"Perceived 'beginnings'" Reconsidered: Fanny Hensel's "Sehnsucht" (1830)

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


Diether de la Motte (1992) has noted in "Sehnsucht" that Hensel "places a perceived 'beginning' before the first notes of the piece". La Motte's observation points to a popular Romantic compositional tool: in medias res, which creates the impression of the listener "joining" an ongoing musical process. My research is about how Hensel's Sehnsucht (1830) works with this compositional tool. By contextualizing the in medias res in light of her circle -- which included also Robert Schumann -- and by comparing how the device is used in Hensel's "Warum sind denn die Rosen so blaß?", "Sehnsucht" emerges as a particularly expressive example. In addition, the pervasive gender inequality that she and others had to endure, allows for a nuanced reading of what it means to begin a narrative "in the middle" (in medias), without preamble, which can be understood also as a metaphor for "joining" the compositional discourse as a woman and Lied composer. Hensel's "Sehnsucht" offers, if not the luxury of a "beginning" or preamble, the center piece -- the most important part of a work -- notwithstanding the immense societal pressures she had to endure. The "longing" (Sehnsucht) and the impatience and drive to express, is exactly what lets her start the song in medias res, with a perceived, but skipped, beginning. My research draws on Marian Wilson Kimber (2002), R. Larry Todd (2010), Françoise Tillard (1996), and Jack Werner (1947). Fanny Mendelssohn’s piece "Sehnsucht" gives us a better understanding of the gender inequalities and compromises in music that took place during that time period, even within families.

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