Schumann's Music and Hoffmann's Fictions

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • John Macauslan


This thesis interprets four of Schumann's works in the light of the Hoffmann fictions with which they seem to be associated. Unlike previous studies, it deals with each of the four works, treating them as aesthetic entities enhanced by literary relationships that are not primarily programmatic, nor primarily a matter of formal parallels. Each work emerges both in a new light and as it always was. Carnaval (1834-37) appears as a dizzying comedy of theatrical vignettes and character, in the spirit of the German literary understanding of Italian carnival (including in Hoffmann), and Fantasiestücke (1837-38) as a humorous sequence of dream images, resonating with literary tales of the artist's development, not least those in Hoffmann's Fantasiestücke. Kreisleriana (1838), a finished masterpiece, suggests improvisations on melodic fragments appearing also in popular tunes used both in trivial variation sets and in Bach's Goldberg Variations - which figure in Hoffmann's Kreisleriana as opposed emblems of the philistine and the profound. Nachtstücke (1839-40) creates from plain rondos a paradoxically unsettled set, expressive of profound mental disturbances explored by Hoffmann's book of that name. I bring out in each work previously unexamined patterns of melody, tonality, metre, sonority and form, showing how these become threads expressive of drama, emotion or symbolism. Unusually, I do not take Schumann's approach over the 1830s as static: increasingly powerful musical means gave the music greater independence from supporting words, and what Schumann called 'poetic' threads increasingly coincide with core musical processes. Equally unusually, I describe those processes as resonating simultaneously with Schumann's titles, with his culture including Hoffmann, and with his concerns around the time of composition as documented in his letters, criticism, diaries and Mottosammlung.Unlike previous work the thesis treats its subject consistently at three levels. My approach to the interpretation of the individual works at the first level is consonant with Schumann's aesthetics as described at the second: there I focus more sharply than previous treatments on his stated view that musical works can 'express' 'remote interests' including literature, and on how he thought that possible - points that, given sensitivity to contemporary connotations and to context, emerge from his writings. Finally, at a third level, I reflect on the approach in the light of strands of musicological and intellectual thought in Schumann's day and since.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2014