Interpretation of musical dreams: expanding hermeneutic approaches to the dream aesthetic in Franz Schubert’s music
Leong, Sio Pan
The concept of the dream has offered a highly rewarding avenue for modern scholars to interpret Franz Schubert’s instrumental music. In this thesis, I propose that this hermeneutic window could be significantly more productive if expanded beyond the narrow scope of existing scholarship, where Schubert’s dream aesthetic is understood primarily in terms of a contrast between idyllic dream and bleak reality, as is characteristic of early Romantic literature and his songs. This thesis consists of two parts. The first investigates Schubert’s musical traits that previous commentators have characterised as ‘dream’, ‘dreamlike’, or similar, while also reconsidering and further developing some of these to promote a more fruitful way of listening. In particular, a new category of dream-characterisation—hearing Schubert’s sonata-form development sections in terms of a ‘dream scene’—is derived based on a rethinking of those so-called ‘irrational’ processes that are said to render his sonata forms dreamlike. Building upon part one, the second part of this thesis focuses on Schubert’s sonata-form movements, demonstrating, across three case studies, how our understanding of his dream aesthetic might be expanded via the contemporaneous literary themes of the longing and ironic dreams of the Romantic wanderer, the uncanny dreams of the Doppelgänger, and the recurring nightmares of ghostly hauntings. To tease even more out of these ‘dream themes’, it moves beyond historically informed interpretations and employs critical approaches in its hermeneutic exercise. It shows that these themes, allied with perspectives from psychoanalytic criticism, not only substantially enrich our discussions of Schubert’s dream aesthetic but also illuminate numerous formal and musical peculiarities in his music. Ultimately, through this thesis, I hope that more fascinating and thought-provoking insights on the discourse of Schubert’s music and the dream will be stimulated.