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Policing Masculinity: Schumann, Berlioz and the Gendering of the Music-Critical Idiom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Ian Biddle*
University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Robert Schumann's review of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique has attracted continued intensive scholarly attention since its serialized publication in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1835. There is a marked tendency in that attention to focus on a set of closely related critical themes: to use the review as a key to the German reception of Berlioz; to read it in terms of what it demonstrates about Schumann's own critico-aesthetic position; to see it as a model of music-critical practices in the first half of the nineteenth century; to scrutinize it in terms of the insights it furnishes into music-analytical practices. More recent scholarship has also added to this cluster of scholarly topoi the formal design of the text, its polyvalent texture and, in particular, what Fred Everett Maus terms ‘intersubjectivity’, scrutinizing the text for any clues it might offer as to the manner in which constructions of forms of subjectivity are engaged, sustained, problematized or subverted. Maus's attention to this ‘intersubjectivity’ stands as testament to musicology's (somewhat belated) interest in theories of subjectivity (or subjectivities), and opens Schumann's text to myriad new readings. In particular, Maus begins to tease out the text's potential as an artefact for the study of contemporaneous formations of ‘the composer’ as a cultural ‘type’ in the music-critical idiom.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Musical Association, 1999

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1 Schumann, Robert, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 3/i (3July 1835), 12; 3/ix (31 July 1835), 33–5; 3/x (4 August 1835), 37–8; 3/xi (7 August 1835), 41–4; 3/xii (11 August 1835), 45–8; 3/xiii (14 August 1835), 49–51; trans. Ian Bent, Music Analysis in the Nineteenth Century, ii: Hermeneutic Approaches (Cambridge, 1994), 166–94.Google Scholar

2 For a useful overview of these themes, see Plantinga, Leon, Schumann as Critic (New Haven, 1967), 232–40.Google Scholar

3 See Bent, , Music Analysis, ii, 161–5, and Fred Everett Maus, ‘Intersubjectivity and Analysis: Schumann's Essay on the Fantastic Symphony’, Music Theory in the Age of Romanticism, ed. Ian Bent (Cambridge, 1996), 125–37. See also John Daverio, Robert Schumann: Herald of a ‘New Poetic Age’ (New York and Oxford, 1997), 129–30.Google Scholar

4 Maus, ‘Intersubjectivity’, 134–6.Google Scholar

5 See ibid., 136, n. 14, where Maus acknowledges the influence of what he terms ‘deconstructive criticism’ (especially in the guise of late de Man) on his own reading.Google Scholar

6 See Daverio, Robert Schumann, 111: ‘as Schumann wrote to his mother on 28 June, 1833, the venture [the Neue Leipziger Zeitschrift der Musik] would also provide him with the “definite social standing” for which he, as an artist with an “undefined position”, had long craved. (The establishment of the journal in 1834 allowed Schumann to describe himself as a Musikgelehrter on the new passport he acquired at that time.)’Google Scholar

7 As we shall see, it is in the ‘programme’ of the Symphonie that Schumann recognizes a certain feminizing ‘Frenchness': ‘Soweit das Programm. Ganz Deutschland schenkt es ihm: solche Wegweiser haben immer etwas Unwürdiges und Charalatanmäßiges…. Berlioz schrieb indes zunächst für seine Franzosen, denen mit ätherischer Bescheidenheit wenig zu imponieren ist.’ Robert Schumann, Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker, 5th edn, ed. Martin Kreisig, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1914; repr. Westmead, 1969), i, 83–4 (originally from Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 3/xiii (14 August 1835)).Google Scholar

8 For an overview of attitudes to mental illness in the nineteenth century which provides an extremely useful frame to this discussion, see Sander L. Gilman, ‘Zur Physiognomie des Geisteskranken in Geschichte und Praxis, 1800–1900’, Sudhoffs Archiv, 62 (1978), 201–34.Google Scholar

