(1810-1856) Complete Works For The Piano
Early Years, Opus 1-6 (1830-37) From Abegg Variations op.1 to
Davidsbündlertänze op. 6 Two CD Set
Robert Schumann is the
archetype of the romantic artist.
He is the poet of the notes. It is impossible to understand his musical
works without connecting them with literary sources as the composer
Unlike Chopin where music is an end by itself, with Schumann, music is
the true expression of poetry. One may say for instance Kreisleriana,
the Novelettes and the Carnaval or the Humorésque are all
interpretations of the poetry by mostly E.T.A. Hoffmann and others.
Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (commonly abbreviated as E. T. A.
Hoffmann; born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a
German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror, a jurist,
composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist. His stories form
the basis of Jacques Offenbach's famous opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in
which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also
the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker is based. The ballet
Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, and
Schumann's Kreisleriana is based on Hoffmann's character Johannes
Kreisler. Hoffmann's stories highly influenced 19th-century literature,
and he is one of the major authors of the Romantic movement. [from
The Piano Works by Schumann can be divided into three or four periods.
First from opus 1 to 28 and 32. This 10 years period is exclusively
devoted two works for the piano.
The second part of his career, up to 1845, which a period off deep
crisis, shows a more diversified output.
Starting from 1848 again we have more works for the piano. After that,
the piano will be, again, his confident for the last works.
Dense polyphonic textures are always present in Schumann's piano works.
For Schumann, the counterpoint was always a spontaneous process.
Shortly after a somewhat saloon-like style in the Variations Abegg
(op.1) and Papillons (op.2) comes a time of high virtuosity.
Following that, the composer gets involved in the large forms: Sonatas
and Symphonies. For all composers following the Beethoven idea, large
musical form became an obsession. Robert Schumann is no exception with
large sonatas and with the Fantasie opus 17
Starting from 1837 his musical output runs at full throttle. This is
when he will compose Davidsbündlertänze and the Phantasiestücke. Those
are still successions of lyrical short pieces, but unlike Papillons or
the Carnaval, here we have large structured cycles. It was such a
prolific time of his entire life that he will later use some parts and
pages from those times in Bunte Blatter op.99 and Albumblatter op.124.
It is also amazing to note that the pianistic écriture of Schumann is
more orchestral and his orchestrations are very much pianistic.
Variations on the name "Abegg", op.1 (1830)
The official opus one of Robert Schumann, the variations are from 1830.
Schumann was just twenty at the time.
Abegg was the surname of a girl, Meta Abegg, which he met in a ballroom
Schumann was always fascinated with names (letters) and musical notes
correspondence as it appears in the German spelling of notes. Starting
from A (a), in German language B stands for B-flat, H for B natural.
The correspondence of the name BACH to music notes: B(-flat); A; C and
H (B natural) is a well known example. So he built up his theme for
those variations on the letters-notes ABEGG.
To make believe he was in some relation with an important lady he did
dedicate the work to some imaginary countess Pauline von Abegg.
The theme expands as an ascending sequence of those letters (ABEGG)
followed by its retrograde: G-G-E-B-A.
Mostly in the style of light saloon-music, the work is not unlike
Hummel's or Moscheles' light virtuosity and charming pieces. There is,
nevertheless, some very personal touches. The syncopated lines of the
second variation and some modulations at the Finale are very personal
Papillons, op.2 (1829-1831)
Even though Papillons were composed mostly in 1830, the original drafts
trace back to 1829 and even earlier. Their overall organization
precedes the official opus one: Variations Abegg. Basic musical
material of Papillons can be traced back to earlier waltzes and
polonaises for four hands that remained unpublished.
There is so much Schubert in it that Schumann teased people by claiming
that the number eight of Papillons was actually an unknown, unpublished
piece by Schubert.
Nevertheless, the literary sources of this work are far more important
than the musical allusions to the music by Schubert. Actually
"Papillons" is a turning point in the work of Schumann but also in the
musical history as well. For never before literature was transposed to
music with such acuteness.
Flegeljähre ("awkward age") a well-known novel (1804 - 1805) by Jean
Paul (Richter) that Schumann admired is the main source of inspiration.
Jean Paul (born Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, 1763 - 1825) was a
German Romantic writer, best known for his humorous novels and stories.
Jean Paul occupies an unusual position in German literature and has
always divided the readers in two camps. Some hold him in the highest
veneration while others treat his work with indifference.
Jean Paul habitually played with a multitude of droll and bizarre
ideas: his work is characterized by wild metaphors as well as by
digressive and partly labyrinthine plots.
Three main characters in Flegeljähre are: Walt, the author's alter-ego,
his opposite: Wult and Wina, the loved girl. Walt and Wult are already
some prefiguration of Florestan and Eusébius.
An early appearance of the bi-polar character in Schumann's
personality. The choice of Jean Paul's novel exhibits that already,
Schumann as a young man of twenty is unsure about the path to follow in
his life: poetry or music?
