Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Stefaniak, Alexander. “Robert Schumann, Serious Virtuosity, and the Rhetoric of the Sublime.” Journal of Musicology 33 (Fall 2016): 433-82.

In contrast with the anti-virtuoso stance scholars typically ascribe to him, Robert Schumann and several of his contemporaries used the rhetoric of the sublime to construct an aesthetic of transcendent virtuosity that embodies serious artistic values. Schumann’s concept of the musical sublime, developed in his 1841 review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, emphasizes qualities of composition over those of performance and audience enjoyment. Schumann’s own compositions follow this same aesthetic of virtuosity and the sublime. Several of Schumann’s works allude to works by Beethoven. Schumann’s Toccata in C Major, Op. 7 in particular is modeled on the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony and presents its virtuosic passages both as heroically difficult and as part of a Beethovenian thematic apotheosis. Schumann composed his Toccata during a time when he was trying to establish himself as a composer, not a performer, and the use of Beethoven as a model was a way to align his work with the Beethovenian sublime. Further associations with Beethoven appeared in reviews of Schumann’s Études symphoniques, comparing them to the finale of Eroica in motivation if not in any musical similarity. The combination of virtuosity and the sublime as understood in Beethoven’s music continued to be an important concept in music criticism through the end of the nineteenth century.

Works: Robert Schumann: Paganini Etude, Op. 10, No. 4 (467-68), Toccata in C Major, Op. 7 (466-77)

Sources: Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (466-77)

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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