Marchenbilder, Op. 113 [Schumann] Formal Analysis

August 26, 2017 | Author: Milos Jovanovic | Category: Performing Arts, Classical Music, Musical Forms, Musical Compositions, Musicology
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Rachael Keplin Dr. Sherr Form & Analysis: Musical Analysis Project 12 November 2011

Märchenbilder, Op. 113: for viola and piano Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (Images of Fairy Tales) is assuredly one of the violists’ favorite set of pieces originally created for the viola. The four pieces (or movements) are poetic miniatures exploring the different combinations of colors and characters through subtle interplay between the viola and piano (Cheung). Before Schumann conceived his ideas for the Marchenbilder, he would move out of Dresden and accept a new post as Director of Music for the Dusseldorf Orchestra. Dusseldorf, an attractive city on the east bank of the Rhine north of Cologne, was a harbor for artists since the 17th century. The previous director for Dusseldorf, Ferdinand Hiller, suggested Schumann as his replacement. Hiller had lived and traveled much of Europe and knew many of the major musicians of his time. He was very fond of Schumann and in the past had greatly assisted the Schumann’s in establishing themselves in Dresden. There was no doubt that Hiller was aware of Schumann’s limitations as a conductor as well as familiar with his variety of character traits- both of which could be a disadvantage to running an orchestra of a larger community. However, Hiller must have been impressed with Schumann’s work with the Dresden Choral Society to recommend him for the city of Dusseldorf (Ostwald).



After quite a few months of Schumann waiting on alternate job opportunities and anticipating an unstable mental state from another move, on the 31 of March 1850 he sent his acceptance letter for the post as Music Director to Dusseldorf. Schumann had been engaged as music director solely on recommendation and was expected to maintain or even improve the standards set by previous directors. This position would have been challenging for even the best conductor considering the small size and amateur nature of the orchestra. Schumann did not only have to consider how to showcase and improve the orchestra, but also how to continue his growth as a composer. The strain on Schumann having to be a conductor, while also trying to preserve his integrity as a composer, was soon evident. Only a few rehearsals had passed in his first season with Dusseldorf before Clara [Schumann’s wife] had noted his “highly nervous, irritable, excited mood” (Ostwald). Schumann had been plagued with mental instabilities causing him to flux between manic happiness and grave depression. However, no matter how much he may have been affected by his surrounding environment and ever-changing mood, the last years of Schumann’s career proved intensely productive. Between his employment in Dusseldorf in 1850 and his removal to Enderich in 1854, he completed no fewer than 50 works, all representing a vast variety of genres. It was within these last few years that Schumann would compose the Marchenbilder.




“The music of Schumann is sometimes like riding an emotional rollercoaster, with its sudden justapositions of highs and lows, and Marchenbilder is certainly no exception” (Buttall). The Marchenbilder was composed in the March of 1851, only three years before Schumann’s mental collapse. The work is dedicated to Wilhelm Joeseph von Wasielewski, concert master for the Dusseldorf Orchestra and later would become one of the first biographers of Schumann (Cheung). After its first performance by Clara Schumann and Wasielewski, he writes a vivid description in his biography: “After Schumann had written his Märchenbilder, which to my great pleasure, he dedicated to me, he had his wife play them through while I took the viola accompaniment. He then said with a smile: “Childish pranks! There’s not much to them,” By this he merely meant to imply that the pieces belong to the genre of Kleinkunst [literally, small art]. He made no objection when I called them delightful” (Cheung). As implied by the domestic and casual nature of this first performance, Marchenbilder belongs to the genre of Hausmusik (house music). This genre is a type of chamber music, usually modest in technical demand, and intended for the performance of amateurs in bourgeois homes rather than concert halls. However, Marchenbilder is not the ideal Hausmusik for the 19th century amateur. Both the viola and piano part are demanding technically and musically. As mentioned previously, the Marchenbilder are poetic miniatures with the music set to evoke an atmosphere that might accompany a fairy tale – the music does not tell a fairy tale itself. Also, as many of Schumann’s other compositions, the Marchenbilder has unexpected contrasts of dynamic, texture, and other musical qualities. Each of the four



