About this Recording
8.573094 - SCHUMANN, R.: 4 Marches / 4 Fugues / 7 Clavierstucke in Fughettenform / Album for the Young (additional pieces) (Rodriguez)
English 

Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Four Marches, Op 76 • Four Fugues, Op 72 • Seven Piano Pieces in Fughetta Form, Op 126 • Album for the Young (Additional Pieces), WoO 16 and WoO 30

 

The son of a writer and publisher, Robert Schumann, in common with a number of other composers of his generation, had marked literary proclivities. As a musician he must initially have seemed something of a dilettante. With the support of a well known piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, he was able to persuade his mother and guardian, after his father’s death, to allow him to give up university studies to concentrate on music, studying with Wieck in Leipzig, but his unwillingness to follow a consistent course of technical work and weakness in his fingers, attributed to a mechanical device of his own devising or the possible result of mercury treatment for a venereal infection, made his contemplated career as a concert pianist impossible. His marriage to the pianist Clara Wieck, his former teacher’s favourite daughter, came about in 1840, but only after prolonged litigation with his future father-in-law. The year of Schumann’s marriage was also a Year of Song, during which he created a substantial legacy of Lieder. The following decade brought various pressures, as his wife continued her very successful career as a pianist, while Schumann himself, suffering occasional deep depression, turned to compositions on a larger scale. This period, during which the family was principally based in Dresden, led finally to Schumann’s appointment as director of music in Düsseldorf. There the demands of the position did much to sap his confidence. In 1854 he attempted suicide and spent his final years in an asylum, where he died in 1856.

The year 1849 brought revolutionary disturbance to Dresden, as elsewhere in Germany. In May the king, who had earlier made some concessions, later withdrawn, left the city, and Prussian and Saxon soldiers were sent in to restore the old order. Wagner, employed at the court opera, sided with the republicans, and was compelled to make his escape, seeking refuge first with Liszt in Weimar and then in Switzerland. Schumann, to avoid conscription into the citizen levy, raised to fight for the would-be reformers, hid in his house and then, with his wife Clara and their eldest child Marie, took refuge outside the city. Shortly afterwards Clara, seven months pregnant, returned to the city to bring her other children out to relative safety at the township of Kreischa, seven miles outside Dresden. The rising in Dresden was put down with loss of life and destruction of property, but by June the Schumanns had been able to return home. Strangely enough the months of disturbance in Dresden had brought a surge of creativity. Among Schumann’s compositions of the year are his Four Marches, Op 76, written in June 1849, and reflecting something of his sympathy with the insurgents, although the flight of Wagner allowed him, unsuccessfully, to apply to the court for the latter’s previous position at the court opera. The Four Marches are related by their keys, the first and fourth in E flat major, the second in G minor and the third in B flat major. Rhythmic variety dispels any feeling of monotony and each of the marches has a central trio section. The third of the set, with its descriptive title Lagerszene (Camp Scene), marked Sehr mässig, introduces an initially less martial mood and has a faster triplet trio section, while the fourth, Mit Kraft und Feuer (With strength and fire), has a more relaxed trio section in B major.

In 1844 Schumann’s mental health had continued to give cause for alarm and in January 1845, on the advice of Carl Gustav Carus, court physician in Dresden and a friend of the Schumanns, he started a course of hypnotherapy under Dr Helbig, a practitioner who followed the methods explored by Franz Anton Mesmer. Helbig made unsuccessful attempts to draw Schumann’s seemingly obsessive attention away from music, but at least he put aside, for the time being, his setting of the final scene of Faust. His attention during the following months to counterpoint may seem to have been therapeutic, as it was to be in 1853. 1845 brought the composition of his Six Fugues on the name of Bach, Op 60, for organ, sets of Studies for the Pedal Piano and the Four Fugues, Op 72, the last of these completed in March. As was to be the case with the Four Marches, the Four Fugues are related in key, the two D minor works leading to a Fugue in F minor and a fourth in F major. The set was published in 1850 and dedicated to Carl Reinecke. They are relatively spare in texture, and, following Schumann’s new precept, seemingly composed away from the keyboard. The first Fugue is based on a subject in 6/8, the alto answered by the soprano, followed by the bass. The second Fugue, marked Sehr lebhaft, (Very lively) has voices entering in the same order, its subject opening sforzando and with breaks in its rhythm. The third Fugue is to be slower and very expressive, in 6/4 and with four voices, the tenor entering last. The set ends with another four-voice Fugue, with a faster and shorter variant of the fugal subject introduced later and leading to a final coda.

