SCHUMANN

ALFRED EINSTEIN ON ROBERT SCHUMANN

 

I. SYMPHONIES & CHAMBER MUSIC: SCHUMANN, CLASSIC AND ROMANTIC

From Alfred Einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1947) pp. 128-132

Schumann had begun his career as a revolutionary Romantic, or Romantic revolutionist: no other Romantic, not even Chopin, is comparable to him in youthfulness and in originality. In common with Chopin, he used the piano exclusively as the medium for the expression of his, ‘storm and stress’ up to his Opus 23. Like Chopin, he was able to say at the piano all that he had in his heart. At the same time, he was able to use his new, virtuoso—and much more than merely virtuoso—piano style as a protest against the empty, shallow, brilliant, drawing room virtuosity which, after Hummel and Weber, was making a great show in his period, along with the activity of really great virtuosi like Liszt or Henselt. This new, bold, original piano music adopted the titles and forms of études, toccatas, intermezzi, variations, and dances; but the true title for them all would be the one that was given to only a few: fantasies for the piano—Kreisleriana, Jean Pauliana, Eichendorffiana in music. It is only logical that, after twenty-three opera for the piano, the twenty-fourth should blossom forth into a song cycle. The discussion, however, of this fusion of poetry and piano music characteristic of Schumann, this ‘poetic’ piano music and its forms, must be reserved for a special chapter [see section II below].

Odilon Redon, Fantastical, n.d.

Odilon Redon, Buddah in His Youth, 1904

Among these twenty-three works there had already appeared three sonatas, the Grandes Sonates in F-sharp minor (Op. 11) and in F minor (Op. 54), and the G-minor Sonata (Op. 22)—an apparent compromise of the revolutionary with the classical form. It is apparent only, however, for even these three sonatas filled the outlines of the classical four-movement scheme with very new content. But it is true that Schumann, after the first stormy outbursts of his creative urge which had been so long repressed, felt the need of an agreement, of an act of communication with a less subjective form. The many-sidedness, the strife within him, the fact that ‘two souls’ (and more than two) ‘dwelt within his breast,’ he symbolized as a writer by his personification of the fictitious members of his ‘David’s League,’ the fiery Florestan, the dreamy Eusebius, the wise, meditative, and even-tempered Raro. He was everyone in turn and at the same time—Florestan, Eusebius, Raro. And Raro made it necessary that he express himself in more general, more objective form than he had hitherto used. So, after piano works, songs, and other vocal compositions, Schumann wrote in 1841 his first symphony, Op. 38, and in the following year his three string quartets, Op. 41. These latter remained his only ones.

To begin with the three quartets: they have not become ‘classics’ of quartet literature. They are written after Beethoven, as is shown by the slow movement in each. That in the first is a direct echo of the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony. That in the second—Andante, quasi Variazioni—is like a variation of the Adagio ma non troppo of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 127; even the key corresponds. Similarly, the Adagio molto of the Third Quartet is also a fully developed slow movement—though more passionate, more excited, more agitated than any in Haydn, Mozart, or even Beethoven.

Odilon Redon, Buddah, 1908

Odilon Redon, Buddah Walking among the Flowers, 1905

But this lyrical center in each of the three quartets did not cause Schumann to invest the other movements with a similar fullness and depth. In Beethoven’s quartets there prevails a complete equilibrium of the movements, from first to last; the structure is always completely stable. In Schumann the first movements (that of Quartet No. 1 in A minor is in F major!) have the qualities of a lyric or ballad; the Scherzo of this first Quartet is a galloping piece, as if taken over from the Scenes of Childhood and arranged, with Intermezzi such as might have been taken over and arranged from his songs. The Classical structure falls to pieces, despite the fact that the compositions are reminiscent of Beethoven—particularly, of course, of the late Beethoven, who was considered a destroyer of form. The finest and most original of the three quartets is the last, with marvelous variations (‘assai agitato’) in place of the Scherzo, with the ‘hommage à J. S. Bach’—the imitation of the Gavotte from the French Suite in E—as a ‘Quasi Trio’ in the Finale. This is not the place for a critique of the admirable work; we are here concerned not so much with criticizing as with understanding the movement that is referred to as musical Romanticism. The Romantic era had to break up the Classical form if it did not wish to remain academic imitation, for there is no development above and beyond that which is perfect—in this instance, the Beethovenian string quartet.

