In the 1830s, Robert Schumann wrote Impromptus on a Romance by Clara Wieck (op. 5), a set of variations on the theme from Wieck’s Romance variée (op. 3). In the 1850s, Clara Schumann wrote variations (op. 20) on an “Albumblatt” from Robert Schumann’s Bunte Blätter (op. 99), which stimulated Brahms to write his own variations (op. 9) on the same theme. Clara and Brahms linked the two temporal nodes together by quoting the melody shared by Clara and Robert’s youthful ops. 3 and 5 in their later ops. 20 and 9.

These borrowings have stimulated interpretations that revolve around representations of people through such means as ciphers, quotations, allusions, and motives. Yet documentary and circumstantial evidence—diary entries and correspondence, private forms of music making (sight-reading and practicing in solo and chamber settings), material culture in the form of giving and receiving flowers, and a little-discussed yet remarkable piano arrangement of Robert’s Piano Quintet, op. 44, by Brahms—suggest that Brahms’s op. 9 quotation of the Schumanns’ melody was meant to recall a shared experience during a poignant moment in the year 1854. Not only to be read and recognized on paper, musical borrowings can gain expressive value as performative acts creating an open-ended field of meaning.

This article reconsiders a well-known network of musical borrowings in piano music by Clara Wieck-Schumann, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms.1 The network spans two temporal nodes, two decades apart. In the 1830s, Robert Schumann wrote Impromptus on a Romance by Clara Wieck (op. 5), a set of variations on the theme from Clara Wieck’s Romance variée (op. 3). In the 1850s, Clara Schumann wrote variations (op. 20) on the first “Albumblatt” from Robert’s Bunte Blätter, which stimulated Brahms to write his own variations (op. 9) on the same theme. In addition to sharing themes and compositional technique, Clara and Brahms linked the two temporal nodes together by quoting the thematic melody from her and Robert’s youthful ops. 3 and 5 in their later ops. 20 and 9.

The unusually explicit character of this borrowing has provoked numerous interpretations. These have tended to follow the common practice in Schumann and Brahms reception of identifying and decoding ciphers, quotations, allusions, and other motives as hidden messages or representations of people in a sign of affection or homage. Claudia Stevens Becker sees Clara, Robert, and “Meister Raro” personified by three voices in the theme of Robert’s op. 5.2 Of the quotation in Brahms’s op. 9 of the melody shared by all four opuses, John Daverio writes: “Brahms, too, adds his voice to the duo. Hence, the layered interpolation in the tenth variation makes for a triple image in which the young Brahms fulfilled his desire to enter into spiritual communion with the older couple.”3 In these and other instances, people’s identities become mapped onto pitch structures, suggesting a desire to give those structures definite meanings tethered to personal relationships.

To be sure, this hermeneutic tradition has been encouraged in part by the historical actors themselves and by the biographical lens through which many of their contemporaries listened to and analyzed music. It is nevertheless worth reexamining the case at hand given the more nuanced scholarly work in this area in recent decades. We can now benefit from studies that have broadened our views about the types and functions of musical borrowings amid a resurgent interest in performance and reception alongside compositional intent.4 Instead of leaving the question at “what is in the music?” and “what does it mean?” we can, as Richard Taruskin did in his introduction to the Oxford History of Western Music, deploy the historian’s trick to ask “what has it meant?”5 to which as a performer I may add “how does it mean?” In this vein, the present article builds most immediately upon research on Brahms’s allusions by Paul Berry, whose renewed attention to contextual specificity in each of his case studies brings out the experiential and associative horizons of the performers and listeners to whom an allusion might be directed.

Contextual specificity can shed fresh light on our network of musical borrowings as well. The pertinent documentary and biographical evidence is even richer than has been acknowledged. By weaving analyses of music together with the record of intimate modes of social and musical engagement (diary entries and letters, sight-reading and practicing alone and with others, the giving and receiving of flowers), this article seeks to present a layered narrative that points to an intersection of public and private, artistic and everyday life that is at once intense and subtle, specific yet open-ended, unleashing a range of meaning that cannot be fixed. The musical features to be explored gain expressive power not only from being read and recognized but also by being activated experientially in performance, opening indirect and multivalent lines of communication. Although much of the raw material is known and available through published sources, it is realigned here to illuminate the significance of a single recurring melody. Because evidence of our protagonists’ occupation with it very nearly coincides with the starting and ending points of their relationships, their network of thematic borrowing permits us a rare opportunity to trace the shifting meanings, functions, and contexts of a shared tune across time.

Clara Wieck’s Romance variée, op. 3, and Robert Schumann’s Impromptus on a Romance by Clara Wieck, op. 5, were printed in quick succession in late July and August 1833 and represent their first published compositional collaboration. Both are variation sets which famously share a theme, especially its melody, though it is cast differently in each set (ex. 1a and b). Because the title of his op. 5 gestures toward her op. 3 as a preexisting work, this melody has typically been associated with her in terms both of authorship and musical persona. Scholars have pointed out, however, that its first appearance is an incipit found in a diary entry by Robert probably dating from late September 1830. It is thus unlikely that this material originated with Clara, who began composing her Romance no earlier than 1831.6 Yet nothing in the sources betrays a sense of ownership on his part; as we will see, utterances made by her over two decades later suggest in retrospect a mutual understanding that this melody somehow belonged to her.

The question of authorship is important because it is on this basis that Robert’s Impromptus have been construed as the musical representation of two people. His is a set of variations that seems to be grounded on not one but two themes: the shared melody and the descending fifths bass line. Association of the former with Clara has been accompanied by association of the latter with Robert. In Wolfgang Boetticher’s account, the melody is “unmistakably Clara’s property,” and the two voices’ different sources correspond to a hierarchy in which the contrapuntal bass is more structural than the decorative melody.7 Claudia Stevens Becker takes the personification further by regarding the inner voice E–D–F–E as a transposed B–A–C–H motive. This, she proposes, is “an incipient ‘Raro’ figure, mediating between the personae of Robert and Clara, one lustily earthbound, the other childishly lofty.”8

After Clara’s Romance variée appeared in print, she sent Robert an exemplar with a letter that displays the close entwinement of their two opuses:

I am truly sorry that I have dedicated this modest piece to you, and I really wish that I did not have to see these variations in print, but unfortunately I have done it, and now it can’t be undone. I therefore apologize for the enclosed. Your brilliant rendition of this little musical idea should make up for my poor work, and I request herewith that you send it to me, as I can hardly wait to become more familiar with it. Incidentally, you will see from the title of my Romance that my Doppelgänger has not been forgotten, even though I had not asked for it to appear. Should this perhaps suggest to us that my Doppelgänger compositions will hold some promise?9

This was not the first time that the word “Doppelgänger” surfaced in their letters; it was scattered throughout their correspondence during at least the years 1832–34. To my knowledge, Boetticher is the only commentator to discuss this term in connection with Clara’s Romance and Robert’s Impromptus. He conjectures that the Doppelgänger idea was inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann’s novels and links it to Robert’s thematic borrowings as musical expressions of a divided romantic self.10 How internal and external borrowing are related he leaves unexplained. For now suffice it to say that, since Clara’s letter reveals prior familiarity with Robert’s Impromptus, it is certainly plausible that their taking up a common theme prompted her to call op. 3 a “Doppelgänger composition.”11 “My Doppelgänger” here might be an oblique reference to Robert or to the interchangeability of his and her identities as the theme’s authors.12

But probing more deeply into our protagonists’ Doppelgänger discourse points to other ways of displacing one’s self onto music than becoming identified with specific themes. According to Berthold Litzmann, Robert’s use of the word was tied to the Hoffmannesque tales that he liked to tell the Wieck children. He evidently relished playing charades and other games, as well as telling stories that involved mystery and impersonation.13 A particularly striking instance comes from the following letter, which he sent to Clara about two weeks prior to her “apology” letter above. It captures something of his mode as a storyteller of “Doppelgängergeschichten”:

Since there is no chain of sparks to draw us together or even remind us of one other, I have a mystical proposal. Tomorrow at exactly 11 o’clock, I’ll play the adagio from Chopin’s Variations and will think intently, indeed exclusively, of you. Now the request is that you do the same so that we can see each other and meet in spirit. Our Doppelgänger would probably meet above the small gate of the Thomaskirche. If there were a full moon, I’d suggest it as a mirror to reflect my letter. I’m very much hoping for an answer. If I don’t hear from you and a string breaks tomorrow at midnight, it is I.14

The passage draws on common narrative tropes: the meeting point, the late-night setting, the full moon and mirror, and the broken piano string all have a (mock-) ominous character, evoking the uncanny.

Within this framework, Robert signals two means through which he and Clara can bifurcate into their real and Doppelgänger selves: the letter and the piano. His letter, reflected by the moon, would presumably yield his image at the Thomaspforte.15 As for the piano, he asks that they both play the Adagio section (no. 5) from Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano,” op. 2, at the same time. The theme, of course, comes from the seduction duet between Giovanni and Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The Adagio stimulated Robert to conjure up a suggestive scenario in his diary that became more amorously vivid in his review of the work, published in 1831: “The Adagio is in B♭ minor, to be sure, but I can think of nothing more appropriate. It seems to imply a moral admonition to the Don. It’s naughty, of course, but also delightful that Leporello should be eavesdropping—laughing and mocking from behind the bushes; that oboes and clarinets should pour forth their charming seduction, and that B♭ major, in full bloom, should signal the first amorous kiss.”16 In singling out this section from Chopin’s Variations, Robert’s “mystical proposal” to Clara makes its flirtatious intent clear. The furtive excitement of his invitation is magnified by the meeting point of the Thomaspforte, which was kept closed at night.17

A look at the score of the Adagio reveals that the B♭ major Robert cites in his review is not to be found there. That is because what he is referring to is presumably the resolution of the V7 on which the end of the variation dangles, which is elided with the beginning of the following section, “Alla polaca.” If so, the crucial moment of physical contact, “the kiss,” sits outside of the frame of the Adagio. Were Robert and Clara to play from the Haslinger edition, as was likely, the kiss would be literally a page-turn away (plate 1). The resolution is to be supplied by the players on the basis of prior familiarity with the composition and tonal syntax. The edge of the score, tantalizingly perched on that V7 harmony, becomes a springboard for the imaginary fulfillment of desire.18

Plate 1:

Chopin, Variations on “Là ci darem da mano,” close of Adagio (Vienna: Haslinger, 1830).

