Wasielewski called “undoubtedly the most
significant chamber artwork” since those of Beethoven, an opinion echoed by
many others.46 But if the E-flat Major Piano Quintet is the “beautiful giant”
Milischauer, the A-Major String Quartet is surely the Schlossberg, and the
F-sharp Minor Piano Sonata a smaller mountain yet.47 For it seems clear that
the quintet took as its point of departure the finales of these earlier works.
And suffusing each of these pieces is the style hongrois, which seems to have
opened for Schumann new avenues of formal experimentation. Thus
Schumann must also be counted as one who uncovered new expressive effects
from this musical idiom.
292 Analytical Approaches

A portion of this essay was presented as a paper entitled “The style hongrois and
Schumann’s Formal Experiments of 1842” at the 2007 national meeting of the
American Musicological Society, among other venues. I would like to thank Jonathan
Bellman for his input on an earlier version of this conference paper.
1. Bellman, The Style hongrois in the Music of Western Europe. A summary of
many ideas in this book appears in Bellman, “The Hungarian Gypsies.” More recent
large-scale studies include Loya, “The Verbunkos Idiom”; Mayes, “Domesticating the
Foreign.” For a lexicon of the style hongrois, see Bellman, The Style hongrois, 93–130.
Loya has expanded Bellman’s lexicon, considering additional structural and
harmonic features, especially in relation to Liszt’s style hongrois practices (141–52).
For more on the emergence of this style, see Bellman, The Style hongrois, 47–68; and
Mayes, “Domesticating the Foreign,” chapters 2–3.
2. As Bellman notes, “[In the nineteenth century,] the style hongrois ceased being
merely a superficial reference to the musical style of Gypsy entertainers, and instead
became an evocation of something much more immediate and powerful, with pow-
erful extra-musical associations” (The Style hongrois, 65; see also 130).
3. For an overview of Gypsy stereotypes propagated in literature and culture of
the time, see ibid., 69–92.
4. Ibid., 144–46.
5. Ibid., 161. For a chronological list of Schubert’s music using the style hongrois,
see 225–26.
6. John Daverio, “Brahms, the Schumann Circle, and the Style hongrois,” in
Crossing Paths, 213–14, 239–40. For a discussion of performative aspects of Brahms’s
music in the Hungarian Gypsy idiom, see Bellman, “Performing Brahms.” Bellman
has also drawn attention to the “Zigeunertanz,” the third movement in Schumann’s
Sonata for the Young, Op. 118, no. 3, citing its decorative triplets as a trait of the style
hongrois (The Style hongrois, 116, 118). Roe-Min Kok shows that unlike several
other movement titles in the Op. 118 sonatas that Schumann adjusted under pressure
from his publisher Julius Schuberth, “Zigeunertanz” was unchanged from the
beginning (“Negotiating Children’s Music,” 111).
7. Most of these works date from what Anthony Newcomb has described as
Schumann’s Hausmusik stage of piano composition (1848 on), when interest in
accessible, amateur music composition became a particular focus; see Newcomb,
“Schumann and the Marketplace,” 270–75. The style hongrois permeates these works
to varying degrees, with a more biting Hungarianism found in the Opp. 109 and 118
pieces, and a more restrained character in the others.
8. Österreichische National-Encyklopädie (Vienna, 1837), 6:247, cited in Bellman,
The Style hongrois, 78–79.
9. See Bellman, The Style hongrois, 90–92. As George Sand stated in the con-
cluding pages of her novel La Dernière Aldini, “Gaily let us dispense with wealth,
when we have it, let us accept poverty without worry, if it comes; let us keep
above all our liberty, enjoy life all the same, and long live the Gypsy!” (cited in
Bellman, 69).
Schumann and the style hongrois 293

