Real and fictional characters come to life in this incredibly challenging work for piano that also includes musical puzzles. John Banther and Linda Carducci explore all the characters and how Schumann depicts them in music, the ciphers, discarded movements, and more. plus we enjoy a full performance of it by Sergei Rachmaninoff!

Show Notes

A performance to enjoy (after listening!)


If you can read music, you might see some of the ciphers here and there where you least expect them. 

A quick example of Commedia dell'arte that includes some of the characters from Carnaval




John Banther: I'm John Banther, and this is Classical Breakdown. From WETA Classical in Washington, we're your guide to classical music. In this episode, I'm joined by WETA Classical's Linda Carducci, and we're diving into the exciting and dramatic masked ball that is Robert Schumann's Carnaval. Written for solo piano, he brings real and fictional characters to life. Linda and I get into the codes that Schumann also wrote into the music, the influence of commedia dell'arte, and more. Plus, stay with us to the end to hear Carnaval performed in full by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This is a pretty popular work of Robert Schumann's.

You've probably heard some of it or really all of it before, even if you think it's well pretty unfamiliar. While you don't need to know all of the extra details necessarily to enjoy the music, of course, in my opinion with this piece, Linda, it really can make a difference. It's like hearing it all over again for the first time when you know, " Oh, this is this character or this is happening here."


Linda Carducci: Yes, it's full of characters. So, when you understand who they are, you can appreciate it a little bit more, plus some of the hidden codes that Robert Schumann gives us in this work.


John Banther: That's true. Stay with us to the end as we'll hear an entire performance of this piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff himself from a 1929 recording. Okay. So, Robert Schumann, he was born in 1810. So, he's his mid- 20s when he wrote this in 1834, 1835. It's also the same year he co- founded Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the New Journal for Music. While we know his spouse would be Clara Wieck, he was actually engaged to someone else at the time when he wrote this, Ernestine von Fricken. So, that's to say he's in his mid- 20s, he's got this new job, he has some influence, he's got this piece. Things are looking up it seems for young Robert.


Linda Carducci: It is. We can see his imagination flying in this piece with many fun things. So, I agree with you. He was probably in a good humor when he wrote this.


John Banther: Imagination, that is a great point here because two things really come together in this work. The first is Schumann's real strong interest in ciphers, numbers, symbolism, cryptograms, using notes to spell out the name of a person or a place. Basically, he loved puzzles it sounds like. Then the other part that comes together here is his love of literature, Linda.


Linda Carducci: Yes, he was a youthful reader. He was influenced by the literature and poetry that is of Schiller, Goethe, Lord Byron, Greek tragedies. He read when he was young. He read when he was old. Of course, he became a writer.


John Banther: We will see some characters come out from the literature that he was enjoying, commedia dell'arte, to be specific, even some animals like butterflies and himself in different alter egos. A lot comes out in this piece. This piece is in 21 different sections, and it's representing a carnival, the festival before Lent. The subtitle here, Linda, and I'm sure I'm going to mispronounce this, right, Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes, little Scenes on Four Notes.


Linda Carducci: Yes. The reason we say four notes is because there are certain notes that Robert Schumann will repeat here to spell out certain things. We were talking about his love of ciphers and codes within the music.


John Banther: Yeah, but he holds off on all of that and the literature influence in the very first section. The first section does not contain those ideas. It's Préambule. That's how it's titled. He's opening the work with a quote from another piece he actually never finished, variations on a theme of Schubert. That theme comes from Schubert's Sehnsuchtswalzer. I love this opening, Linda. In particular, I love openings of pieces with piano that have big block chords, Beethoven's Hammerklavier, this, I think Mussorgsky as well.


Linda Carducci: It's so majestic. This is actually this introduction, one of my favorite segments of Carnaval, because it tells you, it proclaims to the world, " Look, we're at a grand carnival. Oh boy, we're going to have fun tonight."


John Banther: This picks up. In fact, it feels like an overture, this entire Préambule. I guess in a way it is. It's a preamble and it feels very overture- like the way it ends. Now, the cryptograms here in the music are done in a couple of ways. We have the notes, A, E flat, C, and B. This spells out in German A- S- C- H or Asch. That is the name of his fiancée's hometown. That's also Ash for Ash Wednesday. This is the carnival before Lent.


