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date: 21 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The public (and academic) fascination with musicians who have experienced “mental distress” (Davis 2008), more broadly designated “madness,” has unfortunately led to popular and health-professional pathologies of lives and works that draw on common cultural tropes of disability. One of the most persistent and insidious is the linking of musical genius with madness and its corollary mapping onto creative production. This problematic attitude not only inhabits popular biographies but can still inform scholarly analyses of compositional activity. Using the resources of madness studies, this essay attempts to uncover the processes at work behind the reception of “mad” musicians Robert Schumann and Hugo Wolf and to propose a more “realistic mode” (Garland-Thomson 2001) for considering their lives and compositions.

Keywords: madness, insanity, genius, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, madness studies

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