Davidsbündlertänze is a piece written by Robert Schumann that I’ve been working on lately. I’ll be playing it on my senior recital next year and also using it for graduate school auditions.
Davidsbündlertänze is one of the crown jewels of the romantic piano literature. It’s a work composed of eighteen character pieces divided into two books, each representative of Florestan or Eusebius– Schumann’s characters. Florestan represents the manic, masculine, and passionate side of Schumann while Eusebius represents the dreamy, melancholy, and introverted side. Throughout Schumann’s music and life these characters are used to express his opinions on music (he was a music reviewer for a journal). In fact, these characters are fleshed out in the earlier more well known piece Carnaval. It seems impossible to separate the composer’s life from his music. Music was Schumann’s life. His family had wanted him to study law, yet while doing so, he was irresistibly drawn to making and writing music.
These two characters are different sides of the same coin. Florestan and Eusebius guide use through the eighteen movements which are noted with either or both of their initials at the end of each movement much like a writer would sign his letters.
I’m playing the original version of the piece which is the one more often played. Schumann revised this work but somehow excised the most original and innovative material, as if in rejection of his manic genius. This work is a culmination of Schumann, his personality, his love, and his despair. I want to focus on his love: his love for Clara and his love for music. To understand this all consuming love, we first have to understand his personality and the characterization of Florestan and Eusebius. Florestan is the masculine side of him, the conquering hero of the legend, powerful and fearless. Eusebius is his feminine side, a quiet poet, spinning dreamy and ethereal tales of love and despair.
What in the music indicates these two opposing characters?
The Piece is prefaced with this quote
In all und jeder Zeit
Verknüpft sich Lust und Leid:
Bleibt fromm in Lust und seid
Dem Leid mit Mut bereit
In each and every age
joy and sorrow are mingled:
Remain pious in joy,
and be ready for sorrow with courage.
The opening movement is a movement that portrays both F and E. It also incorporates a quote from a Mazurka written by Clara Schumann in the very opening. The “motto von C.W.” is referring to the piece that Clara Wieck (maiden name) wrote. As you can see, it’s a direct quote.
This is a homage to his future wife and is in a way paying respect to her. It’s quite the choice to open with such a strong and masculine opening. It contrasts and balances with the feminine idea of her character. In his eyes, she is the ideal woman that drives his desires and is ultimately the end goal. Clara is a child prodigy, the daughter of his piano teacher, and his future wife. He had to fight to marry her as her father was very opposed to their union.
So why exactly is the representation of Clara in this piece so masculine driving?
Robert felt emasculated by Clara in many ways. She was the hands down the better pianist. She was world famous and would tour Europe on the regular. Robert dreamed of her life and skill at the piano- yet ended up injured and becoming more of a writer and composer instead. Clara was also a working woman- capable of making more money than Robert could.
Perhaps the inclusion of the quote is just to keep Clara on his mind as he wanders through his psyche and the night of music to be held. With this opening movement, he introduces three characters, Clara, Florestan and Eusebius. F and E trade remarks throughout the first page, melding into each other. They use the same phrase and notes, as if they are talking and using the same words but with a completely different meaning and context. The only divergence that indicates either character is the different harmony and dynamic.
2. innig (intimate/heartfelt)
The expressions of his future with his Clara are seen through the lens of each Florestan and Eusebius. With each movement, we see a different future, thought, or feeling that he has on his future marriage.
with 2. Innig, we see his doubts creeping in. A sense of impending loss and despair are in these lines. Eusebius is lost in thought, dreaming of happy future yet unable to realize it or act upon it. He’s not the conquering hero, he’s the damsel in distress here, filled with anxiety and despair of his current situation.
It’s a simple movement with a plain melody. Yet the complexity of his emotions are seen in the repetitions, dark harmonies, and undulating accompanying material.
It’s as if he pines for her but their future together is unknown.
3. Etwas Hahnbüchen (somewhat cockeyed)
As if in direct retaliation and opposition from the previous, Florestan here bursts of bravado and tomfoolery. The large jumps and independence between the hand are quite hard to nail down. To me, it sets the mood for the rest of the character pieces that are under Florestan’s influence. The fiery passion and bouts of naïveté are very typical of a young man. It’s as if Schumann is portraying this ambitious passion as himself yet still failing to convince himself it’s him. It has a strange inflation of dynamic here. It’s always getting louder, getting bigger, yet a performer would strain themselves to follow his markings religiously and continuously get louder and bigger.
In the first book, (1) 3,4,6,8,(9) are all under Florestan’s name. 1 is under both F and E while 9 is unmarked. Personally, I think that 9 is full of passion and eagerness that is definitely very Florestan. The first book of Davidsbundlertanze is dominated by Florestan and his male energy. The exceptions are the intermittent breaks brought about by 2, 5, and 7.
Eusebius foils Florestan and brings some calm to the overall structure. No. 5: Einfach (simple) brings a childlike joy and melody to all of the passion and seriousness of love. It has a simple feminine nature that cannot be sullied by a performer’s indulgence. I have been scolded several times by my professor to keep it simple and not to dirty it with too much rubato or time.
What makes 5 seem feminine to me?
I think the simpleness and the frankness of the music that just speaks without the frills or bravado is feminine. Its also a movement that sings the most. It sings kindness that is very appealing. It doesn’t have that Seductive Feminine nature but perhaps a hint of coquettishness.