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8.571292 - SCHUMANN, R.: Kreisleriana / Blumenstuck / Faschingsschwank (Biret Solo Edition, Vol. 5)

Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Kreisleriana, Op 16 • Blumenstück, Op 19 • Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op 26


The son of a writer and publisher, Robert Schumann, in common with a number of other composers of his generation, had marked literary proclivities. As a musician he must initially have seemed something of a dilettante. With the support of a well-known piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, he was able to persuade his mother and guardian, after his father’s death, to allow him to give up university studies to concentrate on music, studying with Wieck in Leipzig, but his unwillingness to follow a consistent course of technical work and weakness in his fingers, attributed to a mechanical device of his own devising or the possible result of mercury treatment for a venereal infection, made his contemplated career as a concert pianist impossible. His marriage to the pianist Clara Wieck, his former teacher’s favourite daughter, came about in 1840, but only after prolonged litigation with his future father-in-law. The year of Schumann’s marriage was also a Year of Song, during which he created a substantial legacy of Lieder. The following decade brought various pressures, as his wife continued her very successful career as a pianist, while Schumann himself, suffering occasional deep depression, turned to compositions on a larger scale. This period, during which the family was principally based in Dresden, led finally to Schumann’s appointment as director of music in Düsseldorf. There the demands of the position did much to sap his confidence. In 1854 he attempted suicide and spent his final years in an asylum, where he died in 1856.

The writer and composer ETA Hoffmann exercised a considerable influence over Schumann. In Kreisleriana, a work completed in 1838 and dedicated on publication to Chopin, he pays tribute to Hoffmann and the character Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler used by Hoffmann to express some of his own ideas about the conflict between the artist and Philistine society. Writing to Clara, Schumann tells her that the new work is one in which she and one of her ideas play the main part; it is to be dedicated to her and to no one else and as she recognizes herself in it, she may smile fondly. Any association between Clara Wieck and Kreisler could hardly be flattering. Hoffmann’s Kreisleriana uses as its central character a mad musician; his original title, indeed, had been Lucid Intervals of an Insane Musician. Schumann, in the eight short pieces that make up his Kreisleriana, expresses varying moods, starting with an agitated D minor, followed by an expressive B flat major piece that includes two contrasted Intermezzi. The first mood returns in a stormy G minor, succeeded by a gentler interlude that serves to introduce an energetic G minor episode. The sixth piece, in a tranquil B flat major, gives way to a stormy C minor seventh, with its own interlude of counterpoint, relaxing finally as it moves towards the concluding G minor scherzando. Kreisleriana was revised by the composer in 1850. Blumenstück, Op 19, is a very different work. Written in 1839 in Vienna, where Schumann was exploring the possibilities for publication of his music review the Neue Zeitung für Musik, it originally bore the title Guirlande and is, in effect, a garland of musical flowers, little pieces, as he described them in a letter to Clara, prettily put together. In the key of D flat major, Blumenstück is in a series of episodes, of which the second, itself varied in key and mood, forms a recurrent refrain. The work is dedicated to Frau Majorin Friederike Serre auf Maxen. Major Serre and his wife were originally friends of Wieck and in 1837 he had taken his daughter to stay on their country estate at Maxen to avoid Schumann’s attentions to Clara, which the Serres in fact encouraged.

In the autumn of 1838 Robert Schumann had left Leipzig for Vienna. His relationship with Clara Wieck had reached a point of some intensity, but her father’s entrenched opposition to anything that might interfere with his daughter’s career as a pianist and his very reasonable disapproval of Schumann as a possible son-in-law, had led to a great deal of subterfuge, with a clandestine correspondence between the lovers, carried on as best they could. Wieck had, in any case, insisted that, if the couple were to marry, they should not remain in Leipzig, where Schumann was editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. At Clara’s suggestion it was proposed that the journal be moved to Vienna, if sponsors could be found there, and this was the principal object of Schumann’s journey, hard as it was to be separated from his beloved at a time of some anxiety in their relationship.

Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival in Vienna), described in a subtitle as Phantasiebilder (fantasy-pictures) for the piano, is dedicated to Schumann’s Belgian friend Simonin de Sire and is in five short movements. The first four of these were written in Vienna at carnival time and the fifth after his return home to Leipzig, and the composer later described the whole work as a grand romantic sonata. The opening Allegro is in fact in rondo form and, like the rest of the work, very much in the spirit of the earlier Carnaval, although this first movement is of much greater length. The second movement G minor Romanze serves as a gentle interlude leading to the Scherzino of the third, restoring the original key of B flat major. The energetic E flat minor Intermezzo, with its characteristic figuration, is capped by a vigorous final sonata-form movement, with a particularly winning second subject.

Keith Anderson

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