10. Shay Loya has recently made a similar argument for Liszt, suggesting that the
style hongrois—what he terms the “verbunkos idiom”—influenced Liszt’s modernist
treatment of tonality and form. By arguing for this “transcultural” influence (a cue
he takes from Mary Louise Pratt), Loya counters postcolonial arguments that insist
on viewing European constructions of otherness solely as “orientalist appropria-
tions” furthering imperial ideologies. For his critique of this argument, and of the
critical reception of Bellman’s work, see Loya, “The Verbunkos Idiom,” 113–22.
11. On this latter point, see Bellman, The Style hongrois, 85–86.
12. Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, review of May 15, 1843, in R. Schumann,
Gesammelte Schriften (1914), 2:132. All translations are mine unless otherwise
Denn daß durch die ganze Sinfonie ein eigentümlicher Volkston weht, ist schon
mehrfach ausgesprochen worden,—ein ganz phantasieloser Mensch nur wird dies
nicht merken. Das besondere reizende Kolorit ist es denn auch, das, wie der Franz
Schubertschen Sinfonie, so der Mendelssohnschen eine besondere Stelle in der
Sinfonieliteratur sichert. Das herkömmliche Instrumentalpathos, die gewohnte
massenhafte Breite trifft man in ihr nicht, nichts, was etwa wie ein Überbieten
Beethovens aussähe, sie nähert sich vielmehr, und hauptsächlich im Charakter,
jener Schubertschen, mit dem Unterschiede, daß, während uns die letzere eher ein
wildes, zigeunerisches Volkstreiben ahnen läßt, uns die Mendelssohns unter italie-
nischen Himmel versetzt. Darin liegt zugleich ausgesprochen, daß der jüngeren
ein anmutig gesitteter Charakter innewohnt, und daß sie uns weniger fremdartig
anspricht, indes wir freilich der Schubertschen wieder andere Vorzüge, namen-
tlich den reicherer Erfindungskraft zusprechen müssen.
On the style hongrois aspects of Schubert’s symphony, see Bellman, The Style
hongrois, 105, 120, 167–68, 170. For Schumann’s 1840 review of the symphony, see
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, review of March 10, 1840, in R. Schumann, Gesammelte
Schriften (1914), 1:459–64. Schumann also recognized the Hungarian Gypsy idiom
in Weber. In an October 1842 review of Loewe’s oratorio, Johann Huß, Schumann
expressed disappointment in the gypsy chorus opening part 2, arguing, “Euphony
and charm should never be lacking, even when gypsies are the singers. Weber knew
how to do this better in Preciosa” (2:103). For a discussion of style hongrois elements
in Weber’s Preciosa, see Bellman, The Style hongrois, 138–44, 163.
13. R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 1:363–64.
Zilia war gestern unwohl und verdrießlich; ich kann ihr doch jetzt wenigstens die
schönsten Grobheiten von der Welt sagen, ohne mißverstanden zu werden, was
freilich w[e]nig klingt. Das Ungarische Divertissement von Franz Schubert schien
sie etwas aufzuräumen. Wenn ich etwas in Worten ausdrücken dürfte, so könnt’
ich wohl sagen: daß ich ordentlich auf einer ungarischen Bauernhochzeit mir war
u. viel mit den Füßen stampfte; aber wenn ich das Sehnen, diese Wehmuth, diesen
Gesang u. all die schönen Gestalten, die wie im Tanze vorbeifliegen, zeigen soll, so
erlaß mir das, mein Florestan! Eusebius meinte: die Pedalstelle am Schluß wäre
der Segen des Priesters—dann ziehen sie fort, mit Tambourins, lärmend u. immer
fort u. immer fort in die ferne Weite—immer fort.
294 Analytical Approaches

