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Home CDE84658 Schumann Piano Music
Papillons Op. 2 Carnaval Op. 9 Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op. 26
Pier Paolo Vincenzi - Piano
SOUNDS ARE HIGHER WORDS
"Schubert's variations are the most complete romantic image, a perfect novel in sounds; sounds are words but more sophisticated." Young Schumann's diaries are full of references to the extraordinary importance he himself attaches to the dualism of "word-music". Witness of all this is his life itself: the composer Schumann is flanked by the image of a literary Schumann, profound connoisseur of literature and thought of his time (The Schlegel brothers, Novalis, Jean Paul, Hoffmann), that of a Schumann capable of an infinitely poetic pen (the letters to Clara) and that of a Schumann who makes a supremely "political" use of the pen, if by politics we mean the militant mission that he attributes to the artist (critical writings).
Schumann is all of this, and it is emblematic that one of the great references of his first creative phase is Schubert himself, the one who from the juxtaposition of word and music had created that miracle that was his Lieder output. "Schubert is Jean Paul, Novalis and Hoffmann expressed in music", he will write again in his diaries.
Again, in a letter to the composer Gottlob Wiederbein, author of a collection of Lieder including "An Wina" - after a text by Jean Paul, he writes "Your Lieder gave me happy times, and through them I learned to understand the veiled words by Jean Paul…. ”.
Schubert as a reference, therefore, of the profound inter-dependency between words and music. But there, where in Schubert the two expressions are side by side and support each other in his compositions for voice and piano, in Schumann the path starts from another perspective, that is, from the word as inspirer of images, settings, emotions to be translated, amplified and lessened in music.
It’s well known that the reference in the drafting of the Papillons is Jean Paul Richter's Flegeljahre. In a letter from 1832, just after the publication of the Op.2, Schumann urges family members to "read the final scene of Flegeljahre as soon as possible" because "The Papillons are in fact the transposition of this masked ball into music". Again, in a letter to the critic Ludwig Rellstab, Schumann makes explicit reference to the last scene of Jean Paul's novel. Furthermore, it is in Schumann's personal copy of the Flegeljahre that, in chapter 63, there are simple annotations, numbers which, in fact, refer to the sections of the Papillons themselves.
However, it would be extremely limiting to think of this creative process as a sort of transposition of a literary text into music. What is clear, in Schumann's poetry, and in total continuity with the pattern and the artistic - and human - horizon that exudes from his writings, is a profound assimilation of the literary references dear to Schumann that he does not just "describe in music", but which become musical references to his poetry. Walt and Vult, who in Jean Paul are protagonists of the masked ball scene, become Florestan and Eusebius in letters, thoughts and in other works of extraordinary beauty, such as Carnaval. Later, still, Schumann will take over the imaginative world of E. T. A. Hoffmann in creating other great masterpieces.
Carnaval, therefore, is still immersed in that world inspired by Jean Paul which however is now completely internalised by Schumann. Another polyptych, therefore, alternating paintings, images and situations now completely central to Schumann's world. Still masks, with their symbolism and introspective implications, the “Lettres Dansantes" with many overlapping meanings, with the "Sphinxes" to guard the semantics and structure of the entire piece.
And here, in Carnaval, Schumann's world explodes with its references and citations into a tornado of colourful layers of meanings that continue to fascinate biographers and scholars. Schumann who quotes himself, and precisely the Papillons, and therefore still Jean Paul, Schumann who cites ancient themes of the seventeenth century, like the Grossvatertanz that recurs in Op.2 and in Op.9 (again dance, masquerade), Schumann who "quotes" Chopin's style, paying homage to the melodic structure of the poignant accompaniment of the left hand, or the impossible virtuosity of Paganini, and then the "political" Schumann in defence, with the Davidsbündler March against the Philistines, of what he believed to be the authentic values of art in his time.
But, in the wonderful madness of Schumann's thousand visions, a profound reference to Schubert, at the origin of the Carnaval itself, cannot be missing. The Préambule, which opens the Op.9, was originally created as an opener for a cycle of variations on Schubert's Sehnsuchtswalzer (the second of the dance cycle D. 365). The quote is veiled, not at all obvious, and the transfigurations in subsequent variations, incomplete in the sources but the object of valuable reconstructions in modern times, undoubtedly straddle the lightness of Schubert dances and the innovative development of Schumann's language when he was just over 20 years old …In the alternation of characters and situations, Schumann can only rely on the shape of the polyptych and the suites: the formal freedom that such a structure allows, far from "constraints" linked to the more "demanding" forms, allows the composer to be more unrestrained in the use of his own ideas and visions.
But Schumann is also a man of his time, and like every composer of his time he cannot fail to challenge the great pivotal architectures of the previous generation. Schumann's attitudes and treatment therefore of the sonata form are different, well explained in what he wrote in 1839 about the Mendelssohn’s Sonata Op.45 for cello and piano: “let it be written as sonatas or fantasias, who cares about the name! But don't forget the music. And the rest of you try to emulate it with your genius."Already with his Op.11 Schumann encloses within the term sonata a multiplicity of almost "juxtaposed" ideas (curiously Schumann himself will use similar words and concepts to describe Chopin's Op.35); Op.14, where he rises to the challenge in maintaining a more marked structural coherence despite the rhapsodic nature of the work; Op.22, in the compactness of its structure, is perhaps the one that most of all "adheres" to the classical form, to that great legacy left by Beethoven and Schubert with which all composers were sooner or later "required" to comply.
With regards to the classic form, therefore, and the Viennese legacy…during the trip to Vienna in the winter of 1838/39, the writing of the Faschingsschwank aus Wien, literally "Carnival Farce from Vienna”, begins. And here, the joke is evident, because the form is there, and the structure is also that of a sonata, perhaps in its most "linear" expression in terms of processing the thematic material. But to recognise the sonata you have to stand on your head: the Faschingsschwank is in fact an "inverted" sonata. An unbridled finale, in sonata form, with two very clear themes that chase each other in the ideal division between exposition, development and recapitulation, and, going backwards, an intermezzo, a scherzo (indeed, a scherzino) and a romance. To close, or rather to open the curtain we find, as in the most classic of sonata finales, a rondo, represented here by the majestic initial Allegro.
Is that all that makes up the "carnival farce"? Maybe not, maybe the joke is in having played in such an irreverent way with the form dear to excellence in Vienna without giving up the overflow of ideas proper to one's own poetry, and perhaps in having inserted in the initial Allegro an extraordinary quote from the Marseillaise, a hymn not exactly popular with the Viennese because of the events of only twenty years earlier.
So, with the Op.26 this ideal path between Schumann's "Carnivals" ends, a path that is born almost in a dream, is sublimated in the intimacy of the inner narrative and ideally resolves in play and mockery.
What is never given up, in this ideal path, is the extraordinary possibility of enjoying an extremely dense compositional style that offers, to those who want to explore it, the possibility of getting lost in the infinite mazes of meanings, allusions and citations, but which allows, to those who do not want to try this fascinating exercise, to enjoy "simply" pieces of pure poetry, among the highest peaks of romantic literature, not only in music.
Pier Paolo Vincenzi