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Musical VitalitiesVentures in a Biotic Aesthetics of Music$
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Holly Watkins

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226594705

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226594842.001.0001

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The Floral Poetics of Schumann’s Blumenstück, op. 19

The Floral Poetics of Schumann’s Blumenstück, op. 19

(p.85) 4 The Floral Poetics of Schumann’s Blumenstück, op. 19
Musical Vitalities

Holly Watkins

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 4, “The Floral Poetics of Schumann’s Blumenstück, op. 19,” explores how flowers, as supreme representatives of nonhuman beauty, were woven into nineteenth-century notions of gender, art, and transcendence. Schumann’s piano piece Blumenstück (1839) has been viewed as a straightforward effort to appeal to amateur consumers—especially female consumers—of domestic piano music. The piece’s mixed aesthetic status is closely linked to the similarly ambivalent standing of flowers (and the genre of flower painting to which Schumann’s title alludes) in early nineteenth-century Germany. Yet flowers also constituted a remarkably evocative symbol in Romantic literature. Sentimental and Romantic discourses of the flower converged in the trope of Blumensprache (the language of flowers), a signifying practice developed in popular manuals cataloguing the meanings of flowers and referenced in the more esoteric settings of Schumann’s criticism, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tales, and Heinrich Heine’s poetry. In each of these venues, flowers served as nonhuman conduits for imaginary travel between mundane and transcendent realms. Drawing on the work of Friedrich Kittler, the chapter elaborates on related dualities in Schumann’s Blumenstück, a piece that conflates aesthetic categories in a manner that undermines traditional notions of both organicism and generic classification.

Keywords:   Robert Schumann, Blumenstück, flowers, flower painting, Blumensprache, language of flowers, Friedrich Kittler, E. T. A. Hoffmann

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