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22 Of course, Kristeva falls into the trap that she is trying to avoid: by aligning the feminine with the precultural (semiotic) and the masculine with the (cultural) symbolic phases of child development, she is reproducing the misogynist figuration of women as ‘of nature’ and men as ‘of culture'. The feminine is thus essentialized to the position of the outsider, the marginal, the ‘law before the law’, something which must be overcome. For a vigorous critique of Kristeva's essentialism, see Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990), 91. In particular, Butler is keen to demonstrate that the apparent ‘subversion’ that Kristeva evokes in the maternal ‘semiotic’, a phase that can constantly undermine or displace the signifying practices of the paternal ‘symbolic’, is merely another figuration of the feminine in terms of a ‘naturalistic vocabulary'.Google Scholar

23 Henderson, Andrea K., Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity, 1774–1830 (Cambridge, 1996), 30.Google Scholar

24 More recent work on this issue includes Brigitte Peucker, Lyric Descent in the German Romantic Tradition (New Haven and London, 1987); Simon Haines, Shelley's Poetry: The Divided Self (London, 1997); Anne K. Mellor, ‘A Revolution in Female Manners’, Romanticism: A Critical Reader, ed. Duncan Wu (Oxford, 1995), 408–16; Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing, ed. Margaret Homans (Chicago, 1986); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (London, 1990); eadem, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York, 1985), esp. pp. 83–96; and Henderson, Romantic Identities.Google Scholar

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26 See Bewell, Alan, ‘An Issue of Monstrous Desire: Frankenstein and Obstetrics’, Yale Journal of Criticism, 2/i (1988), 105–28, and Jordanova, ‘Melancholy Reflection'.Google Scholar

27 Baldick, Chris, In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and Nineteenth-Century Writing (Oxford, 1987).Google Scholar

28 Montag, Warren, ‘“The Workshop of Filthy Creation”: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein’, Frankenstein, ed. Johanna Smith, Case Studies in Contemporary Literature (Boston, MA, and New York, 1992), 300–11.Google Scholar

29 Beer, Gillian, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (London, 1983).Google Scholar

30 Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein; or the Modem Prometheus (London, 1818; repr., ed. Johanna M. Smith, Boston, MA, and New York, 1992), 57–8.Google Scholar

31 Homans, Margaret, ‘Bearing Demons: Frankenstein's Circumvention of the Maternal’, Romanticism, ed. Wu, 379–400.Google Scholar

32 Shelley, , Frankenstein, 58.Google Scholar

33 For an account of the birth of the critical personae, see Daverio, Robert Schumann, 73–5. It is interesting that the contrast which Schumann set up between Florestan and Eusebius in his diary entry of 1 July 1831, that between a ‘virtuoso’ and a ‘poet’, is distorted here so that R. Schumann represents the analytical ‘authority’ and Florestan the poetic ‘hothead'. For Daverio, Eusebius and Florestan represent ‘a poetic solution to the problem of the split self’ (p. 75).Google Scholar

34 'Solch ein musikalischer Mensch, kaum neunzehn Jahre alt, französischen Bluts, stroßend voll Kraft, überdies im Kampf mit der Zukunft und vielleicht mit anderen heftigen Leidenschaften, wird zum erstenmal vom Gott der Liebe gefaßt, aber nicht von jener schüchternen Empfindung, die sich am liebsten dem Monde vertraut, sondern von der dunkeln Glut, die man nachts aus dem Ätna hervorschlagen sieht…. Da sieht er sie.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, i, 213 (originally from Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 3/i (3July 1835)). The English translation is based on that by Ian Bent in Music Analysis, ii, 168.Google Scholar

35 Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain (Oxford, 1985), 207; quoted in Henderson, Romantic Identities, 96.Google Scholar

36 Bent, , Music Analysis, ii, 162. François-Joseph Fétis, Revue musicale, 5 (1 February 1835), 33–5.Google Scholar

37 'So gehört Berlioz mehr zu den Beethovenschen Charakteren, der Kunstbildung mit ihrer Lebensgeschichte genau zusammenhängt, wo mit jedem veränderten Moment in dieser ein anderer Augenblick in jener auf- und niedergeht. Wie eine Laokoonschlange haftet die Musik Berlioz an den Sohlen, er kann keinem Schritt ohne sie fortkommen; so wälzt er sich mit ihr im Staube, so trinkt sie mit ihm der Sonne.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, ii, 213; translation based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 167. The use of the feminine third person singular here is perhaps more striking in English than in the original German.Google Scholar

