Carnaval (Schumann)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes
by Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber (1839)
PeriodRomantic period
Based onMasked revelers at Carnival
DedicationKarol Lipiński
Movements21 short pieces
ScoringSolo piano

Carnaval, Op. 9, is a work by Robert Schumann for piano solo, written in 1834–1835 and subtitled Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Little Scenes on Four Notes). It consists of 21 short pieces representing masked revelers at Carnival, a festival before Lent. Schumann gives musical expression to himself, his friends and colleagues, and characters from improvised Italian comedy (commedia dell'arte). He dedicated the work to the violinist Karol Lipiński.


Carnaval had its origin in a set of variations on a Sehnsuchtswalzer by Franz Schubert, whose music Schumann had discovered only in 1827. The catalyst for writing the variations may have been a work for piano and orchestra by Schumann's close friend Ludwig Schuncke, a set of variations on the same Schubert theme. Schumann felt that Schuncke's heroic treatment was an inappropriate reflection of the tender nature of the Schubert piece, so he set out to approach his variations in a more intimate way, working on them in 1833 and 1834.

Schumann's work was never completed, however, and Schuncke died in December 1834, but he did re-use the opening 24 measures for the opening of Carnaval. Pianist Andreas Boyde has since reconstructed the original set of variations from Schumann's manuscript (published by Hofmeister Musikverlag), premiered this reconstruction in New York and recorded it for Athene Records.[1] Romanian pianist Herbert Schuch has also recorded this reconstruction, with his own editorial emendations, for the Oehms Classics label.[2]

The 21 pieces are connected by a recurring motif. The four notes are encoded puzzles, and Schumann predicted that "deciphering my masked ball will be a real game for you."[3] In each section of Carnaval there appears one or both of two series of musical notes. These are musical cryptograms, as follows:

  • A, E, C, B – German: A–Es–C–H (the Es is pronounced as a word for the letter S)
  • A, C, B – German: As–C–H
  • E, C, B, A – German: as Es–C–H–A

The first two spell the German name for the town of Asch (now in the Czech Republic), in which Schumann's then fiancée, Ernestine von Fricken, was born.[4] The sequence of letters also appears in the German word Fasching, meaning carnival. In addition, Asch is German for "Ash", as in Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lastly, it encodes a version of the composer's name, Robert Alexander Schumann. The third series, S–C–H–A, encodes the composer's name again with the musical letters appearing in Schumann, in their correct order.

Heinz Dill has mentioned Schumann's use of musical quotes and codes in this work.[5] Eric Sams has discussed literary allusions in the work, such as to novels of Jean Paul.[6]

In Carnaval, Schumann goes further musically than in Papillons, Op. 2, for he himself conceives the story for which it serves as a musical illustration. Each piece has a title, and the work as a whole is a musical representation of an elaborate and imaginative masked ball during carnival season.[7] Carnaval remains famous for its resplendent chordal passages and its use of rhythmic displacement and has long been a staple of the pianist's repertoire.

Both Schumann and his wife Clara considered his solo piano works too difficult for the general public. (Frédéric Chopin is reported to have said that Carnaval was not music at all.[8] Chopin did not warm to Schumann on the two occasions they met briefly and had a generally low opinion of his music.) Consequently, the works for solo piano were rarely performed in public during Schumann's lifetime, although Franz Liszt performed selections from Carnaval in Leipzig in March 1840, omitting certain movements with Schumann's consent. Six months after Schumann's death, Liszt would write to Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, Schumann's future biographer, that Carnaval was a work "that will assume its natural place in the public eye alongside Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, which in my opinion it even surpasses in melodic invention and conciseness".[9]


The work has 21 sections, plus a separate line in between the 8th and 9th sections, titled Sphinxes, that contains a description of the aforementioned musical codes. Sections 16 and 17 are actually a single piece with the middle section having its own title; they are commonly numbered separately.

