Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

. (page 27 of 32)
Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 27 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wealth and depth of his imagination or the exquisite wit and humor, so
often encountered in his works. Certain odd peculiarities of his personal
and artistic character, which became more apparent when his health
began to fail, can not impair the general impression of his true nature
as manifested in the achievements of his happier days. If we remember
how late Schumann entered upon a musical career, how late he enjoyed a
thorough theoretical instruction, how much he has also done in the field
of literature, how early his health began to be impaired, and at what an
early age he was called away, we are astonished at the mass of his works,
so many of them of the widest scope and importance, which place his name
among the noblest and greatest masters.

[Illustration: Fac-simile autograph letter from Schumann to a lady,
thanking her for her soulful singing in one of his concerts.]

[Illustration: Fac-simile of portion of letter from Clara Schumann to Karl
Klauser, thanking him for introducing her husband's music in Farmington,
Conn., where it was performed before it became known in New York. The
musicians of that period were pleased to call Farmington "Schumannville."
Hence her greetings to that place, unknown to the Gazetteer of the U. S.]


Fac-simile musical manuscript of the opening of Schumann's Quintette Op.
44. The original is in the possession of J. Brahms.]

In a certain sense Schumann's works may be regarded as a musical
commentary on his life. This is particularly true of his earlier
pianoforte compositions. Being neither the result of theoretical studies
nor the imitation of favorite masters, they were of a surprising
originality, melodically, rhythmically and harmonically, and revealed a
new spirit in a new form in spite of all relationship to Schubert's small
character pieces, Beethoven's last sonatas or Bach's polyphonic style.
They were not only new, but bold and full of a higher significance.
Schumann was never at a loss for ideas, but, being familiar with every
style of pianoforte playing from Bach's to Moscheles' and Chopin's, and
aiming at the career of a virtuoso, he wrote from the beginning in a very
difficult style, rich in wonderful new effects and combinations. Sometimes
we find a "pearl of great price" hidden beneath a wealth of ornament of
unusual beauty, novelty and poetic significance. So peculiar indeed is the
style of these pianoforte works, that special technical study is required
in order to do them justice.

Like all our great composers, Schumann frequently makes use of variations,
of course not in Henri Herz's manner, but in Beethoven's, creating out of
one original idea a series of characteristic pieces, strongly contrasted
in form and spirit. In Heidelberg, long before his studies with Dorn,
he wrote those on A-b-e-gg, dedicated to a countess of this name, who,
however, was in reality nothing but a modest, untitled young lady, with
whom he had become acquainted at a ball. The Impromptu (Op. 5), on a theme
of Clara Wieck, belongs to this class also. But of much greater importance
are the two works, in which he best showed the peculiar character of his
pianoforte virtuosity, the Symphonic Studies (Op. 13) and the Andante
with variations for two pianofortes (Op. 46). The extremely interesting
treatment in these works is very free, but always ingenious, and the
technical and intellectual difficulties are very great.

