Clara Schumann, Reading Against the Grain

One of the hallmarks of Clara Schumann’s songwriting style is a tendency to compose “against the grain” of the poetry, so that the music’s sections aren’t aligned with the poem’s stanzas. It is by far the norm for 19th-century song composers to coordinate sections and stanzas, but she routinely does the opposite. In this video I outline two strategies that Clara Schumann uses to create these against-the-grain effects: fusing together adjacent stanzas by letting the music flow freely across a stanza break, and separating individual stanzas by halting the vocal melody and inserting piano interludes halfway through.

A postcard image of Clara Schumann, IMSLP

I explore one of her most famous songs, “Lorelei,” in which she uses both strategies to carefully control and sometimes radically disrupt the flow of ideas, images, and emotions.

Stephen Rodgers on Clara Schumann
Schumann - Lorelei
The manuscript of Clara Schumann’s song, “Lorelei,” which is in Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Schumann, K. 5 (12)

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