ROBERT SCHUMANN: CARNAVAL OP. 9 (1834/5)

Robert Schumann’s Carnaval features the seemingly limitless creativity of the composer’s early years, paying homage to the most influential and beloved persons in his life, and depicting the stock figures of the classic improvisation theater ‘Commedia dell’Arte’, the inspiration for many carnival disguises and masks.

1. Préambule/introduction (A-flat; Quasi maestoso)

A majestic march followed by buzzing excitement as if a crowd gathers. The movement is interspersed with motives that will appear throughout the piece.

2. Pierrot (E-flat; Moderato)

A clown character of the Commedia dell’Arte with a white sad face and white loose fitting clothes. In Schumann’s Carnaval Pierrrot is depicted as a rough moody drunk.

3. Arlequin/Harlequin: (B-flat; Vivo)                                                                   

A light hearted and nimble servant character of the Commedia dell’Arte. His attributes of an agile trickster have made Harlequin a favorite comedy figure.

4. Valse noble (B-flat; Un poco maestoso)

A majestic waltz, possibly a musical interlude in the Carnival party.

5. Eusebius (E-flat; Adagio)

One of Schumann’s alter egos, a shy introvert and a fictitious character used as one of the contributors to Schumann’s publications.

6. Florestan (G minor; Passionato)

Another alter ego character of the composer, Florestan is the opposite of Eusebius, a passionate extrovert depicted with brilliant self-interruptions, sudden ideas, and quotes from Schumann’s own opus 2 Papillon.

7. Coquette (B-flat; Vivo)

A female character, who likes to win the attention or admiration of men, but does not have serious feelings for them. Schumann describes this character in the most irresistibly charming way.

8. Réplique/response, reaction (B-flat-G minor; L'istesso tempo)

A follow up on the character ‘Coquette’, taking over its thematic material into a duet. Perhaps Madame Coquette’s flirtation was successful…?

--. Sphinxes: (by James Wilding)

A Sphinx is a mute legendary Greek figure with a human head and a lion’s body. Sometimes the term is used to describe an enigmatic person. Schumann notates these three small pieces in silent notation using letters that can be used in German musical notation. Many performers skip this small segment.

For this performance composer James Wilding has created a work using not only those musical notes Schumann wrote, but also quotes from Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in b-minor op. 119 no. 1. Johannes Brahms was a close family friend of Clara and Robert Schumann. In Wilding’s composition, the silence of the Sphinxes is reflected in a silent note segment paying tribute to Schumann’s idea of the Sphinxes.

9. Papillons/butterfly, bow tie (B-flat: Prestissimo)

A French term describing a social butterfly, a young man who likes to party, and to enjoy an active social life. Horn calls at the beginning might be a satiric reference to a ‘hunting season’. The French term ‘papillon’ for a social butterfly is now outdated, but was common in Schumann’s lifetime. 

10. A.S.C.H. – S.C.H.A: Lettres Dansantes/dancing letters (E-flat; Presto)

Here the German music notation letters A-flat, E-flat, C and B-natural, are dancing, if in imagination or reality is left to the creative listener.

11. Chiarina (C minor; Passionato)

A depiction of Clara Wieck, who was 16 years old at the time of the composition of Carnaval. In this piece Schumann pays homage to Clara as a strong girl with lots of charm and depth.                                                                                                   

12. Chopin (A-flat; Agitato)

This movement is dedicated to Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann’s only three months older contemporary.

13. Estrella (F minor; Con affetto)

Dedicated to Ernestine von Fricken, this piece reflects the nobility and pride of Schumann’s fiancée at the time.

14. Reconnaissance/recognition (A-flat; Animato)

A scene about the joy of recognizing somebody at a party. The middle section describes a dialogue between two people, the outer sections depict the excitement of recognition.

15. Pantalon et Colombine (F minor; Presto)

Both Pantalon and Colombine are stock figures from the classic improvisation theater Commedia del’Arte.

Intelligence, money and ego are the main characteristics of Pantalon, who is often depicted as an old widower making passes at young ladies.

16. Valse allemande (A-flat; Molto vivace)

Here Schumann presents a dance interlude, a typical German Waltz interrupted by the appearance of Niccolo Paganini in: 

Intermezzo: Paganini (F minor; Presto)

This scene evokes the sudden appearance of Niccolo Paganini, the famous and enigmatic concert violinist. The Paganini movement leads back to the Valse allemande now to be played faster, as if the dancers were electrified by Paganini’s appearance.

17. Aveu/confession (F minor-A flat; Passionato)

A confession, perhaps of love, this scene leaves room for speculations.

18. Promenade/walk, stroll (D-flat; Con moto)

Now the party takes momentum, the crowd gathers perhaps in anticipation of the final two scenes.

19. Pause (A-flat; Vivo)

The penultimate scene recalls sounds from the opening. A crazy whirlwind without tune, a buzzing rush before the final culmination:

20. Marche der "Davidsbündler" contre les Philistins/march of the league of David against the philistines (A-flat; Non allegro)

Schumann created the League of David, a fictitious literary society, to defend contemporary music against its detractors. Its two leading members were Eusebius and Florestan (see mvts. 5 and 6). The society fought against the influences of the ‘Philistines’, representing the stuffy and old-fashioned bourgeoisie. Quotations of previous scenes in combination with the march theme are ‘interrupted’ twice by the Grandfather Dance, a 17th century German folk tune, representing here the inartistic and arcane. An overall increasing tempo leads the movement to an exciting finale, and to the victorious conclusion of Robert Schumann’s Carnaval.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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