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Kreisleriana op. 16

Kreisleriana op. 16
Poets don’t invent poems
The poem is somewhere behind
It’s been there for a long time
The poet merely discovers it.
—Jan Skacel
It is only fitting that the worlds of Robert Schumann and E.T.A. Hoffmann should collide in arguably their finest works. For Schumann, the Kreisleriana, op. 16, represents the pinnacle of his achievement in the venue of the cyclical character piece, while Hoffmann’s Lebensansichten des Katers Murr is universally recognized as showing its author “at the height of his powers.”[1] Interestingly, the more one studies these two quintessential Romantic figures, the more one sees them as true kindred spirits. Both men worshipped at the altar of music; both men wrote penetrating critical analyses of other composers’ works; both men suffered the prosaic (for them) parental onus of having to study law. If Hoffmann is to be regarded as a pinnacle of German Romanticism in literature, Schumann would undoubtedly be his musical counterpart. Both artists realized the close correlation between the two arts—for Hoffmann, the literary powers are stronger and the language is musical, whereas, in Schumann, the musical powers are stronger and the music is literary.[2] When the worlds of music and writing coincided, as in the case of music criticism, Schumann aped Hoffmann’s technique of criticism overtly. Hoffmann devised a Serapionsbrüder, in “which the author’s personality split into a number of sharply defined characters, each of whom could present a different point of view.”[3] These personalities included, “Lothar, the realist, Cyprian, the total romanticist and mystic, Ottmar, the skeptic, and Theodore who, as a composer, is the most lyrical and impassioned of the group.”[4] Schumann’s triptych of Florestan, Eusebius, and Master Raro are similarly contrasted: “Florestan is impulsive, passionate, humourless; Eusebius is dreamy and reflective; while Master Raro appears as the reasonable mediator between these extremes.”[5] Consequently, “in both cases these figures are merely projections of the author’s own personality and reflect intense contradictions within the mind: contradictions which suggested to Hoffmann a future of insanity for his Kreisler; contradictions which led Schumann literally to this state.”[6] On the strength of this evidence, then, it should come as no surprise that Schumann would be so enamoured with the character of Kreisler.
The first appearance of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler occurs in Part One of Hoffmann’s Kreisleriana (originally published in the Fantasiestücke of 1814-15). Here the reader is presented with the brief suggestion of a dashing, vibrant, and crazed figure: a composer having “too little phlegm in his constitution as a counter-force to his hypersensitivity and the almost destructive flame of his fantasy. Thus the balance that is so necessary in order for an artist to live and create was broken. Be that as it may, Johannes was drawn constantly to and fro by his inner visions and dreams as if floating on an eternally undulating sea, searching in vain for the haven which would grant him the peace and serenity needed for his work.”[7] Snippets from other writings provide tantalizingly small details in Kreisler’s life, but it is in Hoffmann’s penultimate novel that we are finally given a detailed account of this character.
Although referred to by the succinct moniker of Katers Murr, the full title, Lebensanischtendes Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern (Tom-cat Murr’s Opinions on Life, Together with a Fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler in Chance Wastepaper Scraps), prepares the reader for the unusual ride he is about to embark on. The radical nature of the novel, however, really has no precedent. “The book effectively reinvents reading.”[8] Was Schumann, also, attempting to reinvent how one listens (ie in narrative) to music with the Kreisleriana? “As we turn the page(s), we confront alternating fragments…by turn delighted and bewildered, teased and enthralled. Just as we become familiar with the story, it breaks off at a dramatic climax, whereupon confusion and momentary tedium set in as we accustom ourselves to the other tale, which again stops just when we have become absorbed. By its repeated shocks the narrative buffets us between two worlds.”[9] This evocative description could just as well be applied to Schumann’s work.