The same thing applies to the Schumann type of symphony. It becomes more lively, youthful, ‘Romantic’ than Mendelssohn’s as it departs further from the Classical pattern. Like Mendelssohn’s two great symphonies, Schumann’s First Symphony, in B-flat major, is descended from Beethoven’s Pastoral. Schumann called this composition of his the Springtime Symphony and originally gave the movements the following headings: 1. The Beginning of Spring (Andante), 2. Evening (Larghetto), 3. Merry Play (Scherzo), and 4. Spring in Bloom (Allegro animato e grazioso). The impulse to compose this work had come from a poem by Adolf Bottger. But it is significant that Schumann finally suppressed those headings, and that only a rhythmic suggestion of the poem was left, namely of its last line: ‘Now Spring is blooming in the vale’ in the principal motif of the first movement. This Springtime Symphony has much less program, much less ‘painting,’ than does Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony if one does not take the use of the triangle in the first movement as a symbol of that ‘Awakening of Spring,’ or interpret the horn call and the flute cadenza in the Finale naturalistically. Everything has become an ‘expression of feeling’; the poetical stimulus has been transfigured and subjected to the laws of symphonic form.

Odilon Redon, Decorative Panel, 1902

Odilon Redon, Evocation, n.d.

We need not go into the other three symphonies of Schumann’s in great detail. The one counted as No. 2, Op. 61, completed in 1846, follows a program similar to that of the First. It was explained by Schumann with only a few words when he called it ‘a regular Jupiter’ (it is in C major) and ‘somewhat in armor’. The Third, in E-flat, Op. 97, written in 1850, bears the cryptic title ‘Rhenish,’ and is actually supposed to reflect—according to Schumann’s remark—‘a bit of life on the Rhine.’ But it is hard to understand how it is to do that; even the second of the two slow middle sections, which at the premiere still bore the inscription ‘In the nature of the accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,’ points only quite generally to something mystical, ancient, Catholic, and not to the specific locality of the Cologne or any of the other Rhenish cathedrals.

The most characteristic symphonic work of Schumann’s is his Fourth Symphony, Op. 120, in D minor, which, although reworked and reorchestrated in 1851, actually originated only a few months after the First, in the summer of 1841, and really must be counted as the Second. It joins together five movements—Introduction, Allegro, Romanze, Scherzo, and Finale—into an uninterrupted whole; and, quite logically, in its original form of 1841 it bore the title Symphonic Fantasy. This unity is not merely an external feature, for all the movements are developed from melodic seeds that are given in the Introduction; they are blossoms of various colors springing from the same bush. Here again Schumann, after his usual manner, concealed the poetic incentive for this work, and gave only a possible hint in the guitar accompaniment of the Romanze. He did not wish to be more clear than that: the music buries the ‘program’ in mysterious depths. We here stand before a new form of the symphony—one possessed of a thematic homogeneity which Beethoven had felt no need of, although this feature perhaps goes back to the ‘reminiscences’ in the Finale of the Ninth Symphony.

Odilon Redon, Flower Clouds, 1903

Odilon Redon, The Boat, 1897

Alongside this achievement of homogeneity, there stands something truly Romantic—disintegration. This trend appears clearly in Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo, and Finale in E major, Op. 52, which had its origin between the B-flat major and the D-minor symphonies, a work that Schumann in all seriousness wanted to bring out as his Second Symphony, or at least as a ‘Symphonette.’ But does not the lack of a slow movement make even a sinfonietta into a suite, a more or less disconnected succession of movements?

