Characteristic Brilliance
: an examination of compositional influence in Clara Schumann’s Op 5

  • Ruairidh Pattie

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Over the course of the last few years the life and work of Clara Schumann1 has gained an increasing level of academic interest, especially after the 200th anniversary of her birth in 2019. The popular image of Schumann as the counterpart to Robert Schumann and later to Johannes Brahms has been somewhat displaced by a recognition of her as an artist in her own right, with several monographs, a number of articles, and even an entire conference devoted to her work. Much of this more recent scholarly attention focuses on her mature work as a composer (after her marriage to Robert Schumann) especially her output of songs. Less focus has so far been placed on Schumann’s development as a composer and the musical works she studied that shaped her compositional voice.

In this thesis I will address this gap by examining the influence of the pieces Schumann studied at the piano on her Quatre Pièces caractéristiques Op 5, written between 1833-1836 when Schumann was 14-16 years old. Larry Todd (2004, p. 320) characterises Schumann’s Op 5, as a transitional opus, carrying Schumann from ‘the dance forms of her youth to the character pieces of her maturity’. Schumann’s compositional style in her pieces written before her Op 5 is fairly uncomplicated, mainly utilising popular dance forms, whilst certainly showing signs of the compositional flair that was to come. These pieces were designed to be crowd pleasing (Reich, 2001, p. 212), fulfilling the expectation of an early-nineteenth-century pianist to play something of their own composition in their concerts.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish

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