Intermediate States of Key in Schumann
Where other major composers of the mid‐19th century are known for harmonic innovation and explorations of chromaticism, Schumann is often cited for his distinctive and unconventional use of key. This chapter investigates a well‐known facet of this aspect of Schumann's harmonic practice: music that, for extended periods, seems not to be in any key, either through indeterminacy or apparent ambiguity. The study begins with a review of influential harmonic theories of Schumann's time, revealing considerable differences regarding the definition and nature of key; A. B. Marx's unconventional conceptualization of keys is of particular interest. Detailed analyses of three pieces—the song “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” from Dichterliebe; the first movement of the String Quartet, Op. 41, no. 1; and the fourth piece of Kreisleriana—are framed in relation to previous scholarship, which treats their episodes of harmonic indeterminacy in detail from diverse formal and analytic viewpoints. As an alternative to customary explanations, and in an attempt to give specificity to harmonic situations that otherwise would be categorized as ambiguous or else resolved analytically in favor of one key over another, a broadening of the idea of key identity is proposed here, allowing for music to be understood not only to be in keys but also to be in intermediate states between them. Other types of intermediate states in Schumann's music are also discussed.
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