Robert Schumann

Carnaval for piano, Op. 9

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Though completed just eight years after the death of Beethoven, the 20 piano pieces of Robert Schumann's Carnaval (1833-1835) occupy a musical realm which seems far removed from older master's world. Carnaval's subtitle, "Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes," is a reference to the work's arcane, symbolic pitch structure. In 1834, Schumann was engaged to a young pianist by the name of Ernestine von Fricken, a student of his own teacher (and eventual father-in-law), Frederick Wieck. In a bit of orthographic serendipity, the composer realized that the name of his fiancée's hometown, Asch, could be translated into notes according to the German reckoning of pitch names: "A" became A natural, "S" (Es) E flat, "C" C natural, and "H" B natural. Furthermore, a reordering of the letters yielded S-C-H-A, which the young composer immediately recognized as symbolic of his own name (i.e. "SCHumAnn"). More than a striking set of character pieces and musical portraits, Carnaval also unfolds as a set of variations on this group of pitches; almost all of its sections incorporate a permutation of the A-S-C-H combination.

    Carnaval showcases virtually all of the young Schumann's personal and musical characteristics in one form or another; a number of the pieces are musical portraits of the composer's friends and important contemporaries. The opening "Préambule," which contains music originally intended as part of a set of variations on Schubert's Trauerwalzer, Op. 9/2 (D. 365), is one of the few pieces in the set not explicitly organized around the A-S-C-H idea. Figures from the commedia dell' arte make appearances in "Pierrot," "Arlequin," and "Pantelon et Columbine." Schumann writes himself into the work in the guise of his two alter egos, the idealistic, dreamy Eusebius, and fiery man of action Florestan. Ernestine von Fricken is characterized in "Estrella," while Clara Wieck, Frederick Wieck's teenaged daughter, is portrayed passionato in "Chiarina." (It was eventually she, in fact, and not von Fricken, who became Schumann's wife.) Schumann includes a touching tribute to Chopin, as well as a virtuosic intermezzo whose subject is the legendary violinist Paganini. Midway through Carnaval there is a trio of four-note "Sphinxes" -- probably not meant for performance -- through which Schumann divulges the "secret" of the A-S-C-H pitch groupings using an archaic notation.

    The final section, "Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins" (March of the Davidsbünd Members Against the Philistines), is a symbolic portrayal of the members of the Davidsbünd, an imaginary group Schumann called upon in his writings and music as a confederation against the reactionary, musically dry "Philistines" of his day. Here, the Davidsbündler -- Florestan, Eusebius, Estrella/Ernestine, Chiarina/Clara, Chopin, and Paganini -- rout the Philistines, represented by the "Grossvalterlied," an old German song. There is humor indeed in this "conflict" as the members of the Davidsbündler are cleverly disguised behind "carnaval" masks of great musical bravado.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Préambule in B flat major, Quasi maestoso
    2. Pierrot in E flat major, Moderato
    3. Arlequin, in B flat major, Vivo
    4. Valse noble in B flat major, Un poco maestoso
    5. Eusebius in E flat major, Adagio
    6. Florestan in G minor, Passionato
    7. Coquette in B flat major, Vivo
    8. Réplique in G minor, L'intesso tempo
    9. Sphinxes
    10. Papillons in B flat major, Prestissimo
    11. Lettres dansantes (A.S.C.H. - S.C.H.A.) in E flat major, Presto
    12. Chiarina in C minor, Passionato
    13. Chopin in A flat major, Agitato
    14. Estrella in F minor, Con affetto
    15. Reconnaissance in A flat major, Animato
    16. Pantalon et Colombine in F minor, Presto
    17. Valse allemande in A flat major, Molto vivace
    18. Paganini in F minor, Intermezzo, Presto
    19. Aveu in F minor, Passionato
    20. Promenade in D flat major, Con moto
    21. Pause, in A flat major, Vivo, precipitandosi
    22. Marche des Davidsbundler contre les Philistins in A flat major, Non Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Centaur Records CRC 3697
    2018 Dux Records DUX 1469
    2018 SWR Music SWR 19054CD
    2018 Centaur Records CRC 3590
    2018 Arco Diva UP 0196
    2018 Tacet TACET 221
    2017 APR (Appian) APR 7402
    2017 Biddulph Recordings 80050
    2017 Danacord DACOCD 785
    2017 Musica Omnia / Musica Omnia MO 0705
    2017 CuGate Classics CGC 042
    2017 Champs Hill Records CHRCD 126
    2017 Danacord DACOCD 781782
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 0028947980
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon
    2017 Hungaroton HCD 32798
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797371
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796277
    2016 Blue Griffin Recording BG 381
    2016 Centaur Records CRC 3504
    2016 Nimbus Alliance NI 6324
    2016 La Dolce Volta LDV 28
    2016 Piano Classics PCLM 0104
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88985321742
    2016 Melodiya MELCD 1002312
    2015 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 88875127202
    2015 Audite AUDITE 95720
    2015 Melodiya MELCD 1002292
    2015 IBA [Idil Biret Archives] 8508016
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95020BR
    2015 Naxos 8573399
    2015 Hänssler Classic 98050
    2015 Oehms Classics OC 012
    2015 Sony Classical 88843054582
    2014 TYX Art 14040
    2014 Fabula Classica FAB 12101
    2014 Myrios Classics MYRSACD 13
    2014 Hyperion CDA 67996
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    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907503
    2014 Sony Classical G010003220354Y
    2014 Andromeda ANDRCD 9009
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    2013 United Classics T2CD 2013018
    2013 The Entertainment Group 13709
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    2013 Opening Day Recordings ODR 7438
    2013 Newton Classics 8802180
    2013 Sheridan Music Studio
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951890
    2013 IBA [Idil Biret Archives] 8571301
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    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099970490
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    2012 Domo Records DMR 73179
    2012 John Khouri DM 070212
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    2011 APR (Appian) APR 5574
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    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778693
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    2010 Oehms Classics 754
    2010 Audite 23422
    2009 BBC Legends / BBC Music 42542
    2009 Delphian DCD 34050
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    2009 Archipel / Archipel Records 0386
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    2008 Medici Arts 29-2
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    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920600
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    2002 Andante 1964
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    ABC Classics 4766341
    Downstage Recordings
    Dante 4HPC
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    Historical Piano 058
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    Music Memoria 30271
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    Ades 20319
    Decca 4215252
    Eroica Distribution 3089
    RCA 60977
    Opticdata 62160
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    Deutsche Grammophon 449855
    Olympia (Classical/Jazz) 218
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    The Piano Library 280
    B&N 2431
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