still consider that music is the ideal language of the soul: but some
think it is only meant to tickle the ear, others treat it like a sum
in arithmetic and act accordingly. So
wrote the young Schumann justifying his highly individual blend of
youthful romanticism. Much of his early music took the form of
collections of miniatures, embodiments of definite moods, ideas or
mental pictures, complete in themselves and written down on the
impulse of the moment.
mood in early 1837 had seemingly recovered from the depressions of
the previous year when the development of his relationship with Clara
had been crushed by her furious father. Schumann's reaction to the
adversities of his emotional life varied wildly from gross
over-indulgence to intense composition and study. A diary entry in
December 1836 reads: Plans.
Tears. Dreams, work, collapse. Reawakening. He
recovered some of his poise by an intense study of Bach's Art of
Fugue and in July was inspired by a young and attractive British
pianist, Anna Laidlow, to start work on the Phantasiestücke.
is a cycle of eight light-hearted character pieces harking back to
the spirit of Carnaval.
The title points clearly to E.T.A.Hoffmann's Fantasiestücke
in Callots Manier, a
collection of essays and fanciful tales named after the French
draftsman and illustrator Jaques Callot, a literary and artistic
counterpart to his own fanciful musical impressions. Hoffmann's work
exerted a powerful influence over the young composer, who recognised
his vision of a world of everyday reality co-existing uneasily with a
hallucinatory world of delusion, magic and shadows. Hoffmann's two
worlds are reflected in Schumann's two alter egos, Florestan and
Eusebius, the one the bold impulsive man of action, the latter the
sensitive, introspective, poetic dreamer. Schumann's unexpected
plunges to and from unrelated keys are another manifestation of these
two opposing states of mind.
work is less teasingly provocative and mystifying than Carnaval.
himself wrote to Clara: In
Carnaval, one piece interrupts the other, which some people find it
difficult to endure but in Phantasiestücke the listener can spread
out more comfortably. Certainly
the individual pieces are broader and more self-sufficient. In the
earlier work the miniature sketches took on an aphoristic quality as
well as flowing into each other in the bewildering manner of the
masked ball; whereas here they are both longer and clearly separate
from each other. He seems to be consciously trying to control the
wilder and more alarming faces of his imagination.
titles of the various movements in Phantasiestücke
not in any literal sense programmatic and in some cases seem to bear
little or no relationship to the music. The opening Des
perhaps the loveliest piece in the work. Schumann conjures the
tranquillity of evening with the soft bell-like resonance of his
melody that subtly blends with the accompanying voices. There is a
wonderful ambiguity of register as the melody passes from part to
part, the melody melts into the texture, while the accompaniment
becomes intensely expressive. The song-like beauty of Warum?
equally effective and like many of his short pieces reminds us of the
songs still to be written. From the fourth piece the titles begin to
seem increasingly irrelevant, the chords they struck in their
composer's mind lost to our sensibility. In the last three pieces
Schumann recalls something of the masked ball madness of Carnaval
including the reckless spirit of the march of the Davidsbund
the Philistines, a battle that every generation has to fight.