Tambourines are more accurately associated with the Turkish style in Western
European art music, a style that shared ties with the style hongrois but that neverthe-
less remained distinct from it (Bellman, The Style hongrois, 11–16). Nevertheless
composers frequently mixed the two in a kind of pan-exotic referencing (47–68).
For example, in Schumann’s 1840 choral piece, “Zigeunerleben,” the score indicates
an ad libitum role for the triangle and tambourine.
14. On this latter point, see Bellman, The Style hongrois, 75–79.
15. For work detailing the literary and sociological aspects of the wanderer trope
in the nineteenth century, including the ability to intuit meaning incapable of being
expressed in words, see Gramit, “Schubert’s Wanderers.” On Schumann’s responsive-
ness to the notion of romantic distance in Schubert and in general, see Hoeckner,
“Schumann and Romantic Distance.”
16. Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, reviews of May 3, 1842, June 8, 1838, and May 17,
1842, in R. Schumann, Gesammelte Schriften (1914), 2:71, 1:333, and 2:74.
Die Gattung [Quartett] an sich eine so edle ist, eine höhere Bildung der
Kämpfenden vorausetzt, dann, da in ihr ein bedenklicher Stillstand eingetreten
Es ist noch nicht lange her . . . daß Haydn, Mozart und noch Einer lebten, die
Quartetten geschrieben: sollten solche Väter so wenig würdige Enkel hinterlassen,
diese gar nichts von jenen gelernt haben?
Man sieht es, er [Hirschbach] will ein Dichter genannt sein, er möchte sich überall
der stereotypen Form entziehen; Beethovens letzte Quartette gelten ihm erst als
Anfänge einer neuen poetischen Ära, in dieser will er fortwirken.
17. Daverio, Robert Schumann, 253; J. H. Brown, “ ‘A Higher Echo,’” 99–114.
18. On parallel forms in Schumann’s earlier piano sonatas and Fantasie, see
Roesner, “Schumann’s ‘Parallel’ Forms”; Rosen, Sonata Forms, 369, 380–83.
19. Kohlhase, Die Kammermusik Robert Schumanns, 1:160; Newcomb,
“Schumann and Late Eighteenth-Century Narrative Strategies,” 171.
20. Newcomb, “Schumann and Late Eighteenth-Century Narrative Strategies,”
172–73; Kohlhase, Die Kammermusik Robert Schumanns, 1:161.
21. Indeed as Hermann Abert and Kohlhase have both noted, the episode—
labeled “Quasi Trio” by Schumann—strongly recalls the gavotte from the sixth
French Suite of J. S. Bach. Abert, Robert Schumann (Berlin: Harmonie
Verlagsgesellschaft für Literatur und Kunst, 1903), 90; Kohlhase, Die Kammermusik
Robert Schumanns, 1:70.
22. Earlier parallel forms include the finale of the F-sharp Minor Sonata, Op.
11 (which I also discuss below), the original finale of the G-Minor Sonata, Op.
post., and the outer movements of the Concert sans orchestra, Op. 14. See Rosen,
Sonata Forms, 369, 380–83; Roesner, “Schumann’s ‘Parallel’ Forms,” 265–78.
Roesner also argues for parallel structures in the outer movements of the Fantasie,
Op. 17, although the parallel repetition in each restates material found not at but
near the opening of the movement. The finale represents the one instance in
which the parallel repetition begins at a different pitch level: V of D-Minor
Schumann and the style hongrois 295

instead of V of C-Minor, a transposed pitch level that nevertheless is closer to the

