The German composer Schumann
was a principal figure of the early Romantic movement in
The son of a bookseller, he soon became absorbed in literature, particularly that of the German Romantic writers E.T.A.Hoffmann and Johann Paul Richter.
He studied piano with the German teacher Friedrich Wieck, but a permanent injury to one of his fingers forced him to abandon the career of pianist.
One of the most archetypal of Romantic composers, Schumann characterised himself in two imaginary figures, the forceful Florestan and the poetic Eusebius, whose names he signed to his critical articles and whose musical portraits he drew in his piano suite Carnaval (1834-1835).
Schumann's piano works are largely musical expressions of literary themes and moods. His finest piano compositions consist of cycles of short pieces in which a single lyrical idea is brought to completion within a small framework.
Carnaval is the Schumann piece in which spontaneity, invention and superlative technique coexist most vividly. Written in September 1834, Carnaval is a series of tableaux, a masked ball in which one character after another takes centre-stage. It was described by the composer as "Little scenes on four notes", a reference to the exercise in creative cryptography by which Schumann proclaimed his love for Ernestine von Fricken through the music. The letters ASCH, which spell Ernestine's birthplace as well as a fragment of his own name, translate in German musical notation into the notes A, E flat, C and B. Permutations of these notes litter the entire score, generating the themes for the Carnival characters, some of them historical (Chopin and Paganini), others folkloric (Pierrot and Harlequin) and others incarnations of Schumann's various personae (Florestan and Eusebius). It concludes with a march of the Davidsbündler, in which the Philistines are put triumphantly to flight.
(1) Préambule. Quasi maestoso. Preamble.
(2) Pierrot. Moderato. Traditional character of the commedia dell'arte; a simple-minded, awkward servant, usually sad and wistful, dressed in loose white costume and with the face whitened.
(3) Arlequin. Vivo. Traditional character of the commedia dell'arte; usually dressed in in a mask, parti-coloured and spangled clothes, shrewd, opportunistic, and greedy. Always in search of food and female companionship, Arlequin had the anarchic wit and cunning of a mischievous child.
(4) Valse noble. Un poco maestoso.
(5) Eusebius. Adagio. Alter ego of Schumann himself; the poetic, introvert side of his character.
(6) Florestan. Passionato. Alter ego of Schumann himself; the forceful, extrovert side of his character.
(7) Coquette. Vivo.
(8) Réplique. L'istesso tempo (gentle and singing).
(9) Papillons. Prestissimo. Butterflies.
(10) A.S.C.H.-S.C.H.A. (Lettres dansantes). Presto. These "dancing letters" are common toSchumann's name and Ernestine von Fricken's hometown of Asch.
(11) Chiarina. Passionato. Clara Wieck, 15-year old daughter of Schumann's piano teacher, later Schumann's wife.
(12) Chopin. Agitato. The Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, a member of the Davidsbündler.
(13) Estrella. Con affetto. Ernestine von Fricken, age 17, to whom Schumann had become secretly engaged. "She has a delightfully pure, childlike mind, is delicate and thoughtful, deeply attached to me and everything artistic, and uncommonly musical", Schumann wrote to his mother in July 1834.
(14) Reconnaissance. Animato. Acknowledgment.
(15) Pantalon et Colombine. Presto / meno presto. Traditional characters of the commedia dell'arte. Pantalon (Pantaloon), a gullible merchant, attempted to disguise his old age in order to attract women by wearing tight-fitting Turkish clothes. Columbine, a servant or wife of one of the Old Men, demonstrated wit and charm in a world of stupidity, greed, and constant misunderstanding.
(16a) Valse allemande. Molto vivace.
(17) Intermezzo: Paganini. Presto. Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840), Italian composer and violin virtuoso, and a member of the Davidsbündler.
(16b) Valse allemande. Molto vivace.
(18) Aveu. Passionato. Confession.
(19) Promenade. Comodo. Walk.
(20) Pause. Vivo.
(21) Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins. Non Allegro. The Davidsbündler or "League of David" were named after the biblical King David, who played and composed music, wrote poetry and slew the Philistines. In declaring the purpose of his crusading journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Music Journal), Schumann wrote: "Our purpose ... is to remind our readers emphatically of the distant past and its works. ... Then, to attack as inartistic the immediate past, which is concerned merely with encouraging superficial virtuosity. Lastly, to help prepare and hasten the coming of a new poetic era."
Kreisleriana, subtitled "Fantasien", was
completed in four days during April 1838. Schumann wrote of opus
16: "The title can be understood by Germans only. Kreisler
is one of E. T. A. Hoffmann's creations, an eccentric, wild and
witty conductor. You will like much about him." For the
purposes of autobiographical confessions, Kreisler becomes none
other than Schumann himself.
Here the young fellow's romantic fantasy has free play. In opus 16 we find the dreamer with his foot on the pedal while the harmonies mingle and blur one another like rainbowed films of oil on flowing water. We hear chuckles and groans, cries of bliss and of anguish, tears of grief and tears of laughter. It is easy to appreciate the remark Robert made to Clara after finishing this suite: "My music now seems to me so wonderfully complicated, for all its simplicity, so eloquent from the heart."
Opus 16 opened new expressive possibilities for the subtle art of harmony, and offered to the discerning quite unheard-of innovations and hints of the future.
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