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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Abegg-Variations Novelletten Drei Fantasiest??cke
Until he was thirty, Schumann wrote keyboard musicalmost exclusively, music which expressed the broadrange of his thoughts and feelings and the passionate andreflective aspects of his personality. Through theinfluence of his parents he learned much about literature,especially the poetic works of Goethe and Byron. His illfatedattempt to attend law school, at his mother'sinsistence, was soon abandoned in favour of theirresistible attraction to music.
Schumann was always intrigued with games andpuzzles, particularly when he could include them in hisown music. His first published work, the AbeggVariations of 1830, reflects this fascination withpuzzles. The variations take their title from the name ofa young pianist, Mme. Meta Abegg, whom Schumannmet in early 1830. This is a set of variations with atheme based on the letters of her surname, in Germannotation A - B flat - E - G - G. The theme is in waltztempo. This may be simple on its opening presentation,but the three variations are quite complex and brilliant.
The theme is marked Animato, presented in a gentletheme in triple metre. The first variation is more stormywith rapid passage-work, and with the rising motif theninverted creating a capricious nuance of harmony. Thesecond features a syncopated rhythm, perhapsexpressing a light-hearted conversation. The thirdvariation starts in a running style with rapid tripletfigures in the right hand, marked corrente, suggesting ahappy young boy running around playfully. A middlesection, in cantabile style, in a Sicilian rhythm, almostserves as a fourth variation, but builds up to theconclusion. The Finale, marked alla Fantasia in 6/8metre, features chromatic descending passages, andcould be considered a fifth variation in which Schumannexpresses his dreams and expectations. In the middle ofthe finale, Schumann brings the music to a stop andpresents two chords marked ad libitum. The secondchord contains the notes of the Abegg theme, andSchumann releases each of these notes in turn until onlya solitary G is left echoing quietly. As each note isreleased, it is as though his friends are leaving one byone until he is alone. Suddenly the theme from the finalereturns and rushes away excitedly, ending in both asophisticated but innocently humorous mode.
In Novelletten, Op. 21, written in 1838, the title,rooted in the word \novel" here becomes a collection ofstory-like short pieces. Schumann wrote in his letter toClara describing his new composition, referring jokinglyto the well-known soprano Clara Novello:
"Then again, I have written such a frightfulamount of music for you over the past threeweeks - pranks, Egmontian tales, family sceneswith fathers, a wedding, in short, extremelyengaging things. I gave this piece the titleNovelletten because your name is Clara andWiecketten does not sound good enough."(Letter to Clara Wieck, February, 1838)"