The 'Inner Voice': Musical Language and Meaning in Clara Wieck-Schumann's Compositions

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Emmerson, Stephen

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Dirie, Gerardo

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This thesis is the first book-length study in English of Clara Wieck-Schumann as a composer. It explores and illustrates the distinctive features of her musical language and the personal meaning embodied in it. These aspects are reflected in her expression “an inner voice,” coined in a letter to Robert Schumann in 1837. Selected works from across her complete published oeuvre are examined to find how particular techniques and stylistic preferences give an individual stamp to her compositions. Musical opinions and judgements found in Wieck-Schumann’s letters and diaries reveal her underlying musical principles, compositional ideals, and even some processes she followed. Set out in Chapter 2, her ideas, together with evidence from her compositions, provide the foundation for formulating a list of identifying features in her works. These are expanded and illustrated in detailed analyses in later chapters. In Chapter 3, characteristic thematic contours and motifs are traced in many of her compositions. Certain melodic formulations stand out and acquire significance when compared to similar material in her compositions with texts. Some of her songs reveal that by juxtaposing several well-established motifs or themes in a work, Wieck- Schumann effectively provided an interpretive and hermeneutic guide to the music. In addition, recurrent motifs are shown to serve as unifying elements across an opus number or set of pieces. Chapter 4 examines more structural compositional elements such as the use of specific tonalities, key schemes, intervals, chords and chromatic harmonies, all of which are illustrated in numerous annotated musical examples. Longer case studies of works in various genres amplify key features such as her decided preferences for pedal points or for chromatic descents in the treatment of transition sections. The correlation of verbal concepts with particular techniques in the Lieder case studies demonstrates how and why her techniques influence the expressive outcome in a composition. Chapters 5 and 6 integrate information from the previous chapters into two long studies. The first is on Wieck-Schumann’s Piano Sonata in G minor. Details of the form and content of each movement are followed by a summary of thematic and rhythmic relationships across all four movements. The first movement proves to have latent within it much of the material of the three succeeding movements. The Sonata’s cohesive design, with cyclic recalls from the first movement in the fourth, demonstrates her careful planning of a large-scale work. Finally, some performance notes are offered, along with details of several divergences from the manuscript in the only edition available. The second long study is on musical quotation in Wieck-Schumann’s works, preceded by a general introduction on influence, originality and the types of citation she employed. The necessity for establishing her typical melodic formulations in Chapter 3 becomes clear when the issue of quotation is considered. That she quoted intentionally is proved by a diary entry of 1879. Her practices in this area offer a rewarding insight into extra-musical communication, especially when the original composition to which reference was made had a text. Her works gain a wider interpretive dimension when allusive connections to another composition can be established. A combination of circumstances contributed to the fact that the citations were principally from Schumann’s works. Marginalised as a serious composer because of her gender, as contemporary reviews show, she turned to the private sphere and its relationships for some of the most interesting and personal content of her compositions. Several cases of inter-quotation between the Schumanns are followed by a study of Robert Schumann’s Studien op. 56, which contains musical citations made as tributes to Wieck-Schumann, her pianism, and her compositions. A concern for an unfolding psychological progression through a Wieck- Schumann composition is characteristic and is integrated with established techniques for achieving formal unity. Many details in the course of a composition are demonstrated to have been carefully inter-related by its end. As a result of such detailed crafting, keen discrimination and logical musical judgment, Wieck-Schumann’s compositions demonstrate a blend of formal mastery and profound feeling conveyed with eloquence.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University

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Schumann, Clara, 1819-1896.

Composers 19th century

Musical language

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