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Robert Schumann as a Romantic-Era Composer Research Paper


Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Romanticism was mostly used to portray novel thoughts in literature and painting. However, musicians adopted the word to define their musical style and composition. Romantic musicians evoked emotions in their music. The emotions had a substantial impact on the perceived listeners. Romantic music was not entirely about love and passion; it was also characterized with negative connotation such as hate feelings.

Nationalism, emotionalism, subjectivity and pragmatic composition defined romantic music. Distinguished composers of the romantic period included Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, among others. Robert Schumann stands out as a unique writer during this time. He was the first composer to venture into the souls and minds of young children, although others had tried and failed.

In this paper, the writer focuses on Robert Schumann in exploring Romantic era. The author observes that Schumann redefined Romantic era music in various ways. He crafted his compositions with originality, incorporated literary devices in his music and widely embraced themes and vocals to differentiate his songs from other composers. To date, most of the Romantic songs are being studied by scholars in institutions of higher learning. Besides, their songs attract many listeners across the globe to date.

Robert Schumann

Schumann was a Romantic music composer of German origin. He began the musical career at a tender age of seven when he felt love for music. This love made him compose his songs. Under the influence of his father, a novelist, publisher and a bookseller, Schumann’s interest in literature increased. He, therefore, juggled between music and literature (Burkholder and Claude 70). Undoubtedly, this was a demonstration of his mastery in embracing literary ambition in his future music career.

According to Burkholder and Claude (77), Schumann innovatively crafted his composition with originality using canons of Viennese classicism and emulating exceptional legends of classical romanticism. Composing music only for piano, he began composing on other genres in preceding years. His compositions imitated and modeled the works of Beethoven. These approaches enabled him to craft multifarious piano sounds. In some occasions, he creatively expanded sonata form by rearranging character pieces in cycles. In his songs, the piano characteristically and independently stands out in depicting his poetic inspirations.

His composition widely encompassed narrative techniques which previously belonged exclusively to literature. These aspects of composition made him unique from the rest of the composers who embraced the traditional methods of music composition. Schumann incorporated scenes from plays, novels, and poems in his composition (Burkholder and Claude 110). In some cases, scenes depicting musical crossword puzzles with major musical scenes referring to places and people reflected in his composition.

In one of his collections, popularly known as the “Carnaval”, Schumann widely used characters to invoke different moods in a person. In fact, Bonds (113) explains that this form of creativity was a characteristic of the romantic period and differentiated Schumann’s compositions with classical music. Moreover, he composed his music with coded meaning which required an intellectual mind to understanding what he was singing about. The notes present in most of his music were symbolic (Bonds 142).

Schumann’s compositions were unique and exciting. This aspect differentiated his work from other composers during the Romantic period. The intellectual use of symbolism as well as combining the works of other composers prompts me to assert that Schumann was innovative (Hanning 162).

Schumann experimented with novel genres either by using descriptive titles, developing distinctive narratives or by embracing conventional genre titles while dismantling musical expectations of those titles (Bonds 124). Schumann’s piano music for young children defined his romanticism music era. He skillfully used generic hybrids like the piano sonatas to fix generic relations that promoted change and communicating unknown through his compositions (Bonds 164).

Burkholder and Claude (89) illustrate that Schumann’s compositions were defined through themes and harmony. Thematic and balance elements were the essential features of Schumann’s songs. Schumann used this style to embrace a sense of unreciprocated love, longing, and suffering. This aspect is demonstrated in the song Dichterliebe (Daverio 123). Also, tonal instability is also evident in Schumann’s songs. There is a remarkable swing from anguish to acquiescence and from flat keys to sharp keys in some of his songs; an obvious example is the Dichterliebe. Schumann addressed dissension with amplified liberty.

Schumann creatively used rhythm to endear to his audience. He extensively used polyrhythm between melody, accompaniment and text fixing coexistence of opposing ideas. Also, Daverio (141) mention that Schumann’s has masterly embraced recurrent themes in his songs to connect musical thoughts. An obvious example is the Dichterliebe where he uses narration. The theme he uses embodies symbolic significance besides inspiring narrative connection in his works. Transformation and repetitions of themes present in the songs link the ideas together, which is a major constituent of a song sequence.

Schumann uses the piano and voice to improve his composition. He has carefully used voice to borrow themes from the piano. The piano and voice complement each other and help in expressing the text as well as the song’s atmosphere. Piano and vocals echo a link between the piano music and the vocal, and thus Daverio (167) indicate that songs are an annex of Schumann’s music and thus express his world of emotions and feelings.

Schumann’s songs are embedded in poetry. In his words, Schumann demonstrated that a poem needs to be crushed, and its juice expressed; the poem must dress in the music as a “circlet” (Daverio 172). This assertion by Schumann reflects his intimate attachment with text in most of his songs. Conversely, the songs reflect Schumann’s personal life trajectory from birth, growth to maturity and eventually decline. According to Rosen (26), Schumann’s songs transcended three significant periods in history, thus reflecting on his life and musical development.

In conclusion, the romantic music composers redefined the music industry. It reflected the pre-conceived moods of both the composers and the audience. Music at this period was characterized by subjectivity, programmatic composition, emotionalism as well as nationalism. Besides, music composition was anchored on the composer’s emotions and feelings. Robert Schumann was the significant contributor to romantic music.

Beginning as a solo pianist, Schumann rose to become one of the greatest songwriter and composers of all time. He was innovative and was among the pioneers of romantic era composers to embrace literary devices such as poem in music writing. His music was characterized by symbolism, poetry, themes, harmony and vocals among other stylistic devices. Schumann’s immense contribution to the music industry still lives to date where his works are being studied by scholars, romantic music enthusiasts and institutions of higher learning among others.

Works Cited

Bonds, Mark Evans. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2013. Print.

Burkholder, J. Peter and Claude V. Palisca. Norton Anthology of Western Music. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.

Daverio, John. Robert Schumann: Herald of a New Poetic Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Hanning, Barbara Russana. Concise History of Western Music. 5th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. Print.

Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Print.

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"Robert Schumann as a Romantic-Era Composer." IvyPanda, 6 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/robert-schumann-as-a-romantic-era-composer/.

1. IvyPanda. "Robert Schumann as a Romantic-Era Composer." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/robert-schumann-as-a-romantic-era-composer/.


IvyPanda. "Robert Schumann as a Romantic-Era Composer." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/robert-schumann-as-a-romantic-era-composer/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Robert Schumann as a Romantic-Era Composer." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/robert-schumann-as-a-romantic-era-composer/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Robert Schumann as a Romantic-Era Composer'. 6 September.

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