Illness Narratives in Nineteenth-Century German Instrumental music identifies the illness narrative as a distinct genre and shows how composers organized their experience of illness in music. For years the discipline of musicology has investigated plot archetypes or narrative models that underlie structures of musical works, bringing critical theory developed in literature to the study of music. Concurrently, researchers in medicine, psychology, sociology, and anthropology have focused on the phenomenology of illness and the use of narrative models to enable patients to cope with their suffering and the major life adjustments that illness requires.
This dissertation brings together literary critical theory, models observed in studies of illness, music history, and musical analysis in a way that has not been explored until now. It demonstrates how several important musical works employ a shared narrative type in nine plot points, as well as images and themes associated with illness narratives. In doing so, it reveals new clues to the expressive substance in Beethoven's String Quartet no. 15 in A minor, op. 132; Schubert's Piano Sonata in B-flat major, op. posth. (D. 960); Schumann's Symphony no. 2 in C major, op. 61; and Brahms's Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115. Each may be read as an illness narrative extending across a complete four- or five-movement cycle.
This study redresses the failure of formalist criticism to recognize expressive content and style. it also demonstrates how a rigirous hermeneutic interpretation can avoid baseless programs that post-Romantic and postmodern writers indulge in. The hermeneutic continuum between formalism and the kind of narrative treatment that devises programs for works without any contextually authentic basis must allow that the expressive content and interpretations of this repertoire derive from a range of approaches, from style convention, through allusion, to outright programmaticism. Finally, because exploration of the interdisciplinary nature of illness narratives has neglected illness narratives in music, the musical case studies herein expand upon substantial work that doctors, clinicians, literary critics, anthropologists, sociologists, writers, and patients have already conducted. This study validates music's and musicology's contribution to this variety of approaches and styles, and within musical hermeneutics itself.