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Schumann-Forum 2010

"Farewell in E flat"


by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

15. December



Schumann Signatur

Dear Readers,

Do you enjoy reading other people's journals and letters? The more intimate the better? My slightly provoking question has the following, quite simple reason: as Schumann-enthusiast I welcome the abundance of private and even intimate letters left behind by him. He kept journals, a diary of matrimony, a housekeeping log, letters and notes – and all these he meticulously saved (for posterity). And yet, again and again, I have the feeling of being an indiscreet imposter, that I am invading someone's privacy when I read these documents (extraordinarily well edited and commented on by Gerd Nauhaus). And on top of that, I do ask myself how close my readings really bring me to this genius of music? And even if they do, how interested am I really in Schumann as a person? My true interest is in his divine compositions, isn't it?

And then, in 2006, the medical report from the asylum in Endenich was published by Bernhard R. Appel. The documents revealed therein are shattering. With his novel "Schumanns Schatten" Peter Härtling certainly succeeded in turning this sordid life story to literary gold, but do we really need to know all the painful facts of Schumann's fading out in the insane asylum. Perhaps we should cease watching.

These are the thoughts I would like to begin with, because today I am writing my last article for the Schumann Forum 2010. The topic is Schumann's Variations in E flat major (the "Ghost Variations"), his last complete work immediately before he committed himself to the hospital in Endenich. I have come to cherish this outwardly inconspicuous piece ever since I read the music for the first time, and especially when, later in 1995, I had the good fortune to be able to edit the first and still only Urtext edition. (It is wonderful to observe how it is since performed and recorded increasingly often, especially because it was almost unknown before.)

Robert Schuhmann - Thema mit Variantionen

Robert Schumann, Variations on a Theme in E flat major (Ghost Variations),
Ed.: Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, Fing.: Klaus Schilde, Urtext Edition, paperbound HN 482

» more information on that edition

Schumann Sämtliche Klavierwerke Band VI

Robert Schumann, Complete Piano Works Volume VI,
Ed.: Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, Ernst Herttrich, Robert Münster, Fing.: Klaus Schilde, Walther Lampe, Hans-Martin Theopold, Urtext Edition, paperbound HN 930

» more information on that edition


To go into the details of the very moving and private circumstances that led to the creation of this last Schumann piece would go too far here. Please invest five minutes of your time – if you understand German language – to listen to this excerpt from a successful audio book that was published only a few months ago. The chapter I would like to share with you is entitled "Among Ghosts" and summarizes the tragic occurrences.


from: Das SCHUMANN-Hörbuch – Leben in der Musik, Eine klingende Biografie von Corinna Hesse - mit zahlreichen Zitaten von Schumann und seinen Zeitgenossen sowie über 50 Musikbeispielen. Sprecher: Dietmar Mues und Anne Moll, Silberfuchs-Verlag


Right at the beginning of my work as an editor for G. Henle Verlag in the 1990s I had the great good fortune to receive, along with my good friend Michael Struck, already at the time one of the best Schumann connoisseurs, an invitation from a true Schumann enthusiast and collector of autographs, Walter Beck. To our great astonishment he presented to us the complete autograph of the "Ghost Variations" that had until then been considered lost. It was his intention to publish a facsimile with a rather esoteric commentary. I authored an exact chronology of the events, but I did not want to be drawn into Beck's esoteric ideas (influenced by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner). Beck finally published the facsimile elsewhere (using my unsigned and unauthorized manuscript). Neither the quality of the reproduction nor the accompanying text, are truly convincing.

The loss for my publishing company of the opportunity to publish the wonderful facsimile was balanced by the Urtext edition that we were now able to publish, because we had access to the autograph. I was wildly enthusiastic about the project. For even the first cursory reading of Schumann's autograph revealed deviations from the only existing print version (Karl Geiringer's commendable first edition from 1939), in some instances quite relevant ones. An entry of Clara Schumann in reference to the copying expenses for the E flat major variations in Schumann's housekeeping log (April 1855) proved to me that Schumann's autograph had been professionally copied (how helpful it is to have this record). Perhaps this copy had been sent to Schumann at Endenich, or had even been delivered by Brahms? I started to search and was soon rewarded in the world's most eminent Brahms libraries. The archives of the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien" do actually own this copy and a thorough reading of the up to then unknown source soon revealed that it contained handwritten corrections (presumably also) by Schumann. In some cases it is helpful in deciphering Schumann's sometimes illegible hand, and it was evident that the copy in Vienna had been used as the manuscript for Geiringer's first edition. (In some cases he had made changes.)

After painstaking work comparing the versions I succeeded in creating a correct copy of the music of the "Ghost Variations" for the very first time. Since then an Urtext exists. The abundance of information that had been collected went beyond the mould of what is usually included in the commentary of a G. Henle Urtext edition. So I wrote an article in which I included references to all the information available on the history of the "Ghost Variations", the sources, the text documents and the process of its creation. To those of you who are especially interested in the details and are avid readers of the Schumann Forum 2010 I am happy to offer the complete article for download here.

» download the article in german (PDF, 9 MB)

Wolf-Dieter Seiffert: Robert Schumanns Thema mit Variationen Es-Dur, genannt "Geistervariationen", in: Compositionswissenschaft. Festschrift Reinhold und Roswitha Schlötterer zum 70. Geburtstag; herausgegeben von Bernd Edelmann und Sabine Kurth, Augsburg [Verlag Wißner, ISBN 978-3896391704] 1999, Seiten 189-214. 

» more information on the book

Robert und Clara Schumann

Robert and Clara Schumann

With this "Farewell in E flat" (I lent the title from a talk given by Michael Struck, Bordesholm on the "Ghost Variations" in April 2010 for the Leipzig Schumann Conference) I also am saying farewell to you, dear readers of the Schumann Forum 2010. Throughout the entire year it was my special pleasure to wallow in Schumann-related topics every two weeks, for the most part taking the publisher's view. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who regularly or sporadically looked in to read the "news" on Schumann, those of you who made the effort to write to me and share their opinions and comments, thank you also in advance to the readers who might visit the Forum again – or for the first time – even after the Schumann anniversary 2010 is over and will entertain and inform themselves here. Instead of one of the (usual) YouTube-Links I would like to end today with an excerpt from the closing chapter of Peter Härtling's book "Schumanns Schatten" (Munich [dtv] 92010, p. 383 f.; English translation by Kristina Winter):

All the others stepped aside. Schumann recognized her at once. And he had really already moved on to another world. He lifted his arms, let them go down again, and lifted them again, and sat up in his bed. She knelt next to him. Her dress rustled. Again he lifted his arms, very slowly, against a heavy weight, and embraced her. They held the embrace for a long time. This is true. The others held their breaths. And I ceased watching.


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