1. Préambule (A major; Quasi maestoso)

The Préambule is one of the few pieces in the set not explicitly organized around the A–S–C–H idea. It was taken from the incomplete Variations on a Theme of Schubert.[10] The theme was Schubert's Sehnsuchtswalzer, Op. 9/2, D. 365.[11]

2. Pierrot (E major; Moderato)

This is a depiction of Pierrot, a character from the commedia dell'arte, commonly represented in costume at a ball.

3. Arlequin (B major; Vivo)

This is a depiction of Harlequin, another character from the commedia dell'arte.

4. Valse noble (B major; Un poco maestoso)

5. Eusebius (E major; Adagio)

Depicting the composer's calm, deliberate side.

6. Florestan (G minor; Passionato)

Depicting the composer's fiery, impetuous side. Schumann quotes the main waltz theme from his earlier work Papillons, Op. 2, in this movement.

7. Coquette (B major; Vivo)

Depicting a flirtatious girl.

8. Replique (B major – G minor; L'istesso tempo)

A 'reply' to the coquette.

—. Sphinxs[12]

This consists of three sections, each consisting of one bar on a single staff in bass (F) clef, with no key, tempo, or dynamic indications. The notes are written as breves or double whole notes. The pitches given are the notes EC B A (SCHA) and AC B (AsCH) and A EC B (ASCH). Many pianists and editors, including Clara Schumann, advocate for omitting the Sphinxs in performance.[13]

9. Papillons (B major; Prestissimo)

This piece is unrelated to his earlier work of the same name.

10. A.S.C.H.  S.C.H.A. (Lettres Dansantes) (E major; Presto)

Despite the title, the pattern used is As–C–H.

11. Chiarina (C minor; Passionato)

A depiction of Clara Schumann.

12. Chopin (A major; Agitato)

An evocation of his colleague Frédéric Chopin.

13. Estrella (F minor; Con affetto)

Depicting Ernestine von Fricken.

14. Reconnaissance (A major; Animato)

Likely depicting Schumann and Ernestine recognizing each other at the ball.

15. Pantalon et Colombine (F minor (ends in F major); Presto)

The characters Pantalone and Columbina from the commedia dell'arte.

16–17. Valse allemandePaganini (A major – F minor – A major; Molto vivaceIntermezzo: Presto)

A German waltz, with an evocation of Niccolò Paganini in the middle. 16 and 17 are actually a single piece in ABA form: #16 consisting of the initial A-part (Molto vivace) entitled "Valse Allemande", followed by #17 the B-part (Intermezzo: Presto) entitled "Paganini" and a reprise of the entire Valse A-part again (Tempo I: ma più vivo).

18. Aveu (F minor – A major; Passionato)

Depicting a confession of love.

19. Promenade (D major; Con moto)

20. Pause (A major; Vivo)

A short introduction and a quote of the first section Préambule, leads into the final section.

21. Marche des “Davidsbündler” contre les Philistins[14] (A major; Non allegro)

Quotations from a number of the previous sections fleetingly reappear; the Großvatertanz, identified by Schumann in the score as a "Theme from the 17th century" and intended to represent those holding to old-fashioned, outdated and inartistic ideals[15] (i.e., Philistines) is quoted from his earlier work Papillons, Op. 2. Near the end of the piece, there is also a quotation of a theme from the last movement of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. The comparison of two themes is shown below:
A musical motif taken from the last movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E♭ major which is allegedly similar to another motif from Schumann's Carnaval.
Motif from the last movement of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.
The motif from Schumann's Carnaval that is allegedly similar to another motif in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.
A motif from the last section of Carnaval.

It is to be noted that although the motifs look very different on the score, recognition sometimes requires listening instead of seeing.


In 1910, Michel Fokine choreographed Carnaval for a production by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, with orchestration written collaboratively by Alexander Glazunov, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Anatoly Lyadov and Alexander Tcherepnin.

