Who Was Mignon? What Was She?
Popular Catholicism and Schumann's Requiem, Op. 98b
Following its premiere in November 1850 and several subsequent performances, Schumann's Requiem für Mignon, Op. 98b, received eight reviews, the overwhelming majority of which expressed ambivalence toward the work. This chapter explores one cultural milieu behind the Requiem's problematic early reception, using the 1851 review of the Cologne‐based critic Ludwig Bischoff as the lens through which to view and probe the milieu. Bischoff questioned how faithfully Schumann had followed Goethe's text, but also—the focus of this chapter—contested Mignon's identity in death. Dissatisfied with Schumann's Mignon, Bischoff proffered an alternative portrayal of the child that magnified her similitude to innocent angelic children, echoing a move by the eminent artist Wilhelm von Schadow in his controversial painting Mignon (1828). Bischoff also emphasized the child's difficult life and untimely death, tropes found in midcentury literature, including fairy tales. In the heart of the Catholic Rhineland the angelic child archetype, tragic fairy tale narrative, and allegorical representations carried strong religious connotations. This chapter proposes that the ambivalent reception of the Requiem was, to a considerable extent, colored by the religious revival of Catholicism in the Düsseldorf‐Cologne region in the 1850s and the position within this culture of a requiem for a troubled young girl who had died tragically. Based on points made by Bischoff and clues left by Schumann, the chapter proposes that the composer instead modeled his Mignon after another child archetype, puer senex (cryptic child) from Novalis's Hymns to the Night.
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