Schumann considered “Symphonic sketches” to be his best composition for pianoforte, although he discouraged their performance because he judged them to be “too internalized”, or too personally selfreferential – an “introversion”; he also believed that the score was seriously complex. He believed that the general audience, accustomed to overt emotional expression, would not appreciate the subtle beauty of his deeply felt music. Often people do not understand the value of a particular work of art for centuries after its creation, but the author is always conscious of the true value of his work; of what he best manages to accomplish through that work.
Two centuries after the writing of this grandiose pioneering work, it has become obvious how correct Schumann wasto consider “Symphonic Etudes” as his best work for pianoforte. This work was so “futuristic” in its prophetic insights into the mysteries of the modern soul and its many facets, that until recently “classical musicians” and musicologists were notably unable to see in his music the real “mirror of the modern soul” of man in the late 20th, and early 21st century.
As in the case of Mussorgsky’s prophetic work “Pictures at an Exhibition”, it took almost two centuries before man’s soul and intellect would be suitably developed to fully comprehend the amazing “Symphonic Etudes” at a modern level, when the musical ideas embedded in these works of steel would be accessible to a mass listener, one who visits stadiums for jazz and rock concerts. But so far the widest audience of serious jazz and rock music has not heard this amazingly modern music, because of the conservatism, stagnancy and isolation of the “world of classical” music. Because of the inexcusable short-sightedness of the classical music performers who could not “see”, to recognize and convey to the broad listener these musical treasures. As always, with great composers, they were much ahead of their time, and their music has often been forced by humanity into the narrow framework of the “genre of classical music.”
Before you is the first edition of the acoustic test recording from Prague. It will provide listeners an opportunity, as in the case with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures”, to become acquainted with the great prophetic work of Schumann. As with the “Picture” record, I want to warn that after the editing and mastering is finished, the “commercial record” will sound much stronger, and otherwise it’s much richer in sound and its musical ideas are more expressively and fully realized.
“Libretto” – Program.
In works that composers consider to be the pinnacles of their creativity, their essence is fully manifested thru their spiritual-intellectual selves. So it happened in this work, where Schumann wanted to develop his romantic idea – to show thru music the transformation of the soul from death in the beginning to the triumph of light and life in the finale. Together with the romantic idea, the composer expresses the full measure of his soul.
In this uncomplicated “folk ballad”, there is music that does not originate from Schumann’s pen; the beginning of the theme represents a funeral procession. It is replaced by a light, pathetique and sublime sadness about a departed or fallen “hero.” Then we hear a mournful drum roll. The theme ends with a short statement, which “opens the stage” to the listener, escorting him or her into the world of life and transformation of the different states of the romantic hero-composer’s soul.
Variation 1 [1:45]
In the intense “electric” atmosphere of this variation’s music, Schumann demonstrates how the power of life, symbolized by cascades of short, ascending phrases, permeates the theme of death. This causes death to “step aside” and give way to life. In the middle we hear a small major deviation, symbolizing a pleasantly and abstractly “pondered” living soul. Lyrical digression is replaced by “electric” waves that awaken life.
Variation 2 [2:47]
In the impetuous romantic music of Beethoven’s character, we hear Schumann thinking about the romanticism of Beethoven, even “sending him greetings” though his intonations and a direct quotation of the rhythm and character of the “Moonlight Sonata” in the middle of the variation. This variation is an “exemplar” of the romantic, pathetique-ly enthusiastic attitude of the artist, awakening from the previously restrained times of the baroque and classic eras of the European soul. Music is exalted, full of the symbolism of the “conversations” between heaven and ocean, mountain peaks and abysses. It symbolizes the revolutionary changes of the European soul, rushing to free flight, to freedom without borders.
Etude III [6:46]
In this “sketch” the theme transforms into a marvelous beautiful romance. We hear the imitation of the cello in the middle voice. A cello is an instrument that expresses the “voice of the heart”. The voice of the heart is, of course, the voice of the composer himself. In the upper voice is the haze of remembrance, in which the image of Paganini reigns, and there is almost no work written by Schumann that excludes that “presence”, as he was shaken to the end of his life by the magical essence of the Italian musician.
Variation 3 [8:23]
In this song, Schumann uses epic, broad chords to sing “the anthem of life and freedom,” revealing with this variation a whole “block” of four variations dedicated to the joy of life. “The theme of death” has already been completely transformed into the “theme of life.”
Variation 4 [9:48]
In this variation we are shown the most intimate features of Schumann’s character. Schumann is full of graceful coquetry, and joking playfulness; Stately, but cheerful, even a little, “Lovelace-knightliness”, the sprit of chivalrous love. The music is full of grace and gaiety, aimed precisely at flirting with the “fairer sex”. And, like all truly romantic music, it is not without some nostalgic sadness, hidden between the fragile notes of a love game.
Variation 5 [11:07]
A seductive song of love and life, which becomes a funeral march. This song is also completely full of “acrobatic” jumps for the left hand in the bass. This makes the song especially tempting, since it shines with physical life-force.
Variation 6 [12:03]
“Toccata”, which Schumann turns into a “hymn of being.” His “ode to the joy” of life. But not the exalted epic “Gloria”, as the works of preceding masters from Handel to Beethoven, neither is it an ode to high poetics, but rather it is the earthly joy of being. It is Prowess and strength of Will – from earth removal and creation on earth, to the removal in a hot battle, when blood is boiling and death is not terrible, but sweet, like life itself. This is not music, but “intoxication with life.” Rare, only Schumann has a successful example of a special genre and character that many years later rock musicians will learn to utilize in forming their music of protest, fury and freedom.
Variation 7 [13:07]
Another amazing insight. “A crossing back in time” in the future. Here Schumann “sends greetings” to the masters of the Baroque. Using simple polyphonic music, in the style of heroic Passacaglias or courtly “improvisational preludes” on a cembalo, Schumann recites an incredible “call to freedom” by force. Freedom in all its manifestations – from freedom of expression to freedom of being. This is literally a “cry for freedom.” The music is so intensely charged with the notion of freedom that with its intonations, it brings to mind the “stadium” rocker’s “cries of freedom”, from the best examples of vocal creativity by Freddie Mercury.
Etude IX [16:06]
Here Schumann is immersed in his favorite element – the ball. In a dazzling scherzo, reminiscent of the Hoffmann’s fantastic tales, a luxurious dancing “crowd” falls before us. Not literally, of course, but “the spirit of the crowd” is what makes the music even more amazing. In the air, ladies and gentlemen are suspended; in the middle of the piece, there are magnificent hussars characterized by Hungarian dance cadences. These images are infused with the spirit of Paganini “flying” though fantastic space towards the hussars, while plucking a “diabolical pizzicato”. All this sparkling luxury dissolves in the air, which finally dies, like a cold whirlwind, in the traditions of the favorite works of Hoffmann or Bulgakov.
Variation 8 [16:44]
Dance-song of Austro-Hungarian coloration. Continuation of the ball, which becomes more and more real.
Variation 9 [17:54]
“Cruel romance.” This cannot be named otherwise – this is a duet of two women accompanied by a Spanish guitar. Female voices weave an amazing tenderness and passion into the theme of death. Twisting favorite themes of European poets and artists – “woman and death”, “love and death” is always there. A cry about love from the composer breaks through, culminating through women’s voices at the end. It is difficult to find in the world of musical literature such an open and strong sense of genuine earthly passion expressed by the pure soul of a great artist.
Variation 10 – Finale. [20:58]
Schumann intended to, and did show the procession to victory. The themes and content of the music are interlaced with chivalric plots about the “march in search of the Holy Grail.” Schumann could not get around this topic in the apotheosis of his grandiose music. The plot of “Ivanhoe,” which is based on an opera containing themes contemporaneous with Schumann, touches on the themes of the music in the finale, dictating the idea of the crusades and knightly deeds. It is the logical conclusion of the epic fresco about the ascension of the soul to happiness and the “victory of spirit and mind”.
In a kaleidoscope, we clearly hear the themes of “horsemen”. In music, clearly distinguishable cavalry detachments, which then go galloping, then calmly and cheerfully “trot” traveling in the “search for happiness.” We hear the themes of vows, prayers, battles, groans of the fallen, the cries of the victors. Before us is a huge “knightly musical fresco”.
The guns rumble – first in battle (bass), then, in the coda – the cannons are firing victory fireworks.
