a passionate romantic
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was a German composer that illustrated the splendour of romanticism,
dominating the early nineteenth century in Europe. At a young age, he aspired to become a prodigy pianist, "one of the greatest living pianists." He was part of a group of students taught by a certain Wieck who had developed a new method to learn the piano. Unfortunately, pain and paralysis (certainly because of his determination in piano) which gradually took over his right hand forced Schumann to stop piano lessons and to leave aside his career as a virtuoso. Nevertheless, he still remains one of the most perfect embodiment of the German musical romanticism. First torn between poetry and music, his choice eventually is composition after long periods of doubt. The literary aspect of his work still remains an indispensable tool for understanding his art. He continued moreover to write whilst composing, and his writings reflect a perceptive intelligence as well as an introverted and melancholic character.
Schumann made his debut in music through the piano,
giving over to a rich production of great piano works such as Papillons (op. 2), Carnaval (op. 9), Symphonic Studies (op. 13) or Faschingsschwank aus Wien (op. 26). It is also important to mention his Album for the Young (op. 68), which became very popular. This is a series of 43 piano pieces assembled in to a single volume in 1848. All these pieces were written over several years and are designed for pianists: the first eighteen pieces have been composed for more young pianists, and the rest are dedicated to the greatest. Schumann illustrates this collection by a very representative sentence of his artistic conception: "Without enthusiasm, nothing is done properly in art."
He then tackled all genres of his time: he especially tackled Schubert, one of the masters of lied. In addition, he announced, in some way, impressionism of French music by changing his works towards tighter forms whilst relaxing the rules of conventional structures. Schumann’s compositions also know how to combine harmony, melody, polyphonic and instrumental sound with emotional and deep impulses as well as a mastery of of the traditional German counterpoint. Schumann married Wieck's daughter, Clara, the young piano player who was rather well known during her time, and is represented by a love story in the great works for piano.
Papillons (Op. 2) is a piece for piano which was written from 1829 to 1831.
This particular work represents a masked ball: the composer was inspired by a novel by a German writer, Flegeljahre by Jean Paul. This suite of 12 fairly short pieces begins with an introduction of six bars (moderato) then continues with dancing movements. Each piece is independent and has almost no relation to the next one: the first is fast and is played in A major, the second is played Prestissimo in E flat then A flat major. In the third piece, Schumann opts for F sharp minor. The next piece is longer but the pace is fast (presto); it is also played in F sharp minor until the final chord that becomes a major.
The pace then becomes slower and longer with the fifth and sixth piece, that are played in B flat major, F major and A major. The seventh piece brings a little more gentleness (A flat major) and the eighth piece, faster, can change tone towards an A sharp major, then a D flat major. Then comes the ninth piece (Prestissimo in D flat major), the tenth (in C major with a variable rate vivo più lento) and eleventh (the longest in D major). The last piece picks up the theme of the introduction in D major, which vanishes gradually until the end of the work. Schumann did not hesitate to take a few themes of this piece in to his next composition, Carnaval (op. 9).
As for the Faschingsschwank aus Wien (1839), it encompasses five parts: Allegro (B flat major), Romance (minor), Scherzino (B flat major), Intermezzo (E flat minor) and Finale (B flat major), the latter part taking the form of a classical sonata with a remarkably powerful sound. Small feature: in the first movement, the composer refers to the theme of the Marseillaise. A talented and tormented genius stricken with a tragic destiny, Schumann ended his days in great physical and mental suffering, detained in the Endenich asylum after an attempting to drown, he leaves behind a legacy full of passion, fantasy and poetry that is still relevant today.
We learn his "little study" in beginner lessons (only in French) 64 to 68 ( 6 lessons), to know more about it click here.