About this Recording
8.572878 - SCHUMANN, R.: Arrangements for Piano Duet, Vol. 2 (Eckerle Piano Duo) - String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2
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Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Arrangements for Piano Duet • 2

 

This is also the case for Robert Schumann, who was himself a keen duet player and wrote a series of significant works for that formation, most importantly the Bilder aus Osten, Op 66 (1848). These works were intended, however, not for public concerts but for the home and for the cultivated salon. In only the rarest cases did Schumann write the duet arrangements himself (for example the overture to Hermann and Dorothea, Op 136) or in collaboration with his wife Clara. Nevertheless, he almost always supervised the arrangements, which were made mostly by highly valued musicians of his entourage, such as his brother-in-law Woldemar Bargiel or his faithful disciple Carl Reinecke (Symphony No 3 ‘Rhenish’, in E flat major, Op 97), as the success and the dissemination of a piece were also dependent on the quality of the arrangement. In some cases he even recommended an arranger, dismissed another one and intervened directly with his own corrections.

This series of seven CDs conceived by the Schumann researcher and prizewinner (Zwickau 2003) Joachim Draheim, presents all the orchestral works which were arranged for piano duet by Schumann himself or made under his supervision, as well as a representative choice of other orchestral works and important chamber music pieces for which musically significant and aurally convincing arrangements were published, sometimes after Schumann’s death.

String Quartets in A minor and F major, Op 41, Nos 1