|About this Recording
8.571279 - SCHUMANN, R.: Fantasiestucke / BRAHMS, J.: 3 Intermezzos, Op. 117 (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 6)
Idil Biret - The first professional LP recording / PRETORIA France 1959
In June 1959 Idil Biret, then seventeen years old, received a recording proposal from the French record label Pretoria. This was highly unusual, since in those days young musicians rarely made recordings. After discussions, the contract was signed by her father (Idil not yet being of age) with the Studios des Victoires, an exclusive agreement of three years duration to make a minimum of nine LPs. Earlier, Idil Biret had only made radio recordings, for the French Radio (RTF) and the Paris Radio (Schumann Concerto with the Paul Durand Orchestra). Also, the concert she gave in Paris in February 1953, at the age of eleven, with Wilhelm Kempff and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire conducted by Joseph Keilberth had been recorded by RTF. But, it has not been possible to find the recording of this concert broadcast by RTF and later by the BBC.
For her first professional recording, Idil Biret entered the Studios des Victoires in Paris in early July and in sessions that lasted three days she recorded the Eight Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 by Schumann and the Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 by Brahms. Idil remembers that she wanted to record each piece in its entirety, a number of times. However, the producer requested that she play the pieces page by page, saying that it would be easier to edit the recording that way. The scourge of editing which takes away spontaneity and continuity from recorded performances had long started. To this day Idil Biret prefers to play entire pieces or movements in as many takes as is necessary, rather than recording a piece bit by bit. Actually, she has demonstrated that this is the better way artistically by making one of the first direct to disc LPs in New York in 1976 where she recorded the 2nd and 7th Sonatas of Prokofiev (around 19 Minutes each) in single takes, repeating them three times and then selecting the best among the recordings for release on the LP (now on CD in the IBA Archive Edition 8.571275).
The Pretoria LP was released in France towards the end of the year in 1959. But, for reasons unknown, the record label closed down in 1960 and the entire stock of this LP was withdrawn from the market. The very few copies of it which exist today have become collectors’ items. After a passage of time of over half a century, this first LP recording of Idil Biret is now being made available on CD in the IBA Archive Edition.
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
In 1830, when he began composing his first work, the Abegg Variations, Schumann wrote to his mother, “If you did but know the first joys of authorship! Being engaged can be nothing to it. What hopes and prophetic visions fill my soul’s heaven!” ¹ What hopes was Schumann then harbouring, and what prophetic visions did he see? Had he already realised that the piano, the instrument on which he had discovered music, would be his only means of expression for almost nine years, and could he possibly have imagined that his first twenty-three works for the piano would become a genuine “intimate journal”, dedicated, from 1834 onwards, to the love he bore for the young Clara Wieck?
Yet it was not for Clara that Schumann wrote the Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces), Op. 12, in 1837. The score is dedicated to Miss Anna Laidlaw, an English pianist then touring Europe—in memory of the pleasant walks they had taken together. Was he unfaithful to his Clara? She herself provides the answer in a letter she wrote to Robert: “I am sorry for poor Miss Laidlaw—she is very fond of you …If I say ‘I am jealous’, I shall deceive you, and if I say, ‘I am not jealous’, you will think yourself deceived…” ²
Despite this fleeting appearance by Miss Laidlaw, we know full well that all the music Schumann wrote between 1834 and 1840 was inspired, whether consciously or subconsciously, by the passion that was soon to overwhelm his entire life. When Clara was only thirteen, he innocently confided in her, “You are to me, my dear Clara, not a sister or a girl friend, but the pilgrim’s distant shrine…” ³ Eight years later, he wrote the following: “…you alone could love me thus with a love so inexpressibly noble. I have no words for you; only a peep into my dreams could show you my thoughts of you…” 4
All Schumann’s piano music is steeped in that love and those dreams—and nightmares, perhaps, bearing in mind the composer’s dual nature, as expressed by the two characters he created to represent its different facets: Florestan and Eusebius. The very title Fantasiestücke suggests a world of myth and dreams, ideas so beloved of German Romanticism. These pieces take us on a journey towards the dusk of evening (Des Abends), and then into the blackest night (In der Nacht), caught up in a tangle of dreams (Traumeswirren). From time to time we get a glimpse of a happier world—in the questioning of Warum? (Why?), the delicate grace of Grillen (Whims), or the freshness and charm of a fable (Fabel). However, the prevailing sense is one of anxiety, feverishness and torment, so that when the dream does have a hint of sweetness, it serves only to heighten the contrast with the disquieting shadows that haunt the rest of this work.
And yet the Fantasiestücke are free of narrative or programme, as are the Nachtstücke and Kreisleriana, despite all having been inspired by the work of E.T.A. Hoffmann, that central figure of the German Romantic movement. Schumann does not paint scenes or spin tales, he conjures up atmospheres and translates them into music: “Der Dichter spricht”— the poet does the talking, as indicated by the title of the Kinderszenen’s final piece. According to Marcel Brion, in his book Schumann et l’âme romantique, the Fantasiestücke are “dreams transformed into music with that combination of realism and fantasy that characterises all dreams, the way they transport real objects into the world of the fantastic, by shedding new light on them or by viewing them from a different angle, the complexity of the individual, the impossibility of knowing oneself, of recognising oneself in the warp and weft of the conscious and unconscious…” 5
¹ The Letters of Robert Schumann, selected and edited by Dr Karl Storck, translated by Hannah Bryant, London, 1907, p.69
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
The friendship between Schumann and Brahms was particularly close and warm. It was on 30 September 1853 that the young Brahms arrived in Düsseldorf and, around midday, knocked at the door of the Schumann family home. “My parents are out,” said their young daughter Marie, “Come back tomorrow!” He did go back, taking with him a bundle of manuscripts, and was shown straight to the piano and asked to play. Brahms did as he was told, and had scarcely touched the keyboard when Schumann interrupted him to summon his wife, saying: “Clara, come quickly! You’re going to hear music the like of which you’ve never heard before.” That night, Schumann wrote in his diary, in his usual virtually indecipherable handwriting: “Visit from Brahms. A genius!” Schumann had discovered his heir, a true cause for celebration at this time, when the influence of Wagnerism was beginning to make itself well and truly felt.
Like Schumann, Brahms entered the world of music via the piano, for which he wrote his earliest works. The works on this album, however, the Three Intermezzi, Op. 117, were composed in Ischl in 1892, towards the end of the composer’s life. His three other great solo piano cycles, Opp.116, 118 and 119, also date from this later period.
Meditative by nature, and with a chiaroscuro feel, the Op.117 works conjure up three different autumnal landscapes. The First Intermezzo, which begins Andante moderato, was inspired by a Scottish lullaby entitled Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament, a poem included in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry and which had been translated into German by Johann Gottfried Herder in his anthology Stimmen der Völker (Voices of the Peoples). Its opening lines (in German) head the score:
The Intermezzo’s second section, Più adagio, is a response to a later stanza:
The Second Intermezzo, Andante non troppo e con molta espressione, is more tormented in tone. As Claude Rostand rightly points out in his definitive biography of the composer, Brahms does not here, as some have claimed, evoke the spirit of Mendelssohn, but creates something more energetic, more forceful.
Finally, this sombre, disquieting mood is accentuated further still in the Third Intermezzo: Andante con moto, Poco più lento, and then Più moto ed espressivo.
(Music notes are from the original LP Pretoria, CL 8015, released in France in 1959, as revised by the author in 2010)
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