Romantic disintegration of Classical structure is found also in one of the most beautiful and most compellingly lovable of all Schumann’s works, his Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, the first movement written in May, 1841, the last two in the summer of 1845. We are here not dealing with Schumann’s relationship to the problem of virtuosity. Instead, we are here concerned with the cooperation of two forces—piano and orchestra—which no longer displays the pure equilibrium that it did with Mozart, nor the dramatic give-and-take that it did with Beethoven. The soloist now is carried, supported, and caressed by the orchestra. In the relative importance of the three movements there prevails a new subjectivity; for the Intermezzo, to which Beethoven’s slow movement had shrunk, breathes an intimacy which the heroic Beethoven would never have permitted himself.

Odilon Redon, The Boat, n.d.

Odilon Redon, Boat with Grey Sail, 1900-05 (detail)

Within the Florestan-Eusebius-Raro union in Schumann’s creative faculties, Raro achieved more and more the predominance—so much so that one must speak of a dissolution or disruption of this union. In no branch of Schumann’s creative activity, except in his songs, does this dissolution admit of such exact observation as in that of his chamber music with piano. The transition from his youthfully free, ‘unclassical’ piano music to these works is afforded by a trio entitled Phantasiestücke (Op. 88, 1842), consisting of Romance, Duet, and Alla Marcia—a whole, marked by freshness precisely because it seems to be disconnected. Alongside this, Schumann set up a model of Classic-Romantic chamber music in his Piano Quintet, Op. 44 (1842), the piano setting the pace, brilliant, never virtuoso, a work of high spirits in all the rapid movements, and in the slow or march-like movement full of mysterious sorrow and indignation. At first slowly, then faster and faster, the descent ensues—in a Quartet Op. 47 (1842), in three Trios Op. 63 (1847), Op. 80 (1847), and Op. 110 (1851), in two Violin Sonatas Op. 105 (1851) and 121 (1851)—to repetitiousness, to mannerism.

Mannerism is a part of the diagnosis of the pathological aspect of the Romantic movement. In earlier centuries copying—even the weaker sort of copying—was a part of the craft; in the new century the heightened conception of the artist demanded ever new creative effort. Fortunate was  the man who, like Wagner, Verdi, or Brahms, was equal to this effort, and in his own work increased in stature. Schumann was not such a person. One may say that his real tragedy lay in the fact that he disintegrated in the attempt to do as the ‘great ones’ had done—to become universal. The attacks of insanity are but an outward symbol of this tragedy, a typically Romantic fate. Schumann is a representative of eternal adolescence, of enthusiastic intimacy; the task of becoming a man, in the creative sense, weighed too heavily upon him. Liszt, in a letter to Heinrich Heine on April 15, 1838, understood very well the split in his generation when he said that all the artists of his time were ‘very badly situated’ between the past and the future. ‘The century is ill.’ Schumann began as a champion of the future; in establishing a connection with the past he collapsed. But Schumann as a young man did not as yet know anything of the end in store for him. With this youthful Schumann, who is ‘immortal,’ we shall be concerned in the chapter on piano music [see section III below]. Had Schumann never passed his thirty-fifth birthday, he would have been the Shelley of music, the star of youth most resplendently gleaming.

Odilon Redon, Boat with Two Figures, 1902

VIDEO: SCHUMANN SYMPHONIES & CHAMBER MUSIC

Schumann: Piano Concerto | Martha Argerich & Riccardo Chailly

Schumann: Symphony No 2 | Leonard Bernstein & Wiener Philarmoniker

Schumann: Violin Sonata No.2 | Argerich & Kremer, 1994

ALBUMS ON SPOTIFY: SCHUMANN SYMPHONIES & CHAMBER MUSIC

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II. LIEDER/SONG: SCHUMANN, SUCCESSOR TO SCHUBERT

From Alfred Einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1947) pp. 186-189

Franz von Lenbach, Girl with a Fan, n.d.

With Schumann, song suddenly became the central point in the composer’s creative activity—suddenly, but not unexpectedly. Previously, Schumann had written only piano music and, being a genuine Romantic, had thought instrumental music the only fitting means by which the inexpressible could be expressed, and the inmost secret of feeling could be penetrated. He had felt that the word, as something too rational, was a fetter, a limitation. But when with Op. 24, the Heine song-sequence, he began to write lieder, he was like a volcano in eruption. In the first—and, incidentally, the richest—year, 1840, he brought forth no less than 138 vocal compositions. From then on when he composed songs they were lieder of the purest Romantic character. He did not wish to pursue a rational interpretation of the word; rather, he wished ‘to liberate the word from the curse of reason and, by means of the unity of feeling between language and music, to fuse them into something like a universal art-work.’

