Eusebius, Florestan and Friends: Schumann and the Doppelganger Tradition in German Literature
Kautsky, Catherine, American Music Teacher
Eusebius and Florestan were only the beginning. Robert Schumann's most famous alter-egos were joined not only by Master Raro and others in the Davidsbundler clan, but also by Walt and Vult, Jean Paul Richter's twins from Flegeljahre and E.T.A. Hoffmann's own double, Kreisler--who himself subdivides into dreamer and madman.
What did this doppelganger obsession mean to artists of the 19th century, and why was it so particularly relevant to Schumann?
Florestan and Eusebius, Schumann's doubles, must have lived with numerous friends. Despite the received wisdom of many a piano literature class, multiple personalities were not the unique manifestation of either Schumann's creative genius or his incipient madness. To the contrary, 19th-century Germany was awash with doppelgangers--they inhabited poems, novels, essays and, of course, insane asylums. And Robert Schumann searched them out in his favorite authors, finding for them a new, and particularly congenial, home in his piano cycles.
Though the ambivalent yearnings of a single personality were hardly a discovery of the romantic age, nevertheless the codification of those yearnings into discreet halves became emblematic of the age. Witness Heine's poem set by Franz Schubert, in which the speaker cries in horror against "you, doppelganger, you pale mate." The moonlit apparition he sees is his earlier incarnation; this double is always with him through his memories, and its projection merely externalizes his inner grief. Doppelgangers served many functions: they personified memory, they joined extreme personality types in one individual, they imparted an aura of the supernatural to the otherwise ordinary and they allowed a cautious flirtation with madness. In this century before Freud's theories of the unconscious revolutionized psychiatry, artists foreshadowed his discoveries in their own probing of the recesses of the human mind.
As Freud said in his 1919 essay, "The Uncanny," "probably the immortal soul was the first double." Humans of all religions have found ways to perpetuate themselves by creating a double who shares a soul, but not a finite life span. From Hindu reincarnates, to Kafka's non-religious metamorphosis, to Catholic souls in heaven and hell, human beings have seen themselves split, yet whole, through the ages. Their duplicates have served as wish-fulfillment or nightmare-fantasy, and now, of course, in our own age of cloning we are left with fears and dreams that have become only too real.
Of course, we don't need clones to see our double--we need only look to our shadow. Adelbert yon Chamisso, played on this duality in "The Strange Case of Peter Schlemihl" (1814). Here, an unfortunate man agrees to sell his shadow in return for an abundance of gold in a seemingly innocent bargain with the devil. It soon becomes clear that he has parted with an essential part of himself without which he cannot appear whole, and he finds himself banished from all company but that of one faithful servant. The shadow is his double, but without it his singleness is incomplete. So it is, perhaps, with our unconscious or our "souls."
From the world of shadows, it is not that large a leap to the world of ghosts. Here E.T.A. Hoffmann, one of Schumann's favorite authors, was in his rightful domain. In his stories, ghosts often appear as reincarnations of figures from childhood, and in their conjuring, one sees the schism between the adult and the child who remains embedded within him. Fairy tales are replete with figures reconfigured from childhood, and in Hoffmann, they appear most frequently as nursemaids turned to witches. In "The Doge and the Dogeressa," for instance, an "old crone" beggar woman with an "ugly, shriveled face" turns out to have had "a full, rosy face [and] tender, kindly eyes" in her previous existence as nursemaid to the orphaned hero, Antonio. Her current magical powers, though disguised as wicked, bring Antonio together with his beloved. …