Plate 1:

Chopin, Variations on “Là ci darem da mano,” close of Adagio (Vienna: Haslinger, 1830).

Close modal

I have quoted Robert’s “mystical proposal” letter from the English translation by Hildegard Fritsch and Ronald L. Crawford, where the word “mystical” stands for the German “sympathetischen.” This wording seems to me unfortunate because the concept of sympathy is essential. While the term “mystical” does evoke the fantastical aura of this letter, it fails to register the importance of synchronicity and attunement for the spiritual communion of sender and receiver.19 Robert’s proposal to Clara is in effect to embark on a strange kind of piano duet. By playing a significant passage of music and envisioning the other doing the same at the same time, he and Clara can sustain the illusion that they are engaged with each other in the here and now. The keyboard thus becomes an interface that can activate a point of entry into “their” space in spite of being apart. Robert fantasizes that coordinating the musical actions might open up a virtual field in which the doubles can meet. Conversely, he warns Clara that their failure to connect (or rather, her failure) may result in a technological “glitch” in the form of a broken string.

Robert’s mention of a piano string invokes the imagery of sympathetic resonance. As Roger Mathew Grant writes in a recent history of affect theories, this physical phenomenon furnished an eighteenth-century model of musical experience in which (to quote Christian Gottfried Krause) “the soul is like a stringed instrument that sounds sympathetically whenever a tone is given that corresponds to one of its strings, even though the string itself was not touched.”20 Whether Clara and Robert succeed in “connecting” is contingent upon their attunements to one another and their respective associations with a musical passage. Such attunements are not necessarily explicit; in this insider’s game, they may be projected or filled in, their value rising precisely as tacit understandings match.

Reexamining Robert’s op. 5 through the lenses of the Doppelgänger and sympathetic resonance yields new ways of looking at its opening. As seen in example 1b, this work begins with a lone bass and only then presents the fully voiced theme (entitled “Romanza”). What happens in the next two impromptus is remarkable (ex. 2): the second impromptu takes away the melody just given, leaving behind the bass and phantom-like chords. The third impromptu restores what had been the tenor line in the Romanza and, finally, at the repeat of this initial phrase, the melody. Classical variations tend to be melody-oriented, and a governing principle is that the theme should remain recognizable despite its elaboration, especially in the initial variations. Here a pianist might try not so much to discern the theme’s scaffolding through its elaborations as to play in the spirit of Robert’s sympathetic proposal. Like the synchronous duet performance of Chopin’s Adagio, the attuned person might play what is notated with the sense that there is another agency filling in the missing yet personally meaningful melody on the page. Hearing the lower parts of the theme should induce the projection of the inaudible melody onto the audible surface.

Example 2:

Robert Schumann, Impromptus, op. 5 (1833 version), no. 2 and opening of no. 3.

Example 2:

Robert Schumann, Impromptus, op. 5 (1833 version), no. 2 and opening of no. 3.

Close modal

We have moved from an understanding of the musical Doppelgänger as an objectification of personal identities to something that is more fragile and open-ended. Beyond the recognition of themes, their provenance, and what they represent, Robert models a way of interacting with the score that could be described as performative play.21 Involving variously real-time (dis)embodied experiences and acts of music analysis, projection, and impersonation, one of the desired outcomes of such play is the potential for interpersonal communication via sympathetic resonance. The concept of sympathy harbors the hope for an alignment of physical acts and spiritual needs between two persons who strive to be attuned to each other. Whether that hope is fulfilled depends on how the participants fill in, say, the textual gap of a missing tonic resolution at the end of the Chopin variation, an absent duet partner, a texture or thought to be completed in Robert’s Impromptus. But it is an indeterminate process with indeterminate results.

It is important to remember that Clara was thirteen and Robert twenty-three years old at this point. They were not yet in a serious romantic relationship, and I would interpret their exchanges as playfully flirtatious. Yet the attendant ideas will return in a less whimsical, more poignant context when we leap forward to the 1850s with Clara Schumann’s op. 20 and Brahms’s op. 9.

The year 1854 brought deep upheaval for the Schumann family. On 27 February, Robert slipped out of the house and leaped into the icy Rhine after suffering from hallucinations for weeks. He was rescued and brought home, but Clara, who was then five months pregnant, was advised to stay away. This was intended for his sake, so as not to agitate him further, and hers, to shield her from the fact of his attempted suicide.22 She and her children were temporarily relocated to the home of Rosalie Leser (a close friend in Düsseldorf) while preparations for his admission into an institution were made. Robert was transported to an asylum in Endenich (now a suburb of Bonn) on 4 March.

In the aftermath of this crisis, Clara sought various ways to cope with Robert’s sudden departure. Marianne Bargiel (her mother), Brahms, and others began to arrive in Düsseldorf on 3 March, and she drew strength from many a person’s visits, letters, and other expressions of support. But a week after Robert left for Endenich, the ever-present company and inquiries from people became so oppressive that she went out and retraced one of his favorite walks to commune with him in privacy.23 Soon thereafter, she forced herself to go for walks on a daily basis. By engaging in an activity that he had relished, she nurtured their relationship in the face of physical, emotional, and psychological distance.

The primary means of support, however, was musical, with Brahms leading the effort. On the day of his arrival, Clara wrote in her diary: “Brahms came over from Hannover today, and at once came to see me. He said he had only come to comfort me with music [in Musik Erheiterung zu verschaffen], if I had any wish for it. He is going to stay here for the present, and later, when Robert is so far recovered that he can see strangers, he will devote himself to him. What touching friendship!”24 So began frequent sessions of music-making at the home of the Schumanns and Rosalie Leser, with Brahms above all, but also with Albert Dietrich, Julius Otto Grimm, Joseph Joachim, and others. Through late April, the repertoire focused almost exclusively on Robert’s compositions, with a special emphasis on his more recent and unpublished projects. There is scant mention in the surviving records of solo piano music; the bulk of the repertoire comprised works for chamber and larger forces in piano reductions for two and four hands, with the participants singing at times as well as playing.

While such sessions had been common in the Schumann household, they naturally acquired a different significance in Robert’s absence. Now they presented a double-edged sword that at once comforted and distressed Clara. Their effect on her mood was such that her mother vowed to forbid the music on at least one occasion.25 For his part, Brahms did not hesitate to express the high value he placed on playing for and with Clara. Later in the year, during a period when they were traveling separately, he wrote to her: “At any moment I could turn back and would not be tempted again to leave Düsseldorf this summer. Being together with you and making music with you in such an alive and inspired way, hearing news of your beloved husband, ah, how can I dispense with that even for a short time.”26 In the months after Robert left, the passing of time was punctuated by reports from Endenich about his evolving condition and by these sessions amid a close circle of friends.

On 24 May 1854, Clara played for Brahms and Julius Otto Grimm her Variations (not yet published but later to become her op. 20) on Robert’s “Albumblatt” in F♯ minor from Bunte Blätter, op. 99. She had prepared them for his birthday on 8 June in the previous year, following their (especially his) penchant for presenting new compositions on days of special significance. But at the time of her performance for Brahms and Grimm, her morale was at a low point. Glimmers of improvement in Robert’s condition throughout April turned out to be a false start by the month’s end. As the news from Endenich settled into a seemingly unending roller coaster of hopes raised and dashed, she was becoming increasingly anguished that she had yet to receive any sign that he was thinking of her.

Soon after hearing Clara’s Variations, Brahms went to work on his own set, published later in the year together with hers as his op. 9. He sent a manuscript to her on 15 June, after she gave birth to the last Schumann child (Felix), with a dedication to her (“in inniger Verehrung”) and the title Kleine Variationen über ein Tema von Ihm. / Ihr zugeeignet. She recorded its receipt in her diary: “Brahms sought replenishment for my heart, he wrote music for me, also variations, based on the intimate, glorious theme in which I immersed myself so deeply as I wrote the variations for dear Robert, and moved me deeply through his tender attention.”27 Indeed, Brahms had engaged in the same musical activity as she had at around the same time in the previous year, given the proximity of Robert’s and Felix’s birthdays.

Still more striking, however, are the manifold ways in which Brahms assumed Robert’s gestures. The very premise of sharing a theme harkened back to Clara’s Romance variée and Robert’s Impromptus, a connection Brahms made explicit when, later in the summer, he added a newly written variation (what became no. 10) that quotes the Schumanns’ common theme. In addition, Brahms drew the letters “B” or “Kr” (standing for Brahms and Kreisler, respectively) using the double bars at the end of most Variations in his autograph, recalling Robert’s “E” and “F” (Eusebius and Florestan) in Davidsbündlertänze, op. 6.28

Unsurprisingly, the combination of these traits and their biographical circumstances have supplied fertile ground for speculation. In his 1862 article about Brahms’s early opuses, Adolf Schubring wrote: “Schumann found himself back then in a hopeless state in Endenich; his favorite student Johannes sings for him in advance a Nänie, full of the most touching lament and deepest melancholy.”29 This description has resonated powerfully ever since, even though, as Paul Berry reminds us, it is a “characterization [that] juggle[s] chronology: Schumann still lived for two more years after the work was completed, and his friends harbored hopes of a recovery for much of that time.”30 The complexity of the situation’s temporal unfolding on the ground will in fact prove to be important.

