About this Recording
8.557668 - Piano Recital: Kotaro Fukuma
English  German 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Abegg-Variations • Novelletten • Drei Fantasiestücke

Until he was thirty, Schumann wrote keyboard music almost exclusively, music which expressed the broad range of his thoughts and feelings and the passionate and reflective aspects of his personality. Through the influence of his parents he learned much about literature, especially the poetic works of Goethe and Byron. His illfated attempt to attend law school, at his mother’s insistence, was soon abandoned in favour of the irresistible attraction to music.

Schumann was always intrigued with games and puzzles, particularly when he could include them in his own music. His first published work, the Abegg Variations of 1830, reflects this fascination with puzzles. The variations take their title from the name of a young pianist, Mme. Meta Abegg, whom Schumann met in early 1830. This is a set of variations with a theme based on the letters of her surname, in German notation A - B flat - E - G - G. The theme is in waltz tempo. This may be simple on its opening presentation, but the three variations are quite complex and brilliant. The theme is marked Animato, presented in a gentle theme in triple metre. The first variation is more stormy with rapid passage-work, and with the rising motif then inverted creating a capricious nuance of harmony. The second features a syncopated rhythm, perhaps expressing a light-hearted conversation. The third variation starts in a running style with rapid triplet figures in the right hand, marked corrente, suggesting a happy young boy running around playfully. A middle section, in cantabile style, in a Sicilian rhythm, almost serves as a fourth variation, but builds up to the conclusion. The Finale, marked alla Fantasia in 6/8 metre, features chromatic descending passages, and could be considered a fifth variation in which Schumann expresses his dreams and expectations. In the middle of the finale, Schumann brings the music to a stop and presents two chords marked ad libitum. The second chord contains the notes of the Abegg theme, and Schumann releases each of these notes in turn until only a solitary G is left echoing quietly. As each note is released, it is as though his friends are leaving one by one until he is alone. Suddenly the theme from the finale returns and rushes away excitedly, ending in both a sophisticated but innocently humorous mode.

In Novelletten, Op. 21, written in 1838, the title, rooted in the word “novel” here becomes a collection of story-like short pieces. Schumann wrote in his letter to Clara describing his new composition, referring jokingly to the well-known soprano Clara Novello:

“Then again, I have written such a frightful amount of music for you over the past three weeks – pranks, Egmontian tales, family scenes with fathers, a wedding, in short, extremely engaging things. I gave this piece the title Novelletten because your name is Clara and Wiecketten does not sound good enough.” (Letter to Clara Wieck, February, 1838)

Schumann also features Florestan and Eusebius, the characters borrowed from the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Florestan plays the rôle of the extrovert, contrasted with the introverted gentle character of Eusebius. The first section, Markiert und kräftig (Marked and strong), in F major, is a powerful march in full chords with lyrical contrasting trios. In the polyphonic chorale-style third section each voice alternates the melodic line. This is followed by the D major Äußerst rasch und mit Bravour (Very fast and bravura), in three-part form. The semiquavers in the first section suggest dashing horses contrasted with playful girls in paradise in the middle section. In the first edition the title of Sarrasin and Suleika, a reference to Goethe’s Westöstlichen Divan, appears. The third part, Leicht und mit Humor (Lightly with humour), in D major, begins with dancing fairies in staccato chords, but changes to a battlefield in the central Intermezzo. This was first published separately in a musical supplement to Schumann’s Zeitschrift für Musik with a quotation from the opening of the witches’ scene at the start of Macbeth. This is followed by a section marked Ballmäßig, Sehr munter (Dancing, very lively), in D major, a Viennesestyle waltz with cross-rhythms and lively syncopations, and a middle section which suggests a conversation between a couple. The D major Rauschend und festlich (Rustling and Festive) is in rondo form and suggests a festive wedding scene for him and Clara, but his future father-in-law, who opposed their marriage, appears several times in the intervening sections, clouding the festive atmosphere. The sixth part, Sehr lebhaft, mit vielem Humor (Very lively with great humour) is in A major. The movement opens with a simple folk-tune but gradually increases in intensity through a modulating melody. Here Florestan dominates, although Eusebius appears just before the final chord and the section closes quietly. This leads to a passage marked Äußerst rasch (Very fast), in E major and in three-part form. This begins with a fast waltz contrasted with a cantabile section, Etwas langsamer (Somewhat slower). The section marked Sehr lebhaft (Very lively), in F sharp minor, is the longest and most episodic. The aggressive theme suggests a man forcing his way through a storm, interrupted by a short gallop, the first Trio in D flat major, a childhood reminiscence. After another stormy episode, the horns announce a triumph over the storm in the second Trio. One episode, Noch lebhafter (Still livelier) includes what Schumann described as Stimme aus der Ferne (A voice from afar), quoting a theme from Clara Wieck’s Notturno in her Soirées musicales. In Fortsetzung und Schluss (Continuation and Ending), the mood changes into a festive carnival, returning to the first theme for a majestic ending.

Five years before his death Schumann wrote a set of three pieces, Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 111, revealing his deeply troubled emotions and his deteriorating health and spirits. Played without pause, the pieces are strongly connected by the tonalities, C minor in the first, A flat major partly with C minor in the second, and C minor in the third. The first, marked Sehr rasch, mit leidenschaftlichem Vortrag, (Very fast with passionate presentation) is an agitated piece, with its sighing motifs and continuous arpeggios, suggesting a man crying in despair as he rushes through a dark forest. The second piece, Ziemlich langsam, (Somewhat slowly), features an expressive chordal song, very Schubertian in character, with a more agitated middle section, then returning to the song. The melody resembles his Liebeslied from the Dichterliebe. The third, Kräftig und sehr markiert, (Strong and well-marked), is a robust march with a melody alternating between soprano and alto lines, framing a trio with repeated chords answered by graceful mystical descending arpeggios, a texture which then returns in the coda.

Kotaro Fukuma and Karen Knowlton, with assistance from Sarah-Theresa Yoshiko Murakami

Close the window