Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Personification of the Romantic Soul

Romantic Music cannot simply be defined by creative combination of the circle of fifths, nor can it be defined by elements of surprising and prestigious virtuosity. Romantic music distinguishes itself through an element interpreted by the soul, rabid emotions, and abstract thought. The general works of a composer or often an individual piece can intoxicate the listener with an overdose of emotions, leaving the ear fascinated and tender. Any open-minded listener can relate those delivered captions to their own lives but the only real understanding of the music comes from the source. Robert Schumann, a German composer and musician at heart, took his music directly from his own life. After living a life of struggle, passion, and despair, he stood as a perfect candidate for creation. The most symmetric parallel between Schumann and his music is his kreisleriana opus 16. This work represents the pinnacle of Robert Schumann’s achievement. Physical debilitation and family pressure kept him from his music. Society and asylum kept him from his love. The kriesleriana captures these fundamentals in Schumann’s self, allowing him to hold on to, however briefly, his sanity.
He Longed to be a virtuoso a 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 (his symphonic output was mercilessly criticized); and the one longing that was truly fulfilled was Clara (it ended tragically in their separation due to his insanity).” It is true; Schumann was a man of eternal longing that labeled his life an eternal struggle. His mother intended for him to become a lawyer and he pursued that goal as if it was his own, constantly escaping, however to the piano. He came to resent the profession, with “chilling jurisprudence” and “ice-cold definitions”. He created a mechanical finger device, intended to promote finger independence and tragically debilitated his hand, ending his career. Out of mourning for his music, he drove himself to insanity. This started with a constant drone on one note and progressed to the singing of a melody by angels. Schumann constantly heard music. At one point, he claimed that devils were telling him he was a sinner and that they would cast him into hell. He screamed in agony, became hysterical, and luckily was able to be controlled by two doctors. Schumann believed he was haunted by Schubert who begged him to finish the ‘unfinished symphony’ and imagined that Beethoven was trying to communicate to him through knocks on a table. These were the beginning symptoms of what we know today to be manic depression or multiple-personality disorder: a defense mechanism resulting when the stresses and depression in ones life are two over-bearing. The individual then creates different people in his or her mind in order to escape the reality of one’s life. This could be seen through Schumann’s creation of Florestan and Eusabius; two opposite figures, Florestan being impulsive, passionate, humorless, and Eusabius being dreamy and reflective. These two exclusive personalities were used to categorize emotional facets and allot ownership to each. His sanity diminished further with the absence of his love Clara. She created much of his inspiration and was his savior for most of his life. Even his love was a struggle. Clara’s father refused to see the two married and after Schumann was placed in an asylum, he was no longer permitted to see her. When he was finally permitted to see her, he died in her arms.
Author, jurist, and composer E.T.A Hoffman wrote about a character called Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler. Kreisler served as a symbol for the misunderstood musician, painting him as a clown. Schumann concluded that Kreisler is a clown only because society did not take him seriously. Eventually his seriousness drives him mad. This is Schumann’s main inspiration for his Kreisleriana Opus 16, a composition of eight pieces called the eight facets of Johannes Kreisler’s madness. Two characters can be seen as Florestan and Eusabius. “Even though in this work there are no names or initials, the restlessly searching G minor numbers belong to Florestan as clearly as the idyllilc B flat major ones do to Eusabius.” A third theme might be Schumann’s love Clara, either a theme written by her or one symbolizing her in his mind. “Clara, I’m overflowing with music and beautiful melodies now—imagines, 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.” The Kreisleriana are nostalgic and unearthly. They are intellectual Nirvana. The story of Kresiler is personified in the texture of this work. Many times the harmonies carry a heavy mood with shifting and complicated rythums while the vibrant melody is simple and pure. Each piece presents a theme, first depicted in a struggled yet powerful expression and then is incorporated into a flowing and effortless excerpt. The struggled and powerful beginning of each represents immense passion but also the longing that Schumann was so familiar with during his life. It is not until the theme is taken into its own realm of purity that Schumann is finally able to flourish. Schumann is “freed from the shackles of society by the ‘madness’ of music”. These abrupt changes in mood are intentional. The pieces intend to personify life. Ambiguity and awkwardness both play a vital part. Yet, when Schumann begins to display Clara, the certainty and brilliance come out equally as well. It is the inspiration behind this work that makes it so magnificent.

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