But there are other, hitherto unexplored ways in which Brahms’s Variations responded to the extraordinary circumstances of the time. Opus 9’s transparent voicing and diaphanous surface lend it a rarefied quality that sets it apart from Brahms’s other piano writing to date. It seems to be designed for solitary rumination rather than to be played in public or even shared with others in private contexts. Yet it also betrays a marked preoccupation with a kind of “doubleness,” as if Brahms were deploying his newfound fascination with counterpoint to explore the myriad forms in which two musical elements can interact. Of the sixteen variations, no less than four feature canons, an unusually high number. Others may also be said to exhibit duality: no. 5, for example, features a back-and-forth rhythm that Hermann Danuser calls “Imitationsdialog” and also draws attention to the intriguing hand choreography that pervades much of the set.31

Take variation 3, which exhibits an unusual disposition of the hands (ex. 3). The right hand features two-measure units that alternate between middle and upper registers, creating a statement-and-response dynamic. The alternation of register causes the right hand to dovetail around the left, crossing it to reach to its left and returning to its default position. A pattern is established by the first half of the variation: two measures of crossed hands are followed by two measures of uncrossed hands, which seem coordinated with the ebb and flow of harmonic stress and relaxation. Tension here belongs to crossed hands while uncrossed hands bring release. The tension increases from two-measure unit to two-measure unit: mm. 1–2 are less dissonant than mm. 5–6, which in turn are less dissonant than mm. 9–10. Example 3 attempts to convey how these different parameters converge or, as we will see in the variation’s next half, diverge.

Example 3:

Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, op. 9, hand choreography in no. 3 (crossed/uncrossed = +/-).

Example 3:

Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, op. 9, hand choreography in no. 3 (crossed/uncrossed = +/-).

Close modal

Measure 10 contains a ninth chord loaded with ambiguity and then a fissure: as the left hand’s C♯ descends to C♮, the music breaks away from the sound world of F♯ minor and A major. The C dominant-seventh chord points to an F horizon (whether major or minor does not become clear until A♭ appears in m. 14). The disruption is not only harmonic; it also reverses the contour as ascending triplets become descending triplets. The choreography of the hands is also disrupted. A full four measures of hand-crossing replace the earlier alternation every two measures, articulating a larger unit in terms of phrasing and harmony. The overall effect is one of distortion. Dominant prolongations typically generate anticipation for the arrival of their tonics, but these four measures, with their overwhelmingly descending contours, sound exhausted. The performer’s twisted body yields equally twisted dissonances.

The F-minor horizon finally emerges in m. 17, but it is never established by its root and thus never materializes. At this juncture one expects a harmonic and thematic return. Although m. 17 does provide it, it is “off,” a juncture that is problematized in Robert’s theme as well. It is at once a point of furthest remove and a return to more familiar territory: familiar, insofar as certain characteristics from the first half of the variation reappear (the ascending triplets, the right hand’s alternation between middle and high registers); furthest remove, insofar as F minor is a remote key from F♯ minor. Not only are they tonally distant, with minimal overlap between their pitch collections, but a keyboardist also experiences them as a reversal of black and white keys. Measures 19–20 reproduce almost verbatim mm. 7–8 (except for the left hand being now an octave lower), but the shift down a half step and between black and white keys creates a sense of defamiliarization.

Perhaps most important for our purposes, with the thematic melody an octave lower, the hand crossing has notably disappeared. This as much as the harmonic distance signals the different psychological state at this point. Having repeatedly negotiated which hand plays sopra, and following the extended intertwining of mm. 13–16, the more normative separation of the hands in mm. 17ff. becomes highly marked. This aspect is extremely palpable when one attempts the exercise of playing the variation as if it were a four-hand duet, with secondo taking over the lower staff and primo the upper. The hand disposition in mm. 17ff. bespeaks not only physical but also emotional detachment. Measures 21–24 then jolt the variation back to the tonic. The thumbs interlock in the penultimate measure before the hands come to rest in a more standard but still intimate position, lending the last two measures an aura of finality.

Variation 8 is the first of the four canonic variations in op. 9 (ex. 4a). The contrapuntal texture grows gradually after the right hand’s lonely espressivo entrance. Bass notes begin to appear late in m. 4; the tonic root only arrives in m. 6. The left hand shadows the melody without completely revealing itself as a canon. The left-hand tremolos bearing the response seem less an independent voice than reverberations of the melody wie aus der Ferne. Due to the register and melody’s contour, the passage where the reverberating voice gains most flesh and blood coincides with the closest contact between the hands. This occurs at the end of the variation’s apex in m. 16. While the two thumbs have already interlocked in mm. 2–3 and 7–8, this moment of melodic and formal climax intensifies the gesture as the left hand launches itself nearly three octaves up to B4 and the right hand finds itself superimposed over the left hand (ex. 4b).32

The union of learned counterpoint and expressive Innigkeit finds its summit in variation 10. As Danuser, Jeffrey Swinkin, and others have said, this achingly beautiful variation takes the contrapuntal processes throughout the set even further by combining canon and inversion. The melody in the right hand is the theme’s bass line, superimposed on its inversion played by the left hand. In their midst is a throbbing accompanimental figuration that starts as a diminution of the first six notes of the thematic melody. The inversional relationship between the outer voices can be experienced in a tactile way in mm. 1–8 because the two lines could almost be played with mirror fingerings. Brahms intensifies the counterpoint by setting the inverted voices (now as soprano and alto, with the latter soon veering away from being a straight inversion) canonically in mm. 9–12. The inversional relationship is then transferred in mm. 17ff. to soprano and bass, and the latter is placed in yet another canonic relationship to the tenor in mm. 21–24. In mm. 25–28, the left-hand figuration begins to weld what were previously distinct tenor and bass lines while continuing to sustain a mirror image of the soprano. Finally, strict counterpoint gives way to a quotation, in the middle voice, of the melodic incipit of Clara’s Romance variée (ex. 5).

Example 5:

Brahms, Variations, op. 9, quotation at the end of no. 10.

Example 5:

Brahms, Variations, op. 9, quotation at the end of no. 10.

Close modal

How this contrapuntal tour de force is couched in such lyricism is remarkable. Arguably the most eloquent moment in all of op. 9, this and the next Variation were not part of the set as Clara received it in mid-June, nor as Brahms played it for her in the end of July. The sheet on which he wrote them bears the date 12 August. The key of D major in variation 10 introduces a drastic change of affect, without which the major mode would not have emerged until the final two variations. In the loose-leaf manuscript, it is titled “Rose und Heliotrope haben geduftet.” What stimulated Brahms to conceive of this music, so different in character from the rest, with its quotation and title, two months later? Possible grounds for explanation can be gleaned from a red thread in the surviving documentary evidence that unspooled slowly during the spring and summer of 1854. The composition of this variation, and of op. 9 as a whole, may in part be a response to Robert’s fluctuating condition, to how his state appeared to Clara and Brahms in Düsseldorf, and to their ways of coping in their everyday lives. The explorations of doubleness I have been enlivening through my own acts of performative play could have enabled Clara to imagine the dynamics of duetting in various forms, culminating with Brahms’s addition of an idealized duet at the end of variation 10. Throughout the reconstruction that follows, the timeline in Table 1 will help anchor the reader in the intricate chronological details.

Table 1:

1854 Timeline

3 March Brahms arrives in Düsseldorf. 
4 March Robert is taken to Endenich. 
Early April Clara requests and is granted permission to send Robert flowers. 
16 May Clara bemoans that Robert has given no sign that he is thinking of her. Noch immer zeigen sich die Gehörstäuschungen und irre Reden . . . das alleschmerzlichste aber ist mir, daß er selbst, wenn er von Düsseldorf spricht, wohl Hasenclevers erwähnt, aber meiner mit keiner Silbe! Sollte er an meiner zu ihm zweifeln, weil ich mich bereden ließ, von ihm zu gehen? Ach, Robert, meine Liebe ist ja so unendlich, daß du sie ja fühlen mußt! 
24 May Clara plays her Variations op. 20 for Brahms. 
6 June 

After numerous ups and downs, the doctors finally report to Clara that Robert’s condition and memory appear to be improving.

Ich erhielt heute die besten Nachricht vom Arzt, die ich bis jetzt überhaupt erhalten. Robert war ruhig, ohne Gehörstäuschungen, ohne Beängstigungen, redete auch nicht irre und tat einige Fragen, welche bewiesen, daß er anfängt, sich der Vergangenheit zu erinnern. . . .

8 June Robert’s birthday. 
11 June Felix Schumann is born. 
15 June Brahms sends Clara his variations op. 9 (not yet including variations 10 and 11). 
15 July 

Clara writes to Emilie List that Robert is getting better. She is distressed, however, that he has yet to ask about the children or her.

Mein teurer Robert befindet sich besser, aber es geht sehr langsam! . . . Was mich aber so unendlich betrübt ist, daß er noch nie nach mir oder den Kindern gefragt — denkt er nicht an uns, oder ist es Scheu? Fühlt er sich noch nicht stark genug nach uns zu fragen? Fürchtet er die Aufregung? Diese Fragen stelle ich mir unendlich oft . . .

17 July Clara offers her Variations op. 20 for publication to Härtel. 
20–26 July Clara receives two bouquets from Robert. 
30–31 July Brahms performs his variations op. 9 for Clara. 
12 August Brahms has added variations 10 and 11 to op. 9; works on arranging Robert’s Piano Quintet op. 44. 
12 September The Schumanns’ wedding anniversary. Robert’s “first” inquiry about his wife; the doctors ask Clara to write to him and thus their correspondence begins. 
13 September Clara’s birthday. 
14 September First letter from Robert to Clara, which she receives on September 15. 
6 October Robert receives an exemplar of the first edition of Brahms’s op. 9. 
15 December 

Robert asks Brahms about the quotation in variation 10.