Among others who have orchestrated Carnaval are Maurice Ravel (1914)[16] and Giampaolo Testoni (1995).[17]


  1. ^ "Schumann Variations on a Theme by Schubert Sehnsuchtswalzervariationen", Andreas Boyde
  2. ^ Program notes booklet to Oehms Classics CD OC 754.
  3. ^ Perrey, Beate Julia, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Schumann, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 72.
  4. ^ "Nur einige Worte über die Composition, die ihre Entstehung einem Zufall verdankt. Der Name eines Städtchens, wo mir eine musikalische Bekanntschaft lebte, enthielt lauter Buchstaben der Tonleiter..." [Allow me a few words on the composition, which owes its existence to a coincidence. The name of a little town, where a musical acquaintance of mine once lived, consists entirely of letters from a scale...] Robert Schumann, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, writing a review of Franz Liszt's 30 March 1840 performance of Carnaval at the Leipzig Gewandhaus (which omitted movements 2–4, 9–12, 14, 17–19, and 20). Quoted by Ernst Herttrich in his preface to Robert Schumann, Carnaval, Opus 9 (Urtext), G. Henle Verlag, 2004.
  5. ^ Dill, Heinz J. (1989). "Romantic Irony in the Works of Robert Schumann". The Musical Quarterly. 73 (2): 172–195. doi:10.1093/mq/73.2.172.
  6. ^ Sams, Eric (1969–1970). "The Tonal Analogue in Schumann's Music". Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association. 96 (1): 103–117. doi:10.1093/jrma/96.1.103. JSTOR 765977.
  7. ^ Jensen, Eric Frederick, Schumann, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 150.
  8. ^ Niecks, Frederick, Frédéric Chopin as Man and Musician, Volume 2, BiblioLife, 2008, p. 147.
  9. ^ " der allgemeinen Anerkennung seinen natürlichen Platz zur Seite der 33 Variationen über einen Diabelli'schen Walzer von Beethoven (denen es meiner Meinung nach sogar an melodischer Erfindung und Prägnanz voransteht) behaupten wird." Franz Liszt, letter of 9 January 1857 to Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, quoted in Robert Schumann, Carnaval, Op. 9 (Urtext), G. Henle Verlag, edited by Ernst Herttrich, 2004.
  10. ^ Music Web International
  11. ^ Classical Archives
  12. ^ Spelling of Sphinxs is as given in Clara Schumann's edition of the published score from R. Schumann's manuscript. Other editions have a long-standing typo, misspelling it with an "e": Sphinxes
  13. ^ Clara Schumann, in her published edition of Carnaval (which could be considered to be the definitive edition) states in a footnote to this section: "The “Sphinxs” should not be played." (C. Schumann's published score, p. 11f.) (see Charles Rosen. 1995. The Romantic Generation. HarperCollins.) However, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking, and Mitsuko Uchida included it in their recordings, as does Herbert Schuch [de], who plays it as string piano music in the same recording referenced elsewhere in this article.
  14. ^ The Davidsbündler ("League of David") was "never anything more than a fictitious group, even if several real persons belonged to it in his imagination", although Clara Schumann and her father Friedrich Wieck are generally identified as Chiara and Master Raro, respectively; Felix Mendelssohn as Felix Meritis; and Schumann himself in the dual form of the "fiery and unbridled" Florestan and the "meek and sensitive" Eusebius. Schumann further elaborated upon the Davidsbündler in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the periodical founded by the composer in 1834. "This idea of an antiphilistine artists' society left its mark on the Davidsbündlertanze, Opus 6 (1837), which is closely related to Opus 9, and of which Schumann said to Clara, in a letter of 18 March 1838, that it bore the same relation to Carnaval as do "faces to masks" ["Gesichter zu Masken"]. Ernst Herttrich, ed., G. Henle Verlag, Op. Cit.
  15. ^ Jensen, Eric Frederick, Schumann, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 151.
  16. ^ Maurice Ravel: Arrangements et transcriptions (French) Archived May 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Casa Musicale Sonzogno: Giampaolo Testoni

External links[edit]