Genre and gesture : Robert Schumann's piano music for and about children
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The notion of musical genre underwent significant changes in the first half of the nineteenth century. The idea of absolute music, the rise of the virtuoso, the flourishing of romanticism, and the explosion of the piano making and music publishing businesses had drastic effects on the piano repertoire from that time period. Robert Schumann, pianist, pedagogue, journalist, and composer pushed the boundaries of genre in his music, defended his actions and challenged those of his contemporaries in his writing, and educated future generations with his aphorisms. Schumann’s success with the character set and his manipulation of traditional generic expectations in his music for amateurs represent his challenge to inherited notions of musical genre. Pieces like Kinderszenen, Album für die Jugend, and Drei Klaviersonaten für die Jugend exemplify Schumann’s innovative steps in the expansion of genre systems and all were written either for or about children. In the following dissertation, I claim that Schumann’s piano works for children do not symbolize a falling off in depth or creative decline, rather they represent pioneering generic experiments that match their earlier counterparts in originality and musical innovation. An evaluation of Schumann’s critique of insipid virtuosity is incomplete without consideration of this repertoire. While the precise definition and categorical parsing of genres in Schumann’s piano music are elusive, recognition of generic similarities in Kinderszenen and the Album provides a broader picture in which we can study the expansion of genre systems in the ten years that separate their conceptions. Furthermore, his Drei Klaviersonaten für die Jugend directly confronts traditional notions of genre by demonstrating the pedagogical ideals described in his maxims, while simultaneously fulfilling the formal expectations of the esteemed piano sonata. Though his may be but a small contribution to the wealth of piano works that emerged during his lifetime, Robert Schumann’s music, as well as his criticism, provides an account of the transformation of genre in the early nineteenth century.