tonic than that found in the finale of Op. 41, no. 3. For a more detailed harmonic
analysis of the A-Major quartet finale, see J. H. Brown, “‘A Higher Echo of the
Past,’” 106–14.
23. Newcomb, “Late Eighteenth-Century Narrative Strategies,” 174. At the same
time Schumann also honored his heritage in the spring of 1842 by studying the
string quartets of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. See R. Schumann, Tagebücher,
3:210, 212–13.
24. Rosen, Sonata Forms, 369, 381–82; Roesner, “Studies in Schumann
Manuscripts,” 341–42. Joan Chissell similarly remarks that “the subject matter gen-
erally is episodically strung together,” an element making “Schumann’s inexperience
with larger forms . . . all too apparent” (Schumann: Piano Music, 28). Schumann’s
contemporaries echoed such remarks. In an 1836 review of the sonata Moscheles
commented that although the work is “rich in images,” with each segment displaying
“its own colors and contours,” they nonetheless “return unchanged” and “don’t
blend themselves into a whole” (“Pianoforte-Sonata,” 137: “Das Ganze ist bilderre-
ich, in so fern jede Periode bestimmte Farben und Contouren hat, aber sie kehren
unverändert zu keiner höheren Blühe entfaltet wieder, und verschmelzen sich nicht
zu einem Ganzen.”). Similarly Liszt commented on the “grand originality” of the
work yet noted a “particular uncertainty of the whole,” where the overall effect is
“often broken and disturbed.” The principal musical idea, though “complete in
itself,” was “not sufficient for understanding all of the details” (review of Schumann’s
piano works, Opp. 5, 11, and 14, Gazette musicale, November 12, 1837, reprinted in
Burger, Robert Schumann, 160).
Das Finale der Sonate Schumann’s ist von großer Originalität. Nichtsdestowenigen
und trotzdem die Logik in der Entwickelung der Hauptidee nicht fehlt und der
Schluß von hinreißender Wärme ist, wird die allgemeine Wirkung dieses Satzes
oft unterbrochen und gestört. Vielleicht ist es die Länge der Entwicklung, die eine
gewisse Unsicherheit über das Ganze breitet. Vielleicht auch, daß es nothwendig
gewesen wäre den poetischen Gedanken besonders anzugeben. Für das Verständnis
aller Einzelheiten ist nacht unserer Ansicht der ausschließlich musikalische
Gedanke, so vollständig er an sich ist, nicht ausreichend.
Critics have also targeted the block-like construction of the A-Major quartet finale,
suggesting that the movement evokes musical types not typical of the sonata cycle.
For example, A. E. F. Dickinson has called it a “loose-limbed movement” that resem-
bles a “well-organized ballet movement rather than a finale” (“The Chamber Music,”
149–50). John Gardner suggests that the movement behaves “as relaxedly sectional
as any Strauss waltz” (“The Chamber Music,” 208). And John Daverio has likened its
“mosaic-like succession of miniature character portraits” to the “manner of the
Novelletten” (Robert Schumann, 253).
For alternative sonata-form readings, see Roesner, “Studies in Schumann
Manuscripts,” 329–41; Moßburger, Poetische Harmonik, 174–84. The differences in
interpretation between Rosen, Roesner, and Moßburger indicate the less than
straightforward nature of this refrain-based parallel form.
296 Analytical Approaches

25. Moßburger, Poetische Harmonik, 209, 437; Schumann, Reisetagebuch III

(1830), cited in Moßburger, 437. Moßburger also provides a quantitative analysis of
key relations and tonic presence in this movement (172–84). Schumann recognized
his breaks from tradition in this work. In a letter of September 7, 1838, to Hermann
Hirschbach he cited the “numerous and new forms” found in works like his Op. 11
sonata, ones supposedly arising not from a regulated, intellectual approach to com-
position but from a freer, more intuitive one: “I do not think about form any more
while composing; I just do it.” Briefe: Neue Folge 1904), 137: “Sie kennen nichts von
meinen größeren Compositionen, Sonaten (unter Florestan und Eusebs [sic] Namen
erschienen), da, glaube ich (wenn Sie es nicht schon an den kleineren sehen), würden
Sie sehen, wie viele und neue Formen darin. An Form denk ich nicht mehr beim
Componiren; ich mach’s eben.”
26. Although Schubert’s Grand Duo finale does not reveal a parallel form like
that of Schumann’s Op. 11, I have discussed elsewhere Schubert’s influence on
Schumann in this regard. See J. H. Brown, “Higher Echoes of the Past in the Finale
of Schumann’s 1842 Piano Quartet,” 534–42.
27. Letter of September 5, 1839, to Heinrich Dorn, in Briefe: Neue Folge (1904),
170. On the biographical significance of the sonata, see for example Moßburger,
Poetische Harmonik, 211–15; Daverio, Robert Schumann, 143–46.
28. See Roesner, “Studies in Schumann Manuscripts,” 74–76, 337–41. Although
not applying any biographical interpretation here to Op. 11, Roesner elsewhere dis-
cusses other works that delay tonal arrival for similar reasons. See Roesner,
“Schumann’s Parallel Forms,” 273–78 (on the Op. 17 Fantasie), and “Tonal Strategy
(on the C-Major Symphony, Op. 61).”
29. Letter to Clara of February 13, 1836, in R. Schumann, Jugendbriefe, 268; letter
of March 1, 1836, to Karl August Kahhert, in R. Schumann, Briefe: Neue Folge (1904),
68, cited and translated in Daverio, Robert Schumann, 147–18.
30. See letter begun New Year’s Eve, 1837, segment dated January 5, 1838, in
R. and C. Schumann, Briefwechsel, 1:73; also available in English as The Complete
Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann, 1:76. In his review of the Grand
Duo sonata Schumann remarks not on the finale’s Gypsy-inflected theme, nor its
resemblance to his own sonata theme, but rather on the “symphonic” aspects of
the work, including its “reminiscences” of Beethoven in the second and fourth
movements; for Schumann, the latter evoked the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh
Symphony, probably because of its furious dance-like character and opening pedal
on V of A (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, review of June 5, 1838, in Gesammelte
Schriften, 1:328–30).
31. See the letter to Joseph Fischof of April 3, 1838 (Briefe: Neue Folge [1904],
118); the diary entry of June 15, 1838 (Tagebücher, 2:58); and letter to Clara of June
13, 1839 (Briefwechsel, 2:571; The Complete Correspondence, 2:246). These quartet
attempts also coincided with Schumann’s attendance at string quartet rehearsals led
by Ferdinand David, concertmaster of the Gewandhaus orchestra, and with a series
of articles by Schumann on the string quartet published in the Neue Zeitschrift für
Musik in 1838. On this see Daverio, “‘Beautiful and Abstruse Conversations,’”
Schumann and the style hongrois 297

