Review of David Ferris. Schumann's Eichendorff"Liederkreis" and the Genre of the Romantic Cycle. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. vii, 270 pp.
To contend that Schumann "viewed the construction of musical meaning
as an interactive process" is, first of all, to suggest that Schumann sets
himself apart from his contemporaries in this endeavor-that he is unusual
in this regard. This in itself should raise suspicions. But that's the
least of it. It doesn't take much imagination to suppose that a composer
(Schumann, if you like) might anticipate that his works will elicit a response,
and that the act of responding will constitute in some cases a critical
act, even a performerly one. But Ferris wishes us to believe that
Schumann composed as though the meaning of his works were a function
of some "interactive process," by which must be meant a collaborative dialogue
engaging any number of interlocutors with Schumann's text, and all
that such a text implies of some shadowy authorial presence. However we
think to parse such interactivity in our own minds, it would be helpful to
allow that if there is something of significance to be heard in Schumann's
Eichendorff Liederkreis, this significance must be immanent in all hearings
of it, and that the way in which we construe the music is a function of what is signified. The subjectivity, it seems to me, resides in the music, even as it
sets off sympathetic vibrations in those who must contend with it.
I think I know what Ferris is getting at. Schumann's cycle, in tune with
much Romantic music, intones hermeneutical riddles. To engage the riddling
means less to solve a mystery than to apprehend something of its
obscure complexity: not to dissolve an ambiguity, but to take some pleasure
in the discomfort that it arouses. For Ferris, this "interactive process"
means to insinuate a compositional strategy. As a critical strategy, as a way
of contending with the dialogics of text and reader" such "interactivity"
makes some sense. For the composer, it is hollow.
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- November 15, 2014