movements could easily show this contrast by their title tempo markings: Nicht Schnell (not fast) – Lebhaft (lively) – Rasch (quick) – Langsam, mit melancholischen Ausdruck (Slowly, with melancholy expression). It is dually important though, to note that the qualities that make Schumann a truly great representative of the Romantic Spirit are equally evident within each of the movements themselves (Buttall). By focusing on the opening movement (marked Nicht Schnell) of Schumann’s Marchenbilder, several unique qualities can be identified: fantasy-like formal structure, constant dialogue between voices, intentionally demarcated sections and an ambiguous tempo marking. These unique features are certainly profound in what makes this opening movement so lyrically engaging for the audience and technically challenging for the performer, but important to note they are not the only factors that exist. Before dissecting the smaller features of this movement, it is crucial to realize the structure in which the music is put together. Schumann does not use a basic formula, like ternary, sonata or binary, to organize the first movement but rather uses a type of free form: fantasy. An overview of the definition of a fantasy would state that “it consists of a series of sections, each different from the others with the exception of the last section, which returns the material of the first. Not only are the sections quite unlike each other in mood and theme, but several of them do not really come to a convincing ending. There arises an analytical problem from the fact that when one becomes very well acquainted with the work, a feeling of unity and structural organization appears that hinders a fragmented effect that is produced on first hearing” (Tyndall). Within the text of the music, Schumann includes 3 double bars. The first appears at the end of measure 8, the next at the end of measure 29 and the last at the end of measure 37. If the double bars are



analyzed as section markers, then the movement, in sections of measures within each of the double bars, comes together looking something similar to this: Section Measures Section Length

A mm.1-8 8mms

B mm.9-29 21mms

C mm.30-37 8mms

D mm.38-72 35mms

Noting the length of each section according to the number of measures included reveals that section A and C are identical in length while B and D have no relation in length. This asymmetry, easily spotted from looking at the movement in a larger picture is the theme that dominates any level of analysis on this movement. Most importantly, the lack of consistency and clarity between the demarcated sections is what makes this movement appropriate for the fantasy-like formal structure. To shift from the more unique features of this movement, the tonality shows much more of a normative nature and can be organized to view this form in a simpler picture. Tonally, each movement of the Marchenbilder is either relating to and/or centering on the pitch D; this fact is also what unifies the work in its entirety. The opening movement is in the key of D minor and is firmly established by both the piano and viola arppeggiating a D minor triad within the first full bar. Not long after the marked double bar at the end of measure 8, the tonality makes a small two bar transition to the key of F major. Both the viola and piano weave in and out of ambiguity until a strong cadence in measure 29 firmly establishes F major again. However, at the end of measure 29 another double bar is marked and the tonality is willed to once again shift. From here, there are very strong hints of a short lived A minor key, but interrupted by a familiar (double bar) demarcation at the end of measure 37. The pitches accenting the A major chord grow stronger over 4 bars before finally resolving to the tonic D minor in bar 46. The last section carries on



through the end of the movement in D minor. The section areas, measures and key areas can be organized by the following: Section Measures Key Area

A mm.1-8 D minor (tonic)

B mm.9-29 F major (relative)

C mm.30-37 Transitional (distant)

D mm.38-72 D minor (tonic)

After analyzing the larger formal contributors to the opening movement of the Marchenbilder, it is now crucial to breakdown into the smaller unique qualities. The first movement contains two main thematic/melodic materials; the first, and most notable, is an intensely lyrical opening theme. Introduced by the viola, this melody appears at very few moments throughout the movement. This theme appears first in measure 1 and carries through to measure 8. The melody begins with soft dynamics giving way to crescendo an arppeggiated 2nd inversion D minor triad, which then leaps an interval of a minor 6th to Bb and ascends to an octave D from the first bar. This pitch (D) is the first of the three outlining pitches in the melody. Schumann makes this known by his dynamic markings: a small crescendo towards the D and a decrescendo to depart into the melody’s next framing pitch. The melody continues to create an arch-like shape by ascending towards this outlining pitch: F natural. Schumann does not write any dynamic markings to assist with the emphasis on this pitch, but rather lets the shaping qualities of the melodic line be a guide for the performer. From here, the melody’s pitches slowly curve downwards, hitting the melody’s same pitched D from earlier and leading eventually to the last pitch to outline the melody: Bb. Again we see that Schumann has made dynamic markings to assist the performer in emphasizing this note.