In the matter of texts, Schumann began where Schubert had left off, with Heine. The great German poet who stands in the midst of Schubert’s work, Goethe, contributed only a few passages from the West-östlicher Divan and—in Schumann’s later, brooding years—the songs from Wilhelm Meister. There was a new generation of poets, filled with a somewhat more penetrating conception of the Romantic era, who kindled Schumann’s ardor: Joseph von Eichendorff, with his original feeling for everything natural, full of the secrets of night; the Swabian Justinus Kerner, a mixture of simplicity and mysticism; the fine and sensitive Adalbert von Chamisso.

Anselm Feuerbach, Portrait of a Girl, 1852

Wilhelm Leibl, Farm Girl, n.d.

It was highly important for Schumann the song-composer that he already had in his background twenty-three piano works—a world of instrumental poetry and pianistic, virtuoso perfection and originality. From the beginning on, the piano, the ‘accompaniment,’ had to play a different role in his songs than it had done in Schubert’s. In Schubert, an equilibrium prevails; in every gentle fluctuation of the balance, the word always leads, the piano subordinates itself. In Schumann, from the very beginning, the piano plays a new role: it is more refined in sonority, more cunning in technique, although it seems to be simple; to it falls the task of emphasizing ‘the finer traits of the poem,’ of creating transitions in the song-cycles, of rounding out a group of songs, of supplying a commentary in the prelude and, particularly, the postlude, of giving final expression to the surplus feeling—in short, as Schumann himself has expressed it, of contributing to a ‘more highly artistic and more profound kind of song.’

Schumann loved cycles. Often—as in the Heine song-sequence, Op. 24 —the connection is as little manifest as in the Carnaval or the Kreisleriana piano cycles; nevertheless, it is perceptible in the relation between the keys and in the contrasts. Contrast often permits Schumann to achieve epigrammatic brevity, which is at once extreme tension and fulfillment. Schumann set to music one of Heine’s ironic quatrains (Op. 24, No. 8), with prelude and repetition of the emphatic question at the end, in eleven measures. It requires no indication of the manner of delivery, so perfect is the musical investiture of the word. The next cycle, Myrthen, Op. 25, is marked by a ‘dedication’ and an epilogue as a gift for his ‘beloved bride’ Clara Wieck. This cycle contains no less than twenty-six numbers, by various poets—Goethe, Rückert, Byron, Moore, Heine, Burns, and Mosen. It is kaleidoscopic and yet unified, forming a compendium of Schumann’s complete lyrical expression, with the nocturnally tender eroticism of the ‘Nussbaum’, the mysterious exuberance of the ‘Lotosblume’, the high spirits of the second song out of the Schenkenbuch, the intimacy of the Suleika song from the West-östlicher Divan of Goethe, or the folk quality of the Highland songs of Burns.

Max Slevogt, Die blonde Theres, 1896 (detail)

Franz von Lenbach, Anna Schubart, 1867

In these songs one sees with particular clarity how greatly the Romantic era had intensified the feeling for everything national. Haydn and Beethoven had also arranged Scottish songs, but in the ‘Classical’ sense: the original melodies were somewhat ‘leveled off.’ On the other hand, Schumann’s freely devised songs are ‘more Scottish’ than the originals. Schubert came out from time to time in Hungarian costume, for instance in ‘Mut’ from the Winterreise. Schumann changed costume, with still greater delight; after having come out in ‘German’ dress in the five vocal works, Op. 27, even in the sensitive lines of the closing piece, he showed his love for masquerade in his three songs, Op. 30: in the youthful Romanticism of the ‘Boy with the Magic Horn,’ the troubadour-like coloring of the ‘Page,’ and the high-spirited bolero of the ‘Hidalgo’—a piece that the composer of Carmen might have envied.

