SCHUMANN Robert, Ghost Variations for piano

In February 1854, Schumann’s mental health was in a steep decline; at the end of that month he attempted suicide and, after being rescued from the river, asked to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Endenich, where he was to remain until his death. The ‘Ghost’ Variations were composed in the midst of this traumatic crisis. Dogged by increasingly disturbing visions, on the night of 17 February he claimed to hear angels singing a theme which he immediately wrote down – though in fact it is very similar to the slow movement of his Violin Concerto, composed six months earlier. A few days after this vision, Schumann started to compose a set of variations on the ‘angel’ theme, writing out a fair copy on 27 February. Before finishing it, he left the house and threw himself into the Rhine. After being brought home, he finished the work the next day. It was the last music he wrote. A year later, Clara Schumann had a copy made which she gave to Brahms (who subsequently composed variations on the theme as his Op.23). It is impossible to imagine the harrowing circumstances in which Schumann wrote this work which comprises a theme followed by five variations. Apart from the copy made for Brahms, Clara kept the work entirely private and it was not published until 1939.  


© Nigel Simeone


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