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In 1843 the Schumanns reconciled with Clara’s father and went to Dresden, where he had relocated, to spend Christmas with him that year. At first a temporary move in reaction to Robert being passed over for career opportunities at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, the Dresden sojourn lasted almost seven years. In September 1850 they transferred their household to Düsseldorf, where Robert had taken the job of municipal music director. Things went very well at the beginning, and in addition to conducting concerts (Clara was his soloist in Mendelssohn’s G-minor Concerto for his first concert leading the Düsseldorf orchestra), Robert was able to complete his Cello Concerto and compose his “Rhenish” Symphony, No. 3. (Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will perform the “Rhenish” here next month, Feb. 21-24.)
He also wrote songs and smaller pieces for the lucrative domestic market, including the Märchenbilder, Op. 113, in March 1851, just as the first signs of artistic discontent between Robert and his civic constituents was appearing. This group of four “Fairytale Pictures” for viola and piano forms a tonally coherent suite of character pieces in the style of Robert’s earlier piano pieces. There is no indication in the score which specific fairytales – if any – Robert had in mind, but the anonymous author of the Wikipedia article on the music claims that references in Schumann’s journals indicate that the first two pieces are scenes from the story of Rapunzel, the third depicts Rumpelstiltskin dancing with fairies outside his house, and the last represents Sleeping Beauty.
Musically, the first of the pictures is a moody prelude, playing with the upwardly yearning elements of the initial theme. The second is a rondo of leaping joy, vigorously double-stopped in the viola, with two contrasting episodes. The intense energy and explosive accents of the third movement do support the idea that it might be a fairy dance of the darker, Berlioz kind. The tender reverie – more nostalgic than melancholic, as Robert marked it – of the last piece makes it an unusual finale, but its glowing warmth suggests something of an “all lived happily ever after” ending.