This melody appears in exact form twice in the movement with the same pitches and almost identical rhythm. It makes its last appearance at the final moments of the piece. The viola crescendos a 16th –note run climax towards an accented dominant chord and without warning, drastically changes dynamics to the very familiar soft spoken melody heard at the opening of the movement. At first, the returning melody is off of the downbeat but then catches rhythm once the first outlining pitch D is reached. The opening melody makes its alternate appearances in section C and in the opening bars of section D. These appearances are harder to recognize aurally, but in text are recognizable by rhythm and interval relation to the original melody. All four occurrences of the melody share what is most recognizable within the material, a set of five notes beginning with a leap of a minor sixth interval to the top pitch, falling down to the leading tone and then resolving to the tonic:

The pitches in the text above show the original melody’s pitches, all in the key of D minor. Later in the movement, at measure 35, we see the same rhythmic material but with a variation on the pitches:

Note that both versions of this 5-note melodic material include the same series and order of intervals. There is another small allusion to the original melody in measure 39, but it



does not include the 5-note pattern – only the ascending pattern of a second inversion triad in the implied tonic area [in this case A minor]. Other than this 5-note pattern, the original and altered melodies do not share much more similar material. However, the pattern is recognizable enough to show an obvious relation. A comparison of the different occurrences is organized below to simplify the similarities and contrasts:

Melody (original) Ascending 2 inversion triad

Melody (variation) Ascending 2nd inversion triad, but revisits first pitch of triad (in this case E)

Dminor key area 5 eighth note pattern of intervals resolving to quarter note tonic

Aminor key area 5 eighth note pattern of intervals resolving to quarter note tonic


Simultaneous to the opening melody of the movement, the second shaping thematic material, a 7-note motive, is first introduced by the piano in measure 9:

This motive then reappears for a number of times – actually, 35 more times in the 72 measure movement! The unique feature that this motive offers is not only unity throughout the movement (that is constantly weaving in and out of stability) but also extensive development in the character. Though the motive appears a significant number of times, the aural recognition of the motive is far from exasperating. Each time the motive appears, its demeanor is shifted slightly. This is accomplished through variations in the pitches that start and comprise the motive, what is voice presenting the motive and what accompaniment, or lack thereof, there is to the motive. Since there are so many



presentations of this motive, it is best to compare and contrast the core elements that define each occurrence to have a full comprehension of the motive’s significance to the movement. Measure of Appearance m.9-10 m.11-12


m.22 m. 28 m.30-31 m.32-33 m.38-39

m.40 m.46-47



Accompaniment Viola: sustained low D Piano: offbeat eighth notes/slurred half and quarter notes Piano: offbeat eighth notes/ half note and disconnected quarter note Viola: slurred quarters Viola and Piano together in rhythm Piano: disjunctive rhythms Unaccompanied m.38: unaccompanied m.39: viola with variation of opening melody Piano: complex, moving rhythms Viola: similar to held low D, but now for only two beats per measure Piano: offbeat eighth notes/ half note and disconnected quarter Viola: slurred quarters/ 16th note answer in beat 3

Voice with Motive Piano

Starting Pitch (of each motive/measure) A4, F4


D4, Bb3


C4, A3



Viola & Piano

Viola: F3 Piano: F4


E4, C4

Piano Piano

A4, F4 E4, C4




A4, F4


D4, Bb3


F4, D4

Keplin 10 m.58-59 m.65-68


Viola: return of opening theme Piano: trilled Ab for 2 bars/ trill throughout oscillating notes of D and Ab Viola: sustained A


A4, F4


A3(x2), A2(x2)



*This graph includes all of the appearances that have direct rhythmic relation to the original motive, but no variations of the motive – the count of 35 appearances includes slight variations on the motive. These variations are equal contributors to the developing character in the movement, but do not benefit the exercise of simplifying the factors separating all guises of the motive.

