What’s in a name?

October 12, 2017

For Robert Schumann (1810-1856), everything was in a name, and his own was  legion. He wrote under many pseudonyms, Eusebius (representing his lyrical, contemplative side) and Florestan (his fiery, impetuous one), five of his other names were Emil, Ferdinand, Elise, Felix and Eugenie; he used these in his music, too.

His compositions at this time were mainly for piano: they include variations on the name of one of his lady friends, Abegg (the musical notes A-B-E-G-G), the character-pieces "Davidsbündlertänze" ('Dances of the league of David', an imaginary association of those fighting the Philistines), "Carnaval" (pieces with literary or other allusive meanings, including one on the notes A-S-C-H after the place another girl friend came from), "Phantasiestücke" (a collection of poetic pieces depicting moods), "Kreisleriana" (fantasy pieces around the character of a mad Kapellmeister) and "Kinderszenen" ('Scenes from Childhood'). The idea of pseudonyms derives from Schumann's


lifelong guiding leitmotiv, sacramental union with the loved one: as names, as dates, as initials; as numbers, as ciphers, as notes of music; in correspondence, in articles, in dedications, in programmes; in piano works, in songs, in duets; by him, by her, by both together; over and over again, year after year, in a bewildering profusion of alphabetical, numerical, cryptographical and ­ finally and essentially - musical fantasy.

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