Kreisleriana and E. T. A. Hoffmann: Literary Influences on the Works of Robert Schumann,
Faculty Mentor: Scott Holden, Keyboard Studies
Robert Schumann is one of the most renowned composers of the romantic era, but only
those who have studied his life realize that he also made enormous contributions to the
world of literature. Through both his compositions and his own writings, Schumann was
able to pay homage to many of his most beloved writers. The goal of my project was to
learn more about Schumann’s connection to the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann through the
piece Kreisleriana, which is one of Schumann’s quintessential pieces for solo piano.
This piece was inspired and modeled off of several novels and writings by Hoffmann,
most notably of which are Kreisleriana and The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr.
At the beginning of the project, I decided upon three main methods through which I
would learn more about this topic. These methods were: taking private lessons from an
expert on German music, researching primary and secondary sources about both
Schumann’s and Hoffman’s writings, and performing lecture recitals based on my
For the first part of my project, I took four lessons from the Viennese pianist Maria Prinz,
who teaches at the Vienna Conservatory. While much of the lesson time was spent
working on perfecting technical and musical aspects of my playing, she also gave me
many new insights that helped me look at the piece from a more Germanic standpoint.
She helped me understand things like the importance of avoiding harsh sounds that
were uncharacteristic of Schumann and the instruments of his time, and various
translations of German text Schumann wrote in the music.
I thoroughly enjoyed the next part of my project, which was researching both Schumann
and Hoffmann. While I did learn a great deal by reading articles on online databases, by
far my favorite part of the research was the time I spent in Germany looking at primary
sources. I especially enjoyed working with a Schumann museum director and specialist
named Thomas Synofzik in Zwickau, Germany. He let me handle and read journals,
sketches, books, and many other artifacts that were once Schumann’s possessions.
I had never given a lecture recital before, so preparing for that third and final part of my
project was a new and challenging experience. First, I gathered all my research and
decide which things would be most interesting for a general audience to hear. Next, I
organized the material in a way that was engaging, chiefly by switching off between
talking and playing the music fairly regularly. Finally, I created a presentation with
pictures and illustrations to help the audience be engaged and grasp some of the more
complex concepts. Through this process, not only was I able to learn much more about
the composer and writer than I had previously known, but I was also to share that
knowledge effectively with my audience.
The findings of my research project were manifold, and as a whole supported my
original premise that Robert Schumann still stands as one of the greatest examples of
an artist standing between two fields: music and literature. His piece, Kreisleriana,
merges these two fields in entirely new ways from what had been done in the past.
While composers before Schumann had written music inspired by stories and events,
(namely, program music) Schumann wanted to be subtler than his predecessors. His
music is not merely sound effects and imitations, like program music, but rather, he
found ways to actually incorporate Hoffmann’s writing style into his music.
Schumann reflected Hoffmann’s writings in the piece Kreisleriana in many ways, one of
which was his use of the structures and motifs found in the novels. The form of
Hoffman’s Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr in comparison to Schumann’s Kreisleriana
is an excellent example of this. The Hoffmann novel was written in a dual structure,
where there are two separate stories going on at the same time, and the reader has to
constantly switch between them. This can easily be compared to the individual
movements in Schumann’s piece, most of which have dual structures as well when they
Furthermore, Schumann also found ways to write Hoffmann’s main character, Kreisler,
into his music. The character of Kreisler in Hoffmann’s novels is witty, eccentric, hot
headed, moody, etc. Schumann’s Kreisleriana as a whole reflects Kreisler’s character in
its constantly changing stream of thought, odd harmonies, witty chord progressions, and
What Schumann accomplished in composing Kreisleriana has many significant
implications about the interdisciplinary nature of the arts. He found a way to tie a piece
of music to a piece of literature in a way that was much more internal than his
predecessors. The story and character of Kreisler is so tightly interwoven with
Schumann’s piece that they can almost be seen now as one artistic whole, so long as
the music is viewed through the lens of the literature and vice versa.
Schumann’s contributions to the world of literature should not be underestimated. He
was truly an artist of two fields, as much aware of one as the other. As a musician, I
hope to be able to continue searching for the connections between artistic fields since
these connections are what will allow us to understand more fully, and delve more fully
into, the true nature of great art.