Abstract

Robert Schumann's Blumenstück, op. 19, a short piano piece dating from 1839, is generally not included among the composer's more poetically inspired or formally adventurous pieces. Thanks in part to Schumann's own disparaging remarks about the piece, Blumenstück, like the stylistically similar Arabeske, op. 18, has been viewed as a fairly straightforward effort to appeal to amateur consumers—especially women consumers—of domestic piano music. Rather than recuperate Schumann's piece through a revelation of its structural achievements, this article links the piece's mixed aesthetic status to the similar standing of flowers (and the genre of flower painting to which Schumann's title alludes) in early-nineteenth-century German culture. Emblematic of women and the expression of conventional sentiments, flowers nonetheless constituted a remarkably evocative symbol in Romantic literature. Sentimental and Romantic discourses of the flower converged in the trope of Blumensprache (the language of flowers), an idea that found expression in both popular manuals cataloguing the meanings of flowers and the more esoteric environments of Schumann's criticism, E. T. A. Hoffmann's tales, and Heinrich Heine's poetry. In each of these venues, flowers served as imaginary conduits joining mundane and transcendent realms. Drawing on the work of Friedrich Kittler, I argue that Schumann's Blumenstück, with its conflicting imperatives of pleasure and instruction, congenial melody and motivic intertwining, conflates aesthetic and reception-based categories in a related manner and, as a result, undermines traditional means of generic classification.

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