Linda Carducci: Yes, very clever how he puts that in.


John Banther: He's also clever in how he does it a little differently with A flat, C, and B. Just three notes there and that spells out Asch in a slightly different way. The other big one we have is E flat, C, B, and A, S- C- H- A, which are the first three letters of Schumann's name and then the A later on. We're going to mention some of these as we go on, but they're not always recognizable. They tend to be buried in the music. I mean, what good is a puzzle, Linda, if you solve it in five seconds? I mean, Schumann did not have Netflix. He couldn't binge- watch Palm Royale. He had to read and do puzzles.


Linda Carducci: It makes it all the more interesting for the listener to try to decipher it. I have a feeling that Robert Schumann knew that. He probably had a little smile on his face when he thought, " Well, let's see if they can figure this out."


John Banther: I bet so. Now the second section brings these things together that we were just talking about. It's titled Pierrot. Pierrot is a character like a sad clown stock character from commedia dell'arte. We won't get into commedia dell'arte too much. Basically, it was like a theater, an early type of theater with these stock characters that was formed early on like centuries ago in Italy.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, 16th to 18th century. It would travel all over Europe. It originated in Italy, but it became popular all over Europe. It had certain stock characters in each of these, and it consisted of a group of small skits. We would see these characters in action.


John Banther: Pierrot is that sad clown. I think a modern example is, if you remember Seinfeld, the clown in the episode, The Opera, I think it's called The Opera episode. That's Pierrot, Pagliacci, that character. He wears the white blouse, the large buttons, the pantaloons, the painted white face, a little less scary than the sad clown paintings, I remember.


Linda Carducci: Exaggerated eyes and maybe show little teardrops falling from it.


John Banther: We also have in the music one of those ciphers, A, E flat, C, and B, which spells Asch, which is German for again his fiancee's hometown, and Ash Wednesday. Knowing that this is a sad clown, it makes the movement here even more interesting in the music. It sounds like this sad clown is doing some gestural, slightly funny stepping around the stage, maybe some sad clown joke with these little gestures that pop out too.


Linda Carducci: Yes. It's quite a contrast from that very fun lively introduction that we heard that was majestic at parts, but also had a lively dance. So, now we have Pierrot, which is a very different type of tone, quite a contrast.


John Banther: That's right. It is quite a contrast. It makes me think we've walked into this masked ball and Pierrot is like a hired character, someone who's walking around the party in this character and taking photos, but hearing sad clown, I really hear that in the music. I really hear in the next section, Linda, as well, another character from commedia dell'arte. This one's called Arlequin, and it's a depiction of, as you might guess, Harlequin, another character from commedia dell'arte. I would say the modern example of this that we know that I probably knew first is Harley Quinn from the comic books and the movies and TV shows that were played by Margot Robbie and Kaley Cuoco. That's coming from Arlequin. He wears that checkered costume. He's like a jokester, I think.


Linda Carducci: Yes, he's very agile, he's lively, he's nimble. He stands in great contrast to Pierrot who preceded him.


John Banther: This one also has movement in the music that makes me think of this character going around on stage, very light and nimble, and making fools of people along the way. We do also hear the A, E flat, C, B motif towards the beginning. He also hides these by rhythmically making them very ambiguous or these notes together make the cryptogram, but within the melody, it's like almost doesn't make sense if you just pull those notes out by themselves.


Linda Carducci: That's true. That's very true. By the way, some of these notes that form these cryptograms, these letters and these words, they're not always in the melody. They're not real obvious and standing right at you in the melody.


John Banther: That's right.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. A lot of times they're hidden in the bass. They might be hidden in the tenor. By the way, may I also mention before I forget, that some of the characters that will appear in Schumann's Carnaval are grouped together in pairs purposefully?


John Banther: Yes.


Linda Carducci: We'll see that as we progress, but this was a perfect example. These two clowns, these are two contrasting clowns that are paired right at the top together.