English CD Notes Prepared by Todd and Svetlana Harris
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Introduction. Part 1
The second “object” of our musical series appears to be so enigmatic for modern mind in its content, so whole, separate, so “non-musical”, that a preamble is required.
A philosophical “literary aesthetic “introduction. Without such an introduction even, specialist will have difficulties to understand musically-artistic images and details of the delicate world of Planet Schumann. We have to take some time” living through” the thoughts outlined in this intro part to have the ability to fly in the space of Schumann’s music, penetrate easily into his conscience, and understand every “curb” of this extraordinary world.
Last weekend we recorded three series. First – “Introduction” (literary intro), second – “Theme” (theme and its origin, symbols and meanings of it), third – “Three Etude-Variations” (1,2,3).
We’ve managed to calculate the final number of episodes – there will be 6 of them. So, there will be three big ones (about 1 hour each) video episodes: 8 variations (4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11) and finale, three working days in total. Previous idea – to make it in 2 working days – turned out to be too optimistic, nor would it be necessary to spend two months period of time, as it was with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at the Exhibition”.
I hope, within next two weekends our team would be able to finish “Schumann. Symphonic Etudes” series.
Today we will continue our long conversation about the most important piano compositions. For some reason they were not revealed in all their beauty as were conceived by authors.
Our first series were focused on “Pictures at the Exhibition” of Mussorgsky, there were a lot of misunderstanding for pretty clear reasons. Because of it, in 140 years’ time period, layers of wrong interpretations overflowed the performances of these wonderful compositions of Mussorgsky. That was due to the fact that both interpretation and performance were going in the wrong direction, as it was named “Pictures”. And these pictures distracted us from Mussorgsky’s inner world and were in the way of understanding the real essence of music.
Furthermore, Russian history had very tragic moments such as Russian apocalypse, blast, which in 1917 destroyed all the previous culture, and connection between different points in
time was broken. So much so, that the modern Russians now have tremendous difficulties to penetrate into the Russian consciousness of the previous era and previous culture.
The story is quite different with misinterpretation of Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes” that we are discussing today. It probably has something to do with the anthropological changes in humans; and also, with the quite enigmatic world consciousness, not the national consciousness, in the society today, as far as the mysterious world of romanticist-symbolist is concerned.
I want to underline that Schumann for me, and I think most of you will agree with me, is the creator of symbolism. He created it in music half century before symbolism got its embodiment in literature and poetry. It then moved from western culture into the Silver Age of Russian symbolism.
It’s very interesting that the world of Schumann, which we will observe and through which we will fly with the help of his music, is connected to Russian symbolism, to the poets of Russian symbolism even more then to representatives of the Western European romanticism.
In America, symbolism is represented by Edgar Poe, due to his famous poem “Raven”, which is full of dark fateful symbols.
These poetic symbols exist by themselves regardless the prototype, in their form as well as their content. This incredible Schuman’s achievement in creating these symbolic images in music later transferred into consciousness of the modern man. Now they live in musical cosmos, surrounding us everywhere: in pop-music, in rock-music, and in other kinds of entertainment, they became part of our lives.
Even without encoding, these musical symbols talk about emotional experience they consist off.
This is a new accomplishment for music and poetry, but mostly for music, when musical symbol begins to act the same way the words do. When we know exactly what the words mean and use language to explain verbal concept. Same way, due to Schumann, we know what the musical symbols mean and we can recognize them when come across them in the movies, rock-music or just when they pop up in our minds, doesn’t matter if it’s America or Russia, or even Asia.
Musical thoughts, born by Schumann, became some kind of human asset in substantial form. We associate them with some particular conditions or emotions, and they now can explain one or another human feeling even better than words.
Schuman became first who created many of such symbols: symbol of victory, symbol of horse racing, symbol of parade… We will see it all and follow it all.
How does he reach the level when his music is more expressive then the word? What was behind this idea that brought him at the height of his talent by the end of the 30s to this concept?
This musical composition stands by itself. Here Schumann developed his language of symbolism, abstracting himself from public opinion and public success. He was talking about it in a letter he wrote to Clara: “It’s very good that you are not performing this composition because it’s not for public but for itself.” He clearly understood that this music – “Symphonic Etudes”- will exist by itself and for itself.
But as a genuine artist he believed that time will come when his music by itself will turn to the people and will become understood and loved because of what it carries inside.
I want to draw your attention to this amazing confession of Schumann’s that this music is “by itself” and “for itself” but not for public. Schumann, 190 years ago, already understood that he is creating something very new and different. It was not a new genre, as genre was actually not new at all, but shape and content appeared to be revolutionary new. Two centuries later it’s still incomprehensible.
What is the reason for this? I’m connecting it with an idea of our estrangement from the world of romanticism. If in a verbal language we are reading symbols with the help of linguists, history and aesthetics, and using pictures, so we can recreate information for verbal language. But it doesn’t work so easily for music even with the help of interpreters because of its unique phenomena.
In literature we have many more patterns and comparisons than in music. And there are many more great writers than great composers, and only one Schuman with his romantic world of symbolism. Later, some others joined him, like Russian decadent and symbolist Scriabin, whose personality is still quite mystical. But they cannot be correlated at all, as Scriabin is just a local Russian poet and mystic, whereas Schumann is the creator of absolutely new world, world of universal musical symbolism, musical romanticism.
He is very distinguished from his wonderful friends and colleagues – Chopin and Liszt.
Out of three of them, Liszt is the most understood. He was a promoter of his own music. He played his full of decorations and effects compositions by himself, traveling the world and seducing wide range of public by his perfect and bright technique. But he was could not create the new and unique world to get into which is as desirable as it is hard.
Despite all his enigma and refinement, Chopin had tremendously difficult character, quite difficult, inconsistent, and broken. The combination of Polish-French, West-Slavic, Polish-Slavic and Gallic created highly explosive mix. When we work on the creation of musical series on Chopin’s compositions, we will take a closer look into his character, but still, he is much closer and more comprehensible, despite his fragile appearance and the combination of masculinity and capriciousness. Anyway, up until now, it’s still in our modern culture; and it’s quite easy to understand, but not easy to realize.
But world of romantic symbolism is different, it’s so distant. It’s so sublime, full of sentimentalism, where images make us cry in admiration. Such conditions are gone from our world as humanity doesn’t need them anymore because of non-functionality. The incredible fragility of Schumann’s spirit, the spirit of his music, has no place in the modern world.
Because of it, modern man cannot penetrate into Schumann’s character and his mind – into times of knights and lovely ladies: to be a lady’s servant, to be ready to die for the Beauty, all these knightly ideals. It’s all in his music. This is idealistic service to the Beauty, complete dissolution and complete distancing from reality, despite his desire for freedom and democracy. For example, we can hear shells explode in “Vienne Carnival”, and we can hear “Marseillaise”, so we can say he is responding to some events from the outside world, such as the French revolution, but only as much as it was affecting his free spirit, which all his life was striving for freedom and fought against philistinism.
What is the meaning of Philistinism? It’s bourgeois. He was fighting it in music, in art, all his life is screaming against bourgeois, against of the ordinary. War, mortal war, where the spirit has to obtain victory over the hateful materialism, which was so hard on him. In this world, his spirit was imprisoned. So, it’s so hard to understand all subtlety of his soul, infinite flights, “air bags” between notes, like pilots say when we fall down the “air pockets”.
So, he is all in such a freefall between his notes and sounds. He is flying, he is falling, he is out of gravity, his coquetry is so fine for our understanding, as well as his humor. It’s not a
frontal lobe humor, it’s very fine and delicate in everything he is doing or saying. It’s so romantic, poetic, beautiful and elegant, so not from this world…it’s beyond our imagination. To get into it, we have to transform ourselves into unworldly poet, full of life, humor, love and happiness, and unbelievably positive. No matter the drama and tragedy in his life, his character is incredibly positive.
Chopin is all about drama. He tends to minor key and tragedy. Liszt is down to earth. He is busy with philosophy between good and bad and has strong connections with earthly love that occupied him his whole life. But Schumann was born a poet, out of touch with reality. Meanwhile, he is not like other symbolists-romantics who are usually very gloomy, as it’s easy to be a romantic like Byron, to talk to the abyss, to fall down from the cliffs, as most romantics love it. He is nothing like it, no Werther syndrome, nothing. He is in some kind of rose heaven. “Rose” not because of color but because of rose flowers. It’s such an incredible character and spirit. Besides, he is German from north of Germany, from Leipzig, so such personality is very uncommon. It’s definitely an anomaly, an anomaly for the humans and an anomaly for the German nation. Such humor, elegance, nobility cannot be associated much with Germans. It does not bring any associations with the German nation which we associate with certain pedantry and straight forwardness. Such a surprising combination.