In Hoffmann, Schumann finds that “the alternation of passion and satire must have seized his (Schumann’s) imagination, giving him, as it were, an excuse to yoke together musical ideas that seem incompatible at first sight, to change mood and expression without warning, to go directly from a lyric meditation to a strangely sinister scherzo or an outburst of rage.”[10] The structural unity of the novel’s two halves are linked by Master Abraham, Murr’s owner and Kreisler’s mentor.[11] For the Kreisleriana, the structural unity is in the interplay between the tonalities of G minor and B flat major. “Even though in this work thee are no names or initials, the restlessly searching G minor numbers belong to Florestan as clearly as the idyllic B flat major ones do to Eusebius.”[12] The tonal layout of the eight pieces is as follows:
1. D minor—B flat major—D minor
2. B flat major—G minor—B flat major
3. G minor—B flat major—G minor
4. Ambiguous; B flat major/G minor
5. G minor
6. B flat major
7. C minor—G minor—C minor (coda E flat major)
8. G minor—B flat major—D minor—G minor[13]
This linking of movements by mediant harmony is not a novel concept for Schumann. Interestingly, in the Fantasiestücke, op. 12, another collection of eight character pieces inspired by Hoffmann, Schumann plays with several mediant relationships, most notably A flat major/F minor. The harmonic interplay in the Kreisleriana, however, is much more integrated and of far greater subtlety. “The pivotal moment in which the tonal unity is achieved is the fourth piece.”[14] I will quote Charles Rosen at length here, in his extremely cogent and penetrating analysis of this central movement:
The music starts as if in the middle of a phrase: the key is clearly in B flat major. The tonal clarity is ruffled, however, as the opening phrase is repeated in E flat major and then in C minor. With the freedom of an improvisation the piece returns through F minor to the originalkey of B flat, and the first phrase is repeated. At this point Schumann tries the experiment of imposing a radical harmonic ambiguity on the sense of tonality. The opening melody is transferred to the bass, and begins in G minor. It continues in the bass, now completely unharmonized, to cadence on a Bb—but in what key? Melodically the phrase is rounded off by a conventional B flat major cadence, but the dominant seventh of G minor, which is the last harmony to be sounded, is still to be resolved, and the melody itself descends with an F# to the cadence. This would imply that the final Bb is to be harmonized with a G minor sixth chord, but the conventional melodic form of the cadence will not allow this. Two contradictory harmonizations of the low Bb are implied, and there is no way of deciding—both are equally incorrect, and the cadence necessarily sounds incomplete. This enables Schumann to dare to demand a very long pause, with a fermata indicated over every beat—no matter how long the pause, however, the cadence is suspicious, and the listener cannot quite believe that it is final.[15]
Rosen goes on to elaborate on Schumann’s “personal”[16] use of ritardandi as well as showing the further “oscillation between G minor and B flat major”[17] that occurs in bar 23 {see example 1}. Needless to say, Schumann’s mastery of this ingenious interplay of two tonalities has scaled new heights in this work. The parallel with Hoffmann’s work is overt and quite amusing: Kreisler wears an E major vest with a C# minor tie.
Another facet of Schumann’s craft that is on full display here is his use of shifting and complicated rhythmic patterns. Through these shifting rhythmic (as well as harmonic) complexities Schumann is able to evoke moods of uncertainty, turbulence and extreme agitation. Nowhere is this more evident that in the opening piece marked Äusserst bewegt (“extremely excited, or full of motion”). Rosen remarks that, “the violence is evident on the opening page, and so is the use of systematically opposed rhythmic periods…the bass never coincides with a strong beat until the eighth bar, and the extraordinary passage work, which seems to start in the middle of a process already initiated before the piece begins, has a raging violence not often met with.”[18] Schumann’s displaced basses have been referred to as a “chasing bass.”[19] The bass may be either early or late. In the latter case, “the bass also appears briefly in a more normal placement, upon the beats although introduced by grace notes.”[20] {see example 2.} This type of syncopation, unique to Schumann, is exceedingly difficult (indeed, nearly impossible) to bring off in performance.