John Banther: After this, we go into the fourth section, Vals noble. You'll notice that the sections go quickly between the two. There's not a lot of space that pianist put in between. This one, we have no characters. We don't have any codes or ciphers in the music. It's just a nice waltz and it feels very Viennese in a fantasy type way. Linda, when I think of a masked ball, I think of maybe modern media versions, which is it's sinister, maybe weird. I don't know. I don't have a lot of context for it, but I think of also another ball like in Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, which has a delirious quality. I just found myself thinking of that. When I listened to this, depending on how the pianist plays with a tempo, this also has a delirious type quality to it.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, that's right. Almost like a water, a misty thing. I agree with you completely. It serves this waltz as a palate cleanser, if you will. I think that's how you were referring to it between the clowns that we just heard and two new characters that we will just hear. So, he inserts this little waltz in it. But as you say too, there's not quite a sinister part to it, but it's not necessarily a beautiful waltz. But when we think about these carnivals that occurred in, say, Venice in the 16th century, some of them were quite mysterious. There sometimes was a little bit of a sinister element to it.


John Banther: I don't know if I would've survived those. Now, we get to the fifth section, and as you said, Linda, this is the first of two characters that are paired together. This is Eusebius. Who is Eusebius?


Linda Carducci: Yeah, Eusebius. He is an alter ego of Robert Schumann, but actually, Schumann got the name from a character in a Jean- Paul novel called Eusebius, who was a character who was very introverted and reflective. So, Eusebius as the alter ego of Robert Schumann reflects Robert Schumann's thoughtful, reflective, meditative side, a dreamer.


John Banther: It does feel very introspective. It feels like maybe he came up with this late at night, alone at the piano. The candles almost burnt out. It almost sounds like a piece of music he would play just for himself as a warm down. Musicians will also warm down if people don't know. It sounds like he's just doing a nice little thing with that.


Linda Carducci: It is. It's rather slow. He gives you the melody at the beginning, which is a very nice melody, but what I love about this particular section, John, the Eusebius, is that Robert Schumann expands on it a little bit with a bigger fuller chord and bigger fuller bass. I think that part is beautiful.


John Banther: It has beautiful aspects alongside the dark, mysterious Schumann standing by the stereo at the party being all brooding or something. I don't know.


Linda Carducci: Yeah.


John Banther: But that goes into Florestan, which is the other side of that, the alter ego, I guess, his more fiery side. This also comes from a Jean- Paul novel. Florestan is to represent this impetuous side of Schumann. It's also half the length of the previous section. We've got a lot more going on within it as well and a lot of ruminating in it I think as well. Some things are repeated again and again.


Linda Carducci: Yes. He also quotes something from Papillon, which is a piano work that he composed before Carnaval.


John Banther: I wonder how many people would've caught on some of these little quotes and things like that because it is a totally unrelated work he wrote earlier, but it does sound like it comes back purposefully to interrupt some of these gestures.


Linda Carducci: Yes. Also, we'll see another section coming up that is specifically devoted to Papillon that does not quote his earlier work, Papillon.


John Banther: Yes.


Linda Carducci: Interesting too about Eusebius and Florestan that we're talking about right now, this pairing of two completely different moods, two different characters, Eusebius being reflective and a dreaming person, Florestan being the absolute opposite, passionate and fiery. We see that. We just saw that parallel with those two clowns that were completely opposite.


John Banther: Yes. Okay. So, this is what also makes it more... Not more interesting to listen to, but having some of these details will have you listening in a different way. The next section is a lot of fun. I like this one. It's the seventh one and it's labeled Coquette, which is a flirtatious girl. This one, I love it because it sounds light, it sounds nimble, it sounds light- footed like the Arlequin section from before. But now we have this young woman who has had maybe a couple too many drinks and she's walking around the ball and talking, but no one's really talking back. You hear the hiccups in the music. I hear these hiccups as she's walking around, talking to people, but no one's really interacting back with her.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. I think this is a perfect example of Robert Schumann's creativity to be able to depict all of that you just said, with two hands musically on a piano.


John Banther: It gets really creative with the next section, Replique, if I'm saying that correctly. This is a reply to the Coquette and the transition is very clever. I think it's endearing because if you are just listening to this and not looking at a track list on Spotify or something like that, you might think the beginning of this is still from the previous section. This reply opens with the same cadence and the same way that the Coquette one opens up.