But let’s get back to Earth for a moment to touch on some technical questions.
When Schuman was thinking about this composition, he said: “I want to show the transformation of the theme”. This theme was sent to him by one music enthusiast: it was a theme without harmonization, monophonic, like a song.
Schumann perceived this theme as a funeral one, in his own words. For me, it sounds like an ordinary European ballad in minor key, some sort of song from the era of European knights. But, obviously, his consciousness is more tremulous then mine, and because of some minor key cues (we will follow them later), he assumed it a funeral motif.
He shared his plans about developing this funeral theme, and to transform it using more colors and traits, and give it a life-asserting ending. And he did it in a brilliant way, remarkably original, so I’m expecting our voyage will be very exciting at that point.
Now, as for the name Etudes. Here we have same problems with the interpretation as we had with “Pictures”. Pictures, pictures, pictures! And everyone looked at them, “illustrated” them, but totally forgot that Mussorgsky’s Pictures, (of which we made 6-hour series), were just a trigger that created storm of personal emotions for Modest Petrovitch. Whoever follows the
series of our musical shows, can precisely trace all the decryption of Modest Mussorgsky’s consciousness.
Same applies here: “Etudes”! Teachers in schools, conservatories, universities and high schools had pursued just utilitarian ideas in developing performance technique when they taught us that Chopin’s and Liszt’s compositions are romantic etudes. Only as a base! They were transcendent etudes, they were, and they are called like that not just because of difficulties in playing technique but because these techniques were supposed to create artistic images. The richest! The newest! The phenomenal! This only became possible thanks to the new technique Chopin and Liszt introduced to create images they wanted to convey.
It was not possible before as there was no such technique. But Liszt made it possible to see all his sunset harmonies, wandering fires, and surrealistic images through his unique technique. Chopin is showing us unlimited revolutionary images, hurricanes based on his new innovative technique so only such approach can be called “etudes”. This incredibly complicated technique serves as the base for new structures of Liszt and Chopin.
As I already said, Liszt and Chopin are quite easy and clear to understand, especially through etudes. Especially Liszt, with so much taken from outside in his easy to understand technique. He is more of a philosopher, publisher and educator, even more than he is a composer. All is obvious with him, even though it’s not so easy to create true artistic images. We know many performers of Liszt’s etudes but not many true finds and discoveries from the interpreters because even Liszt has big artistic objectives.
It’s even worse with Chopin. In his 24 etudes we can see 24 absolutely different quite fantastic images, where Chopin is represented in full. He is not so monumental but richer in images then Liszt. Full Chopin is displayed in his 24 different faces, different images. It was easy for him to express himself in a miniature. By nature, he was a miniaturist; he loved miniatures and was most comfortable expressing himself through clear images in his etudes, which at the very least can make sense.
As far as Schumann’s Etudes are concerned, it’s very interesting to see what Schumann did here in terms of techniques. If Liszt’s and Chopin’s etudes exercised the weak fingers – 5th and 4th fingers, developing all physiologically possible fluent and colorful techniques, then Schumann created something quite mysterious, because his perception of technique and creative images was in a different dimension, a little superhuman.
Being apparently a wonderful pianist, he challenged himself with physiologically extraordinary tasks. And in the end, he ruined his ring finger, became an invalid,
and was not able to continue his performance. But, to our selfish joy, he became a great composer. He was always dreaming about career of a performer but by chance was forced to turn to composition instead.
So what did he do? First, he completely violated our musical vestibular system! We are operating with two hands: we have soprano and we have bass, and we rely on two hands and body in the middle. Schumann changed it and distributed his musical narrative through three levels as if we had three hands. Now we have soprano, middle range, and basses. Nobody has ever done such a thing. Liszt didn’t it, and neither did Chopin, because it’s so inconvenient! It’s inconvenient for vestibular apparatus too, and for the body support, and for the brain coordination and motor function. We have no skills to operate on three levels, only on two as we have only two hands. It would be much easier if we had three hands.
And what is Schumann doing? Throughout his “Symphonic Etudes”, for the exception of only specific chord base variations, all action takes place on three levels. And as a composer he is following it very precisely. He keeps this technique and never abandons any of these three levels.
This is tremendously hard to do!
Since he is completely obsessed with his weak fingers (5th and 4th) he is moving body support into middle voices and facilitating basses and sopranos. Nobody does it, but we mostly rely on sopranos and basses. And the middle range is always supportive. With Schumann, in all variations, main action takes place in the middle range, and basses and sopranos are supportive. This confuses all performers, because they don’t teach you this in schools and no Czerny etudes can prepare you for that.
This is completely new, and it sidetracks most of the musicians. They get so much involved into the solving of technical tasks, that they have no chance to pay attention to Schumann’s symbolically-poetic delirium, which was his world. This world is full of elegance, life excitement and grace. Can you just imagine that we have three levels instead of two? So here we got the musculoskeletal system all messed up, our brain is confused …and we have to get out from this labyrinth of physiological and vestibular-technical challenges to make the texture transparent and light. So audience could hear only a song, song and “la-la-la”. This is what Schumann, as a true song writer, wants us to hear. He is singing romantic symbolic song. And all texture is in three levels, incredibly rich, full of chords.
He also was obsessed with the idea to involve all ten fingers at the same time as much as possible! Neither Liszt nor Chopin have done this. They always alternate chords. He, on the
other hand, wants all ten fingers be involved in making the sounds, and all ten should sound and intone in a different way.
This is clearly physiologically technical challenges, completely Utopian that nobody wants to deal with. They simply try to play all notes but not intone and to make it light in order to show Schumann’s main metaphysical idea – to turn the clock back – from death to life through series of romantic songs.
Such a gigantic super challenge not solved up until today by one reason or another. On one hand, I suppose, it has to do with the great technical difficulties, which make the musicians, for more than 180 years now, to concentrate on them thus distracting them.
On the other hand, as I mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, there is a phenomenal spirit, remarkable consciousness of symbolical romantic-sentimentalist who is so distant from us. He was distant from them in his own time, too understood neither by Liszt (maybe Liszt did a bit as was more tolerant), nor by Chopin who didn’t understand him at all. Chopin thought that Schumann was writing educational music. “Whatever let him write his pedagogic music” he said once. Apparently, Chopin couldn’t see it more than just an incredibly difficult technique for human body and new musical technique for piano that was created by Schumann. It looks like even Chopin was not be able to see all this cloud castles built by Schumann with his unique technique, never repeated by anyone else.
Now I’d like to say a few words about the name. Initially he wanted to name it “Pathetic variations”. It is because there is a lot of pathos here, and many overlaps with Beethoven who was idolized by Liszt, Chopin and Schumann. He was an Idol, Superstar of that time. For them he was an ocean where they came from.
But then, Schumann decided to emphasize the symphonic qualities of this composition, like I said: when all 10 fingers are involved and each one intones in a different way representing different instruments. He changed the title to “Symphonic variations”, and after that “Etudes” as there were big technical challenges. So, we can see from it, how his mind was skipping from content to form. He was going back and forth, from technical complications – from etudes he posed, to simple ideas, which were supposed to be layering “on top” of these etudes – pathetique variations, that is, he wanted pathetique poetry. He is trying then to distract our attention then to concentrate it on etudes. And then his consciousness was kind of confused “let it simply be the pathetique variations, not etudes”.
All of this is in a short story, in historical documents that we have concerning the composition of this unique creation where we can follow the composer’s mind and see where it’s going. He
wants the new technique, new world, new poetic world, new symbolic world, new language! As for the title… you can’t just describe it, in this case he would need to write the whole introduction to it, just like Mussorgsky did for his “Promenade”.
If Schumann had his will, he would have written the whole volume of how to play it. But Schuman was apparently a very humble man, an introvert with a character of an extrovert (it was a contradiction, which was ripping him apart from inside out). Anyway, we have not written description for this composition, so we will figure out it during the trip into consciousness, traveling in time, in culture, speaking in the language of music.
What did the author want to tell us? Did he achieve it? He did it beautifully! So how come we haven’t accomplished it until this day?
As always, let’s go step by step through the music, and it will help us to penetrate the consciousness and the unique beauty of this poetic spirit.
