schumann’s characters


In general, I notice that Schumann really loves octaves. Chords and melody seem to appear in octaves frequently. Without looking at a score, runs appear to be comfortable, but there are also a lot of awkward jumps in both hands. It’s not quite scored symphonically, or in a chamber idiom, but I hesitate to call it truly pianistic, either, not in the sense that Rachmaninoff or Liszt are pianistic. The “virtuosity” in this piece just seems difficult, without there being too many tricks to it. There’s also almost no real counterpoint.

Musically, I really love the rhythm in this piece. Five against two, offset, misplaced, and obscured downbeats, grace notes, flowing eighths. Every rhythm dances and moves.

The first time I heard this piece, I could not for the life of me understand it. Each movement, each little character piece, is charming and stands on its own merit, but now I think I’m beginning to hear how they fit together. That little more than its rhythms and connections between moods and characters hold it together – that its own lack of cohesion gives it cohesion. It seems like a puppet show – characters and caricatures, vignettes, short little scenes. Each little movement is solid, like I could pick it up and hold it in my hand, and this collection of little dolls and scenery makes for an interesting and entertaining story, and that I could retell the story later.


I feel that Papillons has better overt cohesion than Carnaval. It stands as a whole piece rather than a collection of tiny movements. It almost sounds like variations, which I guess makes sense, since it was written earlier. I don’t get the feeling I’m watching a puppet show with this one – it’s less caricature-ish, more Classically refined (even though it is clearly a Romantic piece). There’s a bit of counterpoint, and the rhythms are less overtly interesting than in Carnaval. Although they do propel everything forward and still maintain that dance-ish style at times, I find myself more drawn to melody here. Each tiny section stands less concretely on its own (again like the puppet) and more abstractly conjures up images of shifting colors, not leaving a solid memory of what came prior but nevertheless moving somewhere else (like a sunset). I could not tell the story of what happened in this piece, but it would probably make for some great photography.


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