Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Robert Schumann

By October 1837, Schumann completed his Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, which was printed the same year at Schumann's expense. It was the first composition Schumann undertook after reconciling with Clara Wieck. Thirteen years later, Schumann revised the set of 18 character pieces (among other early works), making numerous changes not only to the music, but to the peripheral aspects of the score, as well.

The first edition of the Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David) contains dances composed for a group of musical friends (both real and imagined, alive and dead) that Schumann assembled around himself in support of his ideas. Reflecting the two sides of Schumann's personality, some of the dances are marked as being composed by "E." (Eusebius) and the rest by "F." (Florestan). Florestan's pieces are the more lively and exuberant; Eusebius' are more dreamy and wandering. None of the pieces has an individual title. Franz Brendel, a contemporary of Schumann who wrote some penetrating analyses of the composer's works, notes that the juxtaposition of two disparate styles "reveal to us that humor is the principle of Schumann's early compositions." These constant and mercurial changes in humor most likely made Schumann's music less marketable, and the composer himself acknowledged that the "rascher Wechsel" (rapid changes) of mood made his music inappropriate for either public or private concerts. Perhaps to prepare the performer for the work's alternating atmospheres, Schumann prefaces the publication with the proverb: "Along the way we go are mingled weal and woe; in weal, though glad, be grave, in woe, though sad, be brave." For the second edition of the work, Schumann shorted the title to Davidsbündler, but still referred to the individual works as "character-pieces." Most likely, he removed the word tänze (dances) because none of them actually works as a dance. Also, he eliminated the initials "E." and "F." from the set.

Clara Wieck appears at the very beginning of the Davidsbündler, for the dances are based on the opening measures of one of her mazurkas, which is heard in the first two measures of No. 1. The next 17 pieces are variations on this theme, with its incremental arching and emphasis on the third and fifth scale degrees.

Schumann distorts the nature of whatever dance he may be using in a piece. For example, although the first piece feels like a mazurka, with its long notes and accents on the second beat of each 3/4 measure, it does not have the expected formal characteristics. The Ländler feel of No. 2 is occasionally subverted by a compound duple meter in the melody, while the overall coherence of No. 3 is threatened when the left hand seems to get ahead of the right at several points. Schumann goes further astray in No. 6, a lively tarantella, in which he abandons the typical accents (on beats one and four) by having the right hand emphasize the third and sixth beats, the left, beats two and five. In the trio section of the piece the rhythm becomes more traditional, but there are still accents on beat six. The seven-measure phrases of No. 8 preclude its use as a dance, while No. 10, as does No. 2, juxtaposes a 6/8 meter in the right hand with 3/4 in the left.

The last three pieces are linked and suggest that B minor is the principal key of the set. Repeated F sharps connect No. 16 and No. 17, pieces of very different personalities that tend toward B minor and the ominous. After these two profound statements, the last piece, a waltz, seems anomalous.