Eine Erinnerung, von der mir Clara schrieb, steht wohl S. 14; woraus ist sie? aus einem Lied?

3 March Brahms arrives in Düsseldorf. 
4 March Robert is taken to Endenich. 
Early April Clara requests and is granted permission to send Robert flowers. 
16 May Clara bemoans that Robert has given no sign that he is thinking of her. Noch immer zeigen sich die Gehörstäuschungen und irre Reden . . . das alleschmerzlichste aber ist mir, daß er selbst, wenn er von Düsseldorf spricht, wohl Hasenclevers erwähnt, aber meiner mit keiner Silbe! Sollte er an meiner zu ihm zweifeln, weil ich mich bereden ließ, von ihm zu gehen? Ach, Robert, meine Liebe ist ja so unendlich, daß du sie ja fühlen mußt! 
24 May Clara plays her Variations op. 20 for Brahms. 
6 June 

After numerous ups and downs, the doctors finally report to Clara that Robert’s condition and memory appear to be improving.

Ich erhielt heute die besten Nachricht vom Arzt, die ich bis jetzt überhaupt erhalten. Robert war ruhig, ohne Gehörstäuschungen, ohne Beängstigungen, redete auch nicht irre und tat einige Fragen, welche bewiesen, daß er anfängt, sich der Vergangenheit zu erinnern. . . .

8 June Robert’s birthday. 
11 June Felix Schumann is born. 
15 June Brahms sends Clara his variations op. 9 (not yet including variations 10 and 11). 
15 July 

Clara writes to Emilie List that Robert is getting better. She is distressed, however, that he has yet to ask about the children or her.

Mein teurer Robert befindet sich besser, aber es geht sehr langsam! . . . Was mich aber so unendlich betrübt ist, daß er noch nie nach mir oder den Kindern gefragt — denkt er nicht an uns, oder ist es Scheu? Fühlt er sich noch nicht stark genug nach uns zu fragen? Fürchtet er die Aufregung? Diese Fragen stelle ich mir unendlich oft . . .

17 July Clara offers her Variations op. 20 for publication to Härtel. 
20–26 July Clara receives two bouquets from Robert. 
30–31 July Brahms performs his variations op. 9 for Clara. 
12 August Brahms has added variations 10 and 11 to op. 9; works on arranging Robert’s Piano Quintet op. 44. 
12 September The Schumanns’ wedding anniversary. Robert’s “first” inquiry about his wife; the doctors ask Clara to write to him and thus their correspondence begins. 
13 September Clara’s birthday. 
14 September First letter from Robert to Clara, which she receives on September 15. 
6 October Robert receives an exemplar of the first edition of Brahms’s op. 9. 
15 December 

Robert asks Brahms about the quotation in variation 10.

Eine Erinnerung, von der mir Clara schrieb, steht wohl S. 14; woraus ist sie? aus einem Lied?


On 23 May 1854, Clara Schumann noted in her diary that she was beginning to lose hope for Robert’s recovery.33 In this state of mind she performed her op. 20 Variations for Brahms and Julius Otto Grimm the following day: “I played my variations on a theme of Robert’s, which made me terribly sad; it is just a year since they were composed, and I was so happy, thinking of surprising him with them. This year I must spend his birthday alone, and he will not even know the day!”34 This entry registers the strange circumstance that, after being admitted to the psychiatric institution in Endenich, Robert seemed to display a kind of amnesia about much of his life and a general lack of interest in the external world. The selective memory effaced virtually everything important to him: family, friends, and music. On this 8 June, Clara surmised, Robert would remain oblivious to the fact that it was his forty-fourth birthday. No recollection of the celebrations they shared in the past would be triggered. It was an especially deep source of pain that he seemed disinclined to ask about her; he appeared to have abandoned her in his thoughts.

This pain was surely augmented by Clara’s utter dependence on others to learn about Robert’s condition. She had to rely on reports from doctors, family, and friends who went to Endenich. Her mother, Brahms, Grimm, Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, Christian Reimers, and others had all at least visited the asylum, if not seen Robert himself, neither of which she did until his final days. Many of these communications were not wholly transparent. There was a kind of censorship, both obvious and subtle, in place among various parties. The doctors were careful about what they chose to report to Clara, and Brahms cautioned her to keep her composure when she wrote to them, so as to encourage them to be more forthcoming.35 The most immediate clinical goal was for Robert to attain a certain peace of mind. It was thus considered advisable to avoid things, people, and memories that could stir up strong emotions in him. This included anything having to do with his wife and children. Even the printed materials he was allowed to read were tightly controlled, since journals might publish stories about him. Recollections or desires in relation to his loved ones had to arise from his own consciousness and volition rather than be imposed from the outside.

In fact, this form of “treatment” had already started before Robert came under the care of the doctors in Endenich. Clara did not see her husband since he disappeared to leap into the Rhine; following his rescue, she was urged to keep her distance from him, not only in view of her pregnancy at the time but also to not provoke his anxiety or distress. It hurt her that he appeared satisfied that she was staying at Rosalie Leser’s for the time being, and he seldom asked about her.36 During this intervening period, she sent him a pot of violets and other tokens of affection, and, on the day of his departure, a bouquet of flowers:

Saturday, 4th, dawned. Oh God! The carriage stood at our door, Robert dressed in great haste, got into the carriage with Hasenclever and the two attendants, did not ask for me or for his children, and I sat there at Frl. Leser’s, in a dull stupor, and thought that now I must succumb. . . .

The weather was glorious, so at least the sun shone on him. I had given Dr. Hasenclever a bunch of flowers for him, and he gave them to him on the way. For a long time he held them in his hand without noticing them, then all at once he smelled them, at the same time smiling and pressing Hasenclever’s hand. Later on, he gave a flower from the bunch to everyone in the carriage. Hasenclever brought his to me—with a bleeding heart I kept it.37

Clara preserved this flower in their Brautbuch.38 The flowers were obviously intended as a more immediate way of announcing herself to him under the constraints in place. This practice prefigured what was to become a pattern of interaction during the spring and summer of 1854.

On 31 March, Brahms and Grimm visited Endenich to discuss Robert’s condition directly with the doctor. Brahms then wrote to Joachim that Schumann “relate[d] which mountains he’s been on, and that he picked flowers in Düsseldorf, and which he would like; (he did recently pick some for himself). If he is thinking of such things, it is quite impossible that he would not also think of his wife.”39 This news for Clara was bittersweet: “Robert was significantly calmer and longed for flowers, which he always had in Düsseldorf. Ah, I was so upset again by this, for I thought, if he thinks of the flowers he had here, should he not also think of me? Why does he never ask for news of me? Or does he shut up this longing in his heart?”40 Evidently, in their minds it was only logical that, if he could think of flowers, he should be able to think of her too. Clara thought that the doctor was not being forthcoming, and there would have been grounds for her suspicions. According to a medical note on 20 April, for instance, Robert did mention his wife, but within the context of a disturbing hallucinatory episode. This, along with other such instances, was likely never relayed to her.41

She immediately asked the doctor to grant her permission to send him a bouquet on occasion, and she set out to mobilize Wasielewski and Reimers to advocate for her request and carry it out. Permission was granted, but with a crushing caveat: Robert would not be informed that they came from her. Instead, he would always be told that they came from an attendant in the asylum, Elvire von Reumont. A painfully unilateral mode of communication ensued, whereby Clara tried to make her presence felt by sending him flowers whose true sender was never revealed. Nonetheless, Brahms expressed hope that through Robert’s receipt of her bouquets, a mysterious force would be kindled that could stir his memory of her. On 7 April, he enclosed for Joachim the most recent report from the doctors and added: “I don’t remember anymore if this letter [from the doctors] states that Frau Schumann may send her husband flowers. I therefore mention it here. Don’t you believe in sympathy?”42 In a move that echoes the “sympathy” of Robert’s youthful proposal that he and Clara, while separated, play the Adagio from Chopin’s “Là ci darem la mano” Variations at the same time, Brahms’s use of the word “sympathy” here does not refer to compassion but rather something more like sympathetic resonance: a force on one end that can beget a reaction on the other, if it is suitably attuned, even at a great distance.

An expectant Clara experienced disappointment, however, after her first bouquet, delivered on 7 April, did not have its desired effect. Robert seemed to enjoy it but did not ask anything: “He looked at the flowers I sent him with pleasure, he smiled and nodded, but made no comment. My Robert, should you not have thought of your Clara?”43 It was only after her wistful performance of her op. 20 Variations for Brahms and Grimm that Robert’s condition began to turn a corner. Precisely how his progress manifested itself to them is significant for the evolution of Brahms’s op. 9 Variations. The timing of Brahms’s addition of Variation 10, together with its musical and poetic character, may plausibly be understood as responses to these signs of improvement. Robert’s condition made a marked turn for the better, after fits and starts, at the end of May. His progress continued gradually through the summer of 1854. Finally in June, Clara and Brahms began to receive consistently encouraging news from the doctors. She wrote in her diary on 6 June: “Today I received the best news from the doctors that I have had at all. Robert . . . asked a few questions which showed that he is beginning to remember the past.”44 Brahms wrote to Joachim of “marvelous signs of a returning memory.”45 Yet there continued to be a glaring omission throughout this recovery. He still did not mention his wife or say her name; if he did, the doctors did not share this most fervently awaited news.

