Karin Buer


Bellman, Jonathan

Committee Member

Krawitz, Justin

Committee Member

Reddick, Carissa

Committee Member

Clinefelter, Joan


College of Performing and Visual Arts; School of Music


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley, (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

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223 pages

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Born digital


Buer, Karin. Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann: Intertextual References and Private Meaning in Clara Schumann’s Opus 20 and Johannes Brahms’s Opus 9. Published Doctor of Arts dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, 2020. For centuries, composers have used their music as an expressive tool, imbuing it with publicly accessible meaning that often reflects the time and place in which the composer lived. Throughout the nineteenth century, the view of music as a means of expression, specifically self-expression, became crystallized as never before. Robert Schumann and other literary-minded nineteenth-century composers thus communicated, through their art, meanings which were both public and private, turning to extracompositional and extramusical references as a frequent means of doing so. Consequently, an intertextual approach to their music can reveal additional layers of expressive meaning and can allow current performers and listeners to interpret the music from the perspective of a romantic-era insider. Both Robert and Clara Schumann, and later Johannes Brahms, used their music to communicate amongst themselves and with close associates, especially in more intimate genres such as piano variations. Two works which are particularly ripe with intertextual references and private meaning are Clara’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op. 20, which she gave to Robert as a birthday present in 1853, and Brahms’s Op. 9 variations on the same theme, which he wrote for Clara the following year. In her Op. 20 variations, Clara includes quotations and allusions to a number of Robert’s works as well as to works she was performing and therefore practicing at the time, rendering the piece the ultimate birthday present. Brahms, in response to Clara’s variations, composes a set which interweaves references to several of Robert’s works and one of Clara’s, often by layering multiple allusions within the same variation. In doing so, he pays respect to his beloved mentor—the recently institutionalized Robert—while privately providing comfort to and sharing the grief with Clara. A strong historical awareness rooted in documentary evidence, combined with a robust music-theoretical analysis drawing upon Schenkerian analytical methods, provides a mechanism for testing the strength of the connections found within these pieces.

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Copyright is held by the author.