"Innere Stimmen and Hidden Duets in the Piano Music of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms" (PhD diss, Cornell University, 2019)
The piano music of Robert Schumann has long prompted discussions about the relationship between the physical and the ideal, utterance and imagination. In the area of Brahms studies, scholars have analyzed how, in Brahms’s works for piano, allusions and counterpoint often gain affective meaning in the act of performance. This dissertation filters these aspects through the dual lenses of the innere Stimme—a form of internal vocalization encapsulated in Schumann’s Humoreske, Op. 20—and what I call “four- handedness”—the evocation of textures and gestures from four-hand piano playing in music for two hands. I argue that Schumann and Brahms used both as strategies to conjure the presence of an imaginary co-performer in select works for solo piano. Such moments simulate for the soloist notions, memories, and actual acts of collaborative music making that can unleash highly charged private experiences in light of biographical circumstances.
Part I lays the groundwork by developing these two lenses and assembling a range of musical examples for each to illuminate broader trends in nineteenth-century piano writing. Part II culminates with case studies on Schumann’s Impromptus on a Romance by Clara Wieck, Op. 5, and Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 9, where circumstantial evidence points to the innere Stimme and four-handedness as fertile channels for experiencing and communicating musical knowledge and intimacy. Taken as a whole, the dissertation adds to our understanding of the stylistic history and performance practice of the more intimate forms of piano music, and contributes to a larger picture of how music operated in the private sphere to forge social relationships in German musical culture.
"Clara Schumann and Jenny Lind in 1850" (Tagungsbericht der Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, forthcoming)
Clara Schumann’s 1850 tour of northern Germany with her husband officially ended with a successful concert in Altona where Jenny Lind made a surprise appearance. Immediately thereafter, one more concert featuring the pianist, singer, and Robert’s music was added at the last minute to take place in Hamburg. This too was a success. But a detail that made it especially memorable was Lind’s position behind the piano lid so that, as Clara recounted in her diary, many audience members could hardly catch a glimpse of her.
Though a singular and fleeting moment, Lind’s decision to place herself in this way was congruent with her persona on and off the stage, which was celebrated for feminine attributes like modesty and virtue. And yet, by occluding lines of vision, she heightened the eagerness to see. Not only did the general audience shift and crane their necks, but Robert and, especially, Clara Schumann reacted to Lind’s presence at this concert in uncharacteristically visual terms. The singer created a curious triangulation of gazes directed at her from both composer and co-performer.
In this presentation, I explore the rationales and implications of this somewhat unusual spectacle. I reimagine this scenario to illuminate the musical personalities involved and their interaction. In the process, I draw attention to hitherto neglected variables that could enrich our understanding of the Lied as cultural practice, and reflect on how these variables could have reframed Clara Schumann’s role during the vocal numbers of the Hamburg concert. The concealment of the singer raises intriguing possibilities for the performance of a genre known for the intimacy of its lyric mode and complex voice-piano relations.
Review of The History of the Erard Piano and Harp in Letters and Documents, Keyboard Perspectives 9 (2016)
Review of Alexander Rehding, Music and Monumentality, Current Musicology 92 (2011)
Program notes for Robert Schumann's Late Chamber Music (2014)