In the last decade, musicologists have definitively put to rest the lingering concern that Robert Schumann misunderstood poetic irony in his settings of Heinrich Heine's poetry. My contribution to this project begins with Robert's written correspondence with his fiancée Clara Wieck in the years leading up to their marriage in 1840. Relying on passages in the letters that have previously received little or no critical attention, I closely observe the lovers’ views about the workings of ironic language in their relationship, especially concerning the technique that scholars of Heine's poetry have called the Stimmungsbruch (‘breaking of mood’): a sudden reversal of tone that punctures a poem's lyric beauty and maliciously invalidates its apparent sincerity. Clara detested this gesture when it came from Robert in everyday life or in his letters; she insisted that Robert share his negative feelings openly, even though Robert knew that this would distress her. The letters thus provide a helpful context in which to understand Schumann's idiosyncratic compositional treatment of the Stimmungsbruch in ‘Dein Angesicht’ (1840). Using the evidence of the letters, I argue that Heine's poem would likely have had strong personal associations for Robert and Clara. In his setting, Robert thus transformed the poem's dual Stimmungsbruch to reflect pain honestly without inflicting it at the same time. Focusing primarily on the torturous dialectic between major and minor in the song, I show how Robert has the protagonist absorb the thrust of Heine's damaging Stimmungsbruch into himself, keeping the beloved out of harm's way while still allowing the dark, throbbing energy of the wound to radiate from beneath the surface.
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