Linda Carducci: It shows you, again, the connection as we've seen now pairs that Robert Schumann is giving us. He's pairing things. These two are pairs. So, the Coquette and then paired with what you were just talking about, the Replique, so they fit together.


John Banther: The reply makes you wonder, " Is she being lectured? Is she being humored?" It sounds like towards the end, she's brought to a chair maybe to just rest. It sounds like she's still saying things and hiccupping, but it's getting softer and softer.


Linda Carducci: Right, somebody trying to calm her down a little bit.


John Banther: Then we get to the next section, which I guess I can't really say a number for this one, and that'll make sense why in a moment, but this one is called Sphinxs. Maybe you can enlighten us on this one, Linda.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, the word sphinx, it comes from Greek, and of course, we have all seen images of the sphinx in Egypt that has a head of a man, a body of a lion, and wings of an eagle. The word sphinx means different things, but etymologists will some say means a living image. Some people though think it means squeeze because there was a legend that a sphinx would strangle anyone who failed to answer her riddles. Now, we've heard this before in Turandot.


John Banther: That's true.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. Now, of course, Puccini didn't come up with the story of Turandot. He took it from legend. So, you see, there's these legends that are transformed in various cultures.


John Banther: Wow. I mean, if I was approached by a sphinx, this thing with a human head, and it's going to squeeze you if you don't answer her riddles correct, I mean, pass. I'm going to find another way around this bridge.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, yeah. Why did he incorporate sphinx though? That is the question.


John Banther: It is, and the more intriguing thing about this for me is this is barely even a section. I scrolled past it. It lasts only seconds. It's three measures. There's no dynamics. There's no tempo. There's basically no rhythm that written as double whole notes. It's as almost no music, and it's just the notes of those cryptograms that we mentioned before, E flat, C, B, A, A flat, C, B, and then A, E flat, C, B. That's the whole, I just named all of the notes.


Linda Carducci: So maybe that's the idea between incorporating them. He wants to remind us of what he is using in this entire piece. Maybe that's the reason. I will say that Clara Schumann, who eventually married, did not encourage people to include Sphinxs when they were performing the entire Carnaval. Certainly, you'll find some recordings that don't include it, but there are some very famous pianists who definitely included it, and that is Rachmaninoff who will hear later. Horowitz included it, Michelangeli included it.

I've heard various versions of it. Some people play it rather fast, even though they're double hole notes, but there's no meter of course on it. There's no tempo marking. Some pianists play it very slowly, almost as if a sphinx were moving. There is one version where somebody added a tremolo to the bass underneath it.


John Banther: Okay.


Linda Carducci: So yeah.


John Banther: It's very interesting. You wonder why exactly Clara Schumann recommended that people omit it. As you said, some do and some don't. Mitsuko Uchida, who we've been sampling from so far, includes it in her recording. So, that's another thing to see. Well, who includes it? Who doesn't and why? But from a terrifying creature that will strangle you or smush you if you don't answer her riddle, we go to something more beautiful, Papillon. This is what you said before, it's unrelated to his earlier work of the same name. Butterflies have just inspired many, many composers.


Linda Carducci: Haven't they? They're so light and pretty, almost like the Coquettes that we heard a little bit earlier that just dances around.


John Banther: Yeah, but they're also so fragile and they have short lives.


Linda Carducci: Yes. He will pair that though with the next one, Papillon will be paired with the next segment that we will hear.


John Banther: Yes. In the next section, this one is titled A. S. C. H. S. C. H. A. It's those cryptograms, her hometown, his fiancée, and then his name and a subtitle to the movement is Lettres Dansantes or Dance of the Letters.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, which is a perfect name for this because he's really bringing us again, as he did with Sphinx, these letters that he's playing with throughout this entire work. So, he has them dancing together.


John Banther: Yes. It makes you think, well, at the masked ball, which again, we're still at a masked ball that they have danced together either maybe unknowingly. I mean those masks, I see them put on their face that they hold up. I mean, it's not a mask, right? You can tell who everyone is, I think.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, it covers the eyes mostly, I think. That's right.


John Banther: Maybe that's part of it as well, the mysteriousness of it, that there's this chance of dance between the letters and the characters.


