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

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