Schumann had taken up his new position as director of music in Düsseldorf in September 1850, but, after an auspicious start, his inadequacies as a conductor and administrator soon became apparent, while his health deteriorated, with continued tendencies to depression. In the later months of 1852 and the first part of 1853 he turned his attention once more to counterpoint, providing keyboard parts for Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonatas and Partitas and the Cello Suites. The study of Bach led to his own Seven Piano Pieces in the Form of Fughettas, Op 126. The work was published in 1854 and dedicated to Clara Schumann’s blind friend Rosalie Leser, with whom she took refuge in the difficult days before Schumann’s removal in March 1854 to the asylum at Endenich, where he was to die two years later. Schumann described the Seven Pieces as mostly melancholy, and, as was the case with a number of other groups of compositions, they are unified by key, framed by the key of A minor, with the second and fourth in D minor, the third and sixth in F major, and the fifth in A minor. The first of the set, in 6/8, has three voices, ending over a tonic pedal and final tierce de picardie. The second, with a shorter subject, has four voices, with a dynamic contrast marking the start of the subject The third piece, again with a relatively short subject, has four voices, followed by the rapider fourth, with a strongly marked opening figure and then semiquaver figuration in a more extended subject, the whole in four voices. There is some respite in the four-voice fifth piece, marked Ziemlich langsam, empfindungsvoll vorzutragen (Rather slow, to be played full of feeling). To this the sixth piece offers a contrast of tempo, texture and mood, and the whole work ends with a slow and expressive four-voice fughetta.

Schumann prepared his Album für die Jugend in 1848. The first of his eight children, Marie, had been born in 1841 and the collection of children’s pieces was partly intended as a birthday present for her. At the same time it seemed that such an album would also serve a very necessary commercial purpose. Schumann arranged for a pictorial title-page by the Dresden artist Ludwig Richter and, undeterred by his publisher Breitkopf and Härtel’s rejection of the work, persuaded the Hamburg publisher Julius Schuberth to issue the first very successful edition of the pieces. For this publication Schumann had chosen 43 pieces, rejecting 21, the latter issued as WoO 16 and WoO 30 in 1924 and 1973 respectively.

The present recording includes the alternative version of Wilder Reiter (The Wild Rider), with its slightly more ambitious ending. It continues with the four pieces included in WoO 16, Gukkuk im Versteck (Cuckoo in Hiding), with its bird-call, Haschemann (Catch Me If You Can), in which one hand chases the other, part of an untitled Waltz, and Lagune in Venedig (Lagoon in Venice).

The pieces published as WoO 30 start here with the gently swaying Auf der Gondel (In the Gondola). Bärentanz (Bear Dance), with its repeated bass chords, is followed by Für ganz Kleine (For the Very Young), a first piece of only eight bars. A little C major piece is untitled and Linke Hand, soll sich auch zeigen (Left Hand, It can have a chance too) does what it says. An A major untitled piece may have been intended originally as a Vorspiel (Prelude), and is given that title in some editions. Puppennschlafliedchen (Doll’s Lullaby) sends the doll quickly to sleep and Rebus sets a puzzle, a cryptogram, to be read by giving the notes their German letter sound, resulting in Lass das Fade, fass das Echte (Leave the boring, do the genuine), the German es (E flat) providing the necessary letter ‘s’.

Schumann also planned an introduction to the work of various composers, eight of which were completed. His Theme by George Frideric Handel is known to English listeners as The Harmonious Blacksmith. A Little Piece by JS Bach echoes a Tempo di Menuetto from the first part of Bach’s Clavierübungen, A Little Piece by Gluck takes elements from Orfeo ed Euridice and Mozart is represented by Zerlina’s Vedrai, carino from Don Giovanni. Beethoven is first heard in part of his Piano Sonata in E major, Op 109¸ and again, after Weber’s Drinking Song for Caspar in Der Freischütz, by the famous theme of the Ode to Joy in the Ninth Symphony. The final Ländler is taken from a German dance by Schubert.¹

The Albumblatt: Ahnung (Album Leaf: Foreboding) was rediscovered in 2007. The manuscript had been given by Clara Schumann to the young artist Julius Allgeyer, who had become a friend of the Schumanns in Düsseldorf. The short piece forms part of the fifth of Schumann’s Noveletten, Op 21, of 1838.²

Keith Anderson

¹ See Foreword and Commentary in the Henle Urtext Edition of Album für die Jugend, ed. Ernst Herttrich, 2007.

² See Commentary to the Wiener Urtext Edition of Ahnung – Albumblatt für Klavier, ed. Michael Beiche, 2009.


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