A recurring theme in the reception of Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis is the question mark over its sense of narrative continuity and the presence (or otherwise) of a central protagonist. Up until now, however, scarcely any attempt has been made to view these features in the context of Eichendorff's wider literary production. This article proposes applying an Eichendorffian aesthetic to Schumann's op. 39, viewing its phantasmagoric interconnections, absence of clear narrative order, sense of temporal dislocation and persistent theme of the loss of self as profoundly reflecting the concerns of Eichendorff's prose fiction. Neither the view that Schumann's cycle does possess a unified narrative and central protagonist, nor the converse, that it should be seen as a disparate group of songs, is adequate. Instead, it is the tension between the two views that emerges as crucial in coming to an aesthetic understanding of the cycle. Schumann's procedure, in juxtaposing a number of poems drawn from disparate works, presents an extreme case whereby narrative and subjective identity are put to the test, and the listener is invited to fill the vacant space left by the withdrawal of a unifying subject with his or her own sense of subjectivity.
Absent Subjects and Empty Centers: Eichendorff's Romantic Phantasmagoria and Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 39
Benedict Taylor is Chancellor's Fellow and Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh. The 2011 recipient of the Jerome Roche Prize of the Royal Musical Association, he is the author of Mendelssohn, Time and Memory: The Romantic Conception of Cyclic Form (Cambridge, 2011) and The Melody of Time: Music and Temporality in the Romantic Era (Oxford, 2016). His most recent book, Towards a Harmonic Grammar of Grieg's Late Piano Music: Nature and Nationalism, has just been published by RMA Monographs.
I would like to thank Walter Hinderer for first directing me toward Eichendorff's prose works in a graduate seminar on German Romanticism at Princeton back in 2006 (a literary realm that has gradually enticed me ever more into its deceptive depths), Sarah Hibberd for helpful discussions on the phantasmagoric, and Ceri Owen and the other contributors to this issue for their thoughts and comments on this piece. All translations are my own unless stated otherwise.
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Benedict Taylor; Absent Subjects and Empty Centers: Eichendorff's Romantic Phantasmagoria and Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 39. 19th-Century Music 1 March 2017; 40 (3): 201–222. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2017.40.3.201
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