Frequent use of hemiola (later picked up masterfully by Brahms) is another trait of this cycle. A striking example of this occurs in the fifth piece, where Schumann employs twelve consecutive hemiolas {see example 3}. Schumann “uses accent markings to call ready attention to the anomalous construction.”[21] The seventh piece of the cycle strongly invokes the spirit of Kreisler. The “turbulent violence”[22] of this piece is offset by two academic compositional procedures: diatonic circle of fifths and fugato. Both instances are seamlessly incorporated in this feverish work {see example 4}. It is well known that Schumann’s love of counterpoint came from a rigorous study of Bach’s works and that, according to Rosen, “Schumann obviously loved the progression (circle of fifths), luxuriated in it, and almost, one might say, wallowed in it.”[23] But perhaps, there is a more esoteric reason for Schumann’s resorting to these tactics—a compositional homage to Kapllemeister Kreisler? Hoffmann went out of his way to champion J.S. Bach (in a famous passage from Kreisleriana, Kreisler performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations at a bourgeoisie tea party); was this Schumann’s response to such adulation? The final piece is mentioned time and again as a unique case—unique in its carefully planned “inconsistent and un-patterned metrical displacements”[24] in the bass. Schumann has “placed many of the bass notes on the wrong beat: coming too early for the harmony, emphasizing the weakest beats with no justification from the melody, at odds in fact with the rest of the texture.”[25] In addition to this, each time the opening section comes back, “the bass returns in a different, more and more unexpected way.”[26] The works ends in enigmatic fashion, disappearing into the depths of the piano, mirroring Hoffmann’s wish of honouring his “beloved ward, the Tomcat Murr…by silence.”[27]
“The literary connexions between Hoffmann’s story and Kreisleriana can be extended to include visual relationships.”[28] In the October 1838 edition, the artist portrays characters from Hoffmann’s Kater Murr alongside those of Schumann and Clara. “Looking over one shoulder of Schumann is Clara, and over his other is the figure of Hoffmann…Julia Marc, a love of Hoffmann, appears in the left corner playing her guitar as found in Hoffmann’s Kater Murr.”[29] In the third edition of Kreisleriana, published in 1863 by Gustav Heinze, there “is an illustrative frontispiece by Paul Konewka depicting the silhouette figure of Kreisler conducting with his baton, his arms outstretched toward Julia, who is moving toward him led by a swan and carrying her guitar.”[30]
The final piece in this Hoffmann/Schmann puzzle is the question of the women involved. Correspondences between Schumann and Clara provide clues to this relationship:
But, Clara, I’m overflowing with music and beautiful melodies now—imagine, since my last letter I’ve finished another whole notebook of new pieces. I intend to call it Kreisleriana. You and one of your ideas play the main role in it, and I want to dedicate it to you—yes, to you and nobody else—and then you will smile so sweetly when you discover yourself in it—my music now seems to be so simply and wonderfully intricate in spite of all the simplicity, all the complications, so eloquent and from the heart; that’s the way it affects everyone for whom I play it, which I enjoy doing quite frequently.[31]
The suggestion here is that the music “not only enshrines Clara’s image during their aching separation, but is also based on some secret, underlying ‘master’ theme either by her, or else symbolizing her in his mind—such as an extension of the B E D A motto[32] found at the end of his bitter article, ‘the Editor’s Ball,’ published in 1837, in which this name enshrined the girl he still loved as apposed to Ambrosia (her other self) who seemed to be flirting with a rival suitor.”[33] A parallel can be drawn between the Schumann/Clara “distant beloved” situation and Kreisler/Julia[34] from Kater Murr. This suggests that Schumann found a literary parallel for the painful situation he was embroiled in, and spurred on by this, he created a musical catharsis to express those feelings. “Play my Kreisleriana sometimes! There’s a very wild love in a few movements, and your life and mine and many of your looks,”[35] urges Schumann. From this, it could be inferred that Kreisleriana is, for him, serving a dual purpose of narration and autobiography. It also reinforces the idea of the pieces as a reflection of Schumann’s personally, which is akin to Kreisler’s.[36]
Ultimately, the concept of Sehnsucht lies at the heart of any discussion between Schumann and Hoffmann. Sehnsucht (like Weltschmertz or Gestalt) is, in essence, a non-translatable German concept. “Longing” is the most commonly used translation, but I would add “wistful,” “yearning,” and “nostalgic”, in a futile attempt to complete the sentiment. For Schumann, there was the direct Sehnsucht for Clara; for Hoffmann, “in Volume One, Kreisler recognizes through his artist’s love for Julia a grand and heavenly synaesthetic vision. The beloved’s angelic image conveys light, fire, and eternal longing to the artist whom she thereby transports to a perfect realm.”[37] Sehnsucht is an absolute in Romantic art.[38] Distance (in all its forms: events, nature, and people), another Romantic trope, makes Sehnsucht all the more powerful. Novalis writes that, “in the distance everything becomes…Romantic.”[39] For Kreisler and Schumann this involves the artist’s love rejecting carnality and devoting oneself to an inaccessible ideal. “For Emma Bovary, the horizon shrinks to the point of seeming a barrier. Adventure lies beyond it, and the longing becomes intolerable. Within the monotony of the quotidian, dreams and daydreams take on importance.”[40] This is, sadly, the theme of Schumann’s life: he longed to be a virtuoso à la Liszt (derailed by a hand injury); he longed to be the preeminent critic (Berlioz held that mantle); he longed to continue the tradition of Bach, and of Beethoven (he symphonic output was mercilessly criticised); and the one longing that was truly fulfilled was Clara (it ended tragically in their separation due to his insanity).
