Schumann Forum 2010
„Träumerei“ – „Reverie“
by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert
This is probably Robert Schumann’s most famous composition. The title alone reads as a definition and characterization of “romanticism”. The epitome of the peak of the romantic period in German music history. How many hundreds of pianists have played Schumann’s “Träumerei” so often, so beautifully and above all soooooo slowly! A strong tradition that, whether consciously or subconsciously, you are compelled to follow when you sit down to play the “Träumerei” on your own piano.
And yet, the snail’s pace at which we are accustomed to hearing Schumann’s “Träumerei” is a great mistake. A hereditary defect (that originated from Clara Schumann). There are considerable, and truly convincing reasons against the slow tempo. Let me elaborate.
In my previous entry on the Schumann Forum (June 15, see below) I presented an overview of all of Schumann’s authentic metronome markings. I quoted a leading expert on Schumann who concludes that all of Schumann’s tempo instructions should be taken seriously and regarded at least as relevant pointers. It is certain that they were intended by Schumann and were not mistakenly noted. Today, as a sort of acid test, I would like to present to you Schumann’s most famous piano piece, played as he intended, at “MM quarter note = 100”. Because the piece is traditionally played so slowly, today’s pianists reaction is to say that Schumann’s tempo is fantastically fast. Too fast. But, is it really too fast?
I asked Michael Schäfer, a wonderful pianist and professor of piano at the Musikhochschule in Munich, to play the “Träumerei” in the original tempo. Before you shake your head, please listen to the piece, played only for us, exclusively for our forum:
The pace is unaccustomed and disturbing. Because we are used to hearing it differently, and have learned to love it that way. But if it were the first time you listened to the “Träumerei”, then you wouldn’t be disturbed at all. You would hear a beautiful piano piece in fluent movement with a recurring main theme with versatile and harmonious variations. Delicate retardations and accelerations make the music talk to you. Andreas Staier has since recorded it similarly and I hear from different corners of the music world that increasingly more renowned pianists are beginning to take more heed to Schumann’s metronome markings, including those of the “Kinderszenen”. Their concerts and recordings, I am strongly convinced, will set a new tradition.
Prof. Michael Schäfer
I interviewed Professor Schäfer and asked him how he felt at tempo 100, and was of course curious to hear his general opinion. His answer surprised me; he said he was very grateful for this “experiment”. He is now convinced that only the original tempo, or one very close to it, does the “little thing” (as Schumann himself called it) justice. So, in this case, the tradition is wrong. Please listen in to Michael Schäfer’s sharp-witted and entirely convincing argumentation (in German language).
© 2005 by Tatsuki Sakamoto
I summarized the most important points, all of them in favour of Schumann’s “MM quarter note = 100“ in the “Träumerei”.
I can only encourage all of the readers of this forum who themselves play the piano to try it out. Play the “Träumerei”, not as you usually do, in deep-sleep mode, but in the tempo intended by the author. Apart from the objective, artistic and no less also acoustic reasons introduced by Michael Schäfer I would like to point you to another aspect of the piece that is worth contemplation: the title. I am convinced that Schumann would have named his piece differently if he had intended a slow to very slow tempo; he would have given it the title “A Dream” and not “Reverie”. Where is the difference, you might ask? Please read my short essay, “From deep sleep to MM 100. Some thoughts on Robert Schumann’s „Träumerei“ (Reverie)”
And, as something special on top, I would like to invite you to read the comments of the concert pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja on Schumann’s work in comparison to that of Frédéric Chopin’s: 9 Questions
I will end today’s letter with a live-recording of the “Träumerei“ that is truly legend. Of course, according to our current findings, Vladimir Horowitz plays the piece much too slowly. But his interpretation is deeply moving. Ultimately, music cannot be measured by speed alone.
[Video unfortunately no longer available]
In two weeks the time for “reverie“ is over and we will turn to less ephemeral topics.
Very truly yours,