A provocative re-examination of a major romantic composer, Rethinking Schumann provides fresh approaches to Schumann's oeuvre and its reception from the perspectives of literature, visual arts, cultural history, performance studies, dance, and film. Traditionally, research has focused on biographical links between the composer and his music, encouraging the assumption that Schumann was solitary, divorced from reality, and frequently associated with "untimeliness." These eighteen new essays argue from a multitude of perspectives that Schumann was in fact very much a man of his time, informed not only by music but also the culture and society around him. The book further reveals that the composer's reputation has been shaped significantly by, for example, changes in attitudes towards German romanticism and its history, and recent developments in musical scholarship and performance. Rethinking Schumann takes into account cultural and social-institutional frameworks, engages with ongoing and new issues of reception and historiography, and offers fresh music-analytical insights.
As a whole, the essays assemble a portrait of the artist that reflects the different ways in which Schumann has been understood and misunderstood over the past two hundred years. The volume is, in short, a timely reassessment of this ultimately non-untimely figure's legacy. While the essays consider some of Schumann's most famous music (Dichterliebe, Kinderszenen and the Piano Quintet), they also provide crucial adjustment to judgments against the composer's later works by explaining their musical features not as the result of diminishing creative capacity but as reflections of the political and social situations of mid-nineteenth-century German culture and technological developments. Schumann is revealed to have been a musician engaged by and responsive to his surroundings, whose reputation was formed to a great extent by popular culture, both in his own lifetime as he responded to particular poets and painters, and later, as his life and works were responded to by subsequent generations.