Linda Carducci: Yes. So, in this case, in dancing letters, we'll have Ernestine dancing with Robert Schumann. We know that because he's using the letters in the pitches that match those letters, but he pairs it with Papillon. So, maybe he's pairing it with Papillon because he's thinking of themselves as dancing butterflies, flitting around.


John Banther: This moment we have together is fleeting, like the life of a butterfly. Just a little more romantic with it.


Linda Carducci: You're right.


John Banther: We'll get into another depiction of a person he knew well, right after this. Classical Breakdown, your guide to classical music, is made possible by WETA Classical. Join us for the music and insightful commentary anytime day or night. You can stream their music online at or through the WETA Classical app. It's free in the App Store. Now, for the 11th section, which is titled Chiarina, which is a depiction of Clara Wieck, which of course he would go on to marry. It's subtitled or the tempo marking is Passionato, so passionate.

This is interesting. We know that the two would marry. At the time he wrote this, he was engaged to Ernestine. Clara was about 15 or 16 when he wrote this, and she was already, I believe, a known person at this time. She was touring Europe as a pianist. She was respected and known. What I love about this depiction is how passionate it sounds. It sounds like something later on from a 25, 30- minute sonata, and we're just getting a glimpse into the music, which I guess is a representation of her as a character.


Linda Carducci: I think it just shows the passion that is already blooming in his mind of her. He respects her so much. The question I asked originally when I heard this is, " Why is he calling it Chiarina? Why doesn't he just call it Clara?" But they're at a masked ball, remember? So everybody is a little bit into disguise here.


John Banther: Yes. Everyone's holding up that mask half- heartedly to their face. This one, it opens with notes, A flat, C, B, one of those Asch cryptic motifs. This passionate section goes into a section that's labeled as Agitato, and this section is called Chopin. What a depiction of Chopin with this.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. This is one of my favorite sections of entire Carnaval. When I talk to people about Carnaval, about this piece, one of the first things people say is, " Oh, that's Chopin's section," because this is quite a dead ringer for a Chopin Nocturne. It just shows you Schumann's talent that he could write his own music in his own words and his own character, all this music, and yet he could figure out what Chopin was doing too and imitate that.

Now, Chopin, apparently from what I have read, was not pleased with this. He thought that maybe Schumann was making a parody of him. I don't look at it that way. I look at it as an homage and I think a beautiful homage. It sounds almost exactly like a Nocturne that Chopin would write, not only in the melody, but also in the accompaniment with the broken arpeggios.


John Banther: That's exactly what it sounds like. Also, the key, A flat major, that sounds like a very Chopin- esque key to me.


Linda Carducci: Definitely.


John Banther: So from Chiarina, Clara to Chopin, we go to our next depiction, and this is called Estrella Con Affetto. That's with affection. This is depicting Ernestine von Fricken, his fiancée. This one's short, maybe 25 seconds long.


Linda Carducci: When I hear Estrella, I know it is marked Con Affetto, but when I compare that to Chiarina that we just heard, in which he describes Clara, I get him more agitated as the temple marking says, an agitated tone in the music as opposed to Chiarina. For Chiarina, I get passion, something that he feels for her. With Estrella, I almost get a sense that he's a little bit annoyed. That's just the sense I get.


John Banther: When you said those words together, like that affection and passionate, it really makes you think, " Well, there's passion, then there's affection." Those are two different things.


Linda Carducci: Yes.


John Banther: Well, they come together for the 14th movement or section, Reconnaissance. This is animated, and this is supposed to be depicting Schumann and Ernestina recognizing each other at the ball. Now, like I said, I've never been to a masked ball, but this sounds like with how the color changes every few measures, it sounds like each glance means something different, either affection or love or maybe something else. It feels like we're getting all of these glances and they're becoming more sure of each other as the movement goes on.


Linda Carducci: Yes, because there is a slower section, I believe in the B section, it's a little bit more intimate, maybe a little bit more loving than some of the animation that otherwise we hear in Reconnaissance. It is between Robert Schumann and Estrella or Ernestine who was his fiancée at the time.


John Banther: That one also opens with the A flat, C, B motif, which is also in the other sections too. So, those are all tied in. It brings us to section number 15, Pantalon et Colombine. This is Presto. It's quick. These are also characters, Pantalon et Colombine from commedia dell'arte. Pantalone is the greedy character. He wants money, he wants status. Columbina is the down- to- earth servant who was often the target for Pantalone's advances. I love this movement, Linda, so much. I'll tell you why, because there's two characters.

