About this Recording
8.550469 - SCHUMANN, R.: Humoreske, Op. 20 / REGER: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.S. Bach

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Humoreske in B Flat, Op. 20

Max Reger (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S. Bach, Op. 81

In September, 1838, Robert Schumann set out for Vienna. For some years he had lived in Leipzig, studying briefly at the University, and finally, after less than a year at Heidelberg, returning as a pupil of Friedrich Wieck, who had entertained some hopes of his pupil's future success as a pianist. Matters were to turn out differently. By 1832 a weakness in two fingers of the right hand, a possible result of mercury-poisoning brought on by the use of that substance as a cure for syphilis, forced Schumann to abandon his ambitions as a performer, enabling him to concentrate more attention on composition. In 1834 he became closely involved in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a publication that was to win him a reputation as a writer and critic during the following ten years.

During his time in Leipzig Schumann had fallen in love with Wieck's daughter Clara, a pianist of considerable ability, on whom her father had lavished care and attention. Wieck had considered Schumann of some use in furthering Clara's career by his writing, much as Clara's inclusion of music by Schumann in her concert programmes was serving to win the composer a reputation. He disapproved strongly, however, of Schumann as a son-in-law and his opposition to the marriage of the couple had, by 1839, become overt. Litigation was to follow in bitter months of disagreement, ended only by Wieck's final failure to convince the courts of the justice of his case, and the couple's marriage in September, 1840.

Vienna had seemed to hold out some promise to both Schumann and Clara Wieck. She had enjoyed success there in concert performances, and he hoped to persuade a Vienna publisher to take over the Neue Zeitschrift. Their hopes proved illusory. Vienna had its own musical publications and had no need of any more. Clara had embarked in January, 1839, on a successful concert tour that took her to Paris, without her father, who, by his absence, hoped to show her that she could not do without him. It was from Paris that, in June, she applied to the courts for permission to marry Schumann. By then he had given up any thought of Vienna and returned to Leipzig.

As so often when Clara was absent, Schumann wrote a great deal of music during his months in Vienna. The Arabeske, Opus 18, was completed at the end of that year, followed, in early 1839, by the Blumenstück, Opus 19, the beginning of a piano concerto, and, in February, by the Humoreske, Opus 20. This was to be followed by the Faschingsschwank aus Wien, which he began in March, when his return to Leipzig had already been planned.

The form of the Humoreske is elusive. The title itself appears here for the first time in the history of music, borrowed from earlier Romantic literature, where it had served to express something of the period's capricious changes of mood. Schumann put together a series of episodes, loosely related. These may be grouped together to form movements of a kind, although opinions may well differ as to where these begin and end. The double bar-lines used by the composer are of no help in such an attempt at formal analysis.

The work opens with a section that contrasts the meditative character of Schumann's pseudonymous Eusebius with the wilder mood of Florestan, the latter returning in brief conclusion. There follows an episode marked Hastig, to which Schumann added an inner voice in the score, the voice of Clara and her G minor Romance, a composition he was to see in July, finding in it confirmation of their unity of mind. Once again contrasting moods are bracketed by the re-appearance of the music of the first section. A delicate episode leads to a busily contrapuntal Intermezzo, rounded once more by the re-appearance of the opening episode and a brief Adagio. The key of G minor is replaced by a return to B flat major with what follows, in a mood of gentle introspection, into which Florestan briefly intrudes. The music moves forward in a mood of dramatic excitement, a short pause being followed by the imposing ceremonial chords that lead gently enough to the final section, with its final outburst of drama.

Max Reger was the son of a schoolmaster and amateur musician, who saw to it that his son learnt to play the piano and stringed instruments, and encouraged him to play the organ. His early interest in music led to lessons with the organist Adalbert Lindner in Weiden, where the Regers had settled. These studies with Lindner brought him a lasting love of the music of J. S. Bach and a fascination with counterpoint that was to be a feature of his own later compositions, a tendency further developed by study with Hugo Riemann, to whom he served for a time as assistant in Wiesbaden.

A period of military service in Wiesbaden in 1898 ended with Reger's discharge and his return home to his parents' house, where he remained until 1901, composing some part of the repertoire of the instrument. He then moved to Munich, hoping to establish his independence as a musician, performing and composing, but finding himself in opposition to an influential group in the city, since he favoured the less fashionable 'absolute' music. He was, in spite of this, to win a reputation as a performer, his compositions gradually proving more acceptable. It was during these years in Munich that he wrote what may be considered his most important contribution to the literature of the piano, the Variations and Fugue on a theme of J. S. Bach, a work that is based on a theme from the Ascension Cantata: Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein. >

In 1907 Reger moved to Leipzig as director of music at the university, where he enjoyed great influence as a teacher and won still wider fame as a composer and performer. This was followed by appointment to Meiningen as conductor of the court orchestra, a position that had been occupied by Hans von Bülow, and, briefly, by the young Richard Strauss. The death of Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen in 1913, however, saw the disbanding of the famous orchestra. Reger moved to Jena, intending to devote himself principally to composition. He died of a heart attack in Leipzig in 1916, while on his way back to Jena from a concert tour, his early death attributable in part to his apparently insatiable appetite for food and drink.

The Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S. Bach, dedicated to his friend August Schmid-Lindner, with whom he undertook a new edition of Bach's keyboard music, provides a distinguished example of Reger's achievement as a composer. From the theme itself, simply stated, he constructs a series of variations of contrasting brilliance, with impeccable harmonic and contrapuntal technique, the whole work ending in the massive fugue, in which we may sense the influence of late Beethoven and the composer's great admiration for that master of variation form, Brahms.

Wolf Harden
The German pianist Wolf Harden was born on 13th May, 1962, in Hamburg and studied the piano with Eckart Besch at the Musikhochschule in Detmold. In 1977 he began his career as a soloist and as a player of chamber music and three years later joined with colleagues to establish the Fontenay Trio, studying with the Amadeus Quartet in Cologne and with the Beaux Arts Trio. In 1983 he won the Mendelssohn Prize and in 1985 first prize in the German Musikwettbewerb.

Wolf Harden has appeared throughout the German Federal Republic, in many European countries, in South America and in the United States. In addition to broadcasts and television appearances, he has a number of recordings to his credit, appearing as soloist, accompanist and chamber music player for EMI, Harmonia Mundi, Musica Viva, Teldec and Marco Polo Records.

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