Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Poetic Virtuosity”: Robert Schumann as a Critic and Composer of Virtuoso Instrumental Music
by Stefaniak, Alexander, Ph.D., University of Rochester, 2012, 458; 3543424
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation, I explore Robert Schumann's activities as a critic and composer of virtuoso instrumental music. I argue that the view of Schumann as the consummate anti-virtuoso polemicist—current in Romantic critical discourse as well as present-day scholarly literature—is an oversimplified one. Instead, Schumann played a significant role in the nineteenth-century German interaction between virtuosity, Romantic aesthetics, and the ideology of serious music. German Romantic composers and critics regarded virtuosity, on one hand, more as a source of crowd-pleasing entertainment than as high art but, on the other, as a source of astonishment, originality, and audience appeal. Schumann himself worked to promote (as critic) and realize (as composer) a self-consciously serious, transcendent approach to virtuosity. Chapter 1 argues that Schumann directed his critique of virtuosity at a specific repertory that scholars have termed “postclassical.” This style—exemplified by the works of Henri Herz and Carl Czerny—prized accessibility and elegance, and Schumann's writings on postclassical showpieces comment on their style and conventions as well as on the cultural significance of this repertory. Chapters 2 and 3 explore ways in which Schumann sought to “poeticize” and “elevate” virtuosity by combining postclassical conventions with Romantic musical metaphors for inwardness and transcendence. The second discusses how Schumann's concept of the “poetic” informed his approach to virtuosity. The third argues that Schumann viewed virtuosity as a potential source of sublime experience and, moreover, that contemporary critics received several of his own showpieces as sublime. Chapter 4 considers writings in which Schumann argues for a symbiotic relationship between virtuosos and musical institutions he regarded as serious. This ideal, I argue, shaped the style and structure of Schumann's own concertos, which stage virtuosic display as part of the symphony-centered concert and incorporate the virtuoso into the idealized community of the professional symphony orchestra. Schumann thus participated influentially in a discourse that did not establish a binaristic opposition between virtuosity and serious music or attempt to suppress public interest in virtuosity but rather created various ways of customizing contemporary virtuosity according to the ideology of serious music and the aesthetic imperatives of German Romanticism.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Locke, Ralph P.
Commitee: Marvin, William, Watkins, Holly
School: University of Rochester
Department: Eastman School of Music
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music, Aesthetics
Keywords: Concerto, Nineteenth century, Nineteenth-century music, Romanticism, Schumann, Robert, Variations, Virtuosity
Publication Number: 3543424
ISBN: 9781267722164
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