From the summer of 1830 through the fall of 1831, Schumann worked diligently at the piano with the intention of becoming a professional performer. Beginning in May 1831 he regularly recorded his progress in his diary, describing his repertory, hand position, his aesthetic and technical goals, his frustrations and triumphs. Repeatedly he wrote of the clash between a cherished ideal, nurtured in him as an amateur, of music as an expression from the heart, and what he deemed the routine music making of professionalism——a clash played out in his piano practice until it reached an impasse he was unable to resolve in his performance. The conflict Schumann experienced was related to a larger one in the world of European concert music, namely the demand for ever more dazzling exploits just as music was elevated to the highest position among the arts. This essay presents the nearest possible look into a young artist's mind as he grappled with a dilemma basic to his generation: how to embrace the newest athletic developments while still claiming music as an expressive language reaching into inner depths that are supposedly immune to its power to dazzle. As one example it shows Schumann's progress toward a finished, ideal performance of Chopin's Variations, opus 2, as this is documented in a series of exercises recorded in his practice diary. These deal little with any mechanical problems in the set but instead give a glimpse of how Schumann hoped to realize physically his imagined, ideal sound world.
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