Columbina is only the last two notes. The entire thing is Pantalone because they're at this ball and he's just talking to her a mile a minute about his money, his stock portfolio, his vacation house, his private beach, his crypto, this, and that. Then he stops at the end to let her just say something and it's just like she says, " Okay," and then walks away sipping her drink. I love it.


Linda Carducci: She cuts it all off at the end.


John Banther: Yes.


Linda Carducci: Pantalon was a stock character from commedia dell'arte. He was not a loved character because he would portray someone who was always chasing after the women and was bragging and all. But Colombine, a very nice servant who was also the target of one of the clowns that we saw earlier.


John Banther: That's true. So, she's being pursued, but at least in this way, I love how it's just like, " Okay."


Linda Carducci: Yeah.


John Banther: She walks away. The next section are actually two sections, 16 and 17, Valse allemande and Paganini. So, we have this type of German waltz that feels like another type of palate cleanser, a waltz in between the action that's going on around. It sounds nice. There's not much to say about it. Then you get to the Paganini section and it's quite obvious. It's very virtuosic. It feels like you're just pounding your hands back and forth with each other. I imagine when you're playing the piano, that's what it's like.


Linda Carducci: Yes. It's interesting that he paired the Valse allemande, which is a very traditional German dance, very lovely, with Paganini that it's just so fiery. Paganini took the imagination of everybody. He was a great 19th century virtuoso violinist. Schumann and Paganini apparently did not know each other, but at the time that Robert Schumann was writing this, everybody knew of Paganini as the great virtuoso.


John Banther: It's just like this nice waltz. Paganini explodes on the scene, and then it ends nice and light like how it began. So, number 18 is Aveu, and this is also Passionato. This is a depiction of love, a confession of love. I imagine at a masked ball, there's multiple confessions of love. I also imagine there's multiple breakups happening as well at these things.


Linda Carducci: Yes, everybody is dolled up at these things. Yes, you're wearing your little eye mask, but of course, your hair is up. You can imagine these 17th or 16th century gorgeous carnivals in Venice saying everybody is dressed to the nines with beautiful gowns and all this. So, there are some declarations of love going on. Robert Schumann was a very passionate man anyway. He was falling in love. He fell in love with Estrella or Ernestine. That didn't work out, and then he fell passionately in love with Clara. That was part of the time too, the Romantic Era when people showed their love and they were very expressive.


John Banther: This Aveu, love, number 18 section is paired with, I would say with number 19, Promenade. This sounds like, yeah, we're moving in some way. Are we walking around outside? Maybe inside around the party. I imagine this big hall with this party going on in the middle. I wonder if it's a cleanser or a device used like a Mussorgsky in a sense with his promenades from pictures at an exhibition, a device to get you from one place to another with a palate cleanser.


Linda Carducci: Yes, exactly, or the two lovers finally realized that they love each other in the avowal of love, and now they're walking together very slowly and gazing into each other's eyes.


John Banther: Okay, I like that better. I like that better. Number 20, we're getting towards the end. Remember, there's only 21 sections. Only 21 sections. Number 20 is fascinating, Pause or Pause. This is like 15 seconds long. I mean, this section is remarkable. It sounds like a modern device from film. All of a sudden, he's recapping the entire party. It's super- fast, fast forward. When you see things fast forward, rewind in a movie, and then it slows down to the present moment. It slows down into this march, which is the number 21 section, Davidsbündler March. Tell us about this. This one is different.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, the Davidsbündler was an imaginary society of Robert Schumann. Remember he was a writer. So, he would put together in his writings. He would talk about the Davidsbündler, which was an imaginary group of artists. These artists were advancing the aesthetics during the Romantic Era of art. They were against what they call the Philistines, who were people that weren't very artistically inclined. They were more interested in making money. So, they were not interested in intellectual pursuits or artistic pursuits. So, this imaginary band of people who Schumann called the Davidsbündler were against the Philistines. So, they all seem to gather at the very end of this grand carnival now to march and march their cause.


