Schumann's criticisms are found in the journal he established, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and in his personal journals. The pieces in the periodical usually appeared to have been written by "Florestan," "Eusebius," or "Raro," three fictional characters that Schumann created, each with distinct views toward music and the arts. However, the writing and opinions were all Schumann's.
His writing combines the poetic with the prosaic, in much the same way his music does. When his intention is to convey the feeling of the music or of a performance, his writing is full of metaphorical imagery. For example, here is his impression of Liszt performing a Konzertstück by Weber:
Beginning the piece with such a force and grandeur of expression that made one think of an attack on a battlefield, he carried this on with continually increasing power up to the passage where the player, as it were, places himself at the head of the orchestra, leading it forward in triumph. Here indeed he resembled that great commander [Napoleon] to whom he has been compared in personal appearance, and the tempestuous applause that greeted him was not unlike an adoring "Vive l'Empereur!" (tr. Paul Rosenfeld, 1946)
There are entertaining moments also. In one article, describing the events of a ball he held for fellow artists, he writes about one guest who is not a particular friend: "Whenever I think of him I discover a whole Shakespearian dictionary of abuse within me" (tr. Fanny Raymond Ritter, 1891).
When Schumann writes about a piece of music in an analytical fashion, he is more grounded and straightforward and can be as dry as any other academic. But sprinkled throughout are phrases and sentences where the dreamer shines through. In talking about Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Schumann goes through the mechanics of each movement in detail. However, proceeding that is the line: "If only I might succeed in giving my reader, whom I would like to lead up and downstairs through this fabulous edifice, a picture of its various chambers!" (tr. Paul Rosenfeld, 1946). Even within the sere description of the first movement, there is this: "Completely fantastic forms; reminiscent only once, as though broken, of the older ones. Evanescence" (tr. Paul Rosenfeld, 1946). It's in passages such as this where it's hard to believe that Schumann started college as a law student and that he ever thought he would have succeeded as a lawyer. It's obvious that he had the analytical and reasoning skills, and it's not that lawyers are not inventive or imaginative, but Schumann's true path led toward a more freely creative and artistic career.
A few other examples of Schumann's writings:
On Schubert's C major Symphony, the manuscript of which he discovered while visiting Schubert's brother --
On hearing Schubert's symphony and its bright, flowery, romantic life, the city [Vienna] crystallizes before me.... Here we find, besides the most masterly technicalities of musical composition, life in every vein, coloring down to the finest gradation; meaning everywhere; sharp expression in detail; and in the whole a suffusing romanticism such as other works by Franz Schubert have made known to us. (tr. Paul Rosenfeld, 1946)
On A Midsummer Night's Dream, by his friend, Felix Mendelssohn --
It seemed almost touching to hear fragments from the overture in some of his more recent compositions; but I could not wholly approve of the finale which almost literally repeats the close of the overture. The composer's intention in thus rounding off the whole is clear, but it seems to me too intellectual an achievement. He should have endowed this scene with his freshest tones; here, where music could have achieved the greatest effect, I would have expected something original, fire-new. (tr. Paul Rosenfeld, 1946)
Finally, here are some of Schumann's Musical Rules of Home and Life, published in the second edition of his Album für die Jugend. The complete list may be found on the website of the Schumann Birthplace in Zwickau. Many might say that these are relevant today.
The so-called 'silent keyboard' has been invented. Try it for a while and you will see that it is of no use. The silent cannot teach you how to speak.
Eric le Sage, piano - Album für Jungend
Do not be afraid of words like: theory, thoroughbass, counterpoint etc. They will treat you kindly if you do likewise.
Stefan Johannes Bleicher, organ - Etudes (6) in Canon Form for pedal piano, Op. 56 - Nicht zu schnell
Try to learn to play easy pieces well and beautifully; it is better than a mediocre performance of a difficult piece.
You must not know your pieces only via your fingers; you must also be able to hum them away from the piano. Teach your imagination so that you can recall not just the melody of a composition but also the harmony that goes along with it.
Even if you have a weak voice, try to sing at sight without the help of the instrument; by doing this, the sharpness of your hearing will improve continually. If you have a melodious voice, waste no opportunity to have it trained, and treat it as the finest gift heaven can bestow on you!
Simon Keenlyside, baritone
Dichterliebe, Op. 48 - Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
Dichterliebe, Op. 48 - Ich grolle nicht
When you are playing, do not concern yourself with whoever may be listening.
If you have done your daily musical work and feel tired, then do not force yourself to go on working. It is better to rest than to work without freshness and pleasure.
When you are older, do not play fashionable pieces. Time is precious. You would need a hundred lifetimes just to get to know all the good pieces there are.
