Through a Literary Lens: The Effect of Jean Paul and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Writing Styles on the Compositional Techniques of Robert Schumann
Mechell, Christopher William
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The son of a writer, lexicographer, and publisher, Robert Schumann was born on June 8th, 1810 in Zwickau, Saxony. His father, August Schumann, surrounded his son with a multitude of literary works during his youth. Although a promising young musician, Robert Schumann was torn between becoming a pianist/composer or poet. Eventually, Schumann creatively achieved an integration of both pursuits into one, as he would spend the rest of his life seamlessly combining literary and musical ideas into singular creations of art. In fact, Schumann successfully achieved an even deeper connection between music and poetry by writing music as literature. In other words, Schumann eventually viewed musical compositions as literary products that should aspire to be as deep and dramatic as their counterparts. Schumann found inspiration in the works of many literary icons of the Romantic era. In an effort to explore the extensive relationship between literature and Robert Schumann’s musical style, this paper considers two notable authors – Jean Paul Richter and E.T.A. Hoffmann – and the impact of their literary contributions on Schumann’s compositional style in three of his works: Papillons, Op. 2, Carnaval, Op. 9, and Kreisleriana, Op. 16. Jean Paul Richter (also known as Jean Paul) and Hoffmann’s literary influences are present in each of these compositions and provide a solid basis from which to consider the contemporary impacts of literature on Schumann’s compositional style. This paper aims to identify the important literary elements, underlying influences, and thematic sources prevalent throughout these three Schumann works. Although various literary elements in Schumann’s music have received considerable attention in the academic community, this paper aims to contribute a unique perspective to the discussion by considering this particular subset of Schumann’s repertoire through the literary lens of Jean Paul and Hoffmann. This analysis, done from a biographical/historical lens, considers both specific and general concepts to show literary correlations in Schumann’s works. This is a particularly effective approach to understanding the inner workings of specific correlations in music, as the following axiom always holds true: from correctly exacted context comes infinitely more effective specifics. Exploration of the genesis of a composer’s work is not only important from a musicological perspective, but also from a performer’s perspective. The nuances and true essence of a piece can better be understood and interpreted by assessing the literary influences underlying compositions. Sophisticated performers are able to draw on such knowledge and better convey not only the composer’s intent, but also their own interpretations through the medium of their instrument.
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