By viewing the motive by each individual appearance, it becomes easier to analyze what factors make each display of the motive unique. Initially, the piano is seen introducing this motive without much distraction from the viola – which sustains a low pitched D for the duration of this introduction. This combination of colors from the viola and piano create a rather reserved sounding character. It is effective in the fact that it continues the dark atmosphere and shy character from the opening bars of the movement. Though the motive may seem to be the main cause of continuation on this particular color, the accompaniment is actually carrying more of the responsibility. As mentioned previously, each time the motive enters it is painted with a slightly different color – this first instance showing a dark and mysterious color. Consequently, this color contributes to the character of the movement. It is only necessary to continue into the bars immediately following the introduction of the motive to find the same motive with different mood. After the piano states the 7-note motive, once per bar over two bars (m.9-10), the viola shortly follows with a response to the motive in measures 11&12 (also once per bar over two bars). Here, the viola starts on different pitches than the originally stated motive, a D and a Bb, and is

Keplin 11 also accompanied with offbeat eighth notes by the piano. The aural effect of this change in accompaniment drastically shifts the mood to a character that is significantly less shy. Each appearance of the motive can be analyzed in this way. If this process is continued, the contributions of the motive to the character become significant. Through the development of different deviations made on the motives’ pitches and accompaniment, the character starts to show clear points of extroverted and in contrast, introverted qualities. By combining all of the contrasting features and events, a unique musical character appears. This character is far from having any stability. Out of all the appearances of this motive, the viola and piano only play it together once. This occurs in measure 28. Because there is such an overwhelming feeling of instability throughout the majority of the movement, the unity of two voices (viola and piano) in rhythm is now seen as an oddity. This moment is especially important because it is crucial to the formal structure of the movement. This measure not only acts as an aural point of stability, but also a point of deception in the movement. After a strong cadence in F major, the music falls right back into the same unstable motive, passing back and forth between viola and piano and now in an even more distant key. After the opening melody and 7-note motive are established and developed, Schumann then brings the mysterious character to a new height. In measure 58, the opening melody and the motive are fused together. The piano revives the original pitches of the first stated motive with some added ornaments at the beginning of the measure 58. The viola begins this measure by reaching a high-pitched A at a forte dynamic then dropping suddenly two octaves below to start the opening melody. The effect of these two thematic materials combining is the core of Schumann’s genius for composing intensely

Keplin 12 lyrical melodies. The end result of reviving and combining such colors is a musical fantasy lacking any clear structure, but possessing a reflective, dreamy quality that is at once charming and hypnotizing (Cheung). One last crucial contributor to the character of this movement is its tempo marking: nicht schnell (not fast). This tempo marking is extremely ambiguous to the performers. Schumann has clearly marked that the movement is not meant to be quick but on the other hand, he has not marked that the movement be performed slowly. This unique communication of tempo only heightens the goals of the movement for the performer – this because the only performer has to make the decision of tempo. The lack of clarity is very similar to the lack of stability found in the movements other formal features. The musical character developed throughout the movement shows striking resemblance to another familiar character previously discussed: Robert Schumann. There is more than enough evidence in the text of the music to prove Schumann might have invested some personal qualities within the Marchenbilder. Whether Schumann intended such strong resemblance is debatable. Nonetheless, the spontaneity apparent in the work has transformed these playful poetic miniatures into Marchen obne Worte (fairy tales without words) (Cheung).

Keplin 13 Bibliography Basch, Victor, and Catherine Alison Phillips. Schumann, a Life of Suffering. Freeport, NY: for Libraries, 1970. Print. Bedford, Herbert. Robert Schumann, His Life and Work. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971. Print. Buttall, Phillip R. "Plymouth Chamber Music: Rebecca Jones (viola) Abigail Richards (piano)."Marchenbilder, Op. 113 (2005). Making Music: National Federation of Music Societies, 12 Nov. 2005. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. . Cheung, Vincent C.K. The Charm of the Viola - Notes on Three Pieces by J.S. Bach, Schumann, and Hindemith. Tech. Home Page of Vincent C.K. Cheung. 30 May 2006. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. . Kashkashian, Kim, Eduard Brunner, Robert D. Levin, György Kurtág, and Robert Schumann. Hommage à R. Sch. ECM Records, 1995. CD. Nowlan, Eric, and Joseph DuBose. "Marchenbilder for Viola and Piano, Op. 113 | Eric Nowlin | Music for Viola | Free Classical Music Online." Classical Connect - Free Classical Music Online. International Music Foundation, 14 Jan. 2009. Web. 15 Sept. 2011. . Ostwald, Peter F. Schumann: the Inner Voices of a Musical Genius. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1985. Print. Robert, Schumann. "Marchen-Bilder, Op. 113." 1110 Kalmus Study Scores: Robert Schumann for Piano and Other Instruments. Melville,NY: Belwin Mills. 2-19. Print.

Tyndall, Robert E. "Free Form." Musical Form. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1964. 198-209. Print.

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