The final scene of Flegeljähre presents a fantastic and unreal masked
ball where brothers Walt and Wult deliberately switch masks to create
confusion. Understanding of this scene is of vital importance to
Opus two is made of twelve short pieces opened by a very short
After the "raising of the curtain" (Introduzione) begins a short waltz,
which will be later quoted in the sixth piece "Florestan" of Carnaval
(opus 9, 1835).
Here, Walt enters the vibrating and crowded ballroom (piece number
one). There appears briefly the first "papillon", Wult, in a rush
(Prestissimo, piece number two). But, besides Wult appears a grotesque
vision: a lone boot wandering by itself, that is piece number three
sort of one grotesque canon with octaves at both hands.
The following piece, number four, represents masks. There are plenty of
them: the "hope" (the mask of Wult); a shepherdess; a little nun; one
Next number (five) in B-flat major is a more extensive piece and
This is followed by another kind of waltz. number six, and Schumann
said that it was the crucial moment where Walt and Wult switched the
Sliding from F minor to A-flat major, number seven is where Wult
confesses to Walt his love for Wina. Yet, Walt is the one to win the
favors of Wina, in number eight, he brushed past the back of Wina like
a wing of a butterfly (papillon).
Various waltzes follow each other in numbers nine to eleven. Time to
conclude: the Finale (number twelve), is mainly built with the popular
German tune Grossvater-tänz, (grandfather-dance) and its ironic reply
together with a vanishing reappearance of the first waltz, heard in
number one, which disappears progressively.
Grossvater-tänz is a curious old German family-dance of the 17th
century, which was greatly in vogue at weddings. It consisted of three
parts, the first of which was an Andante in triple time, sung to the
"Und als der Grossvater die Grossmutter nahm,
Da war der Grossvater ein Bräutigam"
"And when the grandfather took the grandmother,
Then the grandfather was a groom"
to which succeeded two quick phrases in 2/4 time. As this dance usually
concluded an evening, it was also called the 'Kehraus' (clear-out). So
Schumann paraphrased it at the Finale of Papillons.
The critics acclaimed this new work and the inventiveness of the young
op.3 Études after Paganini Caprices (1832)
Schumann devoted himself for many years to his double vocation of
pianist and composer. He soon realized that Abegg and Papillons were
just starters and he needed to learn much more.
He intensively studied new compositional techniques and even with the
Intermezzi opus 4, from 1832 he engaged on a more elaborated musical
For all artists of the time, Berlioz and Liszt included, Nicolo
Paganini represented the ultimate in artistic virtuosity. Schumann did
listen to Paganini in 1830. He was so much impressed that he composed
his studies opus 3 and later on opus 10 titled Études d'après des
Caprices de Paganini.
He qualified "herculean works" those twelve pieces and experimented
with them many pianistic possibilities. With those experiments he could
embark on his new piano works with a much extended background.
The two volumes after Paganini are from 1832 and 1833, so Schumann
preceded Liszt whose Paganini Études however are better known.
Even though Liszt's Études are far more showy and spectacular than
Schumann's, they are aimed differently. Schumann himself, clarified the
comparison by saying that Liszt did compose Études for the bravura
where himself aimed to reveal the poetic content of the original music
Liszt wanted to create by extrapolation, new pianistic possibilities
from the violonistic effects of the Italian virtuoso; Schumann, on the
other side, wanted to expand the latent harmonic content of the pieces.
He relates in one letter that deciphering the latent harmonies in the
Caprices for violin solo has been for him a challenge on music theory,
also emphasizing that the instrumental technique was for him
indistinguishable from musical content.
He seemed quite happy with the results because he goes on: "even if I
speak about an "adopted child", I "raised" him with diligence and great
The two series (opus 3 and opus 10) are actually quite different from
each other. The titles show the subtle distinction in the approach.
Opus 3 is named: "Études d'après des caprices de Paganini" (Studies
after the Caprices by Paganini) while opus 10 is titled: "Six Études de
concert composées d'après des Caprices de Paganini" (Six Concert
Studies Composed after the Caprices by Paganini). As the subtle wording
of the titles suggests, the second set is less following the violin
virtuoso composer's music literally and is more personal to Schumann.
Schumann related that he was admiring the "audacity and the grandeur of
the ideas" as well as the enthusiastic and unleashed vision" of
Two of the Caprices treated by Schumann were also handled by Liszt: the
N.9 in E major in Paganini is the op.3 N.2 in Schumann and "La chasse"
N.5 in Liszt; Caprice N.6 in G minor by Paganini is the N.2 of the opus
10 by Schumann and N.1 in Liszt.
It is interesting to note that for this last number, in the first
publication of the series by Liszt (dedicated to Clara Schumann), the
Hungarian composer added the entire version by Schumann as an added
musical staff at the top of his own music, as if hinting for a
From the pianistic point of view, comparison between the opus 10 of
Schumann and Liszt's version, if appropriate, can only favor Liszt.
op.4 Intermezzi (1832)
At 22, this can be seen as the first masterpiece of the composer. This
compilation certainly deserves to be played more often.