32. Letter to Koßmaly of September 1, 1842, Briefe: Neue Folge (1904), 220.
Koßmaly’s essay appeared in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1844; for a
translation, see Koßmaly, “On Robert Schumann’s Piano Compositions (1844).” On
the 1840 edition, see Harwood, “Robert Schumann’s Sonata in F-Sharp Minor,” 17.
For Clara’s response, see R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 2:189: “Es mochte wohl seit
Jahren das erste Mal wieder sein, daß ich Roberts Fis moll Sonata spielte—sie
entzückte mich von Neuem! Ich halte sie für eines der großartigsten Werke
33. Letter to Carl Koßmaly of May 5, 1843, Briefe: Neue Folge (1904), 227: “Ja
gerade in den Versuchen liegen oft die meisten Keime der Zukunft.” For a summary
of the reception history that posits a stylistic divide between these periods, see J. H.
Brown, “Higher Echoes of the Past in the Finale of Schumann’s 1842 Piano Quartet,”
511–15, and “‘A Higher Echo of the Past,’” 42–64.
34. My thanks to Walter Frisch for pointing out this resemblance.
35. For instance, see Chissell, Schumann, 162–63; Dickinson, “The Chamber
Music,” 153–54; Gardner,“The Chamber Music,” 233–38; Kohlhase, Die Kammermusik
Robert Schumanns, 1:162–66; Reininghaus, “Zwischen Historismus und Poesie,” 43;
Talbot, The Finale, 96–98. Commentators have also asserted other so-called sonata-
form elements: mm. 43–77 (C) as the secondary theme group, and mm. 86–136 as a
“development” section. However, critics too often fail to qualify their reading by
detailing the surprising departures from sonata-rondo practice; Talbot and espe-
cially Kohlhase are notable exceptions in this regard; see also J. H. Brown, “ ‘A Higher
Echo of the Past,’” 118–21.
36. For a more detailed analysis than what follows here, see J. H. Brown, “ ‘A
Higher Echo of the Past,’” 115–48.
37. Bellman has drawn my attention to a “cognate” of this theme found in
another piano quintet: the finale of Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F-Minor, Op. 34.
There the main theme also begins on the half bar, suffuses itself with anapest
rhythms, and features a detached articulation (here staccato), simple rhythms
(though Brahms incorporates ornamental figures as well), and much repetition of
ideas. With its many repeated notes in sixteenth-note rhythms, the accompaniment
also evokes cimbalom playing (Bellman, personal communication).
38. Kohlhase, Die Kammermusik Robert Schumanns, 2:94.
39. Harmonically symmetrical fugatos apparently provoked Schumann’s interest
in 1842, for the finale of the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, also opens with
such a fugato, one with critical ramifications as well. On this, see J. H. Brown, “Higher
Echoes of the Past in the Finale of Schumann’s 1842 Piano Quartet,” 525–33.
40. For an overview of these practices, see Loya, “The Verbunkos Idiom,” 146–49.
According to Loya, Liszt’s “grand Hungarian project” began in the 1840s after several
concert tours in Hungary (one in late 1839 and two in 1846) and culminated during
his Weimar period (1848–61) with the composition of the Hungarian Rhapsodies
and other large-scale works. Thus it is difficult to assert Liszt’s influence on
Schumann’s plagal practices in the 1842 quintet. Liszt’s well-known remark in 1848
that the quintet was too “Leipzigerisch” itself suggests a lack of identification on his
part. On this episode, see Daverio, Robert Schumann, 391–92.
298 Analytical Approaches

