Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Schumann’s Kinderscenen, Op. 15, No. 7 — Träumerei

I’ve spent the last week editing the piano excerpts that will illustrate my upcoming The Great Courses survey, “The 23 Greatest Solo Works”. In honor of that poorly entitled and numerically challenged course (which will be available in early October), I offer up a brief piano masterwork, one with a story a mile long: Robert Schumann’s Kinderscenen, Op. 15, No. 7 (1838), a piece better known as Träumerei.

In 1945, Schumann’s Träumerei – which means “Dreaming” – was selected by some forgotten apparatchik at Radio Moscow to be played in the background during a moment of silence at 6:55 pm on May 8, 1945, in memory of the victims of the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany.

Whoever that Radio Moscow functionary was, he has gained a measure of immortality for what was an inspired choice. Schumann’s work evokes a mood of aching melancholy, loss, and nostalgia, a mood very different from that evoked by the military or funeral music that might well have been chosen. Schumann’s Träumerei was immediately embraced by the Soviet people, who felt in its sweetness and longing not just their own grief but a healing sense of peace as well. Träumerei became the go-to piece played by Soviet military bands at World War Two memorial ceremonies. To this day, it is played every hour on the hour at the massive war memorial at Mamayev Kurgan, the hill that dominates the city of Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. It has been played 24-7 at St. Petersburg’s Peskaryev Memorial Cemetery since the cemetery opened in 1960. It was even – according to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (wife of ‘cellist Mstislav Rostropovich!) – performed at Stalin’s funeral.

Fascinating, isn’t it? That the music of a nineteenth century German composer should become a memorial to the 26.6 million Soviets who lost their lives in the war against Nazi Germany. But really, it’s just another example of the universal power of great art, which knows no boundaries or borders.

Below, Vladimir Horowitz playing Robert Schumann’s Träumerei . This performance of Träumerei was recorded in Moscow in April of 1986. It was an encore at Horowitz’ triumphant Moscow concert, his first concert in that city since 1925. Not a dry eye in the house my friends, not a dry eye.