Rarely one meets with a long cantilena, in Schumann's earlier works,
the material generally having a short, somewhat fragmentary character,
often consisting of but a few notes, though treated with a wealth of
rhythmical or harmonical combinations. There is also a great variety of
moods, and the contrasts are not only very distinct, but often unexpected
and sudden. As a dreamer full of sweetest or saddest thoughts he is not
less touching than as a musical knight of the most chivalrous spirit or
as a humorist such as Beethoven. Nowhere can one find a finer exhibition
of that peculiar German humor which "laughs through tears," than in
Schumann's charming "Humoreske" (Op. 20). The arrangements of the Paganini
caprices and studies have a more pedagogic purpose, while the great
Toccata (Op. 7) and the Allegro (Op. 8) may be called Schumann's noblest
contributions to the literature of bravoura-pieces. More characteristic
of his individuality, however, are those works with which his name as
a musical poet will always remain especially connected - "Papillons,"
"Carnival," "Davidsbündlertänze," "Phantasiestücke," "Scenes from
Childhood," "Kreisleriana" and "Noveletten." Distinct pictures of his
poetical imagination form their object, yet it is well to remember the
composer's emphatic declaration, that the music originated in his mind and
was written down before he even thought of the title, which he afterward
gave the composition. Yet so wonderfully appropriate are many of these
titles, that it is often impossible not to perceive their meaning in
the music. What an inexhaustible wealth of musical ideas is hidden in
all these productions, how many new rhythmical combinations, how many
"sweetest discords"! Who has ever understood how to show so much depth
of feeling and originality of thought, such a rich imagination within
such narrow limits as has Schumann, particularly in the "Papillons"
and "Carnival"! One feels that much of his own life's experience,
much of the romance of his heart is embodied in this music. Thus the
"Davidsbündlertänze" are by no means "dances," but the Davidites' knightly
fights against the Philistines, nor are the "Kreisleriana" a portrayal
of the eccentric Capellmeister in E. T. A. Hoffmann's tale, but the
expression of Schumann's own enthusiastic, romantic, many-sided nature and
of the ever-varying moods of his soul. In the Novelettes he tells us, in a
most pleasing and spirited language, the story of his struggle for Clara's
heart. The Phantasiestücke contain veritable gems among modern pianoforte
music, such as "Evenings," "Why," "Traumeswirren" and "Aufschwung." The
utmost delicacy of sentiment and fineness of musical expression are found
in the "Scenes from Childhood," which are not meant as compositions for
children, but as musical genre pictures from the children's life. Other
fine pieces such as "Arabeske," "Blumenstück," "Nachtstücke," may be only
mentioned, though each deserves a detailed analysis.

In three Sonatas Schumann has attempted to force the wealth of his
imagination into an old classic form, but as he had not then perfected
himself in the latter, and besides wrote the single movements at wide
intervals, he could hardly be expected to make a complete success. The
material is almost crowded, the development often lacks coherence, the
different portions are not of equal value; and yet, considering these
productions as free music, we recognize again the composer's vast
powers of invention and combination, his passionate energy, delicacy of
sentiment and brilliancy of style. Of these sonatas, the one in G minor
is generally praised as the best. On a higher plane we place the great
fantasia in C, Op. 17, dedicated to Liszt. Here Schumann's imagination was
free from strict formal fetters; the four movements keep one's interest
evenly and keenly alive, and, apparently written in hours of inspiration,
they go directly from heart to heart. The earnest, noble character
and lofty spirit of this work remind us indeed of Beethoven, to whose
monument Schumann had first intended to contribute it as an "obolus." Its
difficulties are such, that only eminent players are able to master them
and make the meaning of the music clear.

Among Schumann's later pianoforte compositions the following are best
known: the lively, fanciful "Faschingsschwank," composed in Vienna during
the carnival; three romances, of which the one in F-sharp is particularly
famous; some fugues and other pieces in strict contrapuntal style; the
"Scenes from the Woods" (among which is the odd "Bird as Prophet"); "Bunte
Blätter"; "Phantasiestücke"; "20 Album Leaves" (including the popular
cradle song); and "Gesänge der Frühe"; "Three little Sonatas," dedicated
to his daughters, and the well known "Album for the Young," with its
forty-three charming pieces, are certainly among the most valuable works
ever written for children.

Of the compositions for four hands none deserves more sympathy than the
charming "Pictures from the Orient," inspired by Rückert's "Makamen des
Hariri," certainly in no way inferior to the famous "Evening Song" from
the twelve pieces Op. 85, while the elaborate "Ball Scenes" and the easier
"Children's Ball" were written at a later period.

The pianoforte concerto in A minor ranks directly after Beethoven's.
It has a truly symphonic character, especially in the first and last
movements, the orchestra accompaniment being not less important than the
brilliant solo part, while the middle movement, Intermezzo, seems even
like a lovely solo for the violoncello with piano accompaniment. Two more
concert pieces for pianoforte with orchestra are an Allegro appassionato
(Op. 92) and a Concert Allegro with Introduction (Op. 134), the latter
dedicated to Joh. Brahms.

