Schumann’s “Papillons” and Jean Paul Friedrich Richter’s novel “Flegeljahre”
«…….affected by everything that goes on in the world, and think it all over in my own way, politics, literature, and people, then I long express my feelings and find an outlet for them in music. That is why my compositions are sometimes difficult to understand, because they are connected with distant interests; and sometimes striking, because everything extraordinary that happens impresses me, and impels me to express in music……….I can only speak of music in broken sentences, although I think a great deal about it.”
Robert Schumann
In an April 17, 1832 letter to his family, Schumann told them to “read the last scene in Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre as soon as possible, because the Papillons are intended as a musical representation of that masquerade…”
The title of the novel, translated as Adolescence or Age of Indiscretion, deals with twin brothers Walt and Vult. The two characters, not surprisingly, are linked to Schumann’s well-known imaginary figures Florestan and Eusebius; Vult, the counterpart of the former, and Walt, the latter. In the novel, Walt is trying to gain an inheritance through the completion of sixteen bizarre stipulations. A third character in the novel is Wina, a girl for whom both brothers are smitten. Although Wina is in love with Walt, none of the three have confessed their love.29 The final chapter in the novel, entitled “Larventanz” or “Masked Ball,” is the chapter that Schumann connects to Papillons.30 In this masked ball scene, Walt dresses as a “Coachman,” Vult as “Hope,” a shepherdess, and Wina as a “Nun.” While dancing, Wina confesses her love to the man she believes is Walt, though it is actually Vult who has disguised his voice to sound like Walt. Devastated, Vult decides to leave, but first gets Walt to exchange disguises with him so he and Wina can be together. As the ball winds down in the wee hours of the morning, Walt is getting sleepy. He vaguely hears a flute playing, although he does not realize that it is his brother Vult playing as he is walking out of town, never to return.
In an April 19, 1832 letter to “L. Rellstab”, Schumann states that he…often turned to the last page for the end seemed like a fresh beginning, and almost unconsciously I found myself at the piano, and thus one Papillon after the other came into existence. I trust you may consider their origin an apology for the whole composition, as the separate numbers often require explaining.
Though Schumann never gives a clear explanation of the relationship of the title to the work itself, many have conjectured its meaning. The term “metamorphosis” has surfaced as a recurring idea, although three completely different views on the idea have also emerged. The first view is that Papillons portrays a historical “metamorphosis” in that “all of the twelve pieces underwent an elaborate metamorphosis, like larvae, before emerging in their full butterfly grace and charm.” This statement refers to the fact that the work, published in April of 1832, was a conglomeration of pieces from Schumann’s two-hand waltzes and four-hand polonaises written separately between 1828 and 1831. The second idea is more of a symbolic “metamorphosis.” Jean Paul referenced the butterfly in nearly all his works; the association was seen as a metamorphosis of the soul and the realization of a higher ideal. In other words, as the butterfly develops through a process called metamorphosis, so the soul develops until it has attained a purer state of being. The third concept is described as a more literal “metamorphosis” or “transformation” of the music. Following the brief introduction, No. 1 (the waltz theme of the ball) uses all possible letters of the musical alphabet: A, B, C-sharp, D, E, F-sharp, and G (This theme is re-introduced in the finale as a countermelody to the Grossvatertanz). A transformation, or rearrangement, of the pitches would then occur through the individual pieces to follow; every letter name is used as a key at some time throughout the piece.
The passages Schumann selected from Flegeljahre do not actually cover the entire plot of the masked ball. They do, however, collaborate with the music to achieve two objectives. First, they offer an opportunity for musical contrast. Second, as Schumann described to his family, the text and music reflect the temperaments of the three characters: Vult’s acerbic nature, Walt’s sensitive soul, and Wina’s angelic love. As described earlier, the scene where Wina actually tells of her love for Walt and Vult’s reaction to the disappointment is not included in Schumann’s indicated writings.

Kαι λίγα λόγια για τον Schumann από τον Edwin Fischer:
“To him above all, belongs my heart. I love him like an honoured friend, to him I owe my most beautiful hours-I lament deeply for him, too, for the shadows of sadness- the sorrow we feel in his songs- fell ever more thickly upon him…..What do we know of his inner being, what we know, there, where reason ceases and madness begins?»

With the appearance of Papillons, Schumann saw the way ahead. ‘On sleepless nights,’ he wrote, ‘I am conscious of a mission which rises before me like a distant peak. When I wrote Papillons I began to feel a certain independence. Now the butterflies have flown off into the vast magnificent universe of spring; the spring itself is on my doorstep looking at me – it is a child with celestial blue eyes.’

Jean Paul

Schumann – Cortot (1935) – Papillons Op2

Sviatoslav Richter plays Schumann





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