Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David), Op. 6, is a group of eighteen pieces for piano composed in 1837 by Robert Schumann, who named them after his Davidsbündler. The low opus number is misleading: the work was written after Carnaval, Op. 9, and the Symphonic Studies, Op. 13. The work is widely regarded as one of Schumann's greatest achievements and as one of the greatest piano works of the Romantic era.
Robert Schumann's early piano works were substantially influenced by his relationship with Clara Wieck. On September 5, 1839, Schumann wrote to his former professor: "She was practically my sole motivation for writing the Davidsbundlertanze, the Concerto, the Sonata and the Novellettes." They are an expression of his passionate love, anxieties, longings, visions, dreams and fantasies.
The theme of the Davidsbündlertänze is based on a mazurka by Clara Wieck. The intimate character pieces are his most personal work. In 1838, Schumann told Clara that the Dances contained "many wedding thoughts" and that "the story is an entire Polterabend (German wedding eve party, during which old crockery is smashed to bring good luck)."
The pieces are not true dances, but characteristic pieces, musical dialogues about contemporary music between Schumann's characters Florestan and Eusebius. These respectively represent the impetuous and the lyrical, poetic sides of Schumann's nature. Each piece is ascribed to one or both of them. Their names follow the first piece and the appropriate initial or initials follow each of the others except the sixteenth (which leads directly into the seventeenth, the ascription for which applies to both) and the ninth and eighteenth, which are respectively preceded by the following remarks:
"Here Florestan made an end, and his lips quivered painfully"
"Quite superfluously Eusebius remarked as follows: but all the time great bliss spoke from his eyes."
In the second edition of the work, Schumann removed these ascriptions and remarks and the "tänze" from the title, as well as making various alterations, including the addition of some repeats. The first edition is generally favored, though some readings from the second are often used. The suite ends with the striking of twelve low C's to signify the coming of midnight.
Peter Kaminsky has analysed the structure of the work in detail.
The first edition is preceded by the following epigraph:
In all und jeder Zeit
Verknüpft sich Lust und Leid:
Bleibt fromm in Lust und seid
Dem Leid mit Mut bereit
In each and every age
joy and sorrow are mingled:
Remain pious in joy,
and be ready for sorrow with courage.)
The individual pieces, unnamed, have the following tempo markings, keys and ascriptions:
- Lebhaft (Vivace), G major, Florestan and Eusebius;
- Innig (Con intimo sentimento), B minor, Eusebius;
- Etwas hahnbüchen (Un poco impetuoso) (1st edition), Mit Humor (Con umore) (2nd edition), G major, Florestan (Hahnbüchen, now usually hahnebüchen (also hanebüchen or hagebüchen), is an untranslatable colloquialism roughly meaning "coarse" or "clumsy." Apparently, it originally meant "made of hornbeam wood." (See the article "Hanebüchen" in the German version of Wikipedia.) Ernest Hutcheson translated it as "cockeyed" in his book The Literature of the Piano.);
- Ungeduldig (Con impazienza), B minor, Florestan;
- Einfach (Semplice), D major, Eusebius;
- Sehr rasch und in sich hinein (Molto vivo, con intimo fervore) (1st edition), Sehr rasch (Molto vivo) (2nd edition), D minor, Florestan;
- Nicht schnell mit äußerst starker Empfindung (Non presto profondamente espressivo) (1st edition), Nicht schnell (Non presto) (2nd edition), G minor, Eusebius;
- Frisch (Con freschezza), C minor, Florestan;
- No tempo indication (metronome mark of 1 crotchet = 126) (1st edition), Lebhaft (Vivace) (2nd edition), C major, Florestan;
- Balladenmäßig sehr rasch (Alla ballata molto vivo) (1st edition), ("Sehr" and "Molto" capitalized in 2nd edition), D minor (ends major), Florestan;
- Einfach (Semplice), B minor-D major, Eusebius;
- Mit Humor (Con umore), B minor-E minor and major, Florestan;
- Wild und lustig (Selvaggio e gaio), B minor and major, Florestan and Eusebius;
- Zart und singend (Dolce e cantando), E♭ major, Eusebius;
- Frisch (Con freschezza), B♭ major - Etwas bewegter (poco piu mosso), E♭ major (return to opening section is optional), Florestan and Eusebius;
- Mit gutem Humor (Con buon umore) (in 2nd edition, "Con umore"), G major - Etwas langsamer (Un poco più lento), B minor; leading without a break into
- Wie aus der Ferne (Come da lontano), B major and minor (including a full reprise of No. 2), Florestan and Eusebius; and
- Nicht schnell (Non presto), C major, Eusebius.