December 10, 1998
Vol. 18 No. 6

current issue
archive / search

    Professor receives Einstein for Schumann opera analysis

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    By weaving together German music, literature and philosophy, Berthold Hoeckner wrote a scholarly article that has garnered one of the most prestigious awards in musicology. The American Musicological Society honored Hoeckner, Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Music, with the 1998 Alfred Einstein Award.

    “This award announces that this is a major career in the making,” said Richard Cohn, Chairman of Music at Chicago.

    Each year, the AMS recognizes one published article by a young scholar. “It is the single most prestigious award that the American Musicological Society can bestow on a young scholar,” said James Hepokoski, chairman of the Alfred Einstein Awards committee and a professor of music at Yale University.

    Hoeckner is in distinguished company. Past Chicago recipients include Philip Gossett, Dean of the Division of the Humanities, and Anne Walters Robertson, Professor in Music.

    Hoeckner’s article, “Schumann and Romantic Distance,” appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society. The 70-page article explores the romantic concept of distance. Hoeckner’s article captured not only the idea of “distance” in Romantic aesthetics, but also how it is embodied in actual music.

    In analyzing Schumann’s Fantasy op. 17, Hoeckner found that the composer borrowed melodies from Ludwig van Beethoven and from his own fiancee, Clara Wieck. Quoting from other composers’ works was not unusual during the time. In the case of Wieck’s music, it was a way for Schumann to tell his future wife that although her father had imposed a geographic separation between them, they were together in spirit.

    “Schumann wrote the music when they sealed their engagement,” said Hoeckner, who joined the Chicago faculty in 1994. “He turned their separation into a musical theme.” Hoeckner made this discovery while revising the article. “It was magical,” he said. “Many researchers stumble around and into gold mines. They almost trip over it.”

    Hepokoski praised the article. “It was a very carefully prepared and extremely thorough study,” said Hepokoski, who emphasized that this article was chosen from a pool of all musicological doctoral dissertations published last year.

    “What Hoeckner is trying to do is demonstrate that you can bring together German philosophy, German writing and German music.” Hepokoski called the topic an ambitious choice.

    Cohn added, “What’s groundbreaking in my mind is that he (Hoeckner) is very steeped in the music and in literature, and he’s able to get them to talk to one another.”

    Cohn compared musical interpretation with driving by a farmer’s field. At first, the plants appear to be randomly arranged, but once the appropriate perspective is achieved, the pattern becomes apparent.

    Hoeckner made a similar pastoral connection. “Ideally, academia is like paradise. It is buzzing with bees that fly from flower to flower and produce honey,” he said with his refined German accent. “I am more like a cow. I regurgitate. Every few years I hope to produce a good gallon of milk.”