41. The slow movement also provides the basis for much of the finale’s materials,
as Kohlhase has shown (Die Kammermusik Robert Schumanns, 1:71, and “Robert
Schumanns Klavierquintett,” 167).
42. See, for example, Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music, 154;
Kohlhase, Die Kammermusik Robert Schumanns, 2:96; Daverio, Robert Schumann,
43. Wasielewski, Robert Schumann, 177:
Birgt es seine so reiche Kraft und Originalität der Erfindung, einen so kräftigen
und kühnen. . . . So gewährt dies Werk gleichsam das Bild eines Wanderers, der
durch die blühend reiche, am Bergeshange sich ausbreitende Landschaft dahinzie-
hend, immer höher steigt, um sich auf der Spitze des Gipfels umschweifenden
Blickes noch einmal der Betrachtung des zurückgelegten Weges zu erfreuen.
44. R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 2:238:
Am Donnerstag früh stiegen wir auf d. Schloßberg. Es strengte Cl.[ara] sehr an,
auch mich. Die Belohnung oben aber ist groß. . . . Freitag d. 12te wird mir
unvergeßlich bleiben, wir fuhren nach d. Milischauer . . . Die Besteigung geschah in
bereits großer Sonnenhitze u. machte mir viel zu schaffen. . . . Endlich war er erstie-
gen. Hübsche Gedenksprüche reden oben einen an und die behagliche Einrichtung
schützt gegen Sturm u. Hitze. Und dann das herrliche Panorama! Man soll sogar
über Prag hinaussehen. Doch schlürfe ich auf Bergen nicht sowohl das Einzelne,
als lasse lieber das Ganze auf mich einströmen. Da fühlt man denn Gottes schöne
Welt. Ich hätte gleich eine Woche lang oben bleiben mögen. Der Schloßberg liegt
wie ein Maulwurfhügel zu den Füßen. So ist’s auch im Leben u. in der Kunst. Die
Kleinheit der überwundenen Berge sieht man erst auf größeren, und wähnte man
sich schon gestern hoch stehen, so fühlt man am folgenden Tag, wie man mit
Mühe u. Anstrengung noch höher gelangen kann. G[e]gen 5 Uhr verließen wir
den schönen Bergriesen, der uns noch lange nachwinkte und zuletzt sich (wieder)
ganz in’s Dunkel einhüllte.
Schumann used mountain imagery as a metaphor for artistic progress in his criti-
cism as well. For example, an 1836 review of W. Schüler’s piano concerto criticizes
the composer’s desire to return to “older simplicity” in the rondo movement.
Schumann comments, “We are not friends of backward steps. . . . Thus let us go for-
ward, friends! We want to look back from the summit, not before” (Gesammelte
Schriften [1914], 2:312: “Vom Rondo gesteht der Komponist in einem der Partitur
beigelegten Briefe, daß er damit einen Rückschritt zur alten Simplizität bez-
wecke. . . . Wir sind keine Freunde von Rückschritten. . . . Also vorwärts, Freunde! Auf
dem Gipfel wollen wir uns umsehen—eher nicht.”).
45. R. Schumann, Tagebücher, 2:235: “Schöne Hoffnungen, wie ich wieder aus
dem Gespräch mit ihm merkte, wurden auf mich gesetzt; sie sind nur erst zum Theil
erfüllt; es fiel mir wieder ein, wie viel mir noch zu thun übrig bleibt.” After leaving
Zwickau in the fall of 1828 to continue studies in Leipzig, Schumann—himself a
young, melancholy “wanderer” newly separated from home—captured this new
stage of life and the alternative perspectives it brought with similar mountain
Schumann and the style hongrois 299