Three ballads (Op. 31) follow, to texts by Chamisso, among which is the ‘Kartenlegerin,’ marked with a naturalism that anticipates by several decades comparable pieces of Musorgsky. This goes to show that the Romantic movement could on occasion make an about face; for Chamisso’s ‘Kartenlegerin’ is a translation from Béranger, and Béranger was indeed the anti-Romantic par excellence, full of disrespect for everything that had ‘come into being historically,’ such as the nobility and the priesthood, never inclined to flee into a corner far from the world, a lover of clarity, sobriety, and earthiness. It is characteristic that for Schumann, the apparently dreamy composer, even this opposite was not excluded.

Franz von Lenbach, Katharina von Donnersmarck, n.d.

Franz von Lenbach, Portrait of Countess Zecheny, 1885-90

Again and again, until creative exhaustion made its appearance, he succeeded in producing solitary pieces of this sort. Most of these pieces, to be sure, are of overpoweringly Romantic fullness and beauty, especially when Schumann came upon a poet possessed of spiritual kinship with him, like Justinus Kerner, in Op. 35, where are found the enchanting ‘Mondnacht’ and the mysterious ‘Zwielicht.’ Shortly thereafter, in his ‘Frauenliebe and Leben,’ Op. 42, he recalled the two Schubert ‘dramas in pictures,’ the Müllerlieder and the Winterreise. But we find even greater delight in his songs when he relaxes the novelistic bond of connection, as in the Dichterliebe, from Heine’s Buch der Lieder, Op. 48, in which the composer exceeds the whole gamut of emotion heretofore exhibited in his lyrics, from pathos, from intimacy, to irony and to grim humor.

With the years—beginning as early as 1840—his exclusiveness changed: he wished to descend to the level of the people. He composed an entire album of songs for the young (Op. 79), without at times being able to prevent its simplicity from becoming highest refinement, as for example in Mürike’s ‘Er ist’s’ (No. 23). In setting this text even Hugo Wolf can hardly be said to have excelled him. A folk quality became the hallmark also of Schumann’s later ballads and romances. Nothing is more significant of this tendency than his ‘Two Grenadiers’ (Op. 49), the text of which, in a French translation, was also set to music about the same time by Wagner. Out of Heine’s ballad Wagner made a great, operatic scene, with recitatives and orchestral tremolos, without any regard for the strophic form of the poem; and he placed the melody of the ‘Marseillaise’, which is a kind of apotheosis and climax of the song, in the accompaniment. With Schumann, it is presented by the voice; everything is simple, compelling, completely aware of the limits of the ballad.

Franz von Lenbach, Portrait of Marion Lenbach, 1901

Wilhelm Leibl, Country Girl with White Headscarf, 1876

Later, in the years of his failing powers, his simplicity became more recherché, with a corresponding loss of the sureness of his literary instinct; on the other hand, he fell into a manner—that telltale sign of weakness—and into the brooding and the psychologistic, as in the songs and other vocal works from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister (Op. 98a), or in some of his ballads where he made so much of the description and yet neither achieved complete pictorial vividness nor gave the whole picture by suggestion—as he had so often succeeded in doing before.

VIDEO: SCHUMANN LIEDER/SONGS

Schumann: Dichterliebe | Christine Schäfer

BBC In Tune Sessions: Ian Bostridge sings Schumann

ALBUMS ON SPOTIFY: SCHUMANN LIEDER/SONGS

Schumann: Lieder | Sarah Walker

Schumann: Lieder | Ian Bostridge

Schumann: Lieder | Christian Gerhaher

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III. PIANO WORKS: SCHUMANN, FIERY AND DREAMY

From Alfred Einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1947) pp. 205-209

Schumann wrote his Op. 3, the six ‘Studies for the Piano arranged from Paganini’s Caprices’, in 1832, and his Op. 10, the ‘Six Concert Etudes composed after Paganini’s Caprices,’ in 1833. He, like Liszt and Chopin, did not care particularly about mere virtuosity. Their mission, clearly realized by all three of them, was precisely that of striking at virtuosity with its own weapons. In the remarks with which Schumann introduced his ‘Studies’, Op. 3, there are a few highly characteristic sentences: ‘In no other type of musical composition do poetic liberties sound so well as in a caprice. But if, behind the lightness and the humor which should characterize it, there may also appear soundness and deeper study, then there is genuine mastery. After elimination of all external difficulties, the imagination will be able to move surely and playfully, give its work life and light and shadow, and complete with ease what in a freer representation might be lacking.’

