Robert Schumann

Humoreske in Bb major

Op. 20 • “Grosse Humoreske”

About this work

Originally entitled "Grosse Humoreske," this piece has been regarded by some musicologists as an ill-judged attempt by Schumann to take his formula in Kreisleriana a step further. This assessment is harsh, however, for these pieces, unified by their extremes ("laughing and weeping") and generally in the key of B flat major, are colorful and imaginative, full of energy and depth, and if they do not strike out new territory, they are rife with ideas and never sound tiresome.

Humoreske is comprised of five main sections, though its divisions can be reduced further by their tempo markings to 11 pieces of varying moods, each lasting three minutes or less, except for the last which has a duration of about five minutes. The introduction foreshadows the more sedate moods of the composer's Concerto in A minor. There follows a five-note figure that invigorates the next two sections, which often sound like a take-off on Schubert's Marche Militaire.

Succeeding sections offer contrasts within that fit well the "laughing and weeping" description. The fourth section is, in effect, a scherzo of great color. The fifth closes with brilliant, triumphant music. In the end, this work must be assessed as a piece in the same spirit as Kreisleriana, but having a distinct personality of its own, even if it must ultimately be viewed as falling short of that earlier keyboard masterpiece.