And so, let us get started.
Translated by ZJanna Melnichuk
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Theme. Part 2
From the world of one consciousness, where we had been living for half a year, from consciousness of wonderful Russian man, Modest Petrovitch Mussorgsky, we are moving and diving into another consciousness – world of Robert Schumann. Since music became my life and my world (not long ago) where I feel myself very comfortable and cozy, human mind, expressed through music, is telling me much more than a man himself can tell. He can’t do it by words or life style. In real life man is “small and meaningless”. Man can’t express himself without art. Music is the most expressive tool that makes people feel and understand a human being in full, in whole metaphysics, as said by philosophers. Metaphysics is what we can sense and feel but can’t explain. It’s such a deep essence. It’s not necessary to “drink coffee with Robert” or live with him under same roof to understand him deeply. Moreover, “living in same house with Robert” will not give us an understanding of Schumann as a man. To emphasize “theme” more, I can say, by going into his consciousness and “unzipping” his mind through his music, we can understand Schumann better than his own wife could.
Here, the professionalism and psychological prodigy became a tool for deep understanding of musical cosmos, “highlighting” for us all conscious and unconscious secrets of a man who expressed himself through music. This is “magic and mystery”. “Mystery”. But it does exist. Miracle that lives next to us we can even “touch”. And we can enjoy such deep understanding of music that was not available to humanity until now.
I’m sure that ideas from this episode and “miracle of understanding of music” like “transcendent flights” will make your weekend. Enjoy the show.
0.25 So, let us move on to the topic. Let’s dive into spiritual world of Schumann’s fantasies that is real world for him, as Schumann can show “real self” only in his music. I’m taking responsibility to say, as we are dipping into the topic, we are immersing into composer’s consciousness, into mind of man who is seemingly discreet and trusting his soul only to the notes. It is a great responsibility,
and it is very emotional.
1.17 So, the theme Schumann’s wrote his variations, was given to him by an amateur, so it’s not written by Schumann. It’s a quite common music theme of the early 19th century romanticism. It was, like they say it nowadays, in trend. This kind of music, as well as Chopin’s musical style, was very sweet. All respectable European as well as Russian houses used it in terms of music. It had been played in all living rooms. This music was like Chopin’s but just by type. The same situation was in ballads’ culture which was very close to Schumann. It was world saturated with romantic symbols and they became part of consciousness and musical language.
Let’s see what kind of theme was sent to Schumann by guardian of one of his close friends. And it sounds like that (3.14 – 3.20). This is first and the most important phrase. It’s continuing like that (3.26 – 3.32) and it’s telling us that it’s not finished.
From the beginning we should pay attention to symbols this theme contains and which reflected right away in Schumann’s mind. In this way we can see how he had that idea about sadness and death… In his letters he mentioned it as funerary quite few times. Apparently in a first half of 19th century the mind was more quivering, vulnerable and sensitive than in modern days. For me this theme sounds just melancholic and nostalgic (4.35 – 4.49). I would never associate it with funerals and death. (4.42 though second phrase 4.52) … Here is whole first period of theme which Schumann considered as funerary.
Will see why it appears to him as such a sad statement as declaration of death. If we pay attention to musical symbols and look into musical ideas from the beginning of 19th century to our days, we can see some markers that are talking about death. Precisely very first statement, first intonation (5.32 – 5.38). This is an already shaped musical idea, formed symbol of death. It is either a heroic and romantic death, a dying hero just some seconds before death, followed by a musical epitaph, or it could be some cry over fallen hero: (6.12 – 6.13).
I want to show you how this theme during these 200 yeas transformed into musical idea, which exists in our unconsciousness. It’s not necessary to be musicologist for it but must be a musician and for sure professional to decode and verbalize this idea. We are as public unconsciously catching this messages and symbols but barely understand or verbalize them. However, our body and mind perceive it exactly like that. I will explain why it is like that. You can get it right away from these two examples how this theme firmly associates with the death of a romantic hero. So (7.20 – 7.26) this is the beginning of the theme sent by von Frickenand and used by Schumann. Later, his friend, Chopin, is using the same theme in a moment of hero’s death in First Ballade (7.47 – 7.52). And after a few octaves are following (7.59 – 8.03) – death of a hero, several octaves symbolizing mortality, falling into the gap of death. (8.10 – 8.16)
I can’t help myself not to remind you how all of this moved into Russian mind and spread into broad sectors of population. We hear this theme as a characteristic of most popular Russian hero not long before his death, – it’s already full of symbols when it just got into mind of a Russian bard, a man writing popular melodies (8.46 – 8.55). Sounds familiar? I think for Russian audience it’s quite familiar. And here again (9.01 – 9.15). This is it – the intonation expressed with certain rhythm (9.13 -9.15), with certain interval, pause and condition. So, as you can see, this romantic idea became popular at the beginning of 19thcentury, while in modern time it turned into such a popular statement that is associated unconsciously with the death of a hero.
That’s how Schumann perceived it right away from the very first two beats (9.49 – 9.51) as mortality, death, funerals. So why he called it funeral melody, which one he decided to change from “death to life” and not just to life but to joyful life, to happiness. As he was telling at finale: “I want to show procession, quite symbolic procession, that symbolizes divine happiness. And he did it. Farther we will see how he transformed it in his chivalrous mind and chivalrous heart into chivalrous symbols. And we will see how it related to his character, his consciousness, his soul, love, his life, and his surroundings.
All of it is extremely interesting. We will be traveling into composers’ minds from Bach to nowadays. And I can promise we will not be strangers in this trip through consciousness. Because of music and our contact, which I would love to be continued as long as possible, we will be embracing our life. And understand it as well. So, our life will get rich through the sequence of incredible adventures and emotions, through deep musical perception.
Now move on to the next phrase. First one is (11.34 – 11.36) – death of a hero (11.37 – 11.40). Second one (11.41 – 11.42) is moving us out into major triad) 11.51 – 11.56). This is typical for 19thcentury mind, when in a song after hero’s death we are going into idealization of him, of his life and of what he did. And we dedicate a song to him, romance or simply a musical idea. Actually, musical idea is more flexible than a verbalized one because music contains emotions, but language doesn’t. When we shift same feelings, we are usually verbalizing in talk and poetry to music, they become more flexible and emotionally expressed. For us it’s more comfortable and easy to explain ourselves by language of music. Talking by music, well understanding it, we will have quite less barriers between people.
(13.22 – 13.28). From major key, we shifted to remembering the hero (13.32 – 13.41), using vulgar modern Russian expression of the Russian-speaking world, we remember “what a good guy he was”. This is what makes a funeral motif. We can recall the famous Chopin’s work (14.03 – 14.07), when we have death statement, funeral cortege itself in content with middle part, where (14.15 – 14.21) we have the very same melodies, same methods, same musical talk. We are remembering and idolize man who passed away heroically.
Then, another marker, just a confirmation, yes, it is death, and this is funeral music (14.51 – 14.55), next little phrase is like that (14.57 – 15.05) – these repetitive notes describe quite unpleasant moment – it’s dirt that falling into grave, when coffin is being lowered into the grave. Not without a reason does Schumann harmonize it (15.30 – 15.37) filling it up with tremolo. But what does this tremolo means, drumbeat, drum roll? We usually associate drumbeat with hard emotional moments – farewell, visual farewell with a hero’s body. And the last phrase (16.00 – 16.03) is the idea of death again (16.05 – 16.09) and epitaph (16.10 – 16.14). This is how it all ends.
So, we completed studying and literary verbalizing musical idea, which, whether played or sung, would pass the same information. Knowingly or unknowingly we perceive this information
emotionally, through vibrations at subconscious level. We are taking it and it’s living with us. Years can pass for a person who is unfamiliar with music language, but melody will be living and waiting for the right moment. And this moment will come. So, this is how music works. It is “sprouting” even after ten, twenty or thirty years, coming out through the mind and becoming part of a man who can be quite remote from music. It will express everything that cannot be done verbally, just through the feelings. If you follow my step-by-step musical plot description you can see it for yourselves.
Farther we have tree last notes left, after epitaph (17.49 – 17.53) with some acoustic amplification, with crescendo. What is it? This is a wonderful example. It’s such a stage method when after first act, and this theme is an act, we are gently moved to next act, next image (18.22 – 18.23).
