Fantastic Fragments: German Romanticism through Modern Ears

Nicholas Young


The fantastic as a literary phenomenon has been justified and modernised in recent decades through key studies including Todorov’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1973), Attebery’s Strategies of Fantasy (1992) and Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981). Such advances in modern-day critical inquiry provide vast new analytical opportunities which have only gradually begun to permeate into the musicological field. While much research has already been undertaken to connect German Romantic musical fragments with their contemporary aesthetic or philosophical inspirations, for example Schlegel and Jean Paul, this essay aims to provide additional alternative perspectives on the associations between fantasy and the fragments of Schubert and Schumann, utilising more recent critical ideas to interpret the three key properties which characterise the fragment: musical brevity, asymmetry and incompleteness. Throughout these comparisons, modern fantasy tropes do not replace Romantic conceptions, but rather provide an additional path of interpretation which reinforces their merits. Through such a synthesis, one may obtain a clearer insight into how the fragment served as a powerful and effective vehicle for the Romantic fantasy.

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