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About this Piece

Schumann’s second carnival piece, the Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival Scenes fromrom Vienna), is of a different order than its more familiar Op. 9 predecessor. In the Viennese work, Schumann abandoned capricious miniaturism in favor of an extensive five-movement form (without any descriptive titles), in which caprice still plays a major role. And the full flush of Schumann’s inimitable Romanticism shines on every page of the work.  

The first, rondo-like movement, an Allegro, has five contrasting sections, the ebullient first one reappearing several times as a refrain separating a series of beguiling and varied episodes. In the fourth episode, after coyly alluding to his own Carnaval, Schumann cheekily chides the Viennese, who at this period had outlawed anything French, by introducing very briefly a disguised version of the banned-in-Vienna Marseillaise; in the fifth section, he invokes the slow movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 3, as a kind of homage, one guesses, to the not-so-long-dead master.  

A brief, only slightly teary Romanze followed by a buoyant and breezy Scherzino lead to the heart of the work: an impassioned Intermezzo whose intensity is nothing less than Schumann’s longing for the absent Clara made palpable. The composer rarely rose to greater heights of pianistic expressiveness than in this movement’s torrent of soaring emotion. Performance-wise, the piece asks that the player’s right hand be the purveyor of both the single-note melody and the agitated running-note accompaniment—a considerable artistic/technical feat. 

On the heels of such soulfulness laid bare, the energetic Finale comes first as an intruder, later as a welcome return to the high spirits of the titular carnival. Schumann may have been extremely unhappy in Vienna on many levels, but the exhilaration of much of Faschingsschwank aus Wien demonstrates that inspired creative energy can rise above personal malaise and in effect nullify it. —Orrin Howard