Now, a few words about what Schumann did with this melody, and where… During the parsing, we will not just analyze musical symbols and images, everything Schumann’s mind consisted of, but also some mistakes were made by musicians, so it made impossible to reveal the idea of this composition. Here is the same situation as it happened with “Pictures at an Exhibition” when interpretations were going in the wrong direction and falsified the idea for centuries. As it’s clear to me, this best Schumann’s fortepiano solo and unique expression of romantic symbolism was misunderstood for centuries.
We know, and it’s obvious, that Schumann’s fantasies are penetrated trough by chivalrous ideals. He lived in a chivalrous time. His world consisted of beauty, lovely ladies and knights. That is why his thoughts got flow when he decided to use this melody as a theme for gigantic composition, where the dream of his life will be embodied – to turn the clock back. So, his composing started and ended in chivalrous style. The knights were singing songs accompanied by lute. Lute sounds are so quiet. He perceives it like chivalrous ballad. It actually is a ballad but more romantic and free than knights’ song of Middle ages. But harmonic principle stays the same. And over here we come across the first very big mistake in interpretation as they play all the musical texture in the same way. In this case it’s turns into accords (21.42 – 21.48). This is a huge mistake that transforms chivalrous romance into static movement of stone-like sounds. Such a combination is killing instantly any romantic ideas or any chivalrous ideas, the idea of funeral confession song which could be sung by a knight’s beloved or by a knight’s comrade over his fallen friend. It could be applied to any situation at that time, romantic time of chivalrous living – eye to eye with death.
Actually, in first two editions of 1837 and 1852, when Schumann controlled it by himself, the main theme was printed in black font, and chord accompaniment was printed in transparent font or in miniature font. This way editor followed Schumann’s directions, and he also wrote a footnote for performers that melody is original and was sent by music amateur but harmonized by the author. By writing comments in small font, written by the author, the editor underlined secondary importance of harmonization and also its transparency. The most important, in all this intensive symphonic texture of the Etudes’, when all fingers involved, when all sounds are duplicated, when all act is
happening on three levels as if we have three hands, – we need to be double, triple, ten times as transparent to show all theses castles built in the sky. So, if we follow the chivalrous romantic idea at the surface, and all the instructions I’m trying to tell you about very briefly, we have absolutely different music: (24.40 – 24.48) when the piano imitates the gentle sounds of a lute (24.57 – 25.03). We can hear the lonely knight’s song (25.07 – 25.24). Immediately, Schumann’s face appears before us. The face of his soul. The bright look of a knight who spent all his life singing the romance of his life, totally lonely. In short, Schumann himself is a gallant romance. When we proceed into evocative part in a major key, in each variation we will see how Schumann states the idea about life using this particular piece in different contexts. We will decode literary texts, verbalizing them, and will see how his mind flow showing life more and more real, more dense and tangible, changing into live form, and it finally conquers death. It’s so amazing, symbolic, interesting and poetic! And I am saying it again and again, Schumann is the father of symbolism.
(26.36 – 26.45), now we are moving to the most tragic moment – when coffin is going down accompanied by the drumbeat (26.52 – 27.03), the sobbing over the body going down into the grave (27.07 – 27.14). And the romance continues (27.16 – 27.26). And it’s the last tear drop (27.28 – 27.39). And curtain is up for the second act: (27.41 – 27.44).
It’s such a mighty work when we verbalize music, when we understand it, and it is unfolding easily. There is no need to look for something superhuman in anyone’s music. It is nonexistent. All music is very human, especially music of composers of 19thand early 20 centuries. At that time romanticism existed for a whole century modifying itself one way or another into symbolic or impressionist ideas. Nevertheless, these composers are human beings of unprecedented sublimity, purity, and naivety, but their naivety is akin to kids, or angels.
Because of it we should not look for something supernatural in music and in great composers. On the contrary, the greater composer is the more human he is. If we want to be closer to composer, we need to do our best to become more human, be more sensitive and sophisticated. We should forget about all the temporal philosophy from unscrupulous pundits that is being promoted, unfortunately nowadays about supernatural, otherworldly ideas and matters etc. There’s none of it in music and there couldn’t be, because music is a human soul in the best manifestation.
And so, now we will listen to the whole theme, I will play it from beginning to the end, and then we will move to the first variation. As we have a complete knowledge now, we will easily follow Schumann’s thoughts, the way he transformed death into life, and the way he got used to this idea living it through death to life. A genius idea, a genius embodiment that gives us a sense of a mystique feeling of rebirth, from death to life. We will experience it with each sound. This is a great happiness! (30.01 to the end of recording
Translated by ZJanna Melnichuk
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 1 . Part 3
Since our dear Dima (Dmitri Nilov) is working hard not sparing himself and his time, I don’t want to hold on to this nice episode, first variation. Publishing it right away. Hope it give you an aesthetic pleasure.
Schuman is not just musically talented, but he is also a great producer, playwright, and innovator. He is original and unpredictable in making decisions spiced with great deal of subtle humor. Let’s immerse into it. Have a wonderful Sunday.
0.22 Schumann’s language, his musical language is very rich. If in “Pictures at the Exhibition”, we were enjoying in first serial, and were surprised by saturated creativity of Mussorgsky’s language which took almost six hours to be decoded, explained in a musical way, in comparison, symbolic Schumann’s language is richer, more compact, as every symbol contains historical root, and without understanding them we can’t move further through his music. It’s not only sincere true to life creativity we can see in Mussorgsky but infinite historicity in every musical idea, every symbol that immerses us into the depth of the European culture.
Considering that Schumann is using song-like repetition, he is repeating every half twice for us to grasp at this huge amount of pressed information. If we skip it without repetition we will be left with nothing, because, like I say, it’s so pressed and squeezed like a Zip file. Schuman feels it, understands it, and he separates it by repetitions.
Nevertheless, because of this compression, this composition would be half as short as “Pictures at the Exhibition”. Even considering that without repetitions we can go through all musical material in 15 minutes, but music itself and ideas are so squeezed, so densely pressed that unpacking this literary musical language we are getting into completely different timeframes, into different dimensions.
So here is the first variation. Schumann is “taking bull by the horns” right away. That is to say (3.08 – 3.10), he turns around this fatal idea right away (3.17 – 3.20), and back. He starts fighting death right from the beginning.
Schumann is simply turning over the idea upside down. He is adding life and tension on all levels, on all registers. He will spread life all over the piano’s keyboard and all registers. It will live permanently everywhere – this was never achieved by any composer but Schumann, neither before nor after him. This amazing man in this remarkable piece, in this wonderful composition, in this piano symphony, – he is giving us unique technique when we are performing on the whole keyboard, as if we had three or four hands. Three hands play permanently and the forth one is if it were added. This is astonishing technological achievement and miraculous philosophical and aesthetic success.
Let’s go through this material Schumann gave us like in slow motion movie. Death topic upside down, lunched up (4.42 – 4.44) first voice backwards; second voice (4.48 – 4.51), so we already have 2 levels; third level (4.54 – 4.56); fourth level (4.57 – 5.00). Now it’s hurting our vestibular apparatus because the theme is in the middle voice, and on both sides, up and down, supporting themes in basses, twinkles with life while death is turned upside down. This is his first death-cheating game and transformation of death into life. But the theme is in the middle voice. So, we have all fundamental actions in the middle voice. Our balance is disturbed. Our life is going on in the middle voice framed by the accompaniment. We are used to the fact that the theme sounds either in upper or in lower register framed by the accompaniment. But Schumann breaks all the laws. The theme appears in the middle voice (5.55 – 5.57) in and unchanged state (5.59 – 6.01) in our noble theme of the hero’s death, and it’s surrounded by waves of life (6.09 – 6.12), where Schuman is fighting death, sending it upside down, mocking it. All in all: (6.19 – 6.28). It’s an amazing life statement. Because of it he wanted to name this composition “The Etudes Pathetique”, as a dignified straggle between life and death started right from beginning, from first variation. But then he was afraid of becoming pathetic himself, in a bad sense of the word, as the word pathetic could have an ill meaning. Linguistically, this word can define something sublime as well as ridiculous. To avoid mocking, Schumann decided to remove “Pathetic” from its name.
