|Robert Jan August||Robert Schumann’s BACH-fugues
Het ORGEL 106 (2010), nr. 4, 4-21 [summary]
Robert Schumann, who was born two hundred years ago this year, was very proud of
his Sechs Fugen über den Namen ‘BACH’ (op. 60). He expected that the cycle,
which he composed in 1845-6, would outlive his other compositions. After his
death, however, the BACH-fugues were not appreciated. Many researchers
attributed the alleged lesser quality of the six fugues to Schumann’s mental
instability at the time of composition - despite the fact that Schumann
completed a number of his best works during this period.
The BACH-fugues are the result of Schumann’s detailed study of the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and of theoretical treatises on counterpoint by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg and Luigi Cherubini. Schumann saw his contrapuntal work as ‘character pieces in strict style’ in which he combined old and new styles.
With the composition of his contrapuntal works Schumann thought himself to be the first to publish compositions for what was then a new instrument: the pedal piano. But this instrument failed to achieve popularity; in the opinion of Robert en Clara Schumann as well it soon disappointed, and the BACH-fugues came to be seen primarily as organ music.
Although there is no evidence that Schumann knew of the golden section, his fugues make much use of the concept. The six fugues may be seen together as a kind of symphony, with each fugue having its own characteristics.
Content of Clara Schumann's Bach book