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

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