So, we moved through phase one. In the second phase (7.17 – 7.21) we have a surprising metamorphose. This is yet the first idea, first theme about death, turned upside down. And as you know, then, in the middle, the theme followed: memories of a hero’s life (7.34 – 7.37). Lifetime memories appeared in the middle part of all funeral marches as well as in this funeral theme. Schumann is creating his unique language, which after 50-60 years after his death will penetrate the popular culture. It’s becoming a musical symbol that has existed more than hundred years by now. (8.12 – 8.20). It’s such a frivolity. For sure, I just
exaggerate a bit and grimace, but idea is exactly this: to get away from reality, to fly away by means of one musical phrase, by one musical idea, to fly into another reality: to get yourself distanced from death, to ponder and fly away. To express it in music so fast and convincingly and at the same time to show totally different side of a human being; in musical Romanticism, only Schumann could do it.
(9.04 – 9.06 and that – 9.08) This kind of music transitions into silent cinema ballroom playing, where heroes are flirting in various dramatic situations. Silent cinema is quite affected by subconscious action same as consciousness of people of early 19th century we have dealt with. They are so black and white, – not colorless, but full of dramatic contrasts: heroes are killing each other with knives, making scary eyes, and next moment, there is a different picture. And all of it is portrayed by a ballroom piano player. Ballroom pianists brought Schumann’s musical language, which he developed at the beginning of 19th century, and by the end of 19th century it became the musical language of the popular music, the language of the accompanying music. This language is so expressive, so evocative and lucid and easily demonstrates the change of mood, so intelligibly and convincingly that it can even illustrate cinema images.
Let’s enjoy this amazing language created by Schumann: (10.39 – 10.53). In three musical measures, we see a careless and lighthearted man. Suddenly, by way of several sequences and quite simple modulation (11.07 – 11.08) he is moving from minor all of the sudden to – 11.18. Also, as I said before, his consciousness is like mercury, it is fragmentary, because he has so many thoughts overflow him, and everything is compacted – he is returning from three musical measures into the other world to his previous idea (11.36 – 11.44). And his first image of death fight is finished.
Such unique music, such unique gift, and unique set of mind, embodied so simply. Graphically, these compositions are quite common. When you look at it, it’s hard to see it, as it looks like something kids would have symbol combinations for – some chords, melodies… But we have to look into the depth, not into content of chords and accords but into engagement and polyphony of separate voices, integrated in to these chords and accords. This is when Schumann’s character is revealed. If we decide to write his texts in this way, graphically they will look quite abstract and crazy hard to read. Most musicians are getting into this trap because of this apparent simplicity of his texts; they are getting into simplicity of fools instead of simplicity of geniuses. This often hides the original face of genius. Now I will play the first variation in its entirety (13.34 until end of recording).
Translated by ZJanna Melnichuk
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 2 . Part 4
As you can see, Schumann immediately takes the bull by the horns, and in the first variation, as I said, puts life into the work by tapping into all the rich voices and textures the piano offers, using all the registers and “driving” them in parallel. Through the use of polyphonic methods, which we showed he already mastered brilliantly, he imbues his works with a wide range of incredible technical difficulties.
But does so only for the purpose of giving life to the flight’s engine.
As I have said before, and repeat once again: the transcendental difficulties of the studies of Liszt, and Chopin are remarkable and fantastic (I would generally call these works “Fantastic Etudes”, as this would most closely correspond to what Schumann did) …
So, the transcendental technique, which these three giants have developed each in their own way, depends on the intent of each composer, and the possibilities of physiology, ingenuity, and their generally amazing talent … As such, they transformed these difficulties into “engines”, so that we modern people could interpret these artistic tasks, based on these linguistic “engines”, and we view them through the lens of flying machines piloted by pianists.
And here is the main mistake … Well, I do not know whether it’s a mistake or a limitation, the limitations of interpreters, that in such works, while there are not so many of them, we see only the “motor”, but we do not see what it must elevate into flight.
So, in the first variation, we let death take a back seat. Time, having been allowed back in spite of death, has turned death upside down through the “motor’s” activity. In the second variation Schumann demonstrates again his mastery of using three simultaneous but different plains of thought or textures at once. But the result gives us a delightful romance, where I will now touch upon the mistakes of interpreters. Error number 1 – over saturation of sounds due to the rich texture of the “fabric”.
What do we have in common on all three “floors”? Let’s examine this amazing pathetique romance.
The romance is very exalted, in the most very-remarkable romantic traditions of the 19th century, sentimental, romantic, symbolic. We will now see that in this romance, in addition to all the knightly ideas and the chivalrous song, Schumann gives gratitude to, and converses with, Beethoven’s spirit. And we clearly hear it now in the music.
So, in the upper voice on the “top floor” we hear a theme, which again Schumann constantly turns over – mulling over the theme of death. He no longer desires a thematic romantic incarnation, nor does he want death, and performs this inversion routinely. The same is our romance, which will share the top layer. And this attracts our attention as the main song, staying contradictory to death, and using the theme in inversion (Andrei plays: 4:13-4:41), with a breathy romantic pause (4:22), so characteristic of Schumann’s way of thinking, which we must always exhibit.
A wonderful touching simple romance, precedes the middle “floors” and in basses (4:45-5:08), then leaves through the major (4:53), with a heroic ending which transports us into the major (4:59). Then we hear the middle part (5:15-5:22), but we’ll get to that…So, let’s take the first half. In the middle voice we have (5:31-5:33) an accompaniment, which is the biggest obstacle for interpreters. Schumann at times, believing that he deals with people who are conscious, who read the text well, calls for that the middle voices to be pianissimo ! That is, regardless of how loud and active everything is moving in the upper and lower “floors”, he wants the pulsation to be almost inaudible (6: 03-6:35). It’s amazingly beautiful!
This pulsation reminds us of the most fantastic examples of Beethoven on one side, and on the other hand, all sorts of our most beloved popular folk songs, which turned into pop music, rock music. Therein lies amazing beautiful harmonies that are forever pleasant for us regardless of chosen instrument, whether it’s an electric or an acoustic guitar, synths, or live orchestras. But this pulsation must caress our ears and our body.
And in the lower voice, Schumann invariably presents (7:08-7:12) his remarkable heroic theme, which lives though the death of the Hero in Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, the entire intelligentsia from the beginning of the 19th century, to the present Russian folk heroes (7:29 -7:32).
Here are the three “floors”. On the first floor is a romance, a piercing romance.
On the ground floor, a reminder of the Hero. And in between on the middle floor, life is pulsing. And always be mindful of the title: “Symphonic Etudes”, always ! In my literary preamble, prefacing our lecture about music, I say how Schumann’s consciousness ranged among different names: “symphonic,” “pathetique,” “variations,” “etudes” and so on, and so on … Because he wanted to define too many goals. And these goals, unfortunately, have not yet been realized. And I wish that once and for all we all already knew what the author wanted …
Symphonic – because such a pulsation in the orchestra cannot be played unevenly. Because many people play pulsations, be it wind instruments, be it pulsations on stringed instruments (8:54-9:25), and so on, and so on … This pulsation is life. In addition to the fact that interpreters play it very loudly, they still play unevenly, giving in to their emotions, not understanding aesthetically, philosophically, or informally what the music is about. Therefore, everything is broken: harmony, aesthetics, taste. All meanings are broken, everything becomes vulgar, rude and it’s just a mockery of the author! Without understanding all the classics and beauty that are embedded in this music. It is precisely in the even pace of pulsation, which in symphonic performance (and this is “Symphonic Etudes”!) – Schumann now gives a hint to interpreters, whom he foresees will make these mistakes. Thus he writes: “expressively.” And expressiveness is related to the main materials, but in no case to breathing. And here between all these”floors” or layers where completely separate life exists, there must be complete separation, something that I have already indicated.
This division is both characteristic, and philosophical, and involves content separation, mental separation, and technical separation … That is, as I said, and I repeat: it is a problem of the vestibular apparatus, it is a problem of thinking, of mastery of all our physiology and physics, all of which goes against what is advocated by Schumann. He does not want the music limited by man’s physical material. He sets tasks exclusively in the artistic realm, despising and overcoming the material barriers. And if we understand all this its complexity, then we get a refined beautiful multi-story building (11:32-12:45), where the Hero lives in the bass (11:44). In the descant (11:46) is an amazing song , which Ophelia could sing, and in the middle voice (11:58) is the breath of life (12:03), the heroic (12:13) appearance of the Hero rising from the ashes (12:22). Here’s our first half.
Now why did I talk about Beethoven. The transition to the second half gives us his sound and a rhythm of dynamic ornament, I think you will immediately know why: it’s hello to Beethoven (13: 07-13:13).
