In 1834, Schumann fell in love with Ernestine von Fricken, a piano student of Friedrich Wieck, and for a time they seemed destined to marry. The relationship did not last—Schumann got cold feet after he learned that she had been born out of wedlock—but it inspired some notable music. Carnaval, Op. 9, a set of character pieces for piano, is based on a four-note motive derived from the name of Ernestine’s home town. The Etudes symphoniques, Op. 13, are variations on a theme by Ernestine’s father, Ignaz Ferdinand von Fricken, a nobleman and amateur composer. Of course, Schumann eventually transferred his affections to Clara Wieck, and it was she who gave the first performance of the Etudes symphoniques, in 1837. The piece was published by Haslinger that same year, with a dedication to the English composer William Sterndale Bennett rather than to Ernestine. A revised version appeared in 1852.
Our manuscript is a sketch that includes the theme and variations 1, 2, 5, 10, 12, as well as five others that were not published until 1873, in an appendix edited by none other than Johannes Brahms. It formerly belonged to Alice Tully (1902–1993), the philanthropist whose name graces a concert hall in Lincoln Center. She gave it to Vladimir Horowitz (who counted Schumann’s music among his many specialties in the piano repertoire), and two years after his death, his widow Wanda Toscanini Horowitz donated it to Yale. The other principal manuscript source for this piece belongs to the library of the Royal Museum of Mariemont, in Belgium.