About this Recording
8.553251 - SCHUMANN, R.: Fantasiestucke, Op. 12 / BRAHMS: Klavierstucke, Op. 118
English 

Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Arabeske, Op. 18
Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Klavierstücke, Op. 118

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 für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother but still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, he turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whose energies had 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 he 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.

At first, when he lodged in Wieck's house in Leipzig, Schumann had shown little interest in Clara, and in 1834 he became secretly engaged to Ernestine von Fricken, a pupil of Wieck and illegitimate daughter of Baron von Fricken, a Bohemian nobleman. It was for her that Schumann wrote his Fasching: Schwänke auf vier Noten, a set of pieces based on the four musical notes of his name, S C H A, which, by a lucky chance, also formed the name of the von Fricken's home- town, Asch. It was this work that was later given the title Carnaval: scenes mignonnes sur quatre notes. By the following summer Schumann had discovered the secret of Ernestine's illegitimacy and begun to transfer his affections to the fifteen-year-old Clara Wieck.

Wieck was to do his utmost to prevent a marriage that can have brought Clara little happiness, but after considerable litigation the marriage took place and the couple were married in the autumn of 1840, a year in which Schumann was to write an incredibly large number of songs, before turning his attention, at his wife's prompting to the larger forms of orchestral music. His subsequent career took him and his wife first to Dresden and in 1850 to Düsseldorf, where he briefly held his first official position as director of music for the city, an office in which he proved increasingly inadequate. In February, 1854, he attempted to drown himself, and was to spend the remaining years of his life in a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn. He died there on 29th July, 1856.

Schumann wrote his Arabeske in 1839, dedicating it to Frau Majorin Friederike Serre auf Maxen, to whom he also dedicated his Blumenstück. Major Serre and his wife were originally friends of Wieck and in 1837 he had taken his daughter to stay on their country estate at Maxen to avoid Schumann's attentions to Clara, which the Serres in fact encouraged. 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 für 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 Arabeske, Opus 18, written towards the end of the year and designed for women, as opposed to the robuster Humoreske to be written in the following year. The composer claimed that his aim 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 Schuburt's book on musical aesthetics, in which C major, the key of the Arabeske, was identified with the childish and simple, leaving intenser passions to the sharp keys. The Arabeske is well enough known. Couched in rondo form, its gently lyrical principal theme frames two slower, minor key episodes.

Schumann wrote his Kinderszenen in 1838. As he told Clara, he had composed thirty little pieces, and from these he selected a baker's dozen, all of them designed to express an adult's reminiscence of childhood, or, as he said in a letter to Clara, a reflection of her comment that he sometimes seemed to her as a child. The music is technically undemanding, of ingenuous simplicity, the titles self- explanatory, without the cryptic implications of Papillons and Carnaval, an outstanding example of what Schumann was able to achieve in forms as limited as this.

The Fantasiestücke of 1837, like the Davidsbündlertänze in two volumes, came at a time of estrangement between Schumann and Clara Wieck. Anna Robena Laidlaw was born at Bretton in Yorkshire in 1819 and educated at her aunt's school in Edinburgh, moving with her family to Konigsberg in 1830. She won a considerable reputation and on 2nd July 1837 played at a Gewandhaus Concert in Leipzig, when Schumann made her acquaintance, later dedicating the Fantasy Pieces, Opus 12, to her. She married and retired from the concert platform in 1855 and died in London in 1901.

The gentle D flat major Des Abends (In the Evening) is followed by the well known F minor Aufschwung (Soaring). Warum? (Why ?), again in D flat major, is gently brief, to be followed by the capricious Grillen (Whims) in the same key. The second book opens with Schumann's own favourite In der Nacht (In the Night), in F minor with a major central section. Fabel (Story), in C major, is suitably varied in mood as the narrative unfolds, followed by the rapid F major Traumes Wirren (Troubled Dreams). The book ends with an F major piece, Ende vom Lied (End of the Song), marked Mit gutem Humor and moving to a livelier B flat section before the return of the first material and key and a hushed chordal coda.

In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the schumanns then established in Düsseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahms played him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven, and his subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Düsseldorf to help his wife Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.

In the music of the second half of the nineteenth century Brahms came to occupy a position in direct antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen in Beethoven's great Choral Symphony the last word in symphonic music. The music of the future lay, he claimed, in the new form of music-drama of which he was the sole proponent. His father-in-law Liszt similarly found the way forward in the symphonic poem, an alloy formed from the musical and extra- musical. Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hanslick, found himself the champion of pure or abstract music combined neither with drama nor any other medium. The distinction was in some ways an artificial one. Nevertheless Brahms, whose background, like Beethoven's, was less literary than that of Wagner or of Liszt, did significantly extend the range of the symphony and was hailed by many contemporaries as the successor to Beethoven, a future Schumann had prophesied for him twenty-three years before the first symphony was written.

The last compositions Brahms wrote for piano were those published as Opus 117, 118 and 119, principally the work of 1892, when he apparently wrote a number of other piano pieces that were never published.

Opus 118 bears the simpler title Klavierstücke and includes four Intermezzi, a Ballade and a Romanze. The opening Intermezzo in A minor is marked Allegro non assai, ma molto appassionato, a mood expressed in a texture of great clarity. The second Intermezzo, in A major, provides a relaxation of mood into a tender valedictory melancholy. The G minor Ballade, with a B major central section, is vigorous in its principal theme but tranquil enough in its conclusion. There follows an F minor Intermezzo, marked Allegretto un poco agitato, an instruction that epitomises the feeling of the music, which leads to the F major Romanze, with its lilting D major central section. The sixth piece is an E flat minor Intermezzo making greater technical demands in a work where the chief demands are musical.

Jeno Jandó
The Hungarian pianist Jeno Jandó has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. He has recorded for Naxos all the piano concertos and sonatas of Mozart. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.

Benjamin Frith
The young British pianist Benjamin Frith has had a distinguished career. A pupil of Fanny Waterman, he won, at the age of fourteen, the British National Concerto Competition, followed by the award of the Mozart Memorial Prize and joint top prize in 1986 in the Italian Busoni International Piano Competition and in 1989 a Gold Medal and First prize in the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition. Benjamin Frith enjoys a busy international career, with engagements in the United States and throughout Europe as a soloist and recitalist, with festival appearances at Sheffield, Aldeburgh, Harrogate, Kuhmo, Bolzano, Savannah, Pasadena and Hong Kong and an Edinburgh Festival debut in 1992. His recordings include a highly praised performance of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations on the ASV label and for Naxos a release of piano music by Schumann and the two Mendelssohn Piano Concertos.

Idil Biret
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret started to learn the piano at the age of three and later studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger, graduating at the age of fifteen with three first prizes. A pupil of Alfred Cortot and of Wilhelm Kempff, she embarked on her career as a soloist at the age of sixteen, appearing with major orchestras in the principal musical centres of the world, in collaboration with conductors of the greatest distinction. To many festival appearances may be added membership of juries for international piano competitions, including the Van Cliburn, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians and Busoni Competitions. She has received the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award in Boston, the Harriet Cohen / Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal in London, the Polish Artistic Merit Award and the French Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mente. Her more than sixty records include the first recording of Liszt's transcription of the symphonies of Beethoven, and for Naxos the complete piano works of Chopin, Brahms and Rachmaninov, with a Marco Polo disc of the piano compositions and transcriptions of her mentor Wilhelm Kempff.


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