So, we remember that Schumann, Chopin, Liszt are the children of Beethoven. They found him. 12 year old Liszt was kissed on the forehead by Beethoven at one of Liszt’s early concerts. Beethoven is the spiritual father and practically a material father. Beethoven – the Super Star, to whom they pay homage and eternal deference. Now we remember the name”Etudes Pathetique”. Pathetiques. Even the tonality (13:43) coincides with Beethoven (13: 47-14:00):
– “Hello, Ludwig!”, Says Robert. And the moonlit landscape here appears, lunar or oceanic, something nightly, connected with nature, with night conditions, with the symbolism of the night and the sublime poetic atmosphere of the Pathetique … And we are now halfway through the time of the funeral of the Hero, because at this time, everything is developing the same theme. At all times it develops in the same framework, using the same standards that the author of this topic demanded. Well, the author … we can assume that this is not amateur, sent by Baron von Fricken, a folk theme entirely, which already hung in the minds of European people of the early 19th century. So it (as we have analyzed) is already characteristic of romantic consciousness. Three-part form: the death of the hero, memories of the living hero, a terrible reality, the funeral of the hero. And epitaph, epilogue, so Schumann here adds a funeral bell. It’s very beautiful (15:11-15:21)! While the upper part of the romance – we can already imagine it as an image of the night: either it’s the running clouds in the night sky, or it’s an exciting ocean under the night sky. That is, (15:32-15:36), considering this nocturnal pathetique Beethoven’s lunar state, we, of course, can identify the images that flashed before his eyes when he wrote this music (15:47-15:52).
The Hero’s Theme (15:54-15:56), the funeral bell (15:55-15:57), night images of nature (15:59-16:01). And all this together turns into an amazing picture of already symbolic poetry. Here we can recall the “Crow” by Edgar Allan Poe and all the poetry of Maeterlinck, and symbolism with overlapping symbols, which completely draw our poetic consciousness from a sinful land to another reality (16:33-16:53). A remarkable roll call (16:55-17:02) between the souls of the Hero and, obviously, the beloved Hero. This can also be treated quite calmly.
Voices (17:06-17:10) in the night, in the funeral bell, in this amazing color of symbolism, dark, but at the same time very tempting, which is still very much loved by the romantic strings of our soul. Especially when we are connected by loneliness, thoughtfulness, it is an absolutely necessary condition for the soul of a person to purify it (17:31-38).
Again, on three “floors”, this wave rises, this wave rises again, there is a scream against death – the theme of death in an inversion (17:49-17:59). Again leaving in the major (18:00-18:23), as you remember, this is the life of the hero and a return to the mortal reality, but turning death backwards.
Here is a pathetique Beethoven, moon-pathetique, romantic variation evocative of the name Edgar Allan Poe and Maeterlinck.
And we get it not in the 80’s, not in the 90’s of the XIX century, but in 1834. Well, now I’m will play this whole delightful lunar pathetique variation with its reversal of death.
Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 3. Part 5.
(If) in the previous variation, or in the previous study, Schumann retained the theme, just reversed in the main voice, and the dramaturgy: death, life, epitaph. However, in the next variation, Schumann practically disappears in his dreams, he moves away from the theme, moves away from this reality and he becomes abstract … There, in the previous variation, we met the spirit of Beethoven. It was all filled with Beethoven’s feelings. It is absolutely obvious in the next variation, we meet the spirit of Paganini.
Again, the action takes place on three levels. It presents extreme physiological challenges to the human body and brain – to control life in three registers, and an extraordinary dramatic effect is achieved.
Why am I so confident about Paganini and … In this regard, I’ll now say what that the interpretation of the subsequent study lacks. At the top, the violin exercises are quite obvious: (2.01 – 2.21). That is, it is absolutely obvious a violin study, a violin capriccio. And, of course, we have only one violinist who settled in the souls and minds predominantly, of Liszt and Schumann, and less so in Chopin’s. Liszt and Schumann are so affected and so sweetly wounded by the abilities and demonism of Paganini that, he remains in their works with them until the end of their life. Paganini is constantly present and forces them to review all of the piano technique. But in the middle voices we see, quite clearly, the self-portrait of Schumann (3.07 – 3.19). When a tenor and a baritone in middle voice sing an open-hearted romance, it is, as a rule, the author’s voice. And therefore, the author is reflecting and living in the memories of the impressions of Paganini, of course, staying in the foreground. And Paganini is far away, in the dreams.
Most of the time all the performers are so busy (3.52 – 3.54) with these violin exercises, that in all the performances we see only these violin exercises – dry, evil, stupid. Only with one desire – to not even show Paganini performing – I doubt that the musicians still understand that this is the image of Paganini, I have never heard about it at any rate either in musicology or from performers.
In addition to that, it is neither a fantastic image of Paganini performing with his brilliant studies – caprices, but just doing it with some Paganini, – that we have in many hundreds of performances. And incredibly evil they always are (4.38 – 4.39).
I do not understand what the interpreter’s idea is guided by. When it is so obvious here that we have in the smoke above the spirit of Paganini (4.47 – 4.49) is a memory only, whereas in the foreground we have a reflecting poet – the author himself (4.55 – 5.03). If we connect these two images, which we receive is as follows – (5.06 – 5.10). Most important, of course, is the voice of the author. And the most dramatic and basic thing that exists here is the piercing intonations that should arise when the voice of the violin and the author’s voice are combined, namely in here: (5.29 – 5.32) – this intonation, (5.33 – 5.37). The entire romanticism of the human soul from the most ancient times to the present day, is revealed in these intonations (4.45 -5.50).
These intonations, these delays are haunting us everywhere – in popular music, in restaurant music, in film music. This is a favorite natural response of a nostalgic person – young and elderly and alike: (6.06 – 6.10). How it was possible to disregard and look over this for two centuries, without concentrating our attention on this nostalgic voice, on the stunning free picture of a nostalgic poet – I cannot comprehend it.
Then, in the middle part of this little poetic thing, we see the author’s excitement (6.37 – 6.41). Again, the development is going on on three levels: (6.45 – 6.48) – the lower voice, the middle voice: (6.51 – 6.54). Again, sickly sweet intonations of a poetic man, excited, even pleasantly excited. And at the top: (7.04 – 7.06). On three levels, we have beautiful bitter-sweet experiences (7.14 – 7.23). Here Schumann is screaming … – this, of course, is him and cannot be anyone else, – and then he wakes up from his dreams and then plunges into them again (7.33 – 7.37).
Here we must completely get away from time, free ourselves. The stratifications of the modern man interfere here – his constrains, his triviality, his lack of inner freedom, the lack of freedom of consciousness. Hence, modern musicians read the texts without going into them, playing in a fixed order without thinking, forgetting that there is time, life, freedom, plasticity. And we have already
lost freedom and flexibility in modern life, plasticity, poetry, elevation and, in general, the aura of the individuality of the man. And I hope that this loss of humanity by humanity is only temporary.
Let us return here, to the final part of the image of Schumann, dreaming and thinking about his great colleague: (8.44 in complete freedom and sweetly aching sadness – 8.57). I think that you will all hear the author’s voice, for he is perfectly alive here both in timbre and in musical expression (9.06 – 9.16). It is impossible to better express in musiс a dreaming poet, thinking about the beauty of a friend and colleague who changed him for life. As such, it is a complete withdrawal from this reality. A withdrawal into his own world.
It is very good that Schumann inserted this variation and kept it, because it fits in very nicely after the pathetic variation and before the next block of variations.Which is very intense technically and the next stage to rebirth and the next step away from death. Therefore, it was
absolutely dramatically necessary to get away from all this matter, fall into a dream. Schumann is the greatest master of dreams in the history of music and humanity. (10.16 until the end of the recording).
Translated by Anna Mikhailichenko
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 5. Part 8.
0.21. The material of the next variation, which we now consider, is music imbued with an incredible elegance. As I have already told you, Schumann possessed a very delicate coquetry, a subtle sense of humor. All his music is so subtle and sublime it touches our modern soul – our terse, noisy, decadent soul, which has become coarse, anti-intellectual, disdainful of traditional Western culture, so proletarian, in the bad sense of the word.
What does Schumann want here? Schumann writes Scherzando. Remember, in Mussorgsky I said that every composer has his sense of humor. And by choosing the Scherzo form, he wants to be taken seriously. There is no Scherzando as a form in the true sense of the word. The Scherzo however is a form in its own right. But such distinctions are really only applied by professionals who analyze musical form. And classifying music as following the Scherzo form says nothing about its content. But if the composer specifies Scherzando, then the content of his work often has a humorous intent, to played jokingly, and that’s what he means here. And everyone has his or her own sense of humor.
