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8.550715 - SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Sonata No. 2 / Nachtstucke / Arabeske
Robert Schumann(1810 - 1856)
Sonata No.2 in G Minor, Op. 22
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 was to make a name for himself in later years 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 now widowed mother, while still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whose energies had been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. The romance that led in 1840 to, their marriage, in spite of the bitter opposition of Wieck, was followed by a period in which Clara's career as a pianist had, in some way, to be reconciled with her husband's ambitions and the demands of a growing family. A weakness in the fingers had caused Schumann to give up the idea of becoming a virtuoso pianist, but he drew attention as a writer on musical matters and, increasingly, as a composer. His final position in Düsseldorf as director of music was not successful, however, and culminated in an attempt at suicide, insanity and death in 1856.
Much of Schumann's piano music was written in the 1830s. The year of his marriage was a year of song, followed by attempts at works on a much larger scale, with the encouragement of his wife. Early attempts at writing piano sonatas were largely unfinished, until the Sonata in F sharp minor, published in 1836 with a dedication to Clara Wieck. In the same year Schumann published a Concert sans orchestre in F minor, re-issued with an additional movement in 1853 as his third piano sonata. The Sonata No.2 in G minor, Opus 22, was apparently written over a number of years. The second movement Andantino was composed in June 1830, the first and third movements in June 1833 and the original demanding Finale in October 1835. The alternative Finale, written after the objections of Clara Wieck that the original Presto passionato was far too difficult, was composed in Vienna in December 1838. The sonata was published the following year. The first movement, So rasch wie möglich, as fast as possible, has a first subject melody based on the descending scale, with a broken chord left-hand accompaniment. The movement is in the established tripartite sonata-allegro form, with a central development and final recapitulation, ending in a rapid coda. The gentle Andantino offers a lyrical melody over a repeated chordal accompaniment. The Scherzo has all the energy of Florestan, the pseudonym used by Schumann to indicate the passionate and impulsive side of his character, in his writing and in his music, in contrast with the gentler and more sober Eusebius. The original finale, published posthumously in 1866, represents Florestan at his wildest, calling for the greatest dexterity, agility and passion. The alternative Rondo is not without technical demands, increasing in speed to a prestissimo, a cadenza-like passage, and a conclusion marked immer schneller und schneller, ever faster and faster. It should be added that Clara Wieck expressed the greatest admiration for a work which, for her, expressed so clearly Schumann's whole being. Her criticisms of the original finale arose from her fear that the public and even connoisseurs would not understand it.
The Toccata in C major, Opus 7, was published in 1834 and dedicated to Schumann's close friend Ludwig Schunke, a young pianist, pupil of Kalkbrenner and Herz. Schumann introduced Schunke to Wieck's circle in Leipzig and nursed him through his final illness in 1834, the year following their first meeting. Schunke's friendship was of the greatest help to Schumann in his recovery from severe depression and in the foundation of the notional Davidsbund, the League of David, the group imagined to fight against the enemies of true art, the Philistines. Schunke, an infant prodigy, son of a Stuttgart horn-player, mastered this Toccata toccatarum, later an important item in the virtuoso repertoire of the young Clara Wieck, whose technical accomplishment in the Toccata impressed Mendelssohn, when he visited the Wiecks in Leipzig in 1834. It seems that the Toccata had been first devised about 1830, while Schumann was in Heidelberg, offering the composer a technical challenge to his own virtuosity as a pianist. It was later revised, before its final publication.
The Four Klavierstücke that form Opus 32 were written in 1838 and 1839 and published in 1841. The first piece, a B flat major Scherzo, has a marked dotted rhythm, relaxing into a central D minor trio section, before the return of the scherzo itself. This is followed by a G minor Gigue, very fast, with imitative entries in appropriately Baroque style. The Romanze, to be played fast and with bravura, is in D minor, lessening in intensity in a somewhat slower central section, before the return of the original excitement. A gentle G minor Fughette completes the set, its subject accompanied by occasional chords on its first appearance.
The Nachtstücke, Nightpieces, that make up Opus 23 were written in 1839 and published a year later, without the titles that Schumann had originally suggested. As he told Clara, he had imagined, as he w rote this music, funeral processions, coffins, and unhappy, distraught figures. He thought of the work as a Funeral Fantasy, and proposed the titles Trauerzug, Funeral Procession, Kuriose Gesellschaft, Strange Company, Nächtliches Gelager, Night Revels, and Rundgesang mit Solostimmen, Round with Solos. Clara sensibly advised him to omit anything of the kind, leaving only the present general title, quite enough for a contemporary audience. This title is, presumably, derived from the work of Gespenster Hoffmann, Ghost Hoffmann, a writer who fascinated Schumann and many others of his generation. The work opens with mysterious harmonic ambiguity, its slow first piece followed by an emphatic livelier second, in an F major that again opens in ambiguity. The revels of the third piece lead to a brief introduction and simpler movement in F major, with an F minor central section.
Schumann dedicated his Arabeske, Opus 18, to the wife of Major Anton Serre, who, with her husband, did much to encourage the composer in his engagement to Clara Wieck. It was written in 1838 and is in the form of a rondo, with two minor key episodes, the first in E minor and the second in A minor, around which the principal C major theme re-appears. Schumann composed the work in Vienna, with his Blumenstück, Opus 19 and Humoreske, Opus 20, and all three pieces seemed, as Schumann himself said, likely to please the women of Vienna.
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