Theses Doctoral

Robert Schumann and “the Artist’s Highest Goal”: Religion, Romanticism, and Nation in the Late Choral Works

Wermager, Sonja Gleason

My dissertation seeks to answer the following question: why did German Romantic composer Robert Schumann turn to the composition of sacred music in the early 1850s? From Schumann's earliest biographers to more recent commentators, critics have struggled to make sense of the composer's seemingly uncharacteristic production of a Mass and Requiem Mass, often explaining his work in these musical genres in terms of his struggles with mental illness and eventual institutionalization. I seek to revisit this question by taking a broader look at Schumann’s compositional output from his years in Düsseldorf, arguing that his interest in sacred genres reflected an active engagement with evolving questions of religious and national identity during these pivotal decades in the German states.

To this end, I analyze three case studies. The first examines the tension between communal and individual understandings of Romantic religion through comparison of Schumann’s choral-orchestral Adventlied, Op. 71 and his song cycle Sieben Lieder, Op. 104. The second analyzes Schumann’s plans for a Martin Luther oratorio, which, although he never completed the project, reveal much about Schumann’s nationalist aspirations and understandings of German history and culture. The final case study looks at the Missa Sacra, Op. 147, highlighting Schumann’s investment in the history and future potential of church music. Examination of Schumann’s church music reviews from the 1830s and 40s, as well as his conducting and scholarly priorities during the late 1840s and early 1850s, suggests that Schumann esteemed and sought to contribute to the history of German church music.

These case studies demonstrate how, using different means, Schumann was interested in and actively participated in larger currents of religious transformation in the mid-nineteenth century, transformations that were shaped by intersecting forces of nationalism, historicism, Romanticism, and the shifting roles and venues of religious identity and practice in German society and culture.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Frisch, Walter M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2023