38 Levy, David B., ‘“Ritter Berlioz” in Germany’, Berlioz Studies, ed. Peter Bloom (Cambridge, 1992), 136–47.Google Scholar

39 Griepenkerl, Wolfgang Robert, Ritter Berlioz in Braunschweig: Zur Charakteristik dieses Tondichters (Braunschweig, 1843); quoted in Levy, ‘“Ritter Berlioz”’, 137, n. 8.Google Scholar

40 Levy, ‘“Ritter Berlioz”’, 144.Google Scholar

41 Ibid., 147.Google Scholar

42 See in particular Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore, 1976), 610.Google Scholar

43 'Ich denke mir dies weibliche Wesen wie den Hauptgedanken der ganzen Sinfonie, blaß, lilienschlank, verschleiert, still, beinahe kalt; — aber das Wort geht schläfrig, und seine Töne brennen bis ins Eingeweide, – leset es in der Sinfonie selbst, wie er ihr entgegenstürzt und sie mit allen Seelenarmen umschlingen will, und wie er atemlos zurückbebt vor der Kälte der Britin, und wie er wieder demütig den Saum ihrer Schlee tragen und küssen möchte und sich dann stolz aufrichtet und Liebe fordert, weil er – sie so sehr ungeheuer liebt; – leset es nach, mit Blutstropfen steht dies alles im ersten Satze geschrieben.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, ii, 213; translation based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 168.Google Scholar

44 Kristeva, Pouvoirs de l'horreur (Paris, 1980), trans. Roudiez as Powers of Horror, 20.Google Scholar

46 Henderson, , Romantic Identities, 12.Google Scholar

47 Ibid., 37.Google Scholar

48 See Müller-Sievers, Helmut, Self-Generation: Biology, Philosophy and Literature around 1800 (Stanford, CA, 1997), and Nyhart, Lynn K., Biology Takes Form: Animal Morphology and the German Universities, 1800–1900 (Chicago and London, 1995).Google Scholar

49 'Die alte geliebte Gestalt wächst ihm, wie bei Fieberkranken, überall aus der Wand entgegen und legt sich beklemmend über das Herz, und er stößt sie fort, und eine laut lachende Dirne wirft sich ihm in den Schoß …. Aber in Berlioz wacht die alte Vernichtungswut doppelt auf, und er schlägt mit wahren Titanenfäusten um sich, und wie er sich den Besitz der Geliebten künstlich vorspiegelt und die Automatenfigur heiß umarmt, so klammert sich auch die Musik häßlich und gemein um seine Träume und um den versuchten Selbstmord.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, ii, 214; translation based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 168–9.Google Scholar

50 Polidori, John William, The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori, ed. William Michael Rossetti (London, 1911); quoted in Homans, ‘Bearing Demons’, 387.Google Scholar

53 Shelley's Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers (New York, 1977), 153–4, 489–92; quoted in Homans, ‘Bearing Demons’, 384.Google Scholar

54 Compare this passage from the review with the crucial passage from Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor (London, 1964), 323: ‘her hair dishevelled; her night-clothes torn and dabbled with blood, – her eyes glazed, and her features convulsed into a wild paroxysm of insanity. When she saw herself discovered, she gibbered, made mouths, and pointed at them with her bloody fingers, with the frantic gestures of an exulting demoniac.’ Quoted in Showalter, The Female Malady, 14.Google Scholar

55 'Geläng’ es mir auch, dem Leser, welchen ich treppauf, treppab durch dieses abenteuerliche Gebäude begleiten möchte, ein Bild von seinen einzelnen Gemächern zu geben!’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, i, 71. The second part of the quotation is excised from the original Gesammelte Schriften (Leipzig, 1854), and is included by Kreisig in his edition (ii, 278, n. 103): ‘Wir haben oft von jenen altschottischen Schlössern, wie sie uns englische Schriftsteller mit so viel Treue nachzeichnen, gelesen und uns im Geist ergößt an den wie willkürlich eingebrochenen Fenstern und keckschauenden Türmen. Ähnlich sieht unsere Sinfonie: wollet mir jetzt durch die phantastisch verschlungenen Kreuzgänge folgen.’ Both translations based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 172–3.Google Scholar

