Schumann’s Last Piano Work: Geistervariationen
Robert Schumann was one of the greatest composers of the nineteenth century. Schumann suffered from a long-term mental disorder dating back to 1833 and his health deteriorated in February 1854. His Theme and Variations, WoO 24, a set of five variations known as Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), was his last piano work, written between February 10 and 28, 1854, in the midst of his final mental breakdown, which resulted in a suicide attempt. The complete Theme and Variations were not published until 1939 as his wife Clara Schumann (who was also one of the most recognized musicians of the day) jealously guarded the manuscripts of this piece. The Geistervariationen is infrequently played and considerably different from his earlier sets of variations, such as the ABEGG Variations, Op. 1 and Études symphoniques, Op. 13. This article discusses the details of the work in relation to the state of his health and his compositional process, which is pieced together from the diaries of his wife Clara Schumann and other sources, as well as comparing the work with Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 20, which was written and dedicated to her husband in 1853.
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