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 a collection of 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).
For Schumann the four notes were encoded puzzles, and he predicted that "deciphering my masked ball will be a real game for you." The 21 pieces are connected by a recurring motif. In each section of Carnaval there appears either or both of two series of musical notes. These are musical cryptograms, as follows:
- A, E-flat, C, B - signified in German as A-S-C-H
- A-flat, C, B - signified in German as As-C-H
- E-flat, C, B, A - signified in German as S-C-H-A.
The first two spell the German name for the town of Asch (this is now Aš in the Czech Republic), in which Schumann's then fiancée, Ernestine von Fricken, was born. The sequence of letters also appears in the German word Fasching, meaning carnival. Asch is also German for "Ash," as in Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It also encodes a version of the composer's name, Robert Alexander Schumann. The grouping S-C-H-A encodes the composer's name again with the musical letters appearing in Schumann, in their correct order.
Carnaval had its origin in a set of variations on a Sehnsuchtswalzer by Franz Schubert, whose music Schumann had only discovered in 1827. The catalyst for writing the variations may have been a work for piano and orchestra in the form of variations on the same Schubert theme, by Schumann's close friend Ludwig Schuncke. 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. He worked on his variations in 1833 and 1834. The work was never completed, however, and Schuncke died in December 1834, but Schumann did re-use the opening 24 measures for the opening of Carnaval. Andreas Boyde has since reconstructed the original set of Variations from Schumann's manuscript; Romanian pianist Herbert Schuch has recorded this reconstruction, with his own editorial amendations, for the Oehms Classics label.
In Carnaval, Schumann goes further musically than in Papillons, Op. 2, for in it he himself conceives the story of which it was the 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. 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.
Schumann dedicated the work to the violinist Karol Lipiński.
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 (although 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 1840. However, today, despite its immense technical and emotional difficulty, it is one of Schumann's most often performed works.
Although the work has 22 sections, only 20 of them are numbered. Schumann did not number Sphinxes (which comes between the 8th and 9th numbered sections) or Intermezzo: Paganini (between the 16th and 17th).
1. Préambule (A-flat; Quasi maestoso)
2. Pierrot (E-flat; Moderato)
3. Arlequin (B-flat; Vivo)
- This is a depiction of Harlequin, another character from the Commedia dell'arte.
4. Valse noble (B-flat; Un poco maestoso)
5. Eusebius (E-flat; Adagio)
- Depicting the composer's calm, deliberate side.
6. Florestan (G minor; Passionato)
7. Coquette (B-flat; Vivo)
- Depicting a flirtatious girl.
8. Réplique (B-flat-G minor; L'istesso tempo)
- A 'reply' to the coquette
- This consists of three sections of one bar each, with no key, tempo or dynamic indications. The notes are in the configurations S-C-H-A, As-C-H and A-S-C-H. This section was not intended to be played and is generally omitted in performance and recording. Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Cortot, and Walter Gieseking included it in their recordings, however, as does Herbert Schuch, who plays it as String piano music in the same recording referenced above.
9. Papillons (B-flat: Prestissimo)
- This piece is unrelated to his earlier work of that name.
10. A.S.C.H. - S.C.H.A: Lettres Dansantes (E-flat; Presto)
- Despite the title, the pattern used is As-C-H.
11. Chiarina (C minor; Passionato)
- A depiction of Clara Wieck.
12. Chopin (A-flat; Agitato)
- An evocation of his colleague Frédéric Chopin
13. Estrella (F minor; Con affetto)
- Depicting Ernestine von Fricken.
14. Reconnaissance (A-flat; Animato)
- Likely depicting Schumann and Ernestine recognizing each other at the ball.
15. Pantalon et Colombine (F minor; Presto)
16. Valse allemande (A-flat; Molto vivace)
--. Intermezzo: Paganini (F minor; Presto)
- An evocation of Niccolò Paganini; it leads into a reprise of the Valse allemande
17. Aveu (F minor-A flat; Passionato)
- Depicting a confession of love.
18. Promenade (D-flat; Con moto)
19. Pause (A-flat; Vivo)
- An almost identical reprise of a passage from the opening Préambule, leading without pause into ...
20. Marche des "Davidsbündler" contre les Philistins (A-flat; Non allegro)
- Quotations from a number of the previous sections fleetingly reappear; the Grossvater Tanz, 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 (ie (Philistines), quoted from his earlier work Papillons, Op. 2; the piece ends Prestissimo.
- Perrey, Beate Julia, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Schumann, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 72.
- Andreas Boyde
- Program notes booklet to Oehms Classics CD OC 754.
- Jensen, Eric Frederick, Schumann, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 150.
- Niecks, Frederick, Frederick Chopin as Man and Musician, Volume 2, BiblioLife, 2008, p. 147.
- 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. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- 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.[dead link][dead link]
- Music Web International
- Classical Archives
- Charles Rosen. 1995. The romantic generation. HarperCollins.
- Jensen, Eric Frederick, Schumann, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 151.
- Maurice Ravel: Arrangements et transcriptions (French)