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The Schumanns

Harald Krebs (University of Victoria), Chair

Dreamlike Ambiguities in Clara Schumann’s “Ihr Bildnis”

Alexander Martin (Stetson University)


This paper explores Clara Schumann’s two versions of “Ihr Bildnis” with a view to exploring nineteenth-century tonal strategies for depicting dreamscapes in song. Schumann first set Heine’s famous poem to music as a Christmas gift to her husband in 1840; a second, revised version appears as the first song in Sechs Lieder, op. 13, published in 1843.

Julie Penault-Deslauriers (2020; 2016) has explored how ambiguity transcends Vierhebigkeit in Schumann with reference to formal function, but there is more to uncover from the perspective of harmony, voice leading, and prolongation. I argue that Schumann responds to the poetry with a dreamlike musical language characterized by ambiguous tonal processes that permeate different levels of structure. The prelude, for example, introduces ambiguities of harmonic syntax, the resolution of o7 sonorities, and line. Additionally, both versions are remarkable for their oneiric use of implicit tonality and enharmonic re-interpretation of o7 chords at important textual/formal boundaries.

At the middleground, several features in the music entice us to hear a return of tonic harmony with the text’s description of the beloved’s smile (Lächeln wunderbar). In my reading, however, this is a tonal verisimilitude—the apparent tonic here symbolizes the protagonist’s experience of the dream as reality. I demonstrate how the true tonic return is coordinated with the protagonist’s realization that he has lost his beloved (Ach! Ich kann’s nicht glauben).

Lastly, I highlight how two crucial differences—in declamation and structural closure—have implications for each version as a separate and distinct interpretation of the poem.

Supplementary Material(s)

“Schumann’s Fragment” Revisited: Non-Tonic Initiating Functions in the Nineteenth Century

Matthew Poon (University of Toronto)


Within Caplin’s (1998) form functional theory, tonic prolongation plays an essential role in articulating initiating function, most notably in local harmonic progressions within theme types. However, this harmonic dimension is often not reflected in themes outside of the classical style: for example, over half of the themes in Robert Schumann’s symphonies and overtures begin on harmonies other than the tonic. At the same, almost all of these themes continue to feature other elements associated with initiating function, such as grouping and treatment of melodic-motivic material. In contrast to scholars who describe all non-tonic openings as being in medias res (Lester 1995, Rosen 1995, Martin 2010), I view some of them as nineteenth-century variants of Caplin’s types. I group such openings under two categories: what I call teleological beginnings start off-tonic but return to tonic harmony by the onset of the continuation, while suspended beginnings remain on non-tonic harmonies up to their cadential functions. My categories provide more nuance towards understanding themes in the nineteenth century, allowing for differentiation between instances where initiating function is present despite the lack of tonic harmony, and instances of true in medias res. I further suggest that these categories can be useful in examining a broader range of hierarchical levels and structural parallelisms across movements. 

Pre-cadential Phrase Endings in the Piano Works of Robert Schumann

Jeremy Nowak (University of North Texas)

bio for Jeremy Nowak

Jeremy Nowak is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Music Theory at the University of North Texas, and holds a B.M. in Composition from Palm Beach Atlantic University and an M.M. in Music Theory from Texas Tech University. His presentation today is drawn from his dissertation, which he plans to defend in the Spring, and considers formal organization in Robert Schumann’s piano music. Besides Romantic form, Jeremy’s other research interests include rhythm and meter, late-Renaissance madrigals, and pop music.


William Caplin’s (2018) “dissipated cadence,” and Poundie Burstein’s (2014) “disrupted ending” refer to phrases that end on the penultimate dominant when the expected authentic cadence fails to materialize. The difference between these types of phrase endings and a half-cadential progression is that the dominant harmony functions as the ultimate harmony in the latter, not penultimate. In the piano music of Robert Schumann, phrases are often fragmentary in nature and can terminate before a cadence or cadential harmonic progression ever materializes. As a result, the terms “dissipated cadence” and “disrupted ending” are perhaps too restrictive to describe the more fragmentary passages of Schumann. Through the lens of Robert Schumann’s piano music, however, the ideas set forth by both Caplin and Burstein can be expanded upon to not only deepen our understanding of phrase endings, but to also overcome the limitations of some current terminology. 

Supplementary Material(s)