imagery: “I left on the 21st. With a melancholy heart, I took leave of the whole pre-
cious home with a long, silent look down from Mosler mountain; the autumnal
morning was shining like a mild day in spring, and the illuminated world was ten-
derly and cheerfully smiling on my beautiful, lonely wandering” (1:126–27, cited
and translated in Hoeckner, “Schumann and Romantic Distance,” 83).
46. Wasielewski, Robert Schumann, 177: “Es ist ohne Bedenken sogar als das
bedeutendste, seit Beethoven’s Erscheinung entstandene Kunstwerk im Kammerstyl
zu bezeichnen.”
47. Though not linking Op. 11 with the 1842 works, Wasielewski also resorted to
mountain imagery to describe the sonata’s shortcomings: despite its “laborious
struggle with form,” the sonata nevertheless formed “a kind of mountain border in
Schumann’s productive activity, whose narrow passes had to be forcibly broken
through to prepare an orderly bed for the stream of ideas” (ibid., 108). For addi-
tional critical reactions to the sonata’s shortcomings, see note 24.

Intermediate States of Key in Schumann

David Kopp

Among mid-nineteenth-century composers Schumann is perhaps less cele-

brated for harmonic imagination, particularly the advanced use of chromati-
cism, than, in their respective times, Schubert, Liszt, or Wagner. Much recent
theoretical work on this repertory tends to bypass Schumann. Yet Schumann
certainly wrote some harmonically adventurous music, and his harmonic prac-
tice and use of chromaticism are in fact consistent with what I have called mid-
nineteenth-century common-tone tonality.1 But his musical innovations with
respect to harmony may best be associated with other factors. Charles Rosen, in
The Romantic Generation, has written insightfully about Schumann in this
regard. Though Rosen does not address Schumann’s harmonic practice in a
dedicated discussion, the topic surfaces throughout the book, with a common
thread: more than for any other composer, Rosen often remarks on Schumann’s
distinctive and unconventional use of key. Keys may appear in unusual formal
placements or interact with form in novel ways; they may overlap, or tonal
boundaries may be indistinct; there may be what is commonly called “ambi-
guity” of key, with the presence of multiple tonic possibilities of varying degrees
of clarity and stability. It appears from Rosen’s examples that Schumann was
tinkering with, undermining, and expanding the boundaries of the perceived
role of key in defining musical coherence and meaning. In all of these discus-
sions it is assumed that we know exactly what is meant by key. Key is such a
familiar concept that it may seem silly to question it. But is there a universal and
invariant idea of what constitutes a key, and the ways key identification impacts
the significance of musical content? Is our twenty-first-century sense of key akin
to that of the mid-nineteenth century? Like so many basic theoretical concepts
whose meaning we may feel that we intuitively grasp, the notion of key is in fact
a complex one that has developed significantly over time, involving a number of
constituent ideas that are not always compatible.2 A quick survey of familiar
theorists either whose work was widely read in Schumann’s time (Gottfried
Weber) or who were actively engaged with Schumann’s music (A. B. Marx) or
who were known to Schumann and whose ideas in later publications reflect the

