Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann's Op. 90

Harald Krebs

in Rethinking Schumann

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195393859
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894406 | DOI:
Meter and Expression in Robert Schumann's Op. 90

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Meter is an expressive vehicle in much of Robert Schumann's music. In his works prior to 1850 metrical conflict at levels close to the surface plays an especially significant expressive role. Meter at higher levels (hypermeter), on the other hand, is regular and predictable in most of Schumann's early music, and therefore contributes little to musical expression. In the music of Schumann's final years, however, obvious metrical conflict becomes less frequent, while hypermeter becomes more irregular and thus available as an expressive device. The songs of Op. 90, composed in 1850, occupy a transitional role in this shift of emphasis. The first two songs of the opus are dominated, like numerous earlier songs, by surface‐level metrical conflict—the first by displacement dissonance, the second by grouping dissonance. The second song, however, also illustrates the expressive use of hypermetric nonalignment: the piano and voice parts are hypermetrically independent. Hypermeter is flexible and unpredictable throughout the first half of the third song, and again the hypermeasures in the two instruments do not align. In the sixth song there are numerous hypermetric expansions and contractions and an even more striking sense of nonalignment of the voice and piano than in the other two songs. The hypermetric irregularities in these songs are clearly inspired by the poetry; they play a significant role in the musical expression of the pain of farewell and of the tension between estranged lovers.

Keywords: meter; metrical dissonance; grouping dissonance; displacement dissonance; hypermeter; hypermetric irregularity; expression; Lied; Lenau; Op. 90

Chapter.  6469 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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