SCHUMANN Robert, Davidsbundlertänze Op.6
Robert Schumann composed the Davidsbündlertänze in August 1837 in the space of a few days, straight after his secret engagement to Clara Wieck whose ‘motto’ (taken from her Soirées musicales) is heard at the very start of the work. He later wrote to her that the eighteen ‘character pieces’ that comprise the Davidsbündlertänze ‘contain many thoughts of our wedding – they originated in the most splendid state of excitement I can ever recall’. Schumann believed that they were ‘more Clara’s than anything else I have written.’ There could hardly be a composition with a more personal inspiration, but Schumann dedicated the Davidsbündlertänze not to Clara but to Walther von Goethe, the poet’s grandson. Clara never played them in public during Schumann’s lifetime (it was not until 1860 that she played a selection of them) and the first known public performance of the complete work was given by Johannes Brahms, Schumann’s greatest protégé, at a concert in Budapest on 15 March 1869. The title refers to Schumann’s imaginary ‘League of David’: the impetuous Florestan and the more reflective Eusebius. Duality is apparent in the work’s changes of mood (from the exuberance of Florestan to the inward-looking Eusebius) and is underlined by an epigraph printed in the first edition of the score: ‘in each and every age, joy and sorrow are mingled’. Schumann told Clara that the entire work was supposed to represent a ‘Polterabend’ – a feast held on the eve of a wedding, but they had to wait another three years for their real wedding, which took place in September 1840.
© Nigel Simeone