|About this Recording
8.553837 - SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Trios, Vol. 2
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Piano Trios, Volume 2 Piano Trio in G minor Op. 110
Piano Trio in A minor 'Fantasiestucke', Op. 88
Six Pieces in Canonic Form for piano, violin and violoncello, Op. 56
Robert Schumann was born in 1810, into a middle-class family in Zwickau in Saxony, in the eastern part of Germany, His father was a bookseller and minor writer who died when Robert was only sixteen, a year after the death of his eldest daughter. Originally enrolled to study Law at Leipzig University, music was his great love. Whilst studying under Friederich Wieck, he was invited to take lodgings in his teacher's household and met Wieck's young daughter Clara, who was already making a name for herself as a child pianist.
Schumann's own abilities as a pianist never materialised, partly from damage to his left hand resulting from a prescription of mercury for treatment of the syphilis which was to plague his life. Despite his illness and the opposition of Clara's father, the two married, for better or worse, in 1840. The marriage was to prove a turning-point in Schumann's career, leading him away from writing solo piano music to the outpouring of his affection for Clara in the two song-cycles Dichterliebe and particularly the emotional Frauenliebe und Leben. As well as these songs, Schumann now began work on his cycle of four symphonies -important works of the Romantic symphonic repertoire.
Despite the happiness of his newly married state, Schumann was plagued by manic depression and had to rely for income mainly on Clara's concert tours. Mendelssohn gave him a professorship in music at the Leipzig Conservatory but Schumann soon resigned and moved to nearby Dresden Established in 1850 as director of music in Dtisseldorf, by 1854 his moods were so black that he attempted to drown himself in the Rhine. The result was his committal to an asylum near Bonn where he died, in great distress, of the complications of tertiary syphilis in July 1856. Both Clara and her friend, Brahms, were witness to his final moments.
Schumann never succeeded in winning true success in his lifetime and today he is often ranked below his contemporaties, particularly Brahms and Mendelssohn. His music is nevertheless the true face of the Romantic movement, his piano and chamber music firmly rooted in a new style well away from the classical works of Haydn or Mozart, the heir to Beethoven and Schuben. He managed to compose in most forms of music available to him from solo works to large-scale vocal and orchestral cantatas, incidental music and even an opera. His legacy is wide-ranging and shockingly undervalued, technically adept and melodically appealing.
Work on the first two of Schumann's piano trios, Op. 63 in D minor and Op. 80 in F major, began during a flurry of activity in 1847. The second symphony had just been completed and he was at work on his major operatic project Genoveva, having sketched the Overture in April. Perhaps he was making np for the rather poor output of 1846 with a huge surge of creativity.
A primary influence on the piano trios was Schumann's wife, Clara, whose own trio had been written the previous year. His first two trios were conceived almost as one single idea and written at breakneck speed. The D minor work was sketched within a single week in June but not officially ready for performance until Clara's birthday in November although the second trio had been completed in October. The works are both tributes to Clara's own lyrical ideas and technical achievements in what was her major chamber work. They also confirm Schumann's greatness as a composer compared to his wife's attractive but ultimately second league compositions.
These two piano trios (Naxos 8.553836) show a mastery of counterpoint which is largely absent from the final trio of 1851. Several significant works of the composer's maturity separate the two 1847 trios from this third numbered work in the form, including the influential Rhenish Symphony and the full-scale choral piece of that year, Der Rose Pilgeifahrt. By now the Schumanns had moved to settle in Dusseldorf where the composer was to experience a decline in both musical ability and mental health. Despite this, Clara
was able to refer to the third trio as a work that was filled throughout with passion.
Both this final trio and the unnumbered Fantasiestacke in A minor for piano trio, follow the earlier plans of the first two trios in that they are in four movements. Like those trios, they are also both in the minor key and the third trio has a melancholy feel to it that is only lifted in the finale, at last marked to be played with humour, The trio opens with an impassioned, romantic and fluidly melodic movement which is then followed by a lyrical and peacefully ebbing slow movement tinged with that distinct touch of melancholy that was one of Schumann's great gifts. The Scherzo, placed third, has moments of amazingly modern sounding syncopations contrasted with a chorale- like trio section. The finale is a well-humoured piece which seems to reflect on piano trios of earlier times such as those by Schubert.
The Fantasiestiicke date from 1842, Schumann's great chamber music year which also saw the composition of the three string quartets, the piano quintet and the piano quartet; an amazing outburst of creativity which was to have a serious effect on Schumann's nervous constitution. The work is less of a unity than the other trios, more a collection of simpler but attractive ideas, often with links between the individual movements such as the reappearance of the main theme of the Romanze in the middle of the following Humoreske. Its four movements begin unusually with a slow movement, then a scherzo-like piece. The main slow movement comes third and is a lyrical and emotional outpouring for the string instruments. The work is then rounded off by a swaggering, popular style march. Like the later piano works of the same name, these four pieces show Schumann breaking away from traditional forms such as the sonata.
Following his nervous breakdown in 1844, Schumann toyed with the writing of some piano fugues and sketches and studies for the strange combination of piano and organ -a piano with foot pedals -known as the Pedaifliigel. The canonic pieces recorded here in their arrangement for piano trio by Theodor Kirchner, were composed, together with another set for the same instrument, in 1845, the same year as the famous Piano Concerto. Not surprisingly, considering the original instrument, the first piece has echoes of Bach and the sounds of the organ but any academic feel is dispensed with by the moving cello melody of the second piece. A caressing and flowing Andantino follows and then a deeply felt song-like slow piece which gives way to a movement which conjures up images of the elegant cantering of a thoroughbred horse. The final movement takes us back to the elegiac qualities of Schumann' s songs. Little known they may be, but these short pieces in their trio guise are a constant delight.
Vienna Brahms Trio
Yuri Smirnov, Piano. Boris Kuschnir, Violin. Orfeo Mandozzi, Cello
The Vienna Brahms Trio made their highly acclaimed debut at the Lockenbaus Festival in Austria in 1993. Since then they have appeared with equal success at the Wigmore Hall in London, the Cologne Philharmonie and at various festivals in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The trio appeared in the 1995-1996 season at the Sviatoslav Richter Festival in Moscow, at the Konzerthaus in Vienna with the violinist Julian Rachlin and the violist Yuri Bashmet, and, apart from recitals throughout Europe and in the United States of America, also appeared as soloists in Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra in Vienna and in Bregenz. The trio was the winner of the Ninth International Chamber Music Competition at lllzach.
Boris Kuschnir plays the 'Boughton' Stradivarius of 1698 from the collection of the Austrian National Bank.
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