About this Recording
8.571301 - SCHUMANN, R.: Papillons / Carnaval / Arabeske / Waldscenen (Biret Solo Edition, Vol. 7)
English 

Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Papillons • Carnaval • Arabeske • Waldszenen

 

Robert Schumann is in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining in his music a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism, as he did in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. His father encouraged his literary and musical interests and at one time thought of sending him to study with Weber, a proposal that was abandoned with the death of the latter, closely followed by the death of Schumann’s father.

Schumann’s career now followed a more conventional course. In 1828 he entered the University of Leipzig, where his attention to his studies was as intermittent as it was to be the following year at Heidelberg. He was eventually able to persuade his mother and guardian that he should be allowed to study music under the well-known piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, whose own energies had been directed with some intensity towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. Schumann’s ambitions as a pianist, however, were frustrated by a weakness in the fingers, whatever its true cause, and his other musical studies had, at the very least, lacked application. Nevertheless in the 1830s he wrote a great deal of music for the piano, often in the form of shorter, genre pieces, with some extra-musical literary or autobiographical association. There was an affair with one of Wieck’s pupils, later broken off, but by 1835 he had begun to turn his attention to Clara Wieck, nine years his junior. Wieck had good reason to object to the liaison. His daughter had a career before her as a concert performer and Schumann had shown signs of instability of character, whatever his abilities as a composer might be. Matters were taken to an extreme when resort was had to litigation, in order to prevent what Wieck saw as a disastrous marriage.

Schumann’s career now followed a more conventional course. In 1828 he entered the University of Leipzig, where his attention to his studies was as intermittent as it was to be the following year at Heidelberg. He was eventually able to persuade his mother and guardian that he should be allowed to study music under the well-known piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, whose own energies had been directed with some intensity towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. Schumann’s ambitions as a pianist, however, were frustrated by a weakness in the fingers, whatever its true cause, and his other musical studies had, at the very least, lacked application. Nevertheless in the 1830s he wrote a great deal of music for the piano, often in the form of shorter, genre pieces, with some extra-musical literary or autobiographical association. There was an affair with one of Wieck’s pupils, later broken off, but by 1835 he had begun to turn his attention to Clara Wieck, nine years his junior. Wieck had good reason to object to the liaison. His daughter had a career before her as a concert performer and Schumann had shown signs of instability of character, whatever his abilities as a composer might be. Matters were taken to an extreme when resort was had to litigation, in order to prevent what Wieck saw as a disastrous marriage. recover from the bouts of depression that he had suffered in the earlier days of his marriage. Here again no official position seemed to offer itself and it was only in 1849 that the prospect of employment arose, this time in Düsseldorf, where Schumann took up his position as director of music in 1850.

Mendelssohn had enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Düsseldorf authorities, and Schumann, much less skilled in administration and conducting, proved even less able to cope with the difficulties that arose. The pressures on him led to a complete nervous break-down in 1853 and final years spent in an asylum at Endenich, where he died in 1856.

As a composer Schumann’s early piano pieces had been followed in 1840 by the composition of song after song, some 150 in the space of a year, a period that had brought the pressures of Wieck’s law-suit, although all had ended in a measure of final happiness. Clara Schumann now encouraged her husband to tackle larger forms, major orchestral works and operas. This did not prevent Schumann writing more songs and more shorter piano pieces, both of these being forms in which he excelled. His last songs and last significant short piano pieces were written in 1853.

Schumann’s Papillons (Butterflies) was completed in 1831 and includes some pieces written earlier. Dedicated to his sisters-in-law, it is in twelve short sections, based on the scene of a masked ball in the unfinished novel Flegeljahre by the writer known as Jean Paul, whose work had a strong influence on Schumann. The plot of Flegeljahre, a title that suggests the awkward years of adolescence, is concerned with the odd conditions imposed in a will by which a house is left to the first of the presumptive heirs to shed a tear and the greater part of the dead man’s wealth to Walt, provided that he fulfils a series of inconsequential tasks. At the ball Walt, and his brother Vult, a flautist, are present with their beloved Wina. Schumann himself summarised the sequence of events: Walt – Vult – the masks – Wina – Vult’s dancing – they exchange masks – confessions – rage, revelations – they rush away – the final scene and Vult leaves, playing his flute. The last piece brings the ball to a close with the Grossvatertanz (Grandfather Dance) and the striking of the clock, and the last chord of the finale vanishes little by little.

