At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical”

Jon W. Finson

in Rethinking Schumann

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195393859
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894406 | DOI:
At the Interstice between “Popular” and “Classical”

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Robert Schumann's Die Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 135, represents the last song cycle he composed and the last work he published altogether (from his confinement in Endenich). Because of the poetry's gloomy subject matter, scholars have often taken the cycle as the ultimate expression of his mental derangement, presaging his demise in parallel with the story of the doomed 16th‐century monarch. However attractive this Romantic fable might seem, the songs turn out to embody something quite different. Clara Schumann most probably selected the poetry from among Gisbert Freiherr von Vincke's translations in Rose und Distel: Poesien aus England und Schottland, and Robert then set them as a Christmas gift for his wife in 1852 (well before he became terminally ill). Her selections from Vincke's anthology reflect a widespread fascination with the misfortunes of Scottish royalty reaching back into the 16th century. All treatments of the subject contain a pronounced element of popular fantasy, including Vincke's translations, only one of which securely traces to Queen Mary. In setting the Poems of Queen Mary Stuart, then, Robert Schumann participated in a popular sentimental tradition (just as Clara did in selecting the verse in the first place) prominent in post‐Vormärz Germany. This chapter explores this particular interaction between popular and elevated culture in Schumann's output and the implications of the tension between lowbrow and highbrow art in his output more generally.

Keywords: Op. 135; sentimental culture; popular culture; Clara Schumann; Gisbert Freiherr von Vincke; Mary Queen of Scots; Walter Scott; George Barker; Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart; Queen Mary Stuart

Chapter.  7243 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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