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8.550401 - SCHUMANN, R.: Kreisleriana / Waldszenen / Blumenstuck

Robert Schumann (1810 -1856) Kreisleriana, Op. 16

Blumenstuck, Op. 19
Waldszenen: Neun Klavierstucke, Op. 82 (Forest Scenes: Nine Piano Pieces)

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, but his unwillingness to follow a consistent course of technical work and weakness in his fingers, 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. An uneasy decade in which he turned from writing piano music to compositions generally on a larger scale led to an appointment as director of music in Düsseldorf, where he succumbed, in 1854, to final insanity. He died in 1856.

The writer and composer E. T. A. Hoffmann exercised a considerable influence over Schumann. In Kreisleriana, a work completed in 1838 and dedicated on publication to Chopin, he pays tribute to Hoffmann and the character Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler used by Hoffmann to express some of his own ideas about the conflict between artist and Philistine society. Writing to Clara, Schumann tells her that the new work is one in which she and one of her ideas plays the main part; it is to be dedicated to her and to no one else and as she recognizes herself in it, she may smile fondly. Any association between Clara Wieck and Kreisler could hardly be flattering. Hoffmann's Kreisleriana uses as its central character a mad musician; his original title, indeed, had been Lucid Intervals of an Insane Musician. Schumann, in the eight short pieces that make up his Kreisleriana, expresses varying moods, starting with an agitated D minor, followed by an expressive B flat major piece that includes two contrasted Intermezzi. The first mood returns in a stormy G minor, succeeded by a gentler interlude that serves to introduce an energetic G minor episode. The sixth piece, in a tranquil B flat major gives way to a stormy C minor seventh, with its own interlude of counterpoint, relaxing finally as it moves towards the concluding G minor scherzando. Kreisleriana was revised by the composer in 1850.

Blumenstück, Op. 19, is a very different work. Written in 1839 in Vienna, where Schumann was exploring the possibilities for publication of his music review the Neue Zeitung für Musik, it originally bore the title Guirlande and is, in effect, a garland of musical flowers, little pieces, as he described them in a letter to Clara, prettily put together. In the key of D flat major, Blumenstück is in a series of episodes, of which the second, itself varied in key and mood, forms a recurrent refrain.

Waldszenen was the work of 1848 and 1849, towards the end of the period the Schumanns, with their growing family, spent in Dresden. The years were disturbed by political events and an uprising against the King that forced Schumann himself to take temporary refuge outside the city and Wagner, who had sided with the revolutionaries, to make his escape to Switzerland. Now in the eighth year of their marriage, Clara was pregnant with their sixth child, and Schumann was again haunted by the black bats of depression. The nine Forest Scenes start with an Entrance, followed by a Hunter in Ambush and Lonely Flowers. The fourth piece, which Clara Schumann always excluded from her concert performances of the work, has at its head an eerie poem by Friedrich Hebbel:

Die Blumen, so hoch sie wachsen,
sind blaß hier, wie der Tod;
nur eine in der Mitte
steht da im dunkeln Rot.

Die hat es nicht von der Sonne:
nie traf sie deren Glut;
sie hat es von der Erde,
und die trank Menschenblut.

The flowers, so high they grow,
Are pale here, like death;
Only one in the middle
Stands there in dark red.

Its colour is not from the sun:
Nor from its heat;
It is from the earth,
And drank of human blood.

The Friendly Landscape lightens the atmosphere, with a pause at a Wayside Inn, a Prophetic Bird, Hunting Song and final Departure.

Paul Gulda
The Austrian pianist Paul Gulda was born in Vienna in 1961 and had his first piano lessons from Roland Batik at the age of nine, later studying with his father, Friedrich Gulda, with Leonid Brumberg and finally, for three years, with Rudolf Serkin in the United States, where he participated in the Marlboro Festival. He began his concert career in a piano duo with Roland Batik, and a series of unusual recitals that included improvisation. Paul Gulda has since enjoyed a busy career as a soloist throughout Europe, in the United States, South America and Japan. He has appeared as a soloist on a number of occasions with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, with which he made his Salzburg Festival début in 1988.

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