Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/423

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


SCHUMANN.

descended to the commonplace. From the first his music had in it a character which appealed to the people nay, which was in a way na- tional ; and quickly as he reached his present immense popularity in Germany, it will probably be long before he has the same influence in other nations, especially in France and Italy. After Beethoven, Schumann is the only master who possesses the power of giving full and free ex- pression to the humorous element in instrumental music. Both in his writings and compositions he allows it to have full play, and it is in his earlier PF. works that it is most prominent. One of his freshest and fullest works is the Humoreske (op. 20), the most wonderful portrayal of a humorous disposition that it is possible to ima- gine in music. Schumann's thorough individu- ality is prominent, both in harmonies, rhythm, and colouring, and in the forms of the melodies. It is, however, characteristic of his early PF. works that broad bold melodies rarely occur in them, though there is a superabundance of melodic fragments germs of melody, as they might be called, full of a deep expression of their own. This music is pervaded by a Spring-like animation and force, a germ of future promise, which gives it a peculiar romantic character; a character strengthened by the admixture of poetic moods and feelings. Schumann was both musician and poet, and he who would thoroughly understand his music must be first imbued with the spirit of the German poets who were most prominent in Schumann's youth; above all others Jean Paul and the whole romantic school, particularly Eichendorff, Heine, and Kiickert. And just as these poets were specially great in short lyrics, revealing endless depths of feel- ing in a few lines, so did Schumann succeed, as no one has done before or since, in saying great things and leaving unutterable things to be felt, in the small form of a short pianoforte piece.

Schumann's enthusiastic admiration and thorough appreciation of Bach has been already described. He shared this with Mendelssohn, but it is certain that he entered more thoroughly than Mendelssohn did into the old master's mysterious depth of feeling. It would therefore have been wonderful if he had not attempted to express himself in the musical forms used by Bach. His strong natural inclination towards polyphonic writing is perceptible even in his earliest pianoforte works, but it was not until 1840 that it comes prominently forward. His six fugues on the name 'Bach' (op. 60), the four fugues (op. 72), the seven pianoforte pieces in fughetta form (op. 1 26), the studies in canon form for the pedal-piano (op. 56), and the other separate canons and fugues scattered up and down his pianoforte works all form a class in modern pianoforte music just as new as do his pianoforte works in the free style. The treatment of the parts in the fugues is by no means always strictly according to rule, even when viewed from the standpoint of Bach, who allowed himself considerable freedom. In employing an accom-

��SCHUMANN.

��411

��paniment of chords in one part, he also goes far beyond what had hitherto been considered allow- able. But yet, taken as a whole, these works are masterpieces ; no other composer of modern times could have succeeded as he has done in welding together so completely the modern style of feeling with the old strict form, or in giving that form a new life and vigour by means of the modern spirit. In these pieces we hear the same Schu- mann whom we know in his other works ; his ideas adapt themselves as if spontaneously to the strict requirements of the polyphonic style, and these requirements again draw from his imagination new and characteristic ideas. In short, though a great contrapuntist he was not a pedantic one, and he may be numbered among the few musicians of the last hundred years to whom polyphonic forms have been a perfectly natural means of expressing their ideas.

As a composer of Songs Schumann stands by the side of Schubert and Mendelssohn, the youngest of the trio of great writers in this class of music. Schubert shows the greatest wealth of melody, Mendelssohn the most perfect round- ness of form ; but Schumann is by far the most profoundly and intellectually suggestive. He displays a more finely cultivated poetic taste than Schubert, with a many-sided feeling for lyric expression far greater than Mendelssohn's. Many of his melodies are projected in bold and soaring lines such as we meet with in no other composer but Schubert; for instance, in the well-known songs 'Du meine Seele, du mem Herz' (op. 25, no. i), 'Lied der Braut' (op. 25, no. 12), Liebesbotschafb ' (op. 36, no. 6), 'Stille Thranen ' (op. 35, no. 10), and others. Still more frequently he throws himself into the spirit of the German Yolkslied, and avails himself of its simpler and narrower forms of melody. Indeed his songs owe their extraordinary popularity chiefly to this conspicuously national element. The reader need only be reminded of the song 'O Sonnenschein* (op. 36, no. 4), of Heine's Liederkreis ' (op. 24), and of the Heine songs ' Hor' ich das Liedchen klingen,' Allnachtlich im Traume,' ' Aus alten Marchen* (op. 48, nos. 10, 14, 15), of most of the songs and ballads (op. 45, 49, 53), and above all of the Wanderlied ' Wohlauf, noch getrunken den funkelnden Wein* (P- 35 no - 3) which sparkles with youthful life and healthy vigour. Besides these there are many songs in which the melody is hardly worked out, and which are as is also frequently the case with his pianoforte works as it were, mere essays, or germs, of melodies. This style of treat- ment, which is quite peculiar to Schumann, he was fond of using when he wished to give the impression of a vague, dreamy, veiled sentiment ; and by this means he penetrated more deeply into the vital essence and sources of feeling than any other song-writer. Such a song as 'Der Nussbaum' (op. 25, no. 3), or 'Im Walde,' by Eichendorff (op. 39, no. n) are masterpieces in this kind. Besides this, Schumann always brought a true poet's instinct to bear on the subtlest

�� �