Review of Chopin’s variations on Mozart’s
“Là ci darem la mano,” Op. 2
In: Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung,
Vol. 33, no. 49 (December 7, 1831)
Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
Gilmore Music Library
In addition to being a major composer, Robert Schumann (1810–1856) was the leading German music critic of his era. He was a founder and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, an influential journal that is still published today, and he wrote notable essays on many musical topics. In a curious twist of fate, his two best-remembered reviews were the first and last articles of his entire career, and each boldly hailed the arrival of a young genius: Chopin in 1831, and Brahms in 1853. In between, Schumann found other composers to admire, but none of his judgments has stood the test of time as well as these two.
In 1831 Schumann did not yet have a magazine of his own, so he published his Chopin review in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. (There were actually two distinct journals bearing this name; we are concerned with the one published in Leipzig, not the one from Berlin.) Both the composer and the critic were only 21 years old. Despite his youth, Chopin had already written a number of pieces that later became classics, but Schumann chose to examine a piece not now regarded as one of Chopin’s best, a set of variations for piano and orchestra on “Là ci darem la mano,” the famous duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The young Schumann had to do a good deal of arm-twisting to get his article published in the somewhat fusty pages of the AmZ; the editor finally agreed to print it, but added a second review of the same piece by a different author. Schumann himself is incorrectly identified as “K. Schumann,” a typographical error that could easily have gone unnoticed, because few readers would have known his first name in 1831.
In this review, Schumann employed one of his favorite literary devices; he wrote it in the form of a conversation among four fictitious characters, Florestan, Eusebius, Raro, and Julius. (The first three recurred frequently in Schumann’s subsequent writings.) Florestan enters the room where the others are gathered and announces his discovery of Chopin with the immortal words, “Hats off, gentlemen—a genius,” which we have chosen to use as the title of this exhibit. Despite the many novelistic touches, Schumann does in fact discuss Chopin’s piece in some detail.
Schumann was born a mere three months after Chopin, so in 2010 the world celebrates the 200th birthdays of both composers. The Gilmore Library will observe the Schumann bicentenary with an exhibit later this year.