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Papillons, Op 2

'Schumann: Carnaval, Fantasiestücke, Papillons' (CDA67120)
Schumann: Carnaval, Fantasiestücke, Papillons
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Movement 01: Introduzione
Movement 02: No 1
Movement 03: No 2: Prestissimo
Movement 04: No 3
Movement 05: No 4: Presto
Movement 06: No 5
Movement 07: No 6
Movement 08: No 7: Semplice
Movement 09: No 8
Movement 10: No 9: Prestissimo
Movement 11: No 10: Vivo
Movement 12: No 11
Movement 13: No 12: Finale

Papillons, Op 2
Schumann was just twenty when he completed the chain of miniature dance pieces which he called Papillons, though some of its material was even earlier in origin. As a university student at Heidelberg, his principal sources of delight had been on the one hand the waltzes and four-handed polonaises of Schubert, and on the other the novels of the early-nineteenth-century writer Jean Paul (the pseudonym of Johann Paul Richter). Writing from Heidelberg in November 1829 to his future piano teacher and father-in-law, Friedrich Wieck, Schumann confessed: ‘Schubert is still “my only Schubert”, especially as he has everything in common with “my only Jean Paul”. When I play Schubert, I feel as if I were reading a novel by Jean Paul set to music.’ Writing in 1828 to his friend Gisbert Rosen, Schumann described how on a visit to Jean Paul’s widow in Bayreuth she had given him a portrait of the writer: ‘If the whole world read Jean Paul’, Schumann told Rosen, ‘it would certainly be a better, but unhappier place—he has often brought me close to madness, but the rainbow of peace and of the human spirit always hovers delicately over all the tears, and the heart is wondrously elevated and tenderly transfigured.’

It is above all in Papillons that Schumann unites his love of Schubert and of Jean Paul. For Schumann, Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre was a book ‘like the Bible’, and he once famously declared that he had learned more counterpoint from its author than from his music teacher. (The novel’s title is difficult to render into English. Often used to define the period of adolescence, the word ‘Flegeljahre’ carries a sub-text of unruliness. Thomas Carlyle, who translated several of Jean Paul’s novels, opted for ‘Wild Oats’, which conveys the spirit of the original, if not its letter.) In a letter of April 1832 to the poet Ludwig Rellstab, thanking him for his favourable review of his Abegg Variations Op 1 in the music journal Iris im Gebiete der Tonkunst, of which Rellstab was editor, Schumann explained:

Less for the benefit of the editor of Iris than for the poet and kindred spirit of Jean Paul, I am permitting myself to add a few words about how the Papillons arose, as the thread that binds them to each other is almost invisible. You remember the last scene in Flegeljahre—masked ball—Walt—Vult—masks—Wina—Vult’s dancing—the exchange of masks—confessions—anger—revelation—the hurrying away—the closing dream and then the departing brother. I often turned to the last page, for the ending seemed to me no more than a new beginning—almost unconsciously I was at the piano, and so one Papillon after another came into being.

Schumann’s own copy of Flegeljahre contains annotations which link the various episodes of the novel’s penultimate chapter to the individual numbers of his Papillons, and although we should be wary of taking any such parallels too literally there are connections which seem quite clear. The movement of the dancing figures in the ballroom which inspires Walt Harnisch with a feeling of poetic elevation (‘What a fertile northern-light sky full of criss-crossing zigzagging forms!’ is Jean Paul’s description) can be heard in a passage where Schumann has the pianist’s interlocked hands descending the keyboard in rapid alternation; and the animated antics of a giant boot that capture Walt’s imagination are represented in the third number of Papillons, played in galumphing octaves. (In a letter to his friend Henriette Voigt, Schumann urged her to read Jean Paul’s novel, ‘in which everything is written in black and white, down to the Giant Boot in F sharp minor’.) There is, too, the moment where the absent-minded Walt, by taking a wrong turning, finds himself in the punch room instead of the ballroom, and hears ‘beautifully muted music wafting from a considerable distance’ (‘Musik aus schickliche Ferne schön-gedämpft’). The notion of hearing a snatch of a dance tune from afar, before it emerges into the foreground as though a door has suddenly been thrown open, is one that Schumann duly carried through into his music: the agitated D minor sixth piece of Papillons is interrupted by a waltz-tune in A major, played pianissimo; and the same tune explodes with force a whole-tone lower, in a sort of Doppler effect, in the otherwise gentle tenth number. It was fragmentation of this kind, coupled with the music’s kaleidoscopic changes of mood (both were to become important features of Schumann’s mature music) that caused problems for early listeners to Papillons. When Clara Wieck played the piece at one of her father’s musical soirées in 1832, Schumann noted in his diary: ‘The assembled guests did not seem to me to take in Papillons, as they looked at each other conspicuously and couldn’t grasp the rapid changes.’

The two protagonists of Flegeljahre are the twins Walt and Vult Harnisch. Walt is a poet and dreamer, while his brother is a dark-complexioned, passionate artist. Together, the twins may be seen as the literary embodiment of Schumann’s own creative alter egos, Eusebius and Florestan. In the ‘Larventanz’ chapter of the book cited by Schumann, the brothers exchange masks, in an attempt to discover which of them the beautiful Wina, whom they both adore equally, does in fact love. In German, the word ‘Larve’ signifies both a mask and a larva; and in its latter meaning it would naturally be expected to give rise to a fully fledged ‘papillon’. Not for nothing is Jean Paul’s novel full of butterfly imagery. As Walt finds himself whisked onto the dance floor, he imagines himself ‘flying after a summer aflutter with summer birds. Just as a youth touches the hand of a great and famous writer for the first time, so he gently touched—like butterfly wings, like auricular powder—Wina’s back, and moved as far away as possible in order to look at her life-breathing face.’

Schumann originally placed the final sentence of Flegeljahre at the head of his Papillons, though the quotation did not appear in the published score. The flute-playing Vult, accepting that the twins’ dream of creating a collaborative novel will never be realized, leaves their house for ever:

Noch aus der Gasse herauf hörte Walt entzückt die entfliehenden Töne reden, denn er merkte nicht, dass mit ihnen sein Bruder entfliehe. [Enraptured, Walt could still hear the fleeing sounds coming up from the street, for he didn’t realize that with them his brother was fleeing.]

In the closing number of Papillons, Schumann quotes the ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ traditionally used at the conclusion of a ball, combining it with the waltz-tune of the cycle’s first piece—as though to illustrate in music the view he expressed to Rellstab, that the end of Jean Paul’s novel sounds like a new beginning. In the last bars we hear the chimes of six o’clock in the morning, as the dancers disperse and the music vanishes into thin air. The effect is achieved by fragmenting the ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ so that it sounds as though it is disappearing into the distance; and, at the very end, by means of a quietly arpeggiated chord whose notes are slowly released one by one. Schumann carried out a similar idea in the concluding pages of his Abegg Variations Op 1, where the process of subtracting notes from a chord produces a ‘ghost’ version of the work’s theme.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2005

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Details for CDA67120 track 1
Recording date
30 August 2002
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Schumann: Carnaval, Fantasiestücke, Papillons (CDA67120)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: November 2005
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