About this Recording
8.571298 - SCHUMANN, R.: Bunte Blatter / Fantasiest├╝cke (Biret Solo Edition, Vol. 6)

Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Bunte Blätter, Op 99 • Fantasiestücke, Op 12


Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining both in his music and in his life a number of the characteristics generally associated with Romanticism. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature, and made a name for himself in later years as a writer and as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother, Schumann, still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a well known teacher, whose energies had been concentrated on the training of his eldest daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. Schumann’s own ambitions as a pianist were frustrated by a weakness of the fingers that he attributed to the use of a mechanical device to immobilise some fingers of the right hand and strengthen others. Nevertheless in the 1830s he wrote a great deal of music for the piano, much of it in the form of shorter, genre pieces, often enough with some extra-musical literary or autobiographical association.

At first when he lodged in Wieck’s house in Leipzig, Schumann had shown little interest in Clara, a mere child and nine years his junior, contracting instead a secret engagement with another pupil. It was only in 1835 that he began to turn his attention to Clara Wieck, now a fifteen-year-old, but any question of marriage was strongly opposed by Wieck, who went so far as to appeal to the courts for their support in preventing a match that would harm his daughter’s professional career and seemed for a number of other reasons unsuitable. Eventually the courts decided in Schumann’s favour and the couple married in 1840, a Year of Song in his career as a composer. In Dresden and later in Düsseldorf, where he became city director of music in 1850, he turned his attention to orchestral composition on a larger scale.

In health Schumann had long been subject to sudden depressions and had on one occasion attempted to take his own life. This nervous instability had shown itself in other members of his family, in his father and in his sister. In February 1854 he tried to drown himself and spent his final years at a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn, where he died in the summer of 1856.

The Fantasiestücke of 1837, in two volumes, came at a time of estrangement between Schumann and Clara Wieck, and are dedicated to Anna Robena Laidlaw, who was born at Bretton in Yorkshire in 1819 and educated at her aunt’s school in Edinburgh, moving with her family to Königsberg in 1830. She won a considerable reputation as a pianist and on 2nd July 1837 played at a Gewandhaus Concert in Leipzig, when Schumann made her acquaintance, later dedicating the Fantasy Pieces to her. She married and retired from the concert platform in 1855 and died in London in 1901.

The gentle D flat major Des Abends (In the Evening) is followed by the well known F minor Aufschwung (Soaring). Warum? (Why?), again in D flat major, is gently brief, to be followed by the capricious Grillen (Whims) in the same key. The second book opens with Schumann’s own favourite In der Nacht (In the Night), in F minor with a major central section. Fabel (Story), in G major, is suitably varied in mood as the narrative unfolds, followed by the rapid F major Traumes Wirren (Troubled Dreams). The book ends with an F major piece, Ende vom Lied (End of the Song), marked Mit gutem Humor and moving to a livelier B flat section before the return of the first material and key and a hushed chordal coda.

Schumann’s Bunte Blätter, a mixed collection of fourteen piano pieces, was assembled for publication in 1852, a year before his final break-down and closing years of insanity. Schumann at first dedicated the pieces to an American visitor, Mary Perkins, née Potts, who was in Düsseldorf on her honeymoon. He later planned to delete the dedication, but it had already been included by the publishers and has thus survived. 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. Novellete, 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.

Keith Anderson

Close the window