Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis and the Genre of the Romantic Cycle

Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis and the Genre of the Romantic Cycle

Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis and the Genre of the Romantic Cycle

Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis and the Genre of the Romantic Cycle

Synopsis

This new study draws on analysis, literary criticism, and source studies to propose a new conception of the nineteenth-century romantic cycle. Rather than a unified whole, the cycle is seen as a fragmentary and open-ended form, which enables Schumann to express the romantic themes of transcendence and ineffability in musical terms.

Excerpt

The present book is the culmination of a study that began with a seminar on the nineteenth-century song and piano cycle that I took as a graduate student. Our primary interest was in how nineteenth-century composers used the cycle to experiment with musical forms and, in particular, how they tried to create musical structures that expanded beyond the boundaries of a single movement. Many of the scholars whom we read at the time based their explanations of the cycle's formal organization on traditional assumptions about organic unity and primarily relied on motive and voice-leading relationships as they tried to analyze the cycle as a unified whole. When I began the seminar, I, too, assumed that this was the path that would ultimately lead us to a theory of the cycle, but by the end of the semester we had raised so many questions about this approach that we began to wonder if such a theory was either possible or desirable. In my case, these questions soon gave birth to a dissertation on Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis, in which I argued that we needed to shift our focus from the whole to the part in order to understand the Romantic cycle. Rather than try to demonstrate how the Liederkreis creates a unified structure, I explored the ways in which the individual songs are fragmentary and open-ended.

As I worked on my dissertation, I sometimes worried that by the time I got to the end of it, I would have completely done away with the genre I was writing about. If all I had left was a series of individual songs, then where was the cycle? Fortunately, the members of my committee never asked that question. As I have continued to think about Schumann's cycles, I have come to see that in asking the question myself, I was missing the whole point of the Romantic aesthetic that led to the genre in the first place. I still believe that the cycle does not bind the songs into a unified whole, but I now see that the open-ended form of the individual song itself implies larger relationships that we, as listeners, performers, and analysts, must imaginatively realize as we engage with the work. It is in this sense that Schumann's cycles are Romantic fragments, "always only becoming," never fully completed. Schumann makes us aware of the potentiality of a higher unity, and it is this that gives the cycle its aesthetic and expressive power.

Although he has not directly participated in the creation of the present book, I am most gratefully indebted to Prof. Allan Keiler, who taught that graduate seminar and patiently advised and shepherded me through that dissertation. He . . .

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