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8.550599 - SCHUMANN, R.: Works for Oboe and Piano (Jandó, Kiss)
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Five Folk-Song Pieces, Op. 102
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature and later made a name for himself as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. After a period at university to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother, but still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann was able to turn more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher, whose energies had been largely directed towards the training of his beloved daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by a weakness of the fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis, which he perhaps had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment. Nevertheless he wrote a great deal of music for the piano during the 1830s, much of it in the form of shorter genre pieces, often enough with some extra- musical, literary or autobiographical association. The end of the decade brought a prolonged quarrel with Wieck, who did his utmost, through the courts, to prevent his daughter from marrying Schumann, bringing in support evidence of the latter's allegedly dissolute way of life. He might have considered, too, a certain mental instability, perhaps in part inherited, which brought periods of intense depression.
In 1840 Schumann and Clara married, with the permission of the court. The year brought the composition of a large number of songs and was followed by a period during which Clara encouraged her husband to tackle larger forms of orchestral music, while both of them had to make adjustments in their own lives to accommodate their differing professional requirements and the birth of children. A relatively short period in Leipzig was followed, in 1844, by residence in Dresden, where Wagner was now installed at the Court Theatre, his conversation causing Schumann to retire early to bed with a headache. In 1850 the couple moved to Düsseldorf, where Schumann had been appointed director of music, a fact that contributed to his suicidal depression and final break-down in 1854, leading to his death in the asylum at Endenich two years later.
The Five Pieces in Folk-Song Style, Opus 102, were written in 1849 for cello or violin and piano and were published two years later. Strangely the disturbing political events in that year in Dresden, which had forced Wagner to make his escape in disguise, seem to have brought Schumann a surge of inspiration, leading him to describe the year as his most productive. The pieces are true to their title, the first of them, Vanitas vanitatum, making in its title a whimsical reference to scripture. The gentle second piece leads to a pastoral third and a forthright fourth. The group ends with an element of drama, The Fantasiestücke, Opus 73, originally Soiréestücke, were written in the same year, for clarinet and piano, with the option of violin or cello. The evocative and expressive opening piece, a song in all but name, is followed by the busy piano accompaniment of the second and the energetic third.
Schumann wrote the three Romances, Opus 94, specifically for oboe and piano, but again allowed alternative instrumentation, for violin or clarinet and piano. They show once again remarkable master of small forms of this kind, of the handling of piano and solo instrument and of the projection of a moving and inimitable lyrical quality. As so often it is not difficult to imagine some literary or narrative basis for these pieces. The Romances represent Schumann's further experiment with various tone-colours, exemplified in the Adagio and Allegro, Opus 70, originally for French horn and piano and once more written in 1849. Again the composer offers alternative instrumentation, suggesting the use of violin or cello, implying yet again the absolute nature of these compositions as far as instrumentation is concerned.
In 1851 Schumann wrote two of his three violin sonatas. The first of these, the Sonata in A minor, Opus 105, was written in the space of four days in September, when, as he confided to a former student, he was very angry with some people. Düsseldorf had brought him considerable dissatisfaction, echoed by his employers on the city council and the musicians of the orchestra. He himself declared himself unhappy with the first of the violin sonatas, giving this as his reason for writing a second shortly afterwards, and tackling a third, to be completed in 1853. With the necessary changes of register and occasionally of lay-out, the sonata makes an interesting addition to possible oboe repertoire. The expressive first movement leads to an Allegretto second movement in F major, very much in the style of vignettes of the shorter pieces of the period. The principal material of the movement consists of two contrasted elements, with an intervening episode in the minor. The energetic final movement returns to the original key, ominously at first, but leading to a relaxation into the key of E major and briefly again into A major, before a dramatic reference to the opening of the first movement and a strong conclusion.
Jószef Kiss, oboe
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