If Mussorgsky simply wanted us to experience cackling, he gave us these chickens (1.32 – 1.34), where everything is really very funny, or “Limoges” (1.37 – 1.43) with the laughter of clowns. This, of course, offers us his cartoonish sense of humor, a hard irony, humor on the verge of caricature. Now let’s see what humor the European Schumann has. Here is his humorous first statement (2.00 – 2.08). That is, it’s coquetry, it’s flirtation. Naturally, for the German knight this is very frivolous, it’s comic. We must not forget that this is a German character, a German temperament, the German consciousness of a strict man, a man who adheres to strict rules, but a romantic nonetheless.
Therefore, his joke is neither a caricature nor a cartoon that would be characteristic, say, for an Italian, especially a southern Italian, for an Englishman, or for a Russian. But it would not be characteristic for a German. The Germans do not particularly like such direct, rude humor. I’m talking about elite Germans. Whereas the German folk crowd jokes directly, and can be unapologetically rude. But this is quite a big difference, an ocean of separation between the world of the folk crowd, the German street, and that of the German genius. His is a completely different way of thinking.
We must appreciate this material the same vein as we appreciate, say, the humor of Thomas Mann. This humor is strictly verified, metered and amazingly subtle and gentle. Such humor we can find in the pages of “Joseph and his brothers”, say, when Mann jokes about the relationship between Jacob and Joseph, as it relates to all their adventures and everything else. It’s very funny, but it’s always very subtle and finely tuned. This is the humor of a talented German intellectual.
We see the same thing here (3.47- 3.52). When two voices call to each other, forming a dialogue. This is the first appearance of the theme (3.59 – 4.00). And then the development of this theme takes on an incredible coquetry (4.04 – 4.07). That is, we see just two people who flirt with each other (4.11 – 4.16). And here the phrase ends simply with reciprocal laughter (4.19 – 4.25).
In addition, we have an infinite number of golden moves (4.29 – 4.33). That is, this humor is pure, this coquetry is pure, it is coquetry, unclouded by any dirt, scabrousness or greasiness. And yet, raised up with an Alpine purity. Because we’ll never hear golden moves such as these in similarly coquettish music from a Russian composer or an Englishman.
This is what we expect to hear from the German and the Austrian. Why? Because they grew up in the Alps (4.57 – 4.48), where the Alpine people sing with such golden steps. Therefore, we have all this – Alpine beauty, with a pure coquetry and amazing humor (5.09 – 5.12). Then it ends with a completely amazing laugh (5.16 – 5.20). And this is a completely German ending to the joke (5.26 – 5.28). When the Germans pucker their lips into a tube and say something like “mein Schatz”. This is completely Germanic speech, the Germanic ending of a natively beautiful joke.
In the second part, we again see (5.42 – 5.45) a remarkable continuation of this Scherzando, when (5.48 – 5.49) the dramatic chord (5.51 – 5.52) is accompanied by (5.53 – 5.57) the endless humor of the characters (6.00 – 6.05).
Again, notice how Schumann’s dynamics behave (6.13 – 6.20). End of the phrase. It would seem, according to the logic of the music, there should be an amplification of the sound – a crescendo (6.26 – 6.27). But, mindful of the fact that this is a Scherzo, and that Schumann jokes, he does the opposite (6.34 – 6.35). This is quite frankly humorous, a humorous statement. But how elegantly made (6.42 – 6.47). Coquetry on coquetry. Each figure is interrupted by an amazing, completely knightly coquetry (6.55 – 6.58). Well, naturally, that’s all, as I said, all life between notes, in these airy packages, in these air cuffs, or Fanfan – tulip (7.10 – 7.15). And then everything ends (7.18 – 7.22) again with golden moves and laughter (7.24 – 7.28). And a charming flirtatious bow with a smile. Here! Here it is – our Schumann! Joker, coquette, knight with a sword in his hand and with a rose on his knee before the lady. Fanfan – tulip! (7.50 until the end of the recording).
Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 6. Part 9 (Variation 5)
0.21 Next is variation number 5.
Simply put, its just a wonderful song, period. Once again, its theme is firmly rooted in the idea of death. But, the emotion being conveyed is in flux, as it soon begins morphing into a love theme. Yes, Schumann wrote of love and death throughout his life.
So, as we listen going forward, (0.41 – 0.47) the piece morphs into a love song, made all the more complex by Paganini-esque leaps, not in the top voice (like violinists would encounter) but rather in the bass voice (0.57 – 1.06). This bass treatment is remarkable, like a Paganini Motiv turned on its head. In so doing, Schumann is imitating Paganini, not in the upper voice, as Liszt always did, but instead, in the lower voice. This choice impels us to perform great jumps, rather like gymnastics (1.20 – 1.29). This is a lush and challenging exercise which is delightfully entertaining. But the music’s meaning is not defined by its innate physicality. In fact, the musicians must not try to conquer this complexity with brute force – instead, the musicians must behave like knights, approaching the work respectfully, with the restraint a knight might use when lifting a heavy but fragile weapon. The urge we all might feel to strike with such a sword must be wielded chivalrously, with restraint – indeed, we honor the spirit of Schumann’s work by treating the piece with an airiness, and by employing an elegant strength that brings out all the beauty of the music’s many colors. This will demand all of our knightly skills: The will to hit with a sword, while still being elegant, beautiful, and airy, and resurrecting all the colors. Then it will be closer to the spirit of Schumann. The real knight is elegant, owning all the necessary skills that a knight needs for the cause. Here we have such a wonderful (2.15 – 2.16) song. But the song is played out in two registers, through two layers. We have, in the lower register, jumping, contrary to Paganini. That is, this is Schumann greeting Paganini, greeting him, master to master, (2.28 – 2.34). But it must be approached with an entertaining but elegant flair; to have the greatest affect, these qualities should appear transparent to the public – the beauty should be readily apparent, but the human struggle to perfect its performance should not (2.44 – 2.49). And now the song continues (2.50 – 2.58). And already, Schumann has turned the mood, as the Russians say, “towards the serious” (3.02 – 3.07). That is, he repeats the song, but with accents, so we can literally hear him singing “la la la” (3.14 – 3.27). So here it is – a knightly music! Here it is – chivalrous beauty! (3.34 before the end of recording).
Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris
Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 8. Part 11.
(0-.25) So, the next variation is again a prophecy. It is a prophecy in the form of a Passacaglia. Here Schumann gives a nod to his colleagues from the past, hardening back to the Baroque era.
But this Passacaglia form is enigmatic – its ancient form contains a reference to the future – to breakthroughs that only came from our recent times, and I want to focus your attention onto what we have here.
The form – there’s a lot of notes – characteristic of the form of a passacaglia. But what of the underlying message ? Let’s put aside for a moment what this looks like on the surface, the essence conveyed by this passacala format. And focus on Melody. And what we will have is this: (1.19 – 2.15).
That is, we encounter a completely modern ballad of the late 20th – 21st century. (2.20 – 2.26) – there is a bell, which we have been silent about for three variations. The bell of death, if you remember, appears in the Beethoven variation, and from the first theme, it goes from dropping the coffin to the grave. (2.39 – 3.19). Well, well, this is our modern pop – rock ballad from today. This is from our film music. In general, this derives from the extant of the whole Romantic foundation on which we live. Well, as for the baroque ornamentations with which he framed all this, those are just a tribute to form. And the musicians who play it should play it like a rock ballad, which as we see was defined by the great romanticist Robert Schumann.
(3.51 – 4.07) Hearing this, I can’t help but remember Freddie Mercury. Only he screamed in such a way, his mouth seemingly merging with the microphone on the stage. So none of the rock-modern variety were romantics – their drama was consumed with crying out for freedom. Only Mercury’s sound, who is beloved and appreciated very much on a worldwide stage could be likened to that of Schumann, who in this work is uttering the same scream. Only its 130 years earlier, no, 140 years (4.43 – 5.01). We are completely immersed here in the electronic ageaesthetic of a rock stadium. (5.05 – 5.45).
Here’s a Prophet! A prophet who saw into in our own time, predicted our aesthetics, our loudness, our sonorities, our electronics, even the vast and echoic aesthetics of our giant stadiums. (6.01 until the end of the recording).
Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris