- Rethinking Schumann ed. by Roe-Min Kok and Laura Tunbridge
Eschewing the exhausted convention of a particularizing, punctuating subheading, the title of this collection of eighteen studies nimbly suggests the revisionist agenda in Schumann scholarship that the editors more clearly demarcate in their preface. On the one hand, several contributors set out to qualify the composer’s longtime association with “what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously termed in 1882 ‘untimeliness,’” resulting in “a more carefully shaded portrait of the composer as a man of his time” (p. vi). Other contributors, however, rethink “Schumann” as proper name, one may say, exploring in essays of exhilarating originality the array of interdisciplinary appropriations it has provoked during a 200-year reception history. Indeed, the tension between these two threads of contemporary Schumann scholarship—the former “rehabilitating” and normalizing, the latter associated with alluring tropes of formal, expressive, or biographically enacted “failure”—pervades this volume. And unlike the recent Cambridge Companion to Schumann edited by Beate Julia Perrey (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), which negotiates such tensions by assuming a more philological stance and remaining within a narrower contextual ambitus, this kaleidoscopic collection delegates a heavy amount of dialectical synthesis to the reader.
For example, Dana Gooley in “Schumann and the Agencies of Improvisation,” recalling Hanslick’s view of the Sonata in G Minor, op. 22, as the onset of a “decisive clarification in Schumann’s music,” proclaims this creative maturation as the “triumph of the Bildungsbürger values of rational autonomy and economic productivity as the ideal telos of subject formation” (p. 151), apparently disregarding the critical charges of disunity and incoherence, and their significance, that have persistently haunted much of the remainder of his creative output. More radically, perhaps, Celia Applegate erects the image of Schumann as a “liberal nationalist” fully attuned with what the philosopher Jürgen Habermas has termed “public sphere” or Öffentlichkeit (p. 7)—a civic space of Kantian rationality and autonomous judgment, which is nonetheless presented here irrespective of the post- and counter-Enlightenments and their aftermaths that we would spontaneously associate with the inwardness of Schumann’s aesthetics. (Susan Youens’s chapter on the political resonances of the late song “Warnung,” op. 119, no. 2, seems more inclined to engage such oppositions.) More moderate in its rehabilitating implications, James Deaville’s contribution to the volume still seeks to salvage Schumann from untimeliness, describing in rich archival detail the composer’s influential if not always wholehearted engagement with the Tonkünstlerver sammlungen and the Tonkünstlerverein in Leipzig. Overall then, “rethinking” in these circumstances interrogates our criteria for what constitutes musicological “evidence” as much as it interrogates “Schumann.” One wonders, for instance, if the “divinatory” hermeneutics on which various failure narratives tend to rely—in works such as Peter Ostwald’s psychobiography of Schumann (The Inner Voices of a Musical Genius [Boston: North eastern University Press, 1985]) or Michael Steinberg’s meditation on the incapacity of the composer’s subjectivity, as opposed to that of Mendelssohn, “to move coherently between the private and the public” (“Schu mann’s Home lessness,” in Schu mann’s World, ed. R. Larry Todd [Prince ton: Princeton University Press, 1994]: 54)—are now to be simply rethought under the light of our sophisticated metacritical distrust of interpretation or, in contrast, un-rethought in a methodologically conservative triumph of factuality and empiricism over speculation. [End Page 775]
Music-analytical approaches to Schumann are not immune to this ambivalent revisionism, and Peter H. Smith’s study on “Associative Harmony, Tonal Pairing, and Middleground Structure in Schumann’s Sonata Expositions” exemplifies the normalizing tendency. An important contribution demonstrating that the pertinence of Schumann’s tonal pairing is not limited to his shorter pieces, it responds to critiques—chiefly by Joel Lester and Charles Rosen—of the composer’s sonata practice as lacking the well-articulated, oppositional tonal trajectory normatively required in this dramatic form. It thus sets out to show that the intertwining of keys in Schumann’s expositions...