Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 5. Part 8.

0.21. The material of the next variation, which we now consider, is music imbued with an incredible elegance. As I have already told you, Schumann possessed a very delicate coquetry, a subtle sense of humor. All his music is so subtle and sublime it touches our modern soul – our terse, noisy, decadent soul, which has become coarse, anti-intellectual, disdainful of traditional Western culture, so proletarian, in the bad sense of the word.

What does Schumann want here? Schumann writes Scherzando. Remember, in Mussorgsky I said that every composer has his sense of humor. And by choosing the Scherzo form, he wants to be taken seriously. There is no Scherzando as a form in the true sense of the word. The Scherzo however is a form in its own right. But such distinctions are really only applied by professionals who analyze musical form. And classifying music as following the Scherzo form says nothing about its content. But if the composer specifies Scherzando, then the content of his work often has a humorous intent, to played jokingly, and that’s what he means here. And everyone has his or her own sense of humor.

If Mussorgsky simply wanted us to experience cackling, he gave us these chickens (1.32 – 1.34), where everything is really very funny, or “Limoges” (1.37 – 1.43) with the laughter of clowns. This, of course, offers us his cartoonish sense of humor, a hard irony, humor on the verge of caricature. Now let’s see what humor the European Schumann has. Here is his humorous first statement (2.00 – 2.08). That is, it’s coquetry, it’s flirtation. Naturally, for the German knight this is very frivolous, it’s comic. We must not forget that this is a German character, a German temperament, the German consciousness of a strict man, a man who adheres to strict rules, but a romantic nonetheless.

Therefore, his joke is neither a caricature nor a cartoon that would be characteristic, say, for an Italian, especially a southern Italian, for an Englishman, or for a Russian. But it would not be characteristic for a German. The Germans do not particularly like such direct, rude humor. I’m talking about elite Germans. Whereas the German folk crowd jokes directly, and can be unapologetically rude. But this is quite a big difference, an ocean of separation between the world of the folk crowd, the German street, and that of the German genius. His is a completely different way of thinking.

We must appreciate this material the same vein as we appreciate, say, the humor of Thomas Mann. This humor is strictly verified, metered and amazingly subtle and gentle. Such humor we can find in the pages of “Joseph and his brothers”, say, when Mann jokes about the relationship between Jacob and Joseph, as it relates to all their adventures and everything else. It’s very funny, but it’s always very subtle and finely tuned. This is the humor of a talented German intellectual.

We see the same thing here (3.47- 3.52). When two voices call to each other, forming a dialogue. This is the first appearance of the theme (3.59 – 4.00). And then the development of this theme takes on an incredible coquetry (4.04 – 4.07). That is, we see just two people who flirt with each other (4.11 – 4.16). And here the phrase ends simply with reciprocal laughter (4.19 – 4.25).

In addition, we have an infinite number of golden moves (4.29 – 4.33). That is, this humor is pure, this coquetry is pure, it is coquetry, unclouded by any dirt, scabrousness or greasiness. And yet, raised up with an Alpine purity. Because we’ll never hear golden moves such as these in similarly coquettish music from a Russian composer or an Englishman.

This is what we expect to hear from the German and the Austrian. Why? Because they grew up in the Alps (4.57 – 4.48), where the Alpine people sing with such golden steps. Therefore, we have all this – Alpine beauty, with a pure coquetry and amazing humor (5.09 – 5.12). Then it ends with a completely amazing laugh (5.16 – 5.20). And this is a completely German ending to the joke (5.26 – 5.28). When the Germans pucker their lips into a tube and say something like “mein Schatz”. This is completely Germanic speech, the Germanic ending of a natively beautiful joke.

In the second part, we again see (5.42 – 5.45) a remarkable continuation of this Scherzando, when (5.48 – 5.49) the dramatic chord (5.51 – 5.52) is accompanied by (5.53 – 5.57) the endless humor of the characters (6.00 – 6.05).

Again, notice how Schumann’s dynamics behave (6.13 – 6.20). End of the phrase. It would seem, according to the logic of the music, there should be an amplification of the sound – a crescendo (6.26 – 6.27). But, mindful of the fact that this is a Scherzo, and that Schumann jokes, he does the opposite (6.34 – 6.35). This is quite frankly humorous, a humorous statement. But how elegantly made (6.42 – 6.47). Coquetry on coquetry. Each figure is interrupted by an amazing, completely knightly coquetry (6.55 – 6.58). Well, naturally, that’s all, as I said, all life between notes, in these airy packages, in these air cuffs, or Fanfan – tulip (7.10 – 7.15). And then everything ends (7.18 – 7.22) again with golden moves and laughter (7.24 – 7.28). And a charming flirtatious bow with a smile. Here! Here it is – our Schumann! Joker, coquette, knight with a sword in his hand and with a rose on his knee before the lady. Fanfan – tulip! (7.50 until the end of the recording).

Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris

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