About this Recording
8.550680 - SCHUMANN, R.: Fantasie Op. 17 / Bunte Blatter Op. 99

Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)

Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17
Bunte Blätter Op. 99

Much of the piano music of Schumann was written before his marriage in 1840, to Clara Wieck, a match that her father, once Schumann's piano teacher, had done all he could to prevent. Schumann himself combined literary interests with musical, eventually persuading his widowed mother and his guardian to allow him to leave university and devote his attention to the latter. A weakness in his fingers, frustrated his ambition to become a virtuoso pianist and after 1840, a year in which he wrote a vast number of songs, he was encouraged by his young wife to tackle larger orchestral forms. Although widely respected both as a composer and as a writer on musical subjects, he had no official position until his appointment as director of music in Düsseldorf in 1850, his unhappy tenure there interrupted by a break-down and final insanity, leading to his death in 1856.

Schumann's Fantasie in C major, Opus 17, belongs to the earlier period of the composer's life. It originally bore the title Obolen auf Beethovens Monument: Ruinen, Trophäen, Palmen, Grosse Sonate f.d. Piano f. Für Beethovens Denkmal. The matter of the Beethoven monument in Bonn was one that interested a number of musicians. A statue was finally erected in 1845, largely as the result of the generosity of Franz Liszt, who took the opportunity of providing the major part of the money needed, while reserving to himself the choice of artist for the monument. Schumann, who in the end dedicated his Fantasie to Liszt, suggested, that a hundred copies of the Grand Sonata, as it was first envisaged, should be sold for the benefit of the fund. This does not seem to have happened, and in any case, before its publication in 1839, the work underwent some revision. Liszt replied enthusiastically to the dedication of a work that he described as of the highest rank, while offering his assistance to Schumann in his proposed relationship with Clara, in answer to Schumann's implied revelation of the state of his affections.

Whatever changes may have been made, the Fantasie remains something of a sonata. It is in three movements and is prefaced by four lines from Friedrich Schlegel, a relation by marriage of the Mendelssohns:

Durch alle Töne tönet
in bunten Erdentraum
ein leiserTon gezogen
für den, der heimlich lauschet.

(Through all the sounds in the varied earthly dream, a gentle sound there is, for those who listen in their hearts). Schumann explained this to Clara in a deeply personal way: she was this sound and only she can understand this music, if she turns her mind back to 1836, when Schumann had deserted her.

The first movement contains fragments of Beethoven's song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), but is dominated by a supremely lyrical melody. The first part of this movement is to be played in a fantastic and passionate manner throughout, while a second melody is to be played "im Legenden- Ton", as recounting a legend. This second section serves as a development. The triumphal march of the second movement, in the appropriate key of E flat major, is to be played with energy. In its course it makes considerable technical demands on the player. The meditative final movement returns to the key of C major.

Schumann's Bunte Blätter, a mixed collection of fourteen piano pieces, was assembled for publication in 1852, a year before the composer's final break-down and closing years of insanity. The collection opens with Three Little Pieces, vignettes in a brief form of which Schumann had absolute mastery. Written in 1838, the first piece, almost a Schumann Song without Words, is in A major, a Christmas present for Clara, followed by a second more energetic piece in E minor and a third in a forthright E major, both written in the following year. The third piece originally had the title Jagdstück(Hunting Piece). The five Albumblätter (Album-Leaves) that follow start with a slow piece written in 1841. In the key of F sharp minor, it was to provide a theme for variations by Brahms. This leads to a rapid scherzo-like B minor second piece written in 1838 and originally given the title Fata Morgana. It is followed by a more lyrical A flat major piece composed in 1836 and originally intended for Carnaval and consequently making use of the dancing letters that form the cryptogram on which that work is based. The piece starts with the notes A flat - C - B, which in German notation become As - C - H , spelling Asch, the name of the place where Schumann's then beloved Ernestine von Fricken lived. A sadder piece follows in E flat minor, originally called Jugendschmerz (Pain of Youth), and written in 1838. The group ends in E flat major, in lyrical resignation. Novellette, written in 1838, tells a lively story in B minor, to be followed by a B flat minor Präludium in the manner of a toccata. The D minor Marsch, composed in 1843, starts gently enough, with muffled drums, its mood lightened temporarily in a central F major Trio section. The mood of evening is evoked in the B flat major Abendmusik, with its brief excursion into G flat major, while the succeeding G minor Scherzo, the work of 1841 and once intended for a symphony, has an even livelier E minor Trio. The anthology ends with a G minor Geschwindmarsch (Quick March), that relaxes briefly into G major, before pursuing its course. The march was written in 1849, the latest of the set in order of composition.

Dénes Várjon
Dénes Várjon was born in Budapest in 1968 and studied there under Sandor Falvai at the Academy of Music, where he now serves as a demonstrator in the Piano Department. He has taken part in master-classes in Hungary and abroad under the most distinguished teachers, and recent prizes include the 1991 award of first prize in the Géza Anda Piano Competition in Zurich. He has appeared as a recitalist and soloist throughout Europe, and for three seasons in the Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music. At home he is a frequent performer for Hungarian Radio.

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