Edward Latham

'Beautiful Infinity': The Permanent Interruption as a Symbol of Romantic Distance in the Music of Robert Schumann

Despite its potential value as a hermeneutic tool, the permanent interruption has not yet been widely recognized as a valid Schenkerian background structure. Such an incomplete structure is typically cast in negative terms—as Schenker disapprovingly noted, “… without the ^1 a work is bound to give the effect of incompleteness” (1979, 126). For Schumann, however, who employed it more than any other composer in the Schenkerian canon, the permanent interruption afforded another opportunity to project the “beautiful infinity” he so admired in the writing of Jean Paul Richter (Hoeckner 1997, 63).

Although scholars have acknowledged the interruption as “one of the most significant aspects of Schenker’s approach” (Cadwallader and Gagné 2007, 163), they disagree on its precise nature: is it a potentially violent disruption that threatens our “insistence upon continuity—the postulate of uninterruptedness” (Dahlhaus 1975, 16), or merely a “high-level motive” (Cadwallader, Pastille and Schenker 1992) that creates a retardation? The first part of this paper will outline the theoretical possibilities for middleground interruption at the phrase (‘nested interruption’), sectional (‘repeated interruption’), and formal (‘extended interruption’) levels, while the second part will make the case for interruption at the background level—‘permanent interruption’—as a compelling, albeit unconventional, structural model, particularly for Schumann. Examples will be given from Schumann’s songs and solo piano works.
The background permanent interruption, at once a logical extension of the nested, repeated and extended middleground interruptions ubiquitous in the canon, and a bold rhetorical move that emphasizes lack of closure, should be added to the analyst’s palette as a possible background structure, particularly when the text or aesthetic of the piece in question suggest Romantic distance.