When, in 1840, Schumann reached the sunshine of domestic happiness, he was
compelled to express his joy in singing, not only in vocal compositions,
but also in his instrumental pieces, which now began to assume a more
sustained melodic breadth. He played no instrument besides the pianoforte,
and for this reason has often been accused of not fully understanding the
true nature of string or wood instruments. We admit that occasionally a
desired effect is not well produced, but a thousand instances prove that
as a general statement such an accusation is entirely false. There are
portions where the composer shows a lack of transparency, but a great many
more are very brilliant and most finely balanced. His use of the strings
is certainly effective enough in his chamber works, though the finest
results are obtained in their combination with the pianoforte.

The three string quartets dedicated to Mendelssohn show the latter's great
influence on Schumann's progress in larger forms. Later the composer
changed many details, and now we class them among the most valuable
productions of the kind since Beethoven's death, the beauty of the ideas
and their fascinating treatment increasing our admiration with each
hearing. Schumann likes to place the Scherzo before the slow movement and
to substitute for the Trio an Intermezzo in two-four time. Greater than
these quartets, however, are the famous quintet and quartet in E-flat
for pianoforte and strings. The former especially has been called the
greatest chamber work since Beethoven, and it has not yet been thrust
from this position of honor. How one would have liked to witness the
first performance of this splendid work with Clara Schumann, to whom it
is dedicated, at the piano! Two very short themes form the basis of the
first movement, which has a bright, energetic character and received an
extremely rich harmonic treatment with a brilliant ornamental figure
work. Then follows a funeral march of a peculiar character, having a
choral-like episode in the major key, and a passionate agitato in F minor.
The highly spirited Scherzo has again two trios, one sweet and melodious,
and the other a labyrinth of mysterious sounds and thoughts. The same
harmonic wealth and energetic spirit we find again in the Finale, in which
through a combination of the principal theme with the first one in the
opening moment, a grand climax is reached, closing a work which, with all
its romantic spirit and modern rhythm and harmony, retains the character
of a perfectly classic masterpiece. The pianoforte quartet deserves as
much praise, one of its most conspicuous features being the close relation
which Schumann bears to Bach, while retaining his own strikingly modern
poetical spirit.


From a lithograph from life, by Edward Kaiser, in 1847.]

The trios for piano, violin and violoncello in D minor and F are of a high
order too, full of ingenious ideas, one being especially interesting by
its passionate, poetic spirit, the other through a greater perfection in
form; but the originality and artistic perfection which characterize them
do not appear in the G minor trio [Op. 110]. Of a lighter character, yet
delightful on every page, are the "Phantasiestücke" for violin, 'cello and
piano, and the "Märchenerzählungen" for piano, clarinet and viola.

The two passionate, melancholy Violin Sonatas of his later years are, in
spite of their great musical worth, perhaps more gratifying for players
than for a concert audience, while many an enjoyable page may be found
among the different compositions for clarinet, horn, viola, or violoncello
and pianoforte.

Schumann's organ compositions are few in number, the principal ones
being the six fugues on B-A-C-H, which differ considerably in value and

Besides the pianoforte concerto already mentioned, Schumann has composed
one for violoncello in A minor, demanding a player of great musical
intelligence: one for four horns, a revival of the old concerto grosso,
and a fantasia for violin with orchestral accompaniment dedicated to
Joachim, who owns also the manuscript of a whole violin concerto.
All these works belong to Schumann's last period, showing traces of
exhaustion, but still his noble, always purely artistic purposes.

In order to picture Schumann's orchestral works with any degree
of justice, we should be gifted with his own wonderful powers of
description, thus producing upon our readers an impression similar to that
produced by the musical work upon a sympathetic listener. What a splendid
protest are they against the faint-hearted belief, that with Beethoven's
"Ninth" the symphony as such had not only reached its supreme development,
but died. Surely it required a genius, a great personality, a thorough
master of the symphonic art to write in this field something worthy of
the great predecessors, and yet original. But such a personality was
Schumann, and his symphonies will forever belong to the golden treasure
of instrumental music. Far from being imitations in any respect, they
hold an independent position of their own and will live as long as their
composer's name. Already the first one in B-flat appears at once as a
masterpiece of lasting value. In this he might be called a younger brother
of Beethoven, a lad with youthful thoughts and hopes and longings, with
rosy cheeks and brilliant eyes, full of sweetest tenderness and mirth,
but glowing with youth, manliness and vigor. His kinship with Schubert is
often apparent too, although he always shows his own peculiar face. In
regard to the form, he introduces many new features.

