Choreographing Schumann

Wayne Heisler Jr.

in Rethinking Schumann

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195393859
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894406 | DOI:
Choreographing Schumann

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Although Schumann himself did not compose ballets, a number of choreographers have turned to his music. Despite differences in technique, style, aesthetics, time, and place, a common thread emerges in the “Schumann ballets”: his biography as a source for story and staging. This chapter focuses on Heinrich Kröller's 1922 Viennese Carnaval and George Balanchine's Robert Schumann's “Davidsbündlertänze” (1980), premiered by the New York City Ballet. What unites these two ballets is their use of scores that have implicit connections to the biography of their composer, who represents progressiveness and a spiritual authority for Kröller's and Balanchine's respective artistic visions. Working under Richard Strauss, codirector of the Vienna Opera and Ballet, Kröller shared Strauss's vision for its “reform and modernization.” The Philistines in Kröller's Carnaval were a satirical displacement for the conservative ballet culture in interwar Vienna. Thus the overtaking of the ball in Carnaval by the commedia dell'arte represented the implementation of Strauss and Kröller's reform agenda, with Schumann's visionary blessing. As Balanchine's last major choreography, his Davidsbündlertänze are more than the self‐alignment of his legendary formalist modernism with the antiphilistine composer. Peopled with four couples, Balanchine's ballet explores well‐known aspects of Schumann's biography, particularly his relationship with Clara Wieck and his descent into madness. On a deeper level, however, Robert Schumann's “Davidsbündlertänze” is meta‐Balanchine, constituting the choreographer's dual engagement with formalism and narrative, analogous to what Schumann himself described as the struggle between his alter egos Florestan and Eusebius, his “objective” and “subjective” selves, “form and shadow.”

Keywords: ballet; biography; 20th century; Carnaval; Heinrich Kröller; Vienna Ballet; Davidsbündlertänze; George Balanchine; New York City Ballet

Chapter.  12413 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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