The form "intermezzo" will be extensively used later on by Brahms.
Here, Schumann uses it for relatively developed pieces all in a ternary
for with a contrasting middle section that he strangely calls
"alternativo", may be for "Trio" as in scherzos.
The Intermezzos, which will be soon followed by the Impromptus on a
theme of Clara Wieck, op.5, are in the middle of this important period
of the grand-virtuosity cycle by Schumann.
Probably, the most important element by which this composition is a
unique step in the composer's evolution is the rhythm and how he
handles it. Here Schumann masters the use of all the key elements in
this field he will be using all his life: a very personal use of the
syncopations; dotted values; the ostinatos; the polyrhythms; two
different beats in two hands etc. Those elements combine with an
unprecedented harmonic audacity.
This rather "new" language is the vehicle for expressing the
"musical-poet"s sensitivity in full.
Schumann was considering this work as one of his best and mentioned
that in this particular work he confined himself to a "severe style",
probably referring to the extensive use of the polyphony.
op.5 Impromptus [on a theme by Clara Wieck] (1833)
Here again is one of the least known pieces of the composer, and
nothing justifies this abandon.
The Impromptus op.5 are the outcome of the happy summer of 1833, where
Schumann worked with Friedrich Wieck and fall in love with his fourteen
years old daughter Clara.
All three characters are in this interesting work. The opus 5 is
dedicated to Friedrich Wieck for his birthday in August 1833, it is a
series of Variations on a theme by Clara which are based on a bass-line
given by Robert who received in return, a series of brilliant
variations that the young girl composed on his theme!
The name "impromptus" is a kind of hommage to Schubert but the work is
a series of variations just in the middle point between the Variations
Abegg and Études Symphoniques op.13.
Schumann worked exhaustively on Bach during that time. He wrote:
"during all that time I cultivated Bach. In this ambiance the
Impromptus opus 5 were born".
At the end however, he was not that satisfied with it and later on, for
a second publication in 1850, he re-wrote important parts of it.
op.6 Davidsbündlertänze (1837) (The Dance of
On the third of April 1834 was issued the first number of the Neue
Zeitschrift für Musik (New Musical Journal) founded by Schumann.
The composer himself was the author of most of the articles in it. He
used three pen-names according to the mood of the writing. "Florestan":
man of action, dashing, passionate, bold and daring, somehow
chivalrous; "Eusébius": the depressive, tender and sentimental dreamer
and a wise mediator: "Maître Raro" who was incarnating in some aspects
his to be father-in-law: Friedrich Wieck at least before the furious
opposition of the piano teacher to the marriage of his daughter with
the young composer did not alter definitely their relations.
Right from the beginning of the gazette, Schumann added a tribe of
characters, more or less imaginary even though most of them are based
on real persons. One of those are the Comrades of David, unified in
their strong opposition with the Philistines of the Art. Schumann
himself took the part of David.
The comrades of David were meeting at Kaffebaum, a Leipzig tavern they
renamed for the circumstances: Ludlamshöhle after the name of the cave
Adullam. The Cave of Adullam was originally a stronghold referred to in
the Old Testament, near the town of Adullam, where future King David
sought refuge from King Saul.
Mendelssohn and the young Wagner were among the first contributors to
the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. However, on theory, according to
Schumann the "brotherhood"
included Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Berlioz as opposed to the
Philistines: Rossini, Herz, Meyerbeer, Czerny, Pleyel, Thalberg among
others. That included the conformist and reactionary critique and the
bourgeois public hostile to anything new in music.
The Davidsbündlertänze, one of the greatest compositions of Schumann
was born in 1837, while he was fervently hoping to conquer Clara's love
and hand in marriage and pursuing his activism for the new music.
A work of struggle for modernism, freedom, new ideas in harmony,
tonality, rhythm and musical form, the opus six is almost a manifesto.
The first publication, two volumes with nine numbers each, in 1838 was
not mentioning any composer's name, it was just titled: "Pièces
caractéristiques composées par Florestan et Eusébius" (Characteristic
Pieces Composed by Florestan and Eusébius). Schumann apposed his
initials at the end of each piece.
In 1850, the second publication was issued, he removed his initials as
well as the ending "-tänze" who, nevertheless, remained in the common
usage, it is true that most pieces do have dancing-like aspects.
Besides the surprising flexibility of the harmony and tonality one
shall mention the overall organizing of the cycle which is far from
Pieces one to five are orbiting around G major, B minor and its
relative D major. By simply changing the mode to D minor, the sixth
piece leads us in the flat-key regions. The journey into the flat-keys
include G minor, E-flat major, C minor, [C major] and D minor.
The listener remains in the flats up to the number ten. Again by
switching modes from D minor to D major we are back in the sharp-keys,
at number 11 we stay in the sharp-keys up to number 13.
A last and sudden switch from B major to E-flat major enharmonically
dives into flat keys with the number 15 included. Last two numbers and
the epilogue return to the keys of the beginning: G major, B minor and
The epilogue, in C major, is a flash back to the entire cycle.