Schumann's A-minor Mood

Late-Style Dialectics in the First Movement of the Cello Concerto

P. H. Smith

Schumann's adaptations of eighteenth-century instrumental forms have long been regarded as problematic, as have the works of his late style period of the 1850s. The Cello Concerto Op. 129 (composed 1850, published 1854) is a late work based onm classical models that has earned a place in the concert repertoire. Still, one searches in vain for analysis of the Concerto that takes advantage of the advances of Schenkerian theory and recent theories of musical form. Such an analysis acquires urgency in light of the renewed interest in Schumann's late style, the relative neglect in analytical circles of Schumann's large-scale instrumental forms, and the tendency for concerto form to attract less interest among theorists compared to other instrumental genres. Historical gounding for the analysis arises from thje value Schumann and members of his circle placed on musical close reading, and a heuristic framework of dialectical topics derived from late-style criticism. Comparison with several of Schumann's chamber works in A minor, and with his Piano Concerto, underscores the technical refinements of the Cello Concerto. These comparisons also suggest that Schumann may have composed in something akin to A-minor mood, similar to Beethoven's C-minor mood, and that he died so across the boundaries of genre and style period that critics have drawn as part of his reception history. Recognizing the continuity is crucial since the inclination to sharply subdivide Schumann's compositional evolution has tended to serve larger critical agendas, namely, advocacy for the piano compositions of the 1830s at the expense of late works like the Cello Concerto.

Journal Journal of Music Theory
Year 2016
Volume 60
Issue 1
Pages 51-88

Smith, P. H. (2016) Schumann's A-minor Mood: Late-Style Dialectics in the First Movement of the Cello Concerto. In: Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 51-88. Available at


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