Peter H. Smith

‘Hausmusik’ for ‘Cognoscenti’: Some Formal Characteristics of Schumann’s Late-Period Character Pieces for Instrumental Ensembles

In recent decades, scholars have shown increased appreciation for Robert Schumann’s creative adaptation of sonata form. What remains somewhat neglected are the compelling formal strategies Schumann devised in his character pieces for instrumental ensemble, especially those of the controversial late period. The Intermezzo from the Third Violin Sonata and the first movement of the Märchenbilder, Op. 113, exhibit, in the context of ABA form, some of the same strategies Schumann brought to bear in his creative appropriation of sonata form, in which there are indeed symbiotic form/content interactions. The first and third movements of the Märchenerzählungen, Op. 132, adopt similarly sophisticated integrative strategies but in the context of unique forms not traceable to conventional architectonic patterns.
A combination of Schenkerian and more traditional formal analysis reveals interactions among motive, harmony, and form across multiple structural levels. One result is to highlight the great formal interest of these so-called ‘small’ forms, which turn out not to be ‘small’ when attention is paid to depth of compositional craft rather than simply length and the ‘private’ versus ‘public’ character of the musical rhetoric. In the Intermezzo, the symbiosis of structure and design centers on development of the movement’s FAE cipher and its interaction with a D minor/F major tonal pairing, which eventually resolves in the context of the movement’s pattern of directional tonality.  In the first of the Märchenbilder, formal integration involves interactions between a
5-6-5 neighbor motive and a related i-VI ‘Leittonwechsel’ progression, and the influence of both of these characteristics on the dramatic articulation of the movement’s formal-tonal trajectory. The two movements from the Märchenerzählungen exhibit similar form/content synergy, but in the context of sui generis designs that nevertheless project a clear sense of shape in which idiosyncrasies of pitch and phrase rhythm are presented, developed, and ultimately resolved.