The first signs of Robert’s attempt to reach out to her, of a sympathetic resonance, were two bouquets sent in close succession in late July. The first arrived on 20 July, while Clara was in Berlin, so Brahms wrote to her from Düsseldorf:

I cannot refrain from writing to you in a few lines how glad and deeply moved I am about the wonderful news you received this morning. Have I not then always been right when I said to you that your dear husband is thinking of you, but a vague shyness holds him back from speaking out your name.

How often I was ashamed of wanting to comfort you with a premonition, and now it has been fulfilled so splendidly.

The flowers should not bring greetings, but the promise of an imminent reunion.

I want to stop so that I don’t excite your mind too much with my premonitions of a prompt, prompt reunion.46

She reacted exuberantly in her diary: “The first show of love (some flowers) after five months, again from him, my Robert! He gave the flowers with a friendly look to Fräulein Reumont in Endenich,” and after she asked him “For whom?” answered: “You already know!”47 The second bouquet arrived on 26 July. (Clara preserved parts of both in the Brautbuch as well. See plate 2.) Brahms reported to Joachim:

Plate 2:

Flower from the second bouquet Clara received from Robert on 26 July 1854 (Robert-Schumann-Haus Zwickau).

Plate 2:

Flower from the second bouquet Clara received from Robert on 26 July 1854 (Robert-Schumann-Haus Zwickau).

Close modal

Yesterday evening Fräulein Hartmann returned from Bonn. At the ship [landing], where all of us, including Frau Schumann, awaited her, she presented Frau Schumann with a bouquet of flowers from her husband.

This time, encouraged by Fräulein Reumont, he had consciously chosen some preciously wonderful roses and carnations; (the last time he didn’t know whom he was picking them for). Fräulein Reumont again asked him, where to and to whom: Oh, of course you know that! Was his answer. So he had not forgotten the last consignment.

You know, he asked recently whom the flowers in his room came from. He was told, and will always be told unless he asks explicitly whether they came from his wife, that they came from Fräulein Reumont.48

After Robert and Clara were separated following his February crisis, there had been two potential modes of communication between them. The first was verbal, possible only indirectly through intermediaries like doctors and friends; direct communication was not considered a viable option, given Robert’s compromised cognitive and psychological state. The second was material, the giving and receiving of flowers, which has a certain immediacy but decays with time. As an analogue to a speech act, moreover, it is quite vague. Thus, although Clara and Brahms assumed that Robert picked out for Clara the flowers that she received, Robert gave an ambiguous answer when pressed with the question of who should receive them: “You already know!” The truth is that he never gave a clear answer. Nonetheless, under the circumstances it was sufficient cause for happiness, and Brahms played his op. 9 variations for Clara again on 30 and 31 July in the afterglow of these heady days.

We are approaching a position from which to understand Brahms’s addition of Variation 10 on 12 August and to reevaluate the significance of the quotation at the end. The title “Rose und Heliotrop haben geduftet” has either passed without comment in the scholarly literature or been explained generally as a flourish of poetic fancy. But we can now appreciate the reference to flowers in light of the preceding context. No mere conventionally poetic motto, the phrase acknowledges that what was at stake was nothing less than the mutual recognition between husband and wife, however foggy that recognition may have been on Robert’s side at the time. It is hard to imagine that Brahms did not think of the heightened significance ascribed to the exchanges of bouquets when he decided upon this heading.49 This is especially likely when seen in conjunction with his decision to quote the melodic incipit from Clara’s Romance variée, op. 3, and Robert’s Impromptus, op. 5. If Brahms wanted to evoke the glow of the couple’s past, he would have been hard-pressed to select a better source.

Brahms famously announced to Joachim that in one of the two variations added later to his op. 9, “Clara speaks.”50 The statement has naturally been understood to refer to the quotation at the end of variation 10. It now gains renewed meaning: the flowers and the quotation may point to alternative modes of communication at a time when verbal failure was a concrete reality for Robert and Clara Schumann. If sending bouquets was an equivocal attempt to reach out with an uncertain meaning for their recipients, the musical quotation could function as a presentation of oneself that is more immediate than words. What Brahms has done is to imaginatively repair the lines of communication by linking the vague addressers and addressees of flowers to a melody that could be ascribed to a specific person, moment, and relationship. The duetting strategies I elucidated in the previous variations may appear highly speculative; indeed, the procedures noted could have arisen out of intellectual investigation irrespective of the personal circumstances. But here the quotation is the crux that puts a name to what would otherwise be an abstract voice in the texture. Freed from uncertainty about the senders and receivers of flowers, the interweaving of music derived from Robert and Clara stages a moment of mutual recognition and reunion. As we will see, this moment would be used, quite literally, as a test of Robert’s memory later in the year.

We shift our attention to a second musical gift that Brahms prepared for Clara in 1854, this time for her birthday on 13 September. The mood had relaxed sufficiently in the Schumann household that she allowed herself to go to a spa in Ostend with Rosalie Leser and Henriette Reichmann from 10 August to 6 September. In addition to the two new Variations for op. 9, Brahms schemed during this period to surprise her with another project. He reported to Joachim on 12 September: “Tomorrow, the 13th, is her birthday; I have fulfilled a longstanding wish of hers and arranged the Schumann Quintet for 4 hands. To keep her from suspecting anything, I secretly removed the manuscript from her cabinet while she was away in Ostende.”51 The music in question is Robert’s Piano Quintet, op. 44, a staple of Clara’s repertoire.

One movement was singled out for special treatment. Brahms wrote to Joachim:

I had fun making this little joke: the Scherzo from the Quintet has been

|Piano|arranged for||alone.|FrauSchumann|

She laughs about this sort of thing.52

There were thus two arrangements, distinguished by performing forces and the manner and degree to which they were intended for Clara. The first is a four-hand rendition of the Quintet, occasioned by her “longstanding wish” and upcoming birthday. This would facilitate her playing the piece with others in private settings and could be published to widen its dissemination. Clara’s diary represents the longstanding wish as Robert’s rather than hers and sees Brahms’s arrangement to be at least as much a gift for him as for her.53 The second, two-hand arrangement of the Scherzo was intended for Clara in a more emphatic sense. As Brahms explained to Joachim, it contains a joke for her and is to be played solely by her. He evidently believed that Joachim would “get it” just from reading his letter, which is reinforced by the casual expression “this sort of thing.”

Plate 3 shows the heading of the autograph given to Clara, which replicates the curious layout of the text in Brahms’s letter. Does the vertical alignment of “Pianoforte” and “Frau Schumann” invite the viewer to regard them as one, with Clara’s identity somehow equivalent to the instrument’s? Or does it signal two participants, sometimes collaborating, at other times competing, engaged in a fanciful duel or duet?54 A comparison between Brahms’s arrangement and the quintet score shows that Brahms adhered closely to his model. Much of his distribution of the parts between the hands seeks to approximate the interaction among the quintet’s five instruments; a single pianist must evoke the exciting relay among the different musicians.

Plate 3:

Brahms, solo piano arrangement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet, op. 44, Scherzo opening, autograph gift for Clara’s 1854 birthday (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv).

Plate 3:

Brahms, solo piano arrangement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet, op. 44, Scherzo opening, autograph gift for Clara’s 1854 birthday (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv).

Close modal

Perhaps therein lies the joke: asking Clara to do more than two hands can elegantly manage at the piano, forcing her to undertake a Herculean task intended for two pianists or five performers. Measures 25–32 are subjected to an unwieldy rewriting. The crisscrossings of ascending and descending lines, all within a relatively high register and light texture, pose serious complications for a piano arrangement. The melodic ascent that begins on the pickup to m. 25 is one octave lower than in the Quintet. The right hand initiates this voice’s descent while it must at the same time articulate the entrance of the next voice from A♭5 (one octave higher than in the Quintet) before this voice is doubled in octaves and the left hand takes over the continuation of the first voice’s descent in mm. 27–28, which necessitates rolling some chords. This requires Brahms to deploy three staves for visual ease. Were this arrangement for four hands, the passage would work well if the secondo player took over the lower two staves and the primo player the top staff. In a solo context one would be hard-pressed to find a solution that avoids awkward breakups of vertical simultaneities and unintuitive allocation of voices to fingerings. The “fun” may lie in the struggle with this insufferable piano writing.

Yet in his typically ironic fashion, Brahms also implants something earnest. Example 6a shows the opening of the Scherzo’s first trio section. The lyrical melody here is encumbered by another awkward arrangement. It is to be punctuated by alternating right and left thumbs, while both hands reach out to play the eighth-note figures at the same time. The way it is written makes it difficult to realize the legato marking and to approximate the beautiful line of the first violin in the quintet version. The thumbs are like two stumbling agents that struggle to remain close and play the theme as one while they are pulled away by the rest of the hand. Lyricism and clumsiness combine to humorous effect.

Most remarkable of all, Brahms invokes a striking gesture here that is specific to Robert. Several measures into the trio,9 he jotted: “Durch innere Stimmen zu ergänzen.” Written in three staves with the melody in the middle surrounded by accompanimental figurations in the upper and lower staves, Brahms’s arrangement of this section makes overt reference to the well-known instance of Augenmusik in Robert’s Humoreske, op. 20 (ex. 6b). In the Humoreske passage, a middle staff bearing the melodic core of the passage is suggestively labeled “innere Stimme,” while the upper and lower staves contain figurations that trace the melody like a paper cutout. There are no instructions as to how to handle the exceptional notation; the innere Stimme’s small print and frequent overlap with the left hand quietly rule out the possibility of playing it. As with the Impromptus that followed upon the Romanza in Robert’s earlier op. 5, the pianist is invited to listen through the audible texture for an absent melody. Departing from the model of the Impromptus, however, the melody is not something that was previously given and then snatched away. The melody here, though silent, is a middle voice that finds reverberations of itself in the right hand.