This is particularly noticeable in his treatment of the second theme in
the first and last movements, in the use of two trios in the Scherzo, and
in the melodious Larghetto, which greatly resembles his Phantasiestücke
for piano. Throughout, this music is extremely inspiriting; in spite of
an occasional lack of clearness in the instrumentation it is powerful and
brilliant or of exquisite delicacy, and its spirit full of love, happiness
and spring.

The second symphony in D minor, later revised and published as No. 4, is
decidedly more passionate and concentrated, some of the four movements
being closely connected, besides having partly a common thematic material.
New also is the slow impressive introduction of the finale and the free,
fantasia-like treatment of the second part of the opening movement. In
the place of a broad adagio a lovely romance precedes the Scherzo, which
retains its usual shape, and in all four movements the principal key of D
is dominant.

Schumann's relationship to Beethoven seems however nowhere more
conspicuous than in the great symphony in C. It has an eminently virile,
strong and dithyrambic character. The solemn introduction of the first
movement, the conciseness of its first part, the wide scope of the
working-out portion, even the character of the themes, remind us at once
of Beethoven's spirit. An extensive, fanciful scherzo with two different
trios in two-four time precedes the beautiful Adagio, which, with its
intense feeling, sweet sadness and almost transcendental loftiness,
comes perhaps nearer to Beethoven than anything else in modern symphonic
literature. An exultant finale crowns this truly monumental work. And
let us not forget that it was written in a gloomy period of mental and
physical distress. The deep study of Bach at that time left many traces in
the masterly contrapuntal work.

A new world is revealed in the so-called Rhenish Symphony in E-flat.
There Schumann begins at once with the Allegro, the first subject of the
movement bearing a vigorous character with effective syncopations and clad
in all the splendor of the full orchestra, the second being a charming
melody in G minor. Omitting the usual repetition of the first part, he
extends the working-out portion by new and ingenious combinations of the
two subjects. Here again we are often reminded of Beethoven. After the
brilliant Coda a lovely intermezzo follows with a sweet, almost popular
melody for the 'celli, alternating with a lively staccato figure of the
string and wood instruments and a romantic song for two horns, the whole
suggesting perhaps a pleasant trip on the Rhine at sunset. And is there
anything more delicate and touching in any modern symphony than the
Andante in A-flat, where every instrument seems to have a soul and to
sing directly into our inmost heart, now plaintive and sad, now consoling
with an indescribable delicacy of feeling. Still the composer does not
hasten to the finale, but puts in another slow movement in E-flat minor
in the character of a solemn ceremony (suggested by the installation of
the archbishop in Cologne), highly effective by its spirit, and vastly
interesting by its masterly counterpoint and rich instrumentation. It
touches us like liberty regained from such mysteries when the finale opens
with its brilliant, vigorous theme, and the whole glorious movement fills
our hearts with its own enthusiastic spirit. Yet this great work was
written when Schumann's powers began to decay, and when he was occupied
with many less successful efforts in other musical fields.

The fifth symphonic work, written directly after the first symphony,
but revised and published later under the title "Overture, Scherzo and
Finale," has also become a favorite because of its charming, inspiriting
character, especially prominent in the scherzo, which is an excellent
revival of the old gigue form.


An imaginary and fantastic character introduced in various novels and
sketches by E. T. A. Hoffman, impersonating a true musician devoted to the
highest ideals in conflict with the banale and frivolous world and ending
in insanity. This sketch is by Hoffman himself, showing Kreisler amusing
himself blowing soap-bubbles, seeming to say: "What is the world after
all, but a soap-bubble?"

The figure of Kreisler and his various moods depicted in Hoffman's novels
induced Schumann to write his Op. 16 Kreisleriana, dedicated to F. Chopin.

A prototype of Schumann's own life and sad end.]

Notwithstanding Schumann's admiration for Berlioz, his firm belief in the
close relation between poetry and music, and his programmatic tendencies
in earlier pianoforte works, it is very significant that he has in all his
orchestral writing closely followed the path of his great predecessors.
Hereby he gave great encouragement to still cling to the classic
tradition, and to believe in the possibility of a further development of
the symphonic form.