Carnaval, Op. 9, Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Charming Scenes on Four Notes) was completed in 1835. At the heart of the work are three Sphinxes, cryptograms based on German letter notation. E flat – C – B (Es – C – H), indicates Schumann; A flat – C – B (As – C – H) and A – E flat – C – H (A – Es – C – H) stand for Asch, the town where Schumann’s fellow-pupil Ernestine von Fricken lived, a girl with whom Schumann had contracted a secret engagement, abandoned when her illegitimacy was revealed. The notes of the Sphinx, a word used by Jean Paul indicating an evening species of butterfly, are generally omitted in performance, although their presence at the heart of the score reveals the source of the work. Schumann claimed to have added the titles after the pieces had been composed. They include, as a carnival masked ball should, the commedia dell’arte figures Pierrot, Harlequin, old Pantaloon and his young wife Colombine; the demon violinist Paganini dazzles in his brief appearance and Chopin is faithfully introduced. Florestan and Eusebius were pen-names used by Schumann in his music criticism, representing the impetuous and more deliberative sides of his character and writing. Chiarina is Clara Wieck, to whom Schumann’s thoughts began to turn, and Estrella is Ernestine von Fricken. Reconnaissance brings a re-union and Aveu a declaration of love, while Promenade, as Schumann later explained to the pianist Moscheles, was the kind of walk one might take arm-in-arm with one’s partner at a ball. The work ends with a march of the right-minded League of David against the Philistines, the enemies of art, represented by the Grossvatertanz.

Schumann wrote his Arabeske in 1839, dedicating it to Frau Majorin Friederike Serre auf Maxen, to whom he also dedicated Blumenstück. Major Serre and his wife were originally friends of Wieck and in 1837 had taken Clara to stay on their country estate at Maxen, to avoid Schumann’s attentions. In the autumn of 1838 Schumann had travelled to Vienna to explore the possibilities of moving his publication, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, there, if sponsors could be found. It was during this period of separation from Clara that he wrote his Arabeske, perhaps influenced by reading Christian Schubart’s book on musical aesthetics which suggested the identification of C major, the key of the Arabeske, with the childish and simple. The piece is in the form of a rondo, with two slower, minor key episodes framed by a gently lyrical principal theme.

Waldszenen (Forest Scenes) was written in 1848 and 1849, as the first decade of Schumann’s marriage, spent largely in Dresden, drew to an end. The period was one of political turbulence and an uprising against the King forced Schumann to take temporary refuge outside the city and Wagner, who had sided with the unsuccessful revolutionaries, to make his escape abroad. The nine scenes start with an Entrance, followed by a Hunter in Ambush and Lonely Flowers. The fourth piece, Haunted Spot, which Clara Schumann always excluded from her concert performances of the work, has at its head an eerie poem by Friedrich Hebbel:

Die Blumen, so hoch sie wachsen,
sind blass hier, wie der Tod;
nur eine in der Mitte
steht da im dunkeln Rot.

Die hat es nicht von der Sonne:
nie traf sie deren Glut;
sie hat es von der Erde,
und die trank Menschenblut.

(The flowers, so high they grow,
are pale here, like death;
only one in the middle
stands there in dark red.

The colour is not from the sun:
nor from its heat;
it is from the earth,
and drank of human blood.)

The following Friendly Landscape lightens the mood, with a pause at a Wayside Inn, a haunting Prophetic Bird, Hunting Song and final Departure.


Keith Anderson


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