In her contemporaries’ imaginations Clara Schumann transcended aesthetic pitfalls endemic to virtuosity. Scholars have stressed her performance of canonic repertory as a practice through which she established this image. In this study I argue that her concerts of the 1830s and 1840s also staged an elevated form of virtuosity through showpieces that inhabited the flagship genres of popular pianism and that, for contemporary critics, possessed qualities of interiority that allowed them to transcend merely physical or “mechanical” engagement with virtuosity. They include Henselt's études and variation sets, Chopin's “Là ci darem” Variations, op. 2, and Clara's own Romance variée, op. 3, Piano Concerto, op. 7, and Pirate Variations, op. 8. Her 1830s and early 1840s programming offers a window onto a rich intertwining of critical discourse, her own and her peers’ compositions, and her strategies as a pianist-composer. This context reveals that aspirations about elevating virtuosity shaped a broader, more varied field of repertory, compositional strategies, and critical responses than we have recognized. It was a capacious, flexible ideology and category whose discourses pervaded the sheet music market, the stage, and the drawing room and embraced not only a venerated, canonic tradition but also the latest popularly styled virtuosic vehicles. In the final stages of the article I propose that Clara Schumann's 1853 Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, op. 20, alludes to her work of the 1830s and 1840s, evoking the range of guises this pianist-composer gave to her virtuosity in what was already a wide-ranging career.
Clara Schumann's Interiorities and the Cutting Edge of Popular Pianism
ALEXANDER STEFANIAK is Assistant Professor of Music at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is the author of Schumann's Virtuosity: Criticism, Composition, and Performance in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Indiana University Press, 2016); his work has also appeared in the Journal of Musicology. He is currently researching a project about Clara Schumann's performances and compositions.
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Alexander Stefaniak; Clara Schumann's Interiorities and the Cutting Edge of Popular Pianism. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2017; 70 (3): 697–765. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2017.70.3.697
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