About this Recording
8.572375 - SCHUMANN, R.: Music for Cello and Piano - Adagio and Allegro / Fantasiestucke / Marchenbilder / Romanzen / SCHUMANN, C.: Romanzen (Georgian, Nelleke)
English 

Robert Schumann (1810–1856) • Clara Schumann (1819–1896)
Music for Cello and Piano

 

Schumann loved the cello. Time and time again, in the piano quintet and quartet, the three string quartets, the three piano trios and above all the spellbinding Cello Concerto of 1850, he wrote music that manifestly exhibits joy in the instrument’s unique ability both to richly underpin and to soar in lyrical song. So it is strange that apart from the Concerto only twice did he compose music specifically designated for the instrument, and only one work has survived, the Five Pieces in Popular Style of 1849. Clara Schumann destroyed the Five Romances of 1853, almost his last composition, as evidence of her husband’s insanity. Cellists today, mindful of her unfulfilled intention to do the same with the 1852 Violin Concerto composed for Joachim—who fortunately preserved the manuscript—with its almost unbearably poignant slow movement, can only mourn the loss.

February 1849, a month of astonishing productivity, inaugurated a new interest in wind instrument sonorities with the Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, for horn (or cello) and piano, quickly followed by the Three Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73, for clarinet (or cello) and piano, while December of the same year brought the Three Romances, Op. 94, for oboe and piano. The other two compositions on this recording devoted to Schumann’s implicit, rather than explicit, cello inspirations, the Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 105, and the Fairytale Pictures, Op. 113, for viola and piano, both emerged soon after the Schumanns moved from Dresden to begin Robert’s new, ultimately distressing, life as Music Director in Düsseldorf. The other major composition gestating in his mind was the Cello Concerto.

Schumann’s mastery, as in song so in instrumental music, lay above all else in the character piece. When, after years of pouring out piano works many of which are among the most cherished in the repertoire, he turned his attention to chamber music, it was natural to pursue his unique penchant for creating atmospheric tone-pictures by such devices as tempo contrasts and expressive modulations rather than through structure or specific instrumental colour—except, of course, in the unfailingly eloquent piano parts. This is why they can be performed so effectively by a variety of string and wind instruments, and why Schumann was often ready to tolerate and even recommend ad libitum alternatives to the designated scoring. Often, but not invariably: when the publisher Simrock requested permission to include ‘or Clarinet’ on the title page of the Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Schumann replied: ‘if I had originally written the work for clarinet and piano it would have been a completely different piece. I regret not being able to comply with your wishes, but I can do no other.’ (Simrock took no notice, throwing in an extra violin part for good measure.)

In that single week of February 1849 during which Schumann composed both the Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, and the Three Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73, the German States were undergoing the upheavals of the anti-monarchist revolutionary movement still sweeping Europe. Dresden was no exception: King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony was temporarily forced into exile by Republican troops. The Schumann family was not immune and had to go into hiding to avoid the risk of Robert being conscripted into the Republican forces—however instinctively he might have shared Republican ideals, he was hardly inclined to march about with a musket. It is tempting to think of the briskly military-sounding calls of the Allegro as reflecting the alarums on the streets, but he was probably more moved, particularly in the languorous Adagio, to exploit the ability of the comparatively recently introduced valve horn to sustain a long melodic line in any key.

The Three Fantasy Pieces are, of all the works in this recording, perhaps the most recognisable as having been conceived for private Hausmusik-making—not that it is ever easy for the performer to play them so as to bring out their charm and narrative fantasy. Three very different mood-pieces, marked respectively ‘tenderly expressive’, ‘light and lively’ and ‘fast, with fire’ are bound into a satisfying whole by the common thread of the A minor/A major tonality and by the consistent triplet figures in the piano parts.

To ease his job as Music Director of the Düsseldorf Orchestra Schumann had cajoled the violinist Josef von Wasielewski to move from Leipzig to serve as leader. His arrival prompted the composition of two violin sonatas, the Sonata in A minor, Op. 105, and the Sonata in D minor, Op. 121, sandwiching the Op. 113 Märchenbilder for viola. Op. 105 is a markedly passionate, restless work, bearing witness to the inner turmoil that was exacerbating the composer’s mood swings at the time, part and parcel of his worsening mental state. Even the charm of the central Intermezzo has a questioning, irresolute character that ruffles the serenity of the main theme. With a formally, if unconventionally, constructed three-movement sonata, the arranger faces a different challenge from that of a genre piece, that of consciously exploiting the resources and characteristics of the new instrument without damaging the cogency of the form. Jan Willem Nelleke writes of his cello version of the work: ‘Schumann’s Violin Sonata, Op. 105, is special among violin sonatas because of its tone colour. The composer makes full use of the warm character of the G-string, and throughout Schumann seems to aim for a dark sonority. Indeed the range is unusually low for a violin, and typical violinistic virtuosity is noticeably absent. It seemed therefore consistent with the composer’s intentions to make an arrangement for cello and piano. My arrangement attempts to stay faithful to the original timbre rather than trying to be a note-perfect transposition. It was made for Karine Georgian and given its première by her and myself in August 2005.’

The four eloquently descriptive Fairy Tale Pictures for Viola and Piano may be Hausmusik, but their technical demands hardly make them accessible to amateur musicians, notably so in the version for cello made by Robert Hausmann, the celebrated cellist of Joachim’s quartet, a trusted musical intimate of Brahms, indeed first performer with Joachim of the Double Concerto.

Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Op. 94, were written as a Christmas present for Clara in December 1849, at the tail end of the Schumanns’ time in Dresden. The prevailing mood is an elegiac tranquillity; the second Romance is marked ‘Einfach, innig’ (‘simply, inward’) although no English word can encompass the special intimacy and introspection of the German innig. Played an octave lower than written, the cello admirably conveys the plangent singing tone of the oboe. The loss of the 1853 Romances for cello means that these may now be the closest we can get to Schumann’s imaginative representation of this genre.

Clara Schumann’s Three Romances, Op. 22, for violin and piano, dedicated ‘in deepest friendship’ to Joachim, were composed in July 1853. Joachim had come to Düsseldorf in May that year to play the Beethoven Concerto conducted, despite increasingly frequent hallucinations and inner auditory disturbances, by Robert. The Schumanns had already fallen under his spell, Robert’s Violin Concerto being one result. J.W. Nelleke, who made the arrangement for cello especially for this recording, writes of Clara’s Romances: ‘This opus is almost the last that Clara composed and is considered to be one of her must successful compositions. The Romances clearly show her own personal character and are in no way an imitation of her husband’s style; on the contrary it is very revealing to hear them alongside Robert’s own Op. 94. In the opinion of the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung: “All three pieces display an individual character conceived in a truly sincere manner and written in a delicate, fragrant hand.” They work equally well for cello and piano.’ Towards the end of the first Romance, marked Andante molto, there is a touching reference to the main theme of her husband’s First Violin Sonata, written two years earlier.


© Anthony Phillips


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