Gustav Klimt, Lady with Muff, 1916

Gustav Klimt, The Black Feathered Hat, 1910

The poetic liberties of a caprice! Lightness and humor joined with thoroughness and deeper study! It sounds as if Schumann were characterizing his own work, from Op. 1 to Op. 23. From 1830 to 1840 (Op. 1 to Op. 23), he had written piano works exclusively. During this decade, the piano was for him a universal instrument, capable of expressing his most secret intentions, as it was for Chopin, who for his part—unlike Schumann and Liszt—was content all his life with this universal instrument. In the hands of the three masters, it was in actuality an entirely different instrument from what it had been in the hands of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and even the ‘brilliant’ Weber. It achieved its new, incomparable style. One can orchestrate a Beethoven, Schubert, or even Weber piano work (such as The Invitation to the Dance) but one can no longer do that satisfactorily with Schumann’s Kreisleriana, with a Liszt étude, or with Chopin’s A-flat major Prélude, any more than—vice versa—one can transcribe for piano a Berlioz orchestral work.

Again, it is a matter of the mastery of a new realm of magical sound. This mastery includes, of course, not only technique but also the widening of the compass, the hinting at melodies, basses, and middle voices, the variety in tone color in the two hands, scales in double-notes, leaps, new finesse in the use of staccato and legato, etc. It includes a new realm of style, of freer expression, of more rapid alternation between intimacy and brilliance, between softness and sharpness. And corresponding to this new content, which with Schumann always had poetic backgrounds, there was also the new, kaleidoscopic form. One need only glance at some of the titles of Schumann’s piano works to become aware of his predilection for this kaleidoscopic form—the Papillons, Op. 2; the Intermezzi, Op. 4; the Impromptus on a Theme by Clara Wieck, Op. 5; the Davidsbündler Dances, Op. 6; the ‘Scènes mignonnes’ entitled Carnaval, Op. 9; the Phantasiestücke, Op. 12; the Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15; the Kreisleriana, Op. 16, the Novelletten, Op. 21, the Nachtstücke, Op. 23, etc.

Gustav Klimt, Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann, 1901

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904

To understand fully the poetical backgrounds for this form of quick alteration between contrasting sections, one needs to study carefully Schumann’s two favorite authors, E. T. A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, known as Jean Paul. In the midst of the Kreisleriana there stands a Hoffmannesque figure, passionate, impelled by mysterious, demoniac powers, Capellmeister Kreisler, from Hoffmann’s Phantasiestücke, Part II. It will be observed that in Schumann we again encounter this title, as well as that of the Nachtstücke (among Hoffmann’s writings, the work so named consists of eight tales). A still more mysterious and veiled role, however, than that of the ‘phantom Hoffmann’ is played in Schumann’s piano works by Jean Paul (1763-1825), the sentimental-humorous poet, half idyllic and imaginative, who has become for us today practically insufferable, but who in his time was of greater influence upon bourgeois Germany than was Goethe himself. In one of his happier works, the Flegeljahre, he tells of twin brothers, Walt and Vult, who—as Wilhelm Scherer has expressed it—‘one awkward, ungainly, shy, with a childlike dreaminess and impracticality; the other nimble, powerful, brave, stormy and satirical; both come from his own soul and represent the two sides of his nature as a poet and as a man’.