56 By thus opening up transgressive pleasures to public scrutiny, their profligacy could be commodified. There is thus a strong link here between over-commodification (exchange value without utility) and femininity. See Andrea K. Henderson, ‘“An Embarrassing Subject”: Use Value and Exchange Value in Early Gothic Characterisation’, At the Limits of Romanticism: Essays in Cultural, Feminist, and Materialist Criticism, ed. Mary A. Favret and Nicola J. Watson (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994), 225–45 (p. 239): ‘The peculiar “femininity” of the gothic arises in part as the result of the intersection of gender and economic paradigms; the gothic expresses a concern with relations, extrinsic signs, and indeterminate value – qualities associated with the feminine but also associated with an aspect of market relations (exchange value unconnected to utility) that the capitalist class has continually to repress.’Google Scholar

57 See Raby, Peter, Fair Ophelia: Harriet Smithson Berlioz (Cambridge, 1982).Google Scholar

58 Maus, , ‘Intersubjectivity’, 133–4.Google Scholar

59 Shelley, , Frankenstein, 57–8.Google Scholar

60 ‘Traum in einer Sabbatnacht. Er sieht sich inmitten greulicher Fraßen, Heren, Mißgestalten aller Art, die sich zu seinem Leichenbegräbnisse zusammengefunden haben. Klagen, Heulen, Lachen, Wehrufen. Die geliebte Melodie ertönt noch einmal, aber als gemeines, schmutziges Tanzthema: sie ist es, die kommt.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, i, 83; translation based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 192.Google Scholar

61 Ostwald, Peter, Schumann: The Inner Voices of a Musical Genius (Boston, MA, 1985).Google Scholar

62 Daverio, , Robert Schumann, 45.Google Scholar

63 Ibid., 6.Google Scholar

64 Ibid., 520, n. 17.Google Scholar

65 See in particular Bray, Alan, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London, 1982), 92.Google Scholar

66 'Berlioz kann kaum mit größerem Widerwillen [Schmerz] den Kopf eines schönen Mörders seziert haben, als ich seinen ersten Satz. Und hab’ ich noch dazu meinen Lesern mit der Sektion etwas genützt?’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, i, 72; translation based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 174. The text continues: ‘Aber ich wollte dreierlei damit: erstens denen, welchen die Sinfonie gänzlich unbekannt ist, zeigen, wie wenig ihnen in der Musik durch eine zergliedernde Kritik klargemacht werden kann, denen, die sie oberflächlich durchgesehen und weil sie nicht gleich wußten, wo aus und ein, sie vielleicht beiseite legten, ein paar Höhenpunkte andeuten, endlich denen, die sie kennen, ohne sie anerkennen zu wollen, nachweisen, wie trotz der scheinbaren Formlosigkeit diesem Körper, in großem Verhältnissen gemessen, eine richtig symmetrische Ordnung inwohnt, des innern Zusammenhangs gar nicht zu erwähnen.’Google Scholar

67 Bent, , Music Analysis, ii, 174, n. 43.Google Scholar

68 Maus, , ‘Intersubjectivity’, 134–5.Google Scholar

69 Bent furnishes an amusing comment by Panofka: ‘Not infrequently, he [Berlioz] would shatter the peace of the dissecting room with passionate out-pourings of what he had been hearing in the theatre, and would accompany the rhythm of the saw and hammer that he used to open up skulls with melodies from La Vestale and Fernando Cortez.’ Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 2/xvii (February 1835), 68; quoted in Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 174.Google Scholar

70 Maus, ‘Intersubjectivity’, 135.Google Scholar

71 Roger Cooter, The Cultural Meaning of Popular Science: Phrenology and the Organization of Consent in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge, 1984); Russell Charles Maulitz, Morbid Appearances: The Anatomy of Pathology in the Early Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1987); Ludmilla Jordanova, Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Wisconsin, 1989); The Problem of Medical Knowledge: Examining the Construction of Medicine, ed. Peter Wright and Andrew Treacher (Edinburgh, 1982).Google Scholar

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74 Sedgwick, , Between Men, 12.Google Scholar

75 Girard, René, Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore, 1972).Google Scholar

76 Man, Paul de, Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers, ed. E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark and Andrzej Warminski (Baltimore and London, 1993), 25.Google Scholar

