About this Recording
8.550654 - SCHUBERT: Arpeggione Sonata / SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke

Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Fantasiestücke Op. 73
Five Pieces in Folk-Song Style Op. 102
Adagio und allegro Op. 70

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Sonata in A minor for arpeggione and piano, D. 821


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 Zeitschrifl 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 position the demands of which he was unable to meet, 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 Fantasiestücke, Opus 73, originally Soireestücke, were written in 1849, for clarinet and piano, with the option of violin or cello. Strangely the disturbing political events of 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. He mentions in his diaries a wonderful performance of these Fantasy-pieces by the violinist Ferdinand David and Clara Schumann in Leipzig in 1852 and the following year in Hanover in the presence of the King and Queen, with the violinist Joachim. 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, with its cross-rhythms and relaxed central section.

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. The work was dedicated to the Gewandhaus Orchestra cellist Andreas Grabau. 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.

Schumann's Adagio and Allegro for French horn and piano, or, alternatively, for violin or cello with the same accompaniment, was also written in 1849 and originally bore the title Romanze. The slow opening is marked Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck (Slow, with heartfelt expression), a characteristic direction. The Allegro, Rasch und feurig, has a quieter central section, and after the return of the first section proceeds to a rapider conclusion.

Franz Schubert, a composer greatly admired by Schumann, spent most of his short life in his native Vienna, where his parents had previously settled, his father to run a school. He was trained as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, with the general educational opportunities offered by that employment. Refusing a scholarship that would have allowed him to continue his studies after his voice broke, he trained briefly as a teacher and thereafter worked intermittently for his father, while pursuing his musical interests. He never held any official position in the musical establishment, but by the time of his death in 1828 publishers were showing increasing interest in his work.

The arpeggione, a form of bowed guitar, was invented or at least constructed by the Viennese maker Johann Georg Staufer in 1823. The instrument had six strings, tuned like the guitar, and 24 metal frets fixed to the fingerboard. Its on I y exponent of significance was Vincenz Schuster, who published a tutor for the arpeggione with the firm of Diabelli. It was for Schuster that Schubert wrote, in 1824, the so-called Arpeggione Sonata, a work that now forms part of the repertoire of the cello and, in further transcription, of the viola.

The first movement opens with a theme offered by the piano and repeated, according to custom, by the cello, with aversion of the melody that is slightly extended, leading to a second, livelier theme and the conclusion of the first part of the movement with plucked chords from the cello. Much of the earlier material re-appears in the central development, which ends in a brief cadenza that re-introduces the first theme in recapitulation. The Adagio, after a short piano introduction, otters a fine singing melody for the cello solo, to the closing Allegretto, opening with a lilting theme that shows all Schubert's facility of invention. A contrasting D minor episode recalls the rhythm of the first movement, giving way again to the first theme. New themes appear, before the D minor episode re-appears in A minor, to lead in turn to the final return of the first melody.

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