Even the master's overtures may be regarded in this light of pure music,
although they refer to certain distinct objects. They all were first
intended as preludes for some drama or festival occasion, such as the
one on the Rhine-wine song, in which after a long orchestral movement a
tenor solo leads over to the popular chorus finale. The overtures to his
dramatic works "Genoveva" and "Manfred" rank highest, and will be dwelt
upon later; the others refer to Shakespeare's "Julius Cæsar," scenes of
Gœthe's "Faust," Gœthe's "Hermann and Dorothea," and Schiller's "Bride of
Messina"; the last named being particularly worthy of a deep interest and

Omitting the many songs for children (some of which have a peculiar
charm), Schumann has composed over two hundred works in this smallest
form of vocal music, the majority of which were written in the happy year
of his marriage. They made Schumann at once a peer of Franz Schubert,
and placed him in the front rank of German song composers as the
representative of an entirely new style, which has been quite successfully
adopted by younger masters. His poetic nature enabled him, so to speak,
to repeat the whole process of the poet in the conception and shaping
of his work, but as a musician and in the richer and more delicate
language of music, and thus to more clearly express the finest thoughts
and feelings of the poem. The words are treated very melodiously, but
with a fine sense for correct accentuation. Although the voice retains
the melodic expression of the sentiment, the accompaniment, far from
being a conventional support, is raised to such importance that it is
absolutely essential to the vocal strain. Thus much that the poet could
only suggest, found a wonderfully distinct musical expression, partly in
fine preludes, interludes and postludes, and partly in the details of
the strict accompaniment. Here again, one is surprised at the abundance
of new harmonic and rhythmic combinations. These songs demand the most
intimate harmony between singer and player and most of them lose greatly
by a translation in any other language, as the music is often closely
connected, not only with the thought and sentiment, but with the special
poetic diction of the German text. Schumann has sometimes been accused of
lacking a thorough comprehension of the human voice; in a certain sense
this may be true, on the other hand one must admit that there are few
public singers who are capable of giving a just rendering of his finest
songs, many of which are besides hardly appropriate for the concert hall.

The master's high culture guided him in the selection of poems, and the
great representatives of German lyric poetry, Heine, Rückert, Eichendorff,
Chamisso, and Kerner, owe a great deal of their popularity to Schumann,
as so many of their finest poems have become inseparably connected with
his music. In his several cycles of songs (Heine's and Eichendorff's
"Liederkreis," Heine's "Dichterliebe," Rückert's "Liebesfrühling,"
to which Clara Schumann has contributed some numbers, and Chamisso's
"Frauen-Liebe und Leben"), the single numbers are not connected, but their
coherence is often indicated by some other way. Intensity and purity of
feeling, truth of expression for situations or moods of every kind, and a
rare harmony between the poetic and musical senses secure to many of these
songs the highest position in this kind of literature. Some have a simple,
almost popular character (particularly those by Burns), others are very
elaborate. In ballads ("Belsazar," "Soldier's Bride," "Two Grenadiers,"
"Die Rothe Hanne," "Der arme Peter," etc.), Schumann has a peculiar style
of his own, differing much from that of the great master of German ballad
music, Loewe, less popular, yet in many ways not less effective. Less
happy perhaps are his later settings of the songs from Gœthe's "Wilhelm
Meister" and of poems of Elise Kullmann, Queen Mary Stuart and others.

Much could be said of the many delightful vocal duets, varying so much in
style and spirit, and interesting us so much both in the vocal and piano
parts. Yet we can only mention them here, as well as the several important
and larger works for solo voices and piano in a cyclic form, such as the
"Minnespiel" from Rückert's "Liebesfrühling," the "Spanische Liederspiel"
and "Spanische Liebeslieder," all of which should be favorite numbers for
vocal chamber concerts.

Next in our review stand the part songs for mixed, female or male voices.
Some of them deserve a place beside Mendelssohn's little masterpieces,
others are almost forgotten or, like the great motet for double male
chorus and organ, or the canons on Rückert's "Ritornelle," are beyond
the sphere of male chorus societies. Few have won a greater popularity
than the "Gipsy Life" with piano, triangle and tambourine. Of greater

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 27 of 32)