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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Phenomenological Approach to Robert Schumann’s Fantasie op 17, 1st Movement

  • Author(s): Salomon, Pascal Doron
  • Advisor(s): Berkowitz, Paul
  • Rothfarb, Lee
  • et al.

Performers often struggle with a discrepancy between conventional music analysis and their own performing experience. While performing, they connect with music through intuition rather than through theoretical representations of the piece. Phenomenology responds to this issue by seeking knowledge of an object through direct experience, understood as consciousness of the object, as opposed to theoretical constructions. Some music scholars have written on this topic, but no performer seems to have studied the philosophical foundations of phenomenology and applied them in a manner accessible to a broad audience of musicians. That is the project I have undertaken in this document.

The piece of music I chose for this undertaking is the fascinating, variously understood first movement of Robert Schumann’s Fantasie, op 17. According to the phenomenological method, as defined in chapter 3, I describe the piece on a perceptual level in the subsequent chapters. I provide a link with traditional tools by integrating perceptual aspects of conventional analysis. Starting at the micro-level, the description progressively zooms out until a unified view of the piece emerges. Throughout the process, tension profiles visually render the perceptual experience.

This approach proposes that there is a main force, different from the thematic opposition underlying sonata form, which governs the overarching tension in the movement. This main force is a motif that initially seems peripheral because it appears as an adjunct to the other themes, but it actually constitutes the central shaping force of the piece. Overall, I discovered that interacting phenomenologically with music progressively shapes one’s mind such that musical relationships become the primary focus.

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