John Banther: Yeah. I'm just thinking about Robert Schumann. He's in his 20s. He's got this new journal. It's doing well, I imagine, but it's not fully what it is quite yet. He can't quite go out and say, " You know what? This composer, this composer, this critic, you are all terrible. You are all old- fashioned. Get out of here." He's got to say, " Oh, these are the Philistines and we don't like this old, outdated idea. We want this new one." He's getting away with being critical of people in power he might not be able to be critical of otherwise. Musically, he's doing that with this dance that's known as a Grossvatertanz, this old fuddy duddy dance that then the Davidsbündler people march against. So, I wonder if there's that aspect to it. He's saying things without having to name names or stick his neck out.


Linda Carducci: They're very good point. That's a good observation to be very diplomatic and hide almost like the masked ball. Everybody's hiding. He's almost hiding that way.


John Banther: Yes. He's a little scared himself. He couldn't come out and say what he wanted to at that time. This piece was also probably new at the time as well. I mean 1830s, there weren't a lot of other works like this with all of these different sections bringing together literature and real life and almost, not parody, but that Chopin movement we talked about. It's really like Chopin.


Linda Carducci: Yes, it is. Can you imagine the difference between this and say another one of his contemporaries who was writing rather typically classical music? That was Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was born just a year before Robert Schumann, and they knew each other and respected each other. But Robert Schumann took this flight of fancy as a young man and showed a creativity that I think Mendelssohn and earlier composers did not show. They wrote in a more traditional way.


John Banther: It's almost like he writes this and then a march at the end with these ideals. He's walking into his publisher's office and slamming the score on the desk. The future is now, old man. This is the new type of stuff.


Linda Carducci: Yes.


John Banther: But this really ties everything together. This final section, you hear things from earlier popping in and out, even a little quote of Beethoven as well. The way it ends is not traditional, but it almost sounds Chopin- esque buttoned up to my ears as well, that bass hit and then the right hand up top.


Linda Carducci: Yes.


John Banther: I said at the beginning, I love those openings. I also like these kinds of endings. It's that bass and then the right hand.


Linda Carducci: He was taking full advantage of the advancement of the piano that was allowing all of these wild dynamics and larger sounds.


John Banther: Yes. As we learned in our own piano episode, this was not possible 100 years before this.


Linda Carducci: Oh no, you couldn't have done it this on the clavichord certainly, not even on the harpsichord.


John Banther: So that is Carnaval by Robert Schumann. I was thinking yesterday, Linda, of ways that you can listen to this. You hear it in concerts or in a recital or on the radio or something. I have never thought to myself though, I'm going to listen to just this section of Carnaval. I want to listen to Chiarina or Papillon or whatever. No, I don't have any desire to do that. It's almost like, " Would you go to a masked ball by yourself if you're the only person there?"


Linda Carducci: No.


John Banther: You're going to sit at home and watch TV. So, in that sense, I love listening to this all at once with all the characters together.


Linda Carducci: Oh, yeah. That great ending where it brings all of them back together and you hear themes of some of the earlier ones all together. It just ties it up with a nice big bow at the end.


John Banther: Before we get to that recording of Rachmaninoff, let's go to your reviews from Apple Podcasts. What do we have this time, Linda?


Linda Carducci: John, we have a nice review from Great Britain. Andy JF gave us five stars and he said, " Wonderful pod. Always enjoy these episodes. It's great to discover new works to explore like the recent Haydn and the evolution of the piano was so well put together. Thanks." Well, we thank you, Andy JF, from Great Britain and everybody who listens.


John Banther: Yes, thank you for the five stars. I always love five stars. That's the best. Yet the evolution of the piano one, that was you and me. That was a fun one to put together too.


Linda Carducci: It was. I think that you maybe can put it into context now that we're talking about Carnaval.


John Banther: Yes. I mean, it's helped me listen to this differently as well. Okay. Now, as promised, we have this historical recording of this piece. This is from 1929, and it will sound like it's from 1929. But in this case, being that it's Sergei Rachmaninoff, we can listen past some of the noise and sound quality of it to hear, " Well, how did Rachmaninoff actually play this?" Here's Sergei Rachmaninoff at the piano for this 1929 European recording of Carnaval by Robert Schumann.