Transcending Incidental Music: Musical Theatricality in Schumann’s Manfred Overture

Alexandra Huang | May 12, 2018
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) is a music composer in high Romanticism. His symphonic rearrangement of the dramatic poem Manfred by Lord Baron Byron (1788-1824) to this day shares the limelight with Byron’s original text. The Manfred Overture is the opening introduction set in the beginning of his Symphony Op.115, Manfred: Dramatic Poem with Music in Three Parts along with the Overture (1848). In terms of genre, the piece is the apotheosis of incidental music, music composed for atmospheric accompaniment for dramatic actions in a play. Originating from ancient Greece, incidental music is a musical practice that looms large in the nineteenth century (Oxford Companion to Music). Interestingly, Shumann’s Manfred Overture is also a critique of the genre in that the place of music is as important as the dramatic scenarios.

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