Linus Roth, violin
Sonata for violin & piano No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121 - 3. Leise, einfach
Sonata for violin & piano No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105 - 3. Lebhaft
Children are not raised healthily by being fed sweets, cakes and sweetmeats. As with food for the body, spiritual food must be plain and wholesome. The latter has been amply provided by the great masters; stick to it.
Fancy passage work fades over time. Technical accomplishment is only of value where it serves a higher purpose.
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano -
Fantasie (Obolen auf Beethovens Monument) for piano in C major, Op. 17 - 1. Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen
You must not promote bad compositions; on the contrary, you should expend every effort to help suppress them.
Do not search just for technique and so-called bravura. In a composition seek to bring out the expression that the composer had in mind, and no more. Anything beyond that is a caricature.
Changing anything, leaving anything out or adding new-fangled embellishments in pieces by good composers must be considered an abomination. It is the greatest outrage you can inflict upon Art.
Anything in fashion will one day be out of fashion. If you pursue it into your old age you will make a fop of yourself, and nobody will respect you.
Waste no opportunity to make music with other musicians, in duos, trios etc. This makes you play fluently and with animation. Also, accompany singers often.
Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47 - Andante cantabile
Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44 - Allegro brillante
If everyone wanted to play first violin, then there would be no orchestras. Each musician should therefore appreciate his proper place.
String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 41/1 - 4. Presto
String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41/3 - 1. Andante espressivo - Allegro molto moderato
Love your instrument, but do not be so vain as to think it is the most important or the only one. Remember that there are others which are equally beautiful. Remember also that there are singers, and that both choirs and orchestras give expression to the highest things in music.
Among your friends, seek out those who know more than you.
As a respite from your musical studies, read a lot of poetry. Take lots of walks in the fresh air.
A lot can be learned from singers, but do not believe everything they tell you.
Nathalie Stuzmann, contralto - Myrthen, Op. 25 - Widmung
The study of the history of music, together with listening to live performances of masterpieces from different periods, is the quickest cure for complacency and vanity.
What, then, does being musical mean? You are not musical if you gaze anxiously at the notes and laboriously play your way through to the end of the piece. Neither are you musical if somebody who is turning for you turns two pages instead of one and you stop and cannot continue. You are musical, however, when you can feel what might be coming in a new piece of music, or in a familiar one; in other words, when you have music not just in your fingers, but in your mind and in your heart.
And how does one become musical? Dear child, the most important things - a good ear and quick perception - like all such things, are sent from above. But your given abilities can be developed and enhanced. You will not do this by shutting yourself up like a hermit and working for days on end on mechanical studies; rather you will do so by taking part in a variety of live musical activities, especially those involving choirs and orchestras.
Acquaint yourself early on with the range of the four main types of human voice; listen to them especially in choirs, find out which intervals have the greatest strength and which others are suitable for soft and gentle treatment.
Bavarian Radio Orchestra & Chorus; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond. - Paradies und die Peri (Paradise and the Peri), Op. 50
Part 1. No. 8. Weh, weh, er fehlte das Ziel
Part 3. No. 18. Schmücket die Stufen zu Allahs Thron
Never miss an opportunity to hear good opera!
Hold the old in high esteem, yet also warmly embrace the new. Hold no prejudice against names unknown to you.
Do not judge a composition on a single hearing; the things that first catch your attention are not always the best. The great masters must be studied. Many things will only become clear to you in later life.
'Melody' is the battlecry of dilettantes, and certainly music without a melody is no music at all. But be clear about this: What they mean by melody is but something simple and pleasantly rhythmic. However, there are other melodies of quite a different kind, and if you look at Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, they will greet you in a thousand different forms. Then, hopefully, you will soon become weary of the meager monotony of the latest Italian opera melodies.
Learn early on about conducting, and watch good conductors often; even try to conduct pieces alone in your head, where you are your own master. This will bring you clarity.
Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard, cond. -
Manfred Overture, Op. 115
Take a good look at life, including other art forms and sciences.
The laws of morality are also those of Art.
The road to improve is always through hard work and perseverance.
Without enthusiasm, nothing worthwhile can be accomplished in Art.
The purpose of Art is not to acquire wealth. Just strive always to be a better and better artist; everything else will follow of its own accord.
Somebody once opined that a consummate musician is one who, on first hearing a complex orchestral work, can visualize it as if it were before him. This is the highest level imaginable.
Liepzig Gewandhausorchestrer; Riccardo Chailly, cond. - Symphony No. 1 in B flat major ("Spring"), Op. 38
1. Andante un poco maestoso - Allegro molto vivace
3. Scherzo: Molto vivace - Trio 1: Molto piu vivace - Tempo 1 - Trio 2: (Molto vivace)
There is no end to learning.