77 See Biddle, Ian, ‘The Gendered Eye: Music Analysis and the Scientific Outlook in German Early Romantic Music Theory’, Music Theory and Natural Order, ed. Suzie Clarke and Alex Rehding (Cambridge, forthcoming).Google Scholar

78 'Soweit das Programm. Ganz Deutschland schenkt es ihm: solche Wegweiser haben immer etwas Unwürdiges und Charlatanmäßiges. Jedenfalls hätten die fünf Hauptüberschriften genügt; die genaueren Umstände, die allerdings der Person des Komponisten halber, der die Sinfonie selbst durchlebt, interessieren müssen, würden sich schon durch mündliche Tradition fortgepflanzt haben. Mit einem Worte, der zartsinnige, aller Persönlichkeit mehr abholde Deutsche will in seinem Gedanken nicht so grob geleitet sein.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, i, 83; translation based on Bent, Music Analysis, ii, 192.Google Scholar

79 See next paragraph: ‘Berlioz schrieb indes zunächst für seine Franzosen, denen mit ätherischer Bescheidenheit wenig zu imponieren ist. Ich kann sie mir denken mit dem Zettel in der Hand nachlesend und ihrem Landsmann plaudierend, der alles so gut getroffen; an der Musik allein liegt ihnen nichts.’ Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Kreisig, i, 83–4.Google Scholar

80 Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, Phantasien über die Kunst für Freunde der Kunst (n.p., [1799]; repr. Potsdam, 1925), 186: ‘Eine ewige feindselige Kluft ist zwischen dem fühlenden Herzen und den Untersuchungen des Forschens befestigt, und jenes ist ein selbständiges verschlossenes göttliches Wesen, das von der Vernunft nicht aufgeschlossen und gelöst werden kann.’Google Scholar

81 See Goodwin, Sarah Webster, ‘Wordsworth and Romantic Voice: The Poet's Song and the Prostitute's Cry’, Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture, ed. Leslie C. Dunn and Nancy A. Jones (Cambridge, 1994), 6579 (p. 70): ‘Curse, cry, silence: all are forms of expression that signify through indirection, and that, like song, inhabit the body without fully leaving it, in contrast to the “voice” of the written word. What we see here then is a pattern: male poet/female prostitute, with the prostitute's cry of pain, or her silence, occasioning the poet's voice. The poems leave all sorts of indications that the poet identifies with the prostitute, not the least of them being the ways her identity is left in shadowy outline, suggested but not pressed forward.’Google Scholar

82 See again Jordanova, ‘Body Image and Sex Roles’ and ‘Nature Unveiling before Science'. The body of literature on this is huge and growing, but Jordanova's Sexual Visions is the most insightful and consistently critical contribution. See also Ute Frevert, Women in German History: From Emancipation to Sexual Liberation, trans. Stuart McKinnon-Evans (Oxford, 1989); The New Cultural History, cd. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley, 1989); The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800, ed. Lynn Hunt (New York, 1993); Taboos in German Literature, ed. David A. Jackson (Oxford, 1996); Languages of Nature: Critical Essays on Science and Literature, ed. Ludmilla Jordanova with a foreword by Raymond Williams (London, 1986); Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carol S. Vance (Boston, MA, 1984).Google Scholar

83 Plantinga, , Schumann, 237, quoted in Maus, ‘Intersubjectivity’, 131.Google Scholar

84 'Wie ein Wasserfall von tausend und abertausend brüllenden Strömen, die vom Himmel herunterstürzten, sich ewig, ewig ohne augenblicklichen Stillstand, ohne die Ruhe einer Sekunde ergossen, so tönte es in seine Ohren, und alle seine Sinne waren mächtig nur darauf hingewandt, seine arbeitende Angst war immer mehr und mehr in den Strudel der wilden Verwirrung ergriffen und hineingerissen, immer ungeheurer verwildeten die einförmigen Töne durcheinander.’ Wackenroder, Phantasien, 159. The translation is my own, based on that by Mary Hurst Schubert, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder's ‘Confessions’ and ‘Fantasies’ (Philadelphia, 1971), 141–97, available in Musical Aesthetics: A Historical Reader – The Nineteenth Century, ed. Edward A. Lippman (New York, 1988), 5–31 (p. 7).Google Scholar