Pattie, Ruairidh (2020) Characteristic Brilliance: an examination of compositional influence in Clara Schumann’s Op 5. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Over the course of the last few years the life and work of Clara Schumann1 has gained an increasing level of academic interest, especially after the 200th anniversary of her birth in 2019. The popular image of Schumann as the counterpart to Robert Schumann and later to Johannes Brahms has been somewhat displaced by a recognition of her as an artist in her own right, with several monographs, a number of articles, and even an entire conference devoted to her work. Much of this more recent scholarly attention focuses on her mature work as a composer (after her marriage to Robert Schumann) especially her output of songs. Less focus has so far been placed on Schumann’s development as a composer and the musical works she studied that shaped her compositional voice.

In this thesis I will address this gap by examining the influence of the pieces Schumann studied at the piano on her Quatre Pièces caractéristiques Op 5, written between 1833-1836 when Schumann was 14-16 years old. Larry Todd (2004, p. 320) characterises Schumann’s Op 5, as a transitional opus, carrying Schumann from ‘the dance forms of her youth to the character pieces of her maturity’ . Schumann’s compositional style in her pieces written before her Op 5 is fairly uncomplicated, mainly utilising popular dance forms, whilst certainly showing signs of the compositional flair that was to come. These pieces were designed to be crowd pleasing (Reich, 2001, p. 212), fulfilling the expectation of an early-nineteenth-century pianist to play something of their own composition in their concerts.

During the composition of her Op 5, there were several factors in Schumann’s musical life that may well have contributed to the transition in compositional style that Todd describes, the largest of these being the arrival of Chopin’s music in her repertoire. The addition of Chopin into Schumann’s repertoire also signalled the arrival of the broader Field school of playing (named after John Field the inventor of the nocturne) into Schumann’s repertoire. The Field school is broadly characterised by ‘lyrical, sometimes lavishly ornamented melody for the right hand supported by a wide-ranging arpeggiated accompaniment. Most often the harmonic motion is slow, as individual sonorities are sustained through extensive tonic pedal points’ (Plantinga, 1984, p. 90). Field’s style has received most attention in relation to his nocturnes. Leon Plantinga (1984) gives a good explanation of the development of this style, and its organic growth through Field’s career, charting Field’s musical journey from the pupil of Clementi through the development of his own style. Whilst this style of composition is now most closely associated with Chopin, in the 1830s it was John Field who was considered to be the greatest exponent of this style, indeed Friedrich Wieck describes Chopin’s Op 2 as having ‘his [Field’s] influence on every page’ (Makela, Kammertons, Ptasczynski, & Wieck, 2019, p. 54). Wieck goes on to describe Chopin as being admired by all those who are aware of the Field school. In Schumann’s Op 6, Chopin’s influence is clear to see, as discussed by Todd (2004, p. 322). However, Chopin’s influence begins to be felt as early as her Op 5, and I shall investigate this in this thesis.

FINAL THESIS - Pattie.pdf - Accepted Version
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