Like Schumann, “Kreisler is kept alive by music…Kreisler is the personification of the Romantic soul in its struggle to bring to the surface the deepest of its personal feelings, often at the risk of madness, or death.”[41] All the more chilling (in light of Schumann’s demise) is the fact that Kater Murr is incomplete (another Romantic trope: the fragment), and “Hoffmann had intended that his hero would either go mad or pass his final days in a monastery.”[42] Ultimately, Schumann emulated Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler all too well—unable to control the “demon of art that had taken hold of him,”[43] and thus destroyed by it. The manner in which Schumann met his end give an added tragic dimension to any discussion of these two figures. A Romantic (certainly Hoffmann) would argue that Schumann’s own unfulfilled longing became an aesthetic end unto itself. “Only in longing do we find peace. Yes, that is what peace is: when our mind is not distracted by anything from longing and seeking, when it can find nothing higher than its own longing.”[44] If Hoffmann is “our window on the birth of romanticism,”[45] then Schumann shows us a romantic vision of music as a “vividly pictorial flight.”[46] Kreisleriana is homage, narration, and autobiography all wrapped in a Schumannian cloak of quirky rhythms, dazzling colours, and novel structures. It is his most inspired work; it is our window into the mind and soul of a supreme Romantic composer caught in the white heat of inspiration.
- Koji Attwood
[1] Jeremy Adler, Introduction to Lebensansichten des Katers Murr (London: Penguin Books, 1999), vii.
[2] Ronald Taylor, Hoffmann (New York: Hillary House, 1963), 57.
[3] R. Murray Schafer, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Music (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 184.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid. In addition, Raro is an interesting cipher—combining the names of Clara and Robert Schumann.
[6] Ibid.
[7] E.T.A. Hoffmans Briefwechsel, edited by Hans von Müller (Berlin, 1912), I: 33-4.
[8] Jeremy Adler, Introduction to Lebensanischten des Katers Murr, xxii.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995), 673.
[11] Jeremy Adler, xxiii.
[12] Joan Chissell, Schumann Piano Music (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), 44.
[13] Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation, 673.
[14] Ibid, 674.
[15] Ibid, 675-6.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid, 669.
[19] Walter Goldman, “The Rhythmic Tricks of Chopin and Schumann,” MTNA Proceedings, 1924, p. 69.
[20] Mary Evans Johnson, “Characteristic Metrical Anomalies in the Instrumental Music of Robert Schumann: A Study of Rhythmic Intention,” Ph. D. dissertation, The University of Oklahoma, 1970, p. 89.
[21] Ibid, 197.
[22] Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation, 678.
[23] Ibid, 679.
[24] Mary Evans Johnson, “Characteristic Metrical Anomalies in the Instrumental Music of Robert Schumann”, p. 101.
[25] Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation, 680.
[26] Ibid, 281.
[27] E.T.A. Hoffmann, Letter to Julius Hitzig, Berlin, 30 November 1821.
[28] Mary Hunter Arnsdorf, “Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Opus 16: Analysis and Performance” Ph. D. dissertation, Columbia University Teachers College, 1976), p. 18.
[29] Ibid, p. 20.
[30] Ibid, p. 21.
[31] Robert Schumann, letter to Clara Schumann, 13 April 1838.
[32] In addition to this, Schumann makes copious use of the C-L-A-R-A theme. A detailed analysis along these lines is elaborated upon in Mary Hunter Arnsdorf, “Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Opus 16: Analysis and Performance, “ Ph. D. dissertation, Columbia Teachers College, 1976.
[33] Joan Chissell, Schumann Piano Music, 44.
[34] R. Murray Schafer points out that Julia Benzon, in Kater Murr, is “on of the many reincarnations of Hoffmann’s own Julia Marc.” Julia Marc was, like Clara to Schumann, a pupil of Hoffmann’s, much younger, and a “distant beloved” throughout his life, serving as a literary inspiration in several works.
[35] Robert Schumann, letter to Clara Schumann, 4 August 1838.
[36] Thomas Alan Brown, The Aesthetics of Robert Schumann (New York: Philosophical Library, 1968), 179.
[37] Jeremy Adler, Introduction to Lebensansichten des Katers Murr, xxviii.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Novalis, Das allgemeine Brouillon, in Schriften, edited by Richard Samuel and Paul Kluckhohn, 5 volumes (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1960-88), 3:302.
[40] Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel, translated by Linda Asher (New York: Harper Perennial 2000), 8.
[41] R. Murray Schafer, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Music, 118.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid, 44.
[44] Friedrich Schlegel, Lucinde, in Entwicklungsreiben (Reibe Romantik), edited by P. Kenckhohn (Leipzig 1931), 4: 226.
[45] R. Murray Schafer, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Music, 164.
Jan 6, 2016
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