Carnaval, Op. 9, is a work by Robert Schumann for piano solo, written in 1834–1835, and subtitled Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Little Scenes on Four Notes). It consists of 21 short pieces representing masked revelers at Carnival, a festival before Lent. Schumann gives musical expression to himself, his friends and colleagues, and characters from improvised Italian comedy (commedia dell’arte).
The four notes are encoded puzzles, and Schumann predicted that “deciphering my masked ball will be a real game for you.” The 21 pieces are connected by a recurring motif. In each section of Carnaval there appears one or both of two series of musical notes. These are musical cryptograms, as follows:
- A, E-flat, C, B – signified in German as A-S-C-H
- A-flat, C, B – signified in German as As-C-H
- E-flat, C, B, A – signified in German as S-C-H-A.
The first two spell the German name for the town of Asch (now Aš in the Czech Republic), in which Schumann’s then fiancée, Ernestine von Fricken, was born. The sequence of letters also appears in the German word Fasching, meaning carnival. In addition, Asch is German for “Ash,” as in Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lastly, it encodes a version of the composer’s name, Robert Alexander Schumann. The third series, S-C-H-A, encodes the composer’s name again with the musical letters appearing in Schumann, in their correct order.
In short, Schumann’s Carnaval is a puzzle that solicits an interpretation.
Be that as it may.
The psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold views the mythical sphinx as a symbol of the soul murdering mother.
One of the 21 pieces of Schumann’s Carnaval is called “Sphinxes.” It directly sets out the four notes that Schumann repeats throughout Carnaval.
Dr. Shengold cautions analysts to beware of patients’ references to rats in analysis. He proposes that such references are a hallmark of the experience of soul murder. Perhaps Dr. Shengold should add that musically-inclined soul murder patients may show an obsession with Schumann’s Carnaval!!