In Brahms’s arrangement of the first trio, the melodic core on the middle staff is to be played, but the physical choreography demanded of the player poses obstacles. Ear and body strain to bring it out. Furthermore, the infinitive “zu ergänzen” exhorts the performer to fill in still other innere Stimmen whose pitch content is not notated. A comparison with the quintet version shows that these inner voices are probably to be understood as imitative responses to the melody. Since Brahms did not write them out, Clara would presumably have to supply them from memory. Only those who are intimately familiar with Robert’s music would have recognized the provenance of Brahms’s gesture and been aware of the presence or absence of these voices. Here we have not a thematic or motivic allusion, but an allusion to a performative act. In ways analogous to the Humoreske passage, the arrangement of this trio invokes a solitary duet, where an arduous call begets only a projected response. The emphasis of the word “allein” in Brahms’s joke, then, suggests that this version of the Scherzo is for Clara alone not only in a literal sense, to be played by herself as soloist, but also intended for herself, not to be played for others and holding personal meaning.

Looking back to op. 9’s variation 10, it is notable that there too the melodic quotation appears in a middle voice. Those who have struggled through counterpoint of more than two voices at the keyboard will concur from personal experience that handling middle voices poses special challenges, like awkward non-legato fingerings and passing them from one hand to another. But counterpoint does not have to be something didactic, something to be demonstrated by bringing out the voices. Rather, the musical passages explored in this article point toward an intensely innig conception of counterpoint: a performative process in which we work through musical textures and physical choreography to listen intently for evanescent voices. The culminating quotation, Clara’s “speech act,” may even be treated like an innere Stimme: not to be actually played aloud but heard in the imagination, as if the player were eavesdropping on private thoughts.

On 1 September (after he had composed this variation and was probably in the midst of working on his Quintet arrangement), Brahms expressed concern to Clara about her upcoming birthday with respect to Robert’s improving psychological state:

Have you already resolved to avoid every little hint, every fleeting reference to the 13th of the month in the letters to the doctors?

Herr Sch. is probably not concerned with the date (at all!), but maybe he is, and the doctors would then want to prevent Herr. Sch. from knowing this date.

Although I don’t expect that Herr Sch. will remember this beautiful day by any means, it still makes me uncomfortable to think that he is led around like that.

Maybe you’ve already thought the same thing?

Or do you have a different opinion?55

Brahms had visited the Endenich asylum on 21 August, seen Robert from afar, and reported back to Clara about his returning memory. Brahms’s reservations about how Robert’s awareness was being manipulated by the doctors became moot when on 12 September (the Schumanns’ wedding anniversary) Robert reportedly said that his wife and children must no longer be alive since he had not heard from them for so long. With this breakthrough, the doctors at long last asked Clara to write him a brief letter to see how he would respond. Robert’s lucid reply, his first letter to her, arrived on 15 September: “How happy I was, dear Clara, to recognize your handwriting; I thank you that you wrote precisely on such a day and that you and the dear children still remember me with old love. Greet and kiss the little ones. Oh, if only I could see and speak to you all; but the road is still too far.”56

I conclude with two occasions on which Robert and Clara Schumann, at radically disparate points in time, engaged with the musical quotation in variation 10 from Brahms’s op. 9. Scattered documents offer glimpses into Clara’s reception. On 14 September 1854 (two days after she sent Robert the letter requested by his doctors, and a day before she received his reply reestablishing their communication after more than six months), she wrote in her diary: “Brahms has had a splendid idea, a surprise for you, my Robert. He has interwoven my old theme with yours—already I can see you smile.”57 The entry suggests that she understood this moment in variation 10 as an idealized duet between her and her husband. What is more, her anticipation of his smile implies the expectation that he would recognize the gesture. The scenario imagined in Clara’s diary entry was to play out in real life when the quotation was deployed as a kind of aide-mémoire a few weeks later.

Robert received a parcel on 6 October that probably included an exemplar of Brahms’s soon-to-be-published op. 9.58 He acknowledged its receipt to Clara on 10 October and appears to have engaged with the piece intensely, playing it at the piano available to him in Endenich, jotting down cursory observations about it, and drafting letters to Brahms. But the quotation may have achieved mixed results at best. In a letter to Brahms dated 15 December, Robert reported on his ability to play them and posed a question: “A reminiscence about which Clara wrote to me is certainly on p. 14. Where is it from? Is it from a song?”59 The letter from Clara has not survived, so we have no record of when or how she broached the subject. Robert’s question for Brahms suggests that she either assumed that he would be able to place the quotation or that she was subtly testing Robert’s memory. More than two months after receiving a copy of op. 9, however, Robert had apparently yet to comment on this moment. A quick look through the first edition by Breitkopf and Härtel confirms that the quotation is indeed printed on page 14. But alas, the smile of recognition was not to be. Robert’s inability to place the quotation’s source must have been a devastating blow for Clara, as this piece of shared knowledge and lived experience thus went unidentified. What should have been an almost visceral connection became instead yet another instance of communicative failure.

Evidence of the deep significance Clara invested in the theme’s recognition can be found in the published version of her variations. Sometime between Brahms’s addition of variation 10 in August and the publication of her Variations as op. 20 late in 1854, Clara included the quotation in her own set as well (ex. 7). It is likewise embedded in a middle voice and clearly staged as a memory, since its appearance is conjoined with the resurfacing of an earlier variation. Many decades later, Ferdinand Schumann, grandson of Robert and Clara, published a series of his diary entries about her from his youth in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. In one entry from 1894, Ferdinand relates how his now seventy-four-year-old grandmother talked to him about her op. 20 Variations. She particularly singled out the musical quotation: “Grandmother said that she had left the variations on the table for Grandfather on his birthday and waited to see if he would be able to spot the reminiscence. And he found it immediately.”60 Since the quotation was tucked away in a middle voice at the end of the set, it was probably an exaggeration to say that he found it immediately. But what makes this scenario implausible is that the autograph she presented to Robert on that occasion is missing the quotation (plate 4). It is also absent in a second autograph she prepared as a gift for Brahms in July 1854.61 She added the quotation only after Brahms had done so, more than a year after she had composed the Variations for Robert’s 1853 birthday, and well after he had been admitted to the Endenich asylum.

Example 7:

Clara Schumann, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, op. 20, quotation in no. 7 as published.

Example 7:

Clara Schumann, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, op. 20, quotation in no. 7 as published.

Close modal
Plate 4:

Clara Schumann, Variations, op. 20, missing quotation in no. 7 in her autograph gift for Robert’s 1853 birthday (Robert-Schumann-Haus Zwickau).

Plate 4:

Clara Schumann, Variations, op. 20, missing quotation in no. 7 in her autograph gift for Robert’s 1853 birthday (Robert-Schumann-Haus Zwickau).

Close modal

Clara’s misremembrance, unintentional or deliberate, is a measure of the significance the quotation and Robert’s recognition of it held for her, a poignant example of the redeeming and consoling functions of rewriting personal memory. It highlights the attunements of a particular person at a given moment, whether as a member of an intimate circle partaking in a rarified form of musical communication or a twenty-first-century scholar-performer grappling with the remains of a past human experience. The narrative proposed by this article surely reveals some of my own attunements: a commitment to documentary evidence and an urge to imbue pianistic choreography with meaning. Yet the notions of performative play and sympathetic resonance, demonstrated by our historical protagonists, point toward a way of coming to terms with musical borrowings as at once a medium of private messaging among specific participants and the opening of an indefinite field of meaning with a broader public.


I use “musical borrowing” as a catch-all term for the types of intertextual reference featured in this article, which include theme and variation, quotation, and arrangement, as well as less obvious forms such as allusion. I refer to Clara Wieck-Schumann as Clara Wieck or Clara Schumann according to the name she would have used in public at a given time, but I will mostly use her and Robert Schumann’s first names for ease of reference.


Claudia Stevens Becker, “A New Look at Schumann’s Impromptus,” Musical Quarterly 67, no. 4 (1981): 577.


John Daverio, Crossing Paths: Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 145. Elaine Sisman’s description is comparable to Daverio’s when she observes that Variations 9–11 are three “Schumann-derived variations”; see her “Brahms and the Variation Canon,” this journal 14, no. 2 (1990): 149.


See Christopher Reynolds, Motives for Allusion: Context and Content in Nineteenth-Century Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003). Allusions have always been the subject of lively debate in Brahms studies. See Jacquelyn Sholes, Allusion as Narrative Premise in Brahms’s Instrumental Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018) and Paul Berry, Brahms among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).


Richard Taruskin, “Introduction: The History of What?” Oxford History of Western Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xvii (emphasis added).


See Robert Schumann Tagebücher, ed. George Eismann (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1971), 1:321. In Robert’s diary, the incipit bears the same pedal bass as Clara’s version of the theme. It is undated, but according to Becker the inscription “Von Paderborn n. Detmold” implies 30 September 1830. At this point, Robert would not have returned to Leipzig from his year in Heidelberg (which he did in October) to study piano with Friedrich Wieck. Becker, “A New Look at Schumann’s Impromptus,” 570. Nancy Reich places the time of composition of Clara’s Romance variée between 1831 and 1833 in Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 292.


Wolfgang Boetticher, Robert Schumanns Klavierwerke: Neue biographische und textkritische Untersuchungen (Wilhelmshaven: Heinrichshofen, 1976), 1:138.


Becker, “A New Look at Schumann’s Impromptus,” 577. Her hypothesis is made possible by a separate orchestral sketch containing both the descending fifth bass line and B–A–C–H motive in the tenor. I find the leaps needed to get from B–A–C–H to E–D–F–E too numerous to make this reading convincing.