Quite similarly, Schumann personified the divisions of his own ego: in Florestan, vehement, enthusiastic, fiery; in Eusebius, youthful, dreamy; in Raro, mature, calm, the master. They are the Davidsbündler, the members of David’s League, a secret order which has rallied about the great, the genuine, the progressive, and which is directed against everything shallow, merely pleasant, mediocre, Philistine. The fraternity which Liszt in his Six Essays (1835) wished to organize lived in Schumann’s soul. Florestan, Eusebius, Raro—they are all ‘Beethovenites,’ ardent admirers but not imitators of Beethoven. They seek the key to a hidden, Romantic realm of the future, upon ‘new paths.’ Taking up each of Schumann’s piano works—and not only his piano works—one can say whether it came from Florestan, Eusebius, or Raro. Sometime at the end of each movement the composer himself indicated the ‘author’ or pair of authors by initials, for example in the Davidsbündler Dances, Op. 6, whose musical motto comes from C. W.: Clara Wieck, the beloved, idolized female member of the society, later Schumann’s wife.

Klimt, M. S.-Wittgenstein, 1905

Gustav Klimt, Lady with Hat and Featherboa, 1909

Schumann did not exactly write program music. What he created was, to be sure, poetically-inspired music, but it was music. The play of contrasts in his kaleidoscopic ‘miniatures’ does not follow an arbitrary ‘program’, but rather conforms to purely musical law. We have here, clearly, the refined development of the individual parts to which the pianistic art of Schumann owes its ever-renewed charm. Here there is play with little seeds of melody; there is alternation between enchanting ornament and passages formed in strict Bach-like style, between harmony powerfully definite and that indefinitely floating, gliding in and out, between most simple and most clever rhythm. After the Intermezzi and the Carnaval, the most original and at the same time most well-developed of these piano works are perhaps the Novelletten, Op. 21, the Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26, the Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, and above all the Kreisleriana, Op. 16, in which all opposites, from the most weird to the most resplendent, stand within a unified frame. A different sort of work, yet one that is immortal and full of Romantic spirit and love for simplicity and innocence, is his Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15. These short pieces have their counterparts in the sketches and woodcuts of a German artist, Ludwig Richter.

Even when Schumann did not avail himself of the ‘kaleidoscopic’ form and resorted to the Classical pattern of the sonata—as in his sonatas in F-sharp minor (Op. 11), G minor (Op. 22) and F minor (Op. 14)—he remained a Romantic, not led by the Beethovenian model or any other Classical model. The Allegro of the F-sharp minor sonata originally bore the title ‘Fandango,’ the wild dance of a desperate couple—Florestan and Chiara. The F-minor sonata consisted originally only of a fantastic Allegro and similarly fantastic variations, and it is questionable whether it gained much by the addition of a scherzo. In the G-minor sonata the place of the slow movement is filled by a romance of the most extreme compactness and intimacy. A fourth work of this sort, the most beautiful, dedicated to Franz Liszt, renounces the title ‘sonata’: it is the C-major Fantasy, Op. 17. As to the ‘content’ of the three movements, the original titles, later suppressed, may give some clue: ‘Ruins,’ ‘Triumphal Arch,’ ‘Constellation’. As to their Romantic intention, note the motto, four lines by Friedrich Schlegel, which Schubert had once set to music: ‘Through all the tones there sounds / Throughout the colorful earth / A gentle tone, sustained, / For him who secretly hears’. In this work a dream of the Romantics had become a reality, through the most delicate musical resources, the most carefully considered pianistic means. Here virtuosity stands completely at the service of poetic music, of musical poetry.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Fritza Riedler, 1906

VIDEO: SCHUMANN PIANO WORKS

Schumann : Geistervariationen | Cédric Pescia

Schumann: Kinderszenen | Martha Argerich

Schumann: Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6 | Cedric Pescia

ALBUMS ON SPOTIFY: SCHUMANN PIANO WORKS

Schumann: Carnaval | Claudio Arrau

Schumann: Piano Pieces | Maria João Pires

Schumann: Kinderszenen | Argerich

Schumann: Op. 17 & 12 | Argerich

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SCHUMANN: THREE BOOKS

SCHUMANN IN ‘MARA, MARIETTA’

