Thursday, May 15, 2014


I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm finishing my seminary career with a directed study, on the writings of the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard (I have no idea how to type that "o" with the slash through it).  I came to Kierkegaard via an odd route, mostly drawn in not by any particular introductions to the writings themselves but via Samuel Barber's brief cantata Prayers of Kierkegaard.  So the directed study offers me the opportunity to encounter some of the larger, more "theological" works by Kierkegaard that inform the prayers and other more "pastoral" or "devotional" writings.  What I do with all this in the future remains to be seen, but I hope that it's something.
At any rate, I'm not so insane that I expect to read all of his major works completely.  I'm being a bit selective and putting more time into some works than others.  So far, ripping through some of the earliest stuff, I've been caught short by one particular aspect of Kierkegaard's writing; his use of pseudonyms.

Kierkegaard does rather look like some Romantic composers...

I think I knew this coming in, but it was still a rather serious jolt to encounter it in reading.  It's pretty clear that our melancholy Dane did not "invent" these characters, ranging from a rather Don Juan-ish lover to a sober judge to someone called Inter et Inter, on a whim.  It's also a little disorienting and not a small amount creepy when Kierkegaard starts to enter into epistolary dialogues with these different writing personae.
Or at least it was, until I remembered Robert Schumann.  Of course.
Any musical person (at minimum anyone who ever took any of my courses that dealt with music in the nineteenth century), by now, has remembered Robert Schumann, I'm sure.  Besides his compositional reputation, Schumann engaged in a great deal of printed musical criticism, at times in his own journal and occasionally in other publications.  Schumann, as it happened, also indulged in a bit of pseudonymous writing, both in affixing pen names to his own writings (remember Florestan and Eusebius, gang?) and also by creating dialogues between characters (such as the Davidsbund, or "league of David," combatting the musical philistines of his day -- a kind of Justice League of musicians) to address questions of musical style, or taste, or whatever came into Schumann's fervid imagination.

...maybe even more than Schumann did.

At its best Kierkegaard's writing can be quite poetic (he considered himself a poet), and nothing in Schumann's writing quite matches the elegance of Kierkegaard at his best.  On the other hand, Schumann's sheer enthusiasms (and sometimes the opposite) give his writing a brio and vigor that Kierkegaard doesn't always muster, oft-melancholy soul that he is.
So on some level this is a bit of an apology to Robert Schumann, and maybe to some past students as well.  You weren't such a weirdo, Robert.  I don't know if it was just something in the air, or a relatively common Romantic device or what, but you weren't so off-the-wall as I may have portrayed you to be.  (We'll leave the 1850s aside for now.)  And hey, you were vastly entertaining.

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