Letter from Clara to Robert on 1 August 1833. Translation adapted from The Complete Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann, ed. Eva Weissweiler, trans. Hildegard Fritsch and Ronald L. Crawford (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 7–8. Original in Schumann-Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1 (Cologne: Dohr, 2012), 66–67: “Sosehr, wie ich es bereue, Ihnen beifolgende Kleinigkeit dedicirt zu haben, und so sehr wie ich wünschte, diese Variationen nicht gedruckt zu sehn, so ist das Uebel doch nun einmal geschehen, und ist folglich nicht zu ändern. Deshalb bitte ich um Verzeihung wegen des Beifolgenden. Ihre so geist-reiche Bearbeitung dieses kleinen musikalishen Gedankens soll die Meinige schlechte wieder gut machen, und somit ersuche ich Sie denn um dieselbe, da ich dessen nähere Bekanntschaft kaum erwarten kann. Sie werden übrigens auf den Titel dieser meiner Romanze bemerken, daß mein Doppelgänger nicht vergessen ist, ohne daß ich ihn bestellt habe. Sollte dieß vielleicht ahnden lassen, daß meine Doppelgängercompositionen mehr versprechen werden?”


Boetticher, Robert Schumanns Klavierwerke, 1:138. He errs, however, in conflating Clara’s letter quoted above from 1 August with a letter from 8 June 1834, although both letters play upon the Doppelgänger idea.


Supporting this idea is a letter to Robert on 13 July 1833, where she mentions a certain “Doppelgängerchor” in reference to “Scène fantastique: Ballet des revenants,” from Quatre pièces charactéristiques, op. 5. Materials from this piece also made it into one of his compositions, in this case the first movement of his Piano Sonata in F♯ Minor, op. 11. See Schumann-Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1, 65–66. Indeed, the plural form “Doppelgängercompositionen” in her letter implicates other works she considered as such, as if it almost denoted a type of composition for her.


This has the potential to put a different spin on the view (expressed by Petra Schostak and more recently Emily Green) that by “dropping” Clara’s name in the title of his op. 5 Robert was deploying the better-known pianist’s reputation as an “ambassador” for his work. Emily Green, “Between Text and Context: Schumann, Liszt, and the Reception of Dedications,” Journal of Musicological Research 28, no. 4 (2009): 319.


Berthold Litzmann, Clara Schumann: Ein Künstlerleben (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1902), 1:64. See also the letter Robert drafted on 16 January 1832, the earliest surviving correspondence with Clara (Eva Weissweiler’s English edition posits the date erroneously as 11 January 1833): “Ich war während Ihrer Abwesenheit in Arabien um alle Mährchen zu erzählen, die Ihnen gefallen könnten—sechs neue Doppelgängergeschichten, 101 Charaden, acht spaßhafte Räthsel u. dann die entsetzlich schönen Räubergeschichten u. dann die vom weißen Geist—hu, hu! wie’s mich schüttelt!” Schumann-Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1, 51.


Letter from Robert to Clara on 13 July 1833, in The Complete Correspondence, 1:5. Original in Schumann-Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1, 63–64: “Da jetzt durchaus keine Funkenkette uns an einander zieht oder erinnert so habe ich einen sympathetischen Vorschlag gefaßt—diesen: ich spiele morgen Punct 11 Uhr das Adagio aus Chopin’s Variationen und werde dabey sehr stark an Sie denken, ja ausschließlich an Sie. Nun die Bitte, daß Sie dasselbe thun möchten, daß wir uns geistig sehn und treffen. Der Punct würde wahrscheinlich über dem Thomaspförtchen seyn, als wo sich unsere Doppelgänger begegnen. Wäre Vollmond, so schlüge ich diesen als Briefspiegel vor. Ich hoffe sehr auf eine Antwort. Thun Sie es nicht und es springt morgen in der zwölften Stunde eine Saite, so bin ich’s.”


An exchange from the following year offers another example of projecting somebody’s presence onto a letter. Writing to Robert on his 1834 birthday, Clara signed off in a curious manner: “Dieser geistreiche, originelle und witzige Brief empfielt / Ihnen / in aller Langsamkeit / (Eiligkeit lieben Sie / nicht) / Ihre Freundinn / Clara Wieck. / Clara Wieck. / Doppelgänger.” Schumann-Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1, 71. To this Robert replied in kind: “Ihr Brief waren Sie. Sie standen vor mir sprechend, lachend, wie immer von ernst in den Spaß springend, mit Schleiern spielend, wie Diplomaten—kurz Clara war der Brief—die Doppelgängerinn.” Ibid., 74.


Translated by Henry Pleasants in Schumann on Music (New York: Dover, 1988), 16. The version in his diary reads: “Das Adagio zuredend, wild, moralisch mahnend, Clarinetten u. Oboen üppig schwellend—die Pause sey der Fall der Unschuld.” Robert Schumann Tagebücher, 1:351.


See n. 6 for the quoted letter in Schumann-Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1, 65.


Daverio and Stephen Downes “correct” Robert by saying that he must be referring to G♭ major, not B♭ major. See Daverio, Robert Schumann, 524, n. 103, and Downes “Kierkegaard, a Kiss, and Schumann’s Fantasie,” this journal 22, no. 3 (1999): 272. In the diary entry, “der Fall der Unschuld” comes after the “Pause.” This statement is then followed by a sentence about the finale. In the review version, Robert’s statement about the kiss in B♭ major is also followed by a sentence about the finale. This indicates that he indeed meant B♭ major, which transpires after the fermata and elides with the beginning of the finale.


“Sympathetisch” in this sense is not common in modern German. The recent Schumann-Briefedition provides a definition from the Grimm dictionary: “geistig-seelisch mitempfindend, mitfühlend . . . in geheimer innerer wechselbeziehung stehend.” Schumann- Briefedition, ser. 1, vol. 4, pt. 1, 65.


Christian Gottfried Krause’s Von der musikalischen Poesie (1752), as quoted in Roger Mathew Grant, Peculiar Attunements: How Affect Theory Turned Musical (New York: Fordham University Press, 2020), 13. As Grant writes, a model of musical experience based on sympathetic resonance bypasses the question of representation that had been the core of older mimetic models, and heralds a move from external objects to the interiors of listeners. Ibid., 9–15. In our (admittedly different) context, this can be productive: it frees us from the burden of trying to (over-) determine what a theme, quotation, or allusion represents, opening alternative approaches to how they might resonate meaningfully.


I thank one of my anonymous reviewers for bringing up the phrase “performative play” and the further conceptual work that this and the idea of sympathetic resonance could do.


She was kept in the dark until 10 March, when a news story published in Die Grenzboten that day made it impossible to keep it secret any longer. For a compilation of primary sources related to Robert’s illness, see Robert Schumann in Endenich (1854–1856): Krankenakten, Briefzeugnisse, und Zeitgenössische Berichte, ed. Bernhard Appel (Mainz: Schott, 2006).


Clara’s diary entry on 12 March 1854: “Sonntag, den 12. März, machte ich allein einen Spaziergang über Bilk und die Felder! Die Leute drangen alle so sehr in mich, ich müsse spazieren gehen, so wollte ich denn wenigstens einen seiner Lieblingsspaziergänge machen und ging deshalb allein—ich wollte ganz ohne alle Störung allein bei ihm sein. Die Sonne schien so herrlich! Immer dachte ich, ob er sie wohl auch sieht, ob er dann gar nicht an mich dächte—ich meinte immer, er müsse mich fühlen!” Berthold Litzmann, Clara Schumann: Ein Künstlerleben (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1905), 2:306.


Diary entry on 3 March 1854, trans. Grace Hadow in Clara Schumann: An Artist’s Life (London: Macmillan, 1913), 2:60.


Letter from Mariane to Woldemar Bargiel on 9 March 1854: “Sie giebt wieder Stunden und kann besonders durch Musik, die täglich des Abends durch die jungen Leute gemacht wird, stundenlang abgezogen werden, nur gestern war sie sehr aufgeregt davon, und ich werde es auch heute nicht geschehen lassen, da es Musik ist, die mir selbst übermenschlich erscheint für den Verstand!” Robert Schumann in Endenich, 65.


Letter from Brahms to Clara on 15 August 1854, in Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, ed. and trans. Styra Avins and Josef Eisinger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 51. See also Grimm’s letter to Joachim on 9 April: “[Brahms] asks you to send him, as soon as possible, his [four-hand] arrangement of your Hamlet Overture; he wants to look it through, change it where necessary, and mainly, to play it with Frau Schumann.” Ibid., 42.


My translation. Original in Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 2:320: “Brahms sorgte für Labung für mein Herz, er komponierte mir über das innige herrliche Thema, das ich so tief in mich aufgenommen, als ich vorm Jahre die Variationen für den geliebten Robert komponierte, auch Variationen und rührte mich tief durch seine zarte Aufmerksamkeit.”


Variations 4, 7, 8, 14, 16 are signed “B”; variations 5, 6, 9, 12, 13 are signed “Kr.” While this is a quirk that Brahms developed before meeting the Schumanns, it might have been encouraged by his immersion in Robert’s literary and musical world. On allusions to Robert’s music in Brahms’s Variations, see Oliver Neighbour, “Brahms and Schumann: Two Opus Nines and Beyond,” this journal 7, no. 3 (1984): 266–70.


My translation. “Schumann befand sich damals hoffnungslos in Endenich; sein Lieblings-schüler Johannes singt ihm im Voraus eine Nänie, voll der rührendsten Klage und der tiefsten Wehmuth.” See Adolf Schubring, “Schumanniana No. 8,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 56, no. 14 (4 April 1862): 110. Many commentators have regarded Brahms’s Variations as a homage to Robert and Clara Schumann. See, for example, Max Kalbeck, Johannes Brahms (Vienna: Wiener Verlag, 1904), 1:181; Hermann Danuser, “Aspekte einer Homage Komposition,” in Brahms-Analysen (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1984), 92; Dillon R. Parmer, “Musical Meaning for the Few: Instances of Private Reception in the Music of Brahms,” Current Musicology 83 (Spring 2007): 118.


