GHOSTVARIATIONS WoO 24 (1854)

 

On February 27, 1854 Robert Schumann attempted to commit suicide by jumping into the Rhine river in his hometown of Düsseldorf, Germany, following extreme attacks of mental anguish and schizophrenia, that had become increasingly unbearable over the months leading up to this day.

 

During the previous week, and on this day, a constant perception of symphonic sounds and melodies raged through the composer’s head, ‘dictating’ him to write the theme of the ‘Ghost Variations’. Simultaneously angelic and ghost-like voices commanded him – in his fragile mental state – to attack his oldest daughter and his wife, both of whom he loved dearly. In an exasperated state of mind he decided to avoid tragedy by attempting to end his life. He left his house in a nightgown and made his way to the river.

 

Incidentally February 27, 1854 was Rose Monday, the culmination of the feast of Carnival, a traditional street festival with a rich culture of costumes and dances. The streets would have been filled with people wearing elaborate costumes: Pierrot with his white face, the pretty Columbine, Harlequin with his checkered suit. In the midst of the costume festivities nobody stopped the odd looking man heading towards the river in his nightgown. A boatman rescued Robert Schumann immediately once he had jumped into the icy water. He was brought back to his house in a desperate state. Soon after his arrival he wrote down Variations 1 through 5 of the Ghost Variations. Schumann was committed to an institution the following day, where he spent the remaining years of his life.

 

Due to these harrowing events, Clara Schumann - to whom the work is dedicated - jealously guarded the manuscripts. A facsimile was made available by its private owner only in the 1990s, which explains perhaps, why the Ghost Variations are not part of the standard repertoire, and why they are rarely heard in performance.

 

Theme – Leise, innig
Variation I
Variation II – Canonisch
Variation III – Etwas belebter
Variation IV
Variation V
Theme
– Leise, innig