R Schumann: Retreat and Revolution (2/3)

Which marks did the experiences of revolution leave on Schumann? In his music, they are contrary to what one would assume. Thereby, the Romances, Op. 94 can be seen in a new and unexpected light.
“This entire time leaves me highly inspired. Never have I been more active, never more contented in art” (Auf mich hat die ganze Zeit anregend im höchsten Grad gewirkt. Nie war ich thätiger, nie glücklicher in der Kunst), Schumann writes in the light of the revolution’s definite collapse in a letter to Eduard Krüger on 29 November 1849, roughly one week before beginning the Romances’ composition. Like a cathartic exercise as a counterweight to the horrific events, the music which Schumann writes in the years of the revolution appears to be of a very private and secluded quality. Not only distinct occasional works like the only posthumously published choir songs Zu den Waffen (“To Arms”), Schwarz-Rot-Gold (the colours of the German revolutionary movement in German) and Deutscher Freiheitsgesang (“German Freedom Chant”) or the Märsche (“Marches”), Op. 76 bear witness to their time; above all, it is this tender and idyllic music which he writes as a reaction to traumatic experiences. Directly after the escape, he works on his Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op. 79 in Kreischa. Pieces such as Album für die Jugend, Op. 68, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102 or the Romances, Op. 94 are tainted with this mood. Even Clara finds it “peculiar […] how the outer horrors awaken his inner poetic emotions in such a polar way. Over all these songs, there lies a hint of highest peacefulness; to me, everything in them resembles spring: it is laughing like the blossoms.” (merkwürdig, […] wie die Schrecknisse von außen seine innern poetischen Gefühle in so ganz entgegengesetzter Weise erweckt. Über den ganzen Liedern schwebt ein Hauch der höchsten Friedlichkeit, mir kommt alles darin wie Frühling vor, lachend wie die Blüten.)

Robert Schumann im März 1850. source: wikimedia.org

Time and again, Schumann enters the complex tension of retreating to the interior on the one hand and reinterpreting the situation into a “positive idyll” on the other hand. To him, however, this is not irreconcilable but even becomes an artistic aspiration: “Telling the music about the pains and joys defining the era: this, I feel, has been bestowed upon me before many others. What makes me rejoice and encourages me to strive for something greater is that, at times, they hold it before the people how strongly my music is rooted in the present and how it seeks something else than sole euphony and pleasant entertainment” (Von den Schmerzen und Freuden, die die Zeit bewegen, der Musik zu erzählen, dies, fühl ich, ist mir vor vielen Andern zuertheilt worden. Und daß Sie es den Leuten manchmal vorhalten, wie stark eben meine Musik in der Gegenwart wurzelt und etwas anderes will als nur Wohlklang und angenehme Unterhaltung, dies freut mich und muntert mich auf zu höherem Streben.) (Schumann to Franz Brendel on 17 June 1849).
The numerous duet works for piano and a solo instrument that Schumann writes in 1849 breathe this spirit: in February, the Adagio and Allegro for horn and the Fantasiestücke for clarinet, in April, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston for violoncello and, in December, the Romances for oboe. Here, one can almost speak of a new genre in which Schumann brings compositional depth into a more private setting. Thereby, since he completely focuses on exemplary gestures and details, a fantastic “miniature encyclopaedia” emerges; it is a “dictionary on his musical language” (Gülke). In the Romances, he thereby succeeds in narrating a long-established form in the tightest of spaces (→ see R Schumann: Op. 94 – A Concealed Sonata? (3/3) ).
sources / further reading
Martin Geck. Zwischen Romantik und Restauration. Musik im Realismus-Diskurs der Jahre 1848. – 1871 Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag 2001
Martin Geck. Robert Schumann. Mensch und Musiker der Romantik. Munich: Siedler Verlag 2010
Peter Gülke. Neuaufbruch und Enklave – Schumann und der Maiaufstand. in: Dresdner Hefte. Herausgegeben durch den Dresdner Geschichtsverein e.V., Heft 102, 2/2010
Wolfgang Mende. “[…] nie hätte ich den Sachsen so viel Mut zugetraut” – Robert und Clara Schumann und die Revolution. in: Clara und Robert Schumann in Dresden – Eine Spurensuche. Cologne: Verlag Dohr 2014
Ulrich Malert. Rückzug in die Idylle: Robert Schumanns Sechs Gesänge von Wilfried von der Neun op. 89, in: Schumanns Werke – Text und Interpretation. 16 Studien. Robert-Schumann-Gesellschaft, Mainz 1987, p. 228