Berry, Brahms among Friends, 132. Even before Robert’s death, an 1855 review of op. 9 by Louis Köhler was full of elegy: “Das Thema von Schumann ist wie eine Trauerweide, die ihre matten Zweige über eine Urne hängen läßt. Dürften wir solchen Vergleich weiter führen, so möchten wir sagen: Brahms Variationen stehen zu dem Thema in so innerer Beziehung, wie etwa das Gemüth des Trauernden zu der Weide, denn er sieht ja in jenem Baume ein Symbol seines eigenen Wesens.” Signale für die musikalische Welt 30, no. 13 (March 1855): 97.


Danuser, “Aspekte einer Homage Komposition,” 98. Variations 4 and 6 exhibit rhythmic imitation as well; as others have noted, variation 5 picks up the former’s accompanying figures.


Clara’s variations too feature a canon where the thumbs interlock. Variation 6 elaborates a pregnant measure in Robert’s theme where, after mostly four-part, chorale-style writing punctuated by keyboard-style at the cadences, the pedaled leap and cradling thumbs of m. 17 invite the player to turn inwards. Clara’s notation of the left hand clearly draws on this moment from Robert’s “Albumblatt,” and Brahms seems to build upon her combination of canon and choreography in his Variation 8.


Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 2:311.


Translated in Hadow, Clara Schumann, 2:74.


Letter from Brahms to Clara on 21 August 1854, in Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, 56 (emphases original): “I want to make a plea to you, revered Lady, which I would wish you not to misunderstand: be very careful with your letters to Endenich! The gentlemen believed they saw, especially in your last letter, that you were hoping too confidently for an early recovery. . . . The doctor does not know what you suffer, he can only judge you by your letters, and if these are over-enthusiastic, he takes you to be the same . . . the doctors in their letters will be guided somewhat by yours, somewhat. If they find these to be too full of hope, they will believe they must write more coldly.”


Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 2:301.


Translated in Hadow, Clara Schumann, 2:60–61.


The Brautbuch was a notebook dating back to their courtship years where Robert sketched music and, in John Daverio’s words, wrote “adages on married life, landmark dates in the lovers’ relationship, a list of ‘difficult farewells,’ and intimate messages to Clara.” Daverio, Robert Schumann, 174.


Letter from Brahms to Joachim on 1 April 1854, in Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, 44.


My translation added to Hadow’s in Clara Schumann, 2:68. Original in Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 2:310–11: “Freitag, den 31. März, Brahms und Grimm waren in Endenich gewesen und hatten sich selbst beim Dr. nach Robert erkundigt. Er war bedeutend ruhiger und verlangte wohl nach Blumen, die er in Düsseldorf immer gehabt habe. Ach, ich war wieder so aufgeregt dadurch, denn ich dachte, sollte er, wenn er der Blumen, die er hier hatte, gedenkt, nicht auch meiner gedenken? Und warum fragte er denn niemals nach mir? Warum verlangte er nie nach Nachrichten von mir? Oder verschloß er die Sehnsucht in sich?”


Schumann in Endenich, 96.


My translation. Original in Johannes Brahms im Briefwechsel mit Joseph Joachim (1908), 33: “Ich weiß nicht mehr, ob in diesem Briefe steht, daß Frau Schumann ihrem Gatten Blumen schicken darf. Deshalb schreib’ ich’s hierher. Glaubst du nicht an Sympathie?”


My translation of diary entry on 17 April 1854. Original in Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 2:312: “Meine ihm gesandten Blumenstücke habe er mit Wohlgefallen betrachtet, gelächelt und mit dem Kopfe genickt, ohne aber eine Äußerung zu tun. Mein Robert, solltest du nicht an deine Clara gedacht haben?” She also kept fresh flowers in Robert’s study room. See her diary entry on 22 April 1854, ibid., 2:313: “Mein Robert, ich dachte, du müßtest es fühlen, wie ich deiner gedenke! Wie ich deinen teuren Name so unzählige Male jeden Tag ausspreche. . . . Alles von dir ist mir ja so heilig! Mit wahrer Ehrfurcht gehe ich an deinen Musikschrank! . . . Dein Schreibtisch ist immer mit frischen Blumen geziert, so wie du es gern hattest.” On his birthday on 8 June, she wrote to her mother: “Ach, hätte ich nur einen Blick, einen Händedruck von Ihm heute! Nichts durfte ich thuen, als Ihm ein Bouquet schicken, und, daß es von mir, erfährt er nicht einmal!”


Translated in Hadow, Clara Schumann, 2:76.


Letter from Brahms to Joachim on 19 June 1854, in Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, 46.


My translation of letter from Brahms to Clara on 20 July 1854:

Ich kann nicht unterlassen, Ihnen in einigen Zeilen zu schreiben, wie sehr erfreut und wie tief bewegt ich bin über die wundervolle Nachricht, welche Sie diesen Morgen empfingen. Habe ich denn nicht immer recht gehabt, wenn ich Ihnen sagte, Ihr teurer Mann denke wohl an Sie, eine unbestimmte Scheu werde ihn aber abhalten, Ihren Name auszusprechen.

Wie oft schämte ich mich, Sie trösten zu wollen mit einer Ahnung, und jetzt hat sie sich so herrlich erfüllt.

Die Blumen sollen nicht Grüße bringen, sondern die Verheißung eines nahen Wiedersehens.

Ich will aufhören, damit ich Ihnen nicht den Kopf zu heiß mache durch meine Ahnungen von baldigem, baldigem Wiedersehen.


My translation. Original in Litzmann, 2:322: “Das erste Liebeszeichen (einige Blumen) wieder, seit fünf Monaten von ihm, meinem Robert! er hat dem Frl. Reumont in Endenich die Blumen mit freundlichem Blicke gegeben, und nachdem sie ihn gefragt für wen? gesagt: sie wisse es schon!” In a letter to Wolfgang Müller, she stressed they were for her: “Ich habe gestern das erste Liebeszeichen von meinem geliebten Manne, einige Blumen, die für mich gepflückt, und zur Sendung an mich dem Fräulein [Elvire von Reumont] in Endenich selbst gegeben, erhalten und bin davon so erschüttert daß ich kaum die Feder halten kann!” Schumann in Endenich, 120.


Letter from Brahms to Joachim on 27 July 1854, in Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, 49.


He would later give Clara a book in which they and the Schumann children could collate flowers for Robert. This book, given to her on 16 November 1854, has been beautifully published as Blumenbuch für Robert 1854–1856, ed. Gerd Nauhaus and Ingrid Bodsch (Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld, 2006).


Letter from Brahms to Joachim on 12 September 1854, in Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, 62 (emphasis original).


Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, 62.


Ibid., 63.


Litzmann, Clara Schumann, 2:330: “Brahms, der liebe Mensch, den ich wirklich lieb haben könnte wie einen Sohn, überraschte mich so, daß ich ganz ergriffen war, und zwar mit dem 4-händigen Arrangement von Roberts Quintett und dem 2-händigen des Scherzos. Ich hatte ihm früher einmal geäußert, daß Robert ein solches Arrangement immer gewünscht, und nun hatte er es während meiner Abreise gemacht. Er erfreute mich ja doppelt, es war ja zugleich eine Überraschung, die er ihm, meinem geliebten Robert, bereitet. . . .” This kind of displacement occurred with the quotation in op. 9’s variation 10 as well.


Brahms had also prepared the two eldest Schumann daughters, Marie and Elise, to play selections from Robert’s Bilder aus Osten, op. 66, for four hands on their mother’s birthday.


My translation. Original in Schumann in Endenich, 131:

“Haben Sie sich etwa schon vorgenommen, jede kleine Andeutung, jede, so nachfliegende Erinnerung an den 13. d. M. in den Briefen an die Ärzte zu vermeiden?

Wahrscheinlich bekümmert Herr Sch. Sich wohl nicht um das Datum (überhaupt!), vielleicht doch, und da möchten dann die Ärzte verhüten, daß Herr Sch. dies Datum erfährt.

Obgleich ich durchaus nicht erwarte, daß Herr Sch. auf irgendeine Weise an den schönen Tag erinnert, so ist es mir doch ein unangenehmes Gefühl, zu denken, daß man ihn so darum herum führt.

Vielleicht haben Sie schon dasselbe gedacht?

Oder sind Sie anderer Meinung darüber?”


My translation. Original in Schumann in Endenich, 136: “Wie freute ich mich, geliebte Clara, Deine Schriftzüge zu erkennen; habe Dank, daß Du gerade an solchem Tage schriebst und Du und die lieben Kinder sich meiner noch in alter Liebe erinnern. Grüße und küsse die Kleinen. O könnt’ ich Euch einmal sehen und sprechen; aber der Weg ist doch zu weit.”


Translated in Hadow, Clara Schumann, 2:81. Original in Litzmann, 2:330: “Brahms hat eine schöne Idee gehabt —eine Überraschung für dich, mein Robert! Mein Thema aus alter Zeit hat er in deines mit verflochten—ich sehe schon dein Lächeln!” Here, too, Clara deflects Brahms’s gesture for her into a gesture for Robert.


Schumann in Endenich, 153.


My translation. Original, ibid., 184: “Eine Erinnerung, von der mir Clara schrieb, steht wohl S. 14; woraus ist sie? aus einem Lied?”


My translation. “Die Großmutter erzählte nun weiter, sie hätte dem Großvater die Variationen auf den Geburtstagstisch gelegt und abgewartet, ob er die Reminiscenz herausfinden würde. Und er hätte sie gleich gefunden.” Ferdinand Schumann, “Erinnerungen an Clara Schumann,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 84, no. 9 (1 March 1917): 71.


Currently at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.