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Nine Chapter 3

Dramatic is the introduction; agitated, syncopated, the figure that holds the forms together: Seated in the intimacy of the salon, Klaas in an armchair beside me, I watch you and Ingrid playing Schumann’s second violin sonata. Ingrid, you’d told me, feels a particular sympathy with Schumann’s music; when it is sombre and unsettled, as here, when it stands still and become a mere murmur, leaving you with nothing to hold onto anymore, that’s when she comes into her own: Her perceptiveness is served by a touch of the highest sensitivity. As one both passionate and introspective, dreamily inward and expressive, she responds to both strands of the composer’s character. You hadn’t been a fan of Schumann’s violin music, you’d found his tendency to stay in the lower register unattractive and his writing somehow lacking. And then Ingrid played you on the piano the violin part of his violin concerto, and you found it marvellous. As you worked on the sonatas during your previous visit, you found her depth of understanding, her affinity with the music’s psychological underpinning, so impressive that you had no choice but to raise your game. And so, challenging your preconceptions, you found the fingerings and bowings that rendered the right nuance for every note, the right inflexion for every bar, and thereby revealed the astounding expressiveness of the music. Now as I listen to you I cannot separate melody from accompaniment, and so I cue my heart to the rhythmic pattern and consider the duo constituted by the two of you.

Odilon Redon, The Dream, n.d.

Odilon Redon, Girl with Chrysanthemums, 1905

Clearly, your friendship is creative, vitalized by the tension between connection and separateness; clearly, there’s an easy reciprocity between you. And yet as Ingrid moulds this mercurial composition, never letting a note slip from her control, I don’t find it difficult to imagine her as shaky, weepy, out of control. There’s an extraordinary intimacy to your performance, you are playing for yourselves alone. Still, I can imagine Ingrid as a nine-year old, playing on stage for the first time; I can imagine how she felt herself the focus of attention, at last recognized. Did she decide right there that this was her destiny? That this was the way to win back her mother, her mother permanently in mourning for her first daughter, killed in an accident? Yes, her mother devoted herself to the dead sister (as you told me last night) and used whatever energy she had left to dote on the brother. And yet, I imagine however great the acclaim, the only regard that ever counted never came. Is it that disjunction between the applause received and her inner need that gives her beauty an intimation of the tragic?

When she fell for you, opening herself to intimacy, was she rebelling against the personality she had built? And you, when you met her, were you craving distance? Was your sense of self no longer feminine and affiliative, were you now in a masculine mode, emphasizing difference? Was that where you were at when Ingrid fell in love with you?

Restless, life pours forth from your violin; always on the edge of passion or introspection, it sings. With it, Ingrid’s piano sustains a fluent conversation. The blended texture of the music does not give opportunity for solo display: It is as one that the two of you play. Again I am struck by Ingrid’s face, her aura of vulnerability, of disinterested sovereignty.

The music, sombre and unsettled, comes to an end. Ingrid stands up, you put your violin down; approaching one another, you fall into each other’s arms. I am moved, moved by Ingrid’s emotion as the hounds of love assail her heart.

Odilon Redon, Red Thorns, n.d.

Odilon Redon, Profile on Tapestry, 1902

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Nine Chapter 7

– You’re really immersed in Schumann these days, Marietta tells me.
– Yes. Chopin is perfection, Schumann is flawed. But I engage more with Schumann, I can bring out more. I love the tensions in his music, the emotional extremes.

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Nine Chapter 8

Spontaneously Ingrid began playing ‘Of Foreign Lands and People’, the first of Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood. You stretched out on the sofa and lay your head in my lap. As the limpid tenderness of the melody drew me back into my interiority, I knew that if anyone can meet me there, it is you. In the fire of your soul you forged yourself when your world fell apart; to a beat away from your last breath you starved yourself to be free. And when your lover, your one and only, was thrown to his death from a motorcycle, you faced down the Furies and wailed yourself well. When the structures of competition offered you a way into the world, with pencil and paper, with violin and bow, you played to win and won. And I, born into emptiness, had but a flame in my heart, a gentle flame in the last redoubt. And with me, always, the chill chafing of a hand, the hand of madness awaiting me should the flame go out. Listen! Nostalgia makes distance intimate: Ingrid is conjuring grace from sadness. Resonant interiority, a slow cadence of chords: Silence, and a deeper silence.

Odilon Redon, Druidess, 1893

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