Intermediate States of Key in Schumann 301

music of the time (Moritz Hauptmann and Simon Sechter) will reveal a variety
of takes on what makes a key.
Weber, the widely influential theorist whose Versuch einer geordneten Theorie
der Tonsetzkunst first appeared in 1817, frames his initial discussion of key in
terms of perception: “When our ear perceives a succession of tones and har-
monies, it naturally endeavors to find amidst this multiplicity and variety . . . a
relationship to a common central point.” Thus for Weber the essential aspect of
the key is the referential, organizing power of the tonic, which the mind natu-
rally seeks out. “The ear everywhere longs to perceive some tone as a principal
and central tone, some harmony as a principal harmony, around which the
others revolve . . . such a predominance of a principal harmony over the others,
we call a KEY (Tonart).” Weber mentions both the tonic note and the tonic
chord, although the ensuing discussion focuses almost entirely on the harmonic
aspect, identifying the tonic note as the principal chord’s fundamental rather
than as the focal tone of the diatonic scale. While he observes that the domi-
nants supply character and the full complement of notes to the key, it is the tonic
triad in its relationships to all of the other chords that defines it. Weber’s
discussion of the diatonic scale directly follows: it is the “scale of the key,” its
representation but not its source.3
Adolph Bernhard Marx’s treatise Die Lehre von der musikalischen Komposition,
first appearing in 1837, takes an opposite tack. There is in fact no dedicated
discussion or definition of what makes a key in the entire treatise. Rather, during
an introductory discussion focusing on the scale, Marx quietly brings in the term
as a synonym: “The sharps or flats incident to the scale or key in which a compo-
sition has been written, are merely placed at the beginning of the piece . . . and are
called the signature of a scale or key.” In a subsequent discussion of keys he notes
the fifth-relation of scales; identifies tonic, dominant, and subdominant as the
first, fifth, and fourth scale degrees; and directly associates the relationship of
these tones with the corresponding relationships of keys—completely bypassing
the level of chords. Moreover, tonic and dominant cadential functions are gener-
ated prior to the introduction of chords, not from the scale, but from “tone-
masses” comprised of all of the tones belonging to the corresponding harmonies
drawn from the first two and a half octaves of the overtone series. In time Marx
does introduce the three principal triads, but significantly he associates only the
tonic triad with the home key. His subdominant and dominant triads represent
their own keys; they are “domesticated” in the new key in their subservient roles
to the tonic but never fully shed their tonic identities: “We can consider these two
chords as reminiscences of F and G major, or as borrowed from those keys.”4 Thus
while for both Marx and Weber the tonic taken in relation to the other principal
triads is the sole determinant of key identity, Marx goes further. His conception
of key identity is particularly fluid: even in the perfect authentic cadence, which
later theorists would understand as necessary to define the key, Marx sees the
simultaneous presence of multiple keys.
302 Analytical Approaches

Simon Sechter, the diatonically oriented Viennese theorist known for teaching
counterpoint to the chromatically adventurous Schubert and Bruckner, pro-
vides another contrast. His principal treatise, Die Grundsätze der musikalischen
Komposition, published in 1853–54, completely forgoes any mention whatso-
ever of key. Sechter’s harmonic entity is exclusively the scale (Tonleiter). The
diatonic triads and seventh chords are harmonies of the scale; their roots are
identified as scale steps (Stufen), whether with Arabic or Roman numerals.
While Sechter identifies principal triads of the scale on the first, fifth, and fourth
scale degrees, only the degrees themselves receive the names tonic, dominant,
and subdominant; the chords are merely associated with them (e.g., der Dreiklang
der Tonica). Scale names (C dur, A moll) stand for key names; modulation, as
with Marx, occurs between scales.5 Thus Sechter’s theory of harmony operates
effectively, and remarkably, without any explicit notion of key whatsoever.
For Schumann’s Leipzig colleague Moritz Hauptmann, though, the notion
of key was very important—perhaps the central, defining concept of his entire
theory. His treatise Die Natur der Harmonik und der Metrik was published in
1853, but its harmonic outlook is conservative, attuned to the music of
previous decades. The theory has been well documented in a number of recent
publications, so I will just summarize relevant points here.6 Like Weber,
Hauptmann posits the tonic triad at the center of the key. But Hauptmann
goes well beyond Weber to require not only the additional presence of the
dominant and subdominant triads, but also the tonic’s individual relation-
ships to them, and theirs to it, to generate the key. The traditional scale is com-
pletely absent in his discussion; Hauptmann represents the diatonic set as the
union of the three principal triads arranged in thirds, shown for example as
F–a–C–e–G–b–D for C-Major. He defines the tones of the key not as degrees
of the scale, but in their roles within the principal triads, possessing root-,
third-, and fifth-quality. Key identity is thus conveyed by the interrelationship
of the three principal triads as well as by the perceived status of the constituent
notes within all chords. This manner of thinking spawns a mode of harmonic
analysis that incorporates not only directed motion between chord roots but
also the linkage of chords by qualitative change of common tones, a signal
aspect of mid-nineteenth-century style. Hauptmann’s key is thus a dynamic
and complex system whose configuration imbues every note with meaning in
relation to its local context. It exi