Rethinking Schumann's Carnaval

Lawrence Kramer

in Musical Meaning

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2001 | ISBN: 9780520228245
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928329 | DOI:
Rethinking Schumann's Carnaval

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This chapter is a rewritten version of an essay that first appeared in 1993 in the pioneering feminist collection Musicology and Difference. Robert Schumann's Carnaval is cycle of twenty-one short piano pieces, which are a poetic expression of the carnival spirit. The aim of this chapter is to remember how and why the meanings of the music mock and unseat the norms of social, intellectual, and sexual authority. Schumann uses the design of Carnaval as a general metaphor of carnival festivity. The style and technique of the particular pieces ramify this metaphor, continually inviting the listener to think about the interrelations of festivity, art, identity, and gender. Schumann's techniques of mirroring point to an ambivalent fantasy of gender mobility for which carnival is the metaphor and Carnaval is the medium. Carnaval presses the point with its numerous feminine character sketches and frequent use of very short motives to “capture physiognomies and gestures.” The motives of Carnaval itself are personal, psychosexual, and cultural. Carnaval suggests a contrary extreme. Its prominent feminine roleplaying avoids even the appearance of conventionality or respectability, the better to celebrate its composer's own creative energies in their most innovative and unorthodox vein. The miniatures of Carnaval are largely of two types: dances or marches and character sketches. The dances and marches suggest the release of pent-up bodily energies; the character sketches suggest the collapse of social and psychological boundaries at the prompting of masquerade.

Keywords: Carnaval; gender mobility; replique; mirroring; social order; Robert Schumann; Schumann's techniques

Chapter.  11726 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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