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8.550144 - SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonic Etudes / Albumblatter / Arabesque
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature, and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik, a journal launched in 1834.
After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother, Schumann, still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whose energies has been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by a weakness of the fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis, which h had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment. Nevertheless in the 1830s he was to write a great deal of music for the piano, much of it in the form of shorter, genre pieces, often enough with some extra-musical, literary or autobiographical association.
In health Schumann had long been subject to sudden depressions and had on one occasion attempted to take his own life. This nervous instability had shown itself in other members of his family, in his father and in his sister, and accentuated, perhaps, by venereal disease, it was to bring him finally to insanity and death in an asylum. Friedrich Wieck, an anxious father, was possibly aware of Schumann's weaknesses when he made every effort to prevent a proposed marriage between his daughter Clara and his former pupil. Clara was nine years younger than Schumann and represented for her father a considerable investment of time and hope.
It was not until 1840 that Schumann was finally able to marry Clara, and then only after the successful outcome of litigation instituted by Wieck to prevent such an eventuality. The year was one of song, with Schumann setting verses of many kinds in an incredible burst of creative energy. In the early years of marriage his wife encouraged him to turn his attention to larger forms of music and to writing for the orchestra, while both of them had to make a number of adjustments in their own lives to accommodate their different professional requirements.
A relatively short period based in Leipzig was followed, in 1844, by residence in Dresden, where Wagner was now installed in the Court Theatre, his conversation causing Schumann to retire to bed early with a headache. In 1850 the couple moved to Duesseldorf, where Schumann had been appointed director of music, a position the demands of which he was unable to meet, a fact that must have contributed to his suicidal depression and final break-down in 1854, leading to his death in the asylum at Endenich two years later.
Schumann wrote his Symphonic Studies during the years from 1834 to 1837, revising the work in 1852, when he dedicated it to his friend William Stemdale Bennett. It was later to appear in variously extended forms after his death. The original composition came at a time when the composer was concerned in the editorship of the increasingly influential periodical, the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik and with the writing of piano music.
In 1834, when the Symphonic Studies were first conceived, Schumann was directing his amatory intentions towards Ernestine von Fricker, a young pupil of Wieck's. His ardour was only to cool when he discovered that she was the illegitimate daughter of her father, Baron von Fricker, and not likely to inherit from him. The theme for the Studies was conceived as a compliment to the Baron and makes use of a theme of his, the basis of a set of variations for the flute.
At first Schumann brought together a group of twelve variations, out of the original eighteen, under the title 12 Davidsbuendler Studien, a reference to his fictitious League of David against the cultural Philistines of the day. This was later to be changed to Etueden in Orchestercharakter fuer Pianoforte von Florestan und Eusebius, two of the pseudonyms used by Schumann in his critical writing. The publishers, however, preferred the plainer XII Etudes symphoniques, issuing the work under this title in 1837. The 1852 edition, dedicated to Stemdale Bennett, bore the title Etudes en forme de variations and included only nine variations. Five further variations were published after Schumann's death, in 1872. The present recording includes all eighteen variations, as the work was originally conceived.
The five Albumblaetter formed part of the Bunte Blaetter published in 1852. The first of them, written in 1841, was later used by Brahms as a theme for a set of variations, written as a tribute to the older composer and to his wife. The second, composed in 1838, originally bore the title Fata Morgana, and the third had been intended, in 1836, to form part of Carnaval. The fourth piece had originally been called Jugendschmerz, and, with the fifth, was written in 1838.
In the autumn of 1838 Robert Schumann left Leipzig for Vienna. His relationship with Clara Wieck had reached a point of some intensity, but her father's entrenched opposition to anything that might interfere with his daughter's career as a pianist and his very reasonable disapproval of Schumann as a possible son-in-law, had led to a great deal of subterfuge, with a clandestine correspondence between the lovers, carried on as best they could.
Wieck had, in any case, insisted that, if the couple were to marry, they should not remain in Leipzig, where Schumann was editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik. At Clara's suggestion it was proposed that the journal be moved to Vienna, if sponsors could be found there, and this was the principal object of Schumann's journey, hard as it was to be separated from his beloved at a time of some anxiety in their relationship.
In Vienna Schumann was to busy himself with a number of new compositions, including the Arabesque, Opus 18, written towards the end of the year and designed for women, as opposed to the robuster Humoresque to be written in the following year. The composer claimed that his airn was to capture the feminine market for piano music in Vienna, a remark that need not be taken too seriously. At the same time he continued to be influenced by Christian Schubart's book on musical aesthetics, in which C major, the key of the Arabesque, was identified with the childish and simple, leaving intenser passions to the sharp keys.
The Arabesque is well enough known. Couched in rondo form, its gently lyrical principal theme frames two slower, minor key episodes. The work was published with a dedication to the wife of Major Serre, on whose estate at Maxen the Schumanns were to take refuge during the political disturbances of 1848 in Dresden.
Stefan Vladar's subsequent career has brought him a busy schedule of engagements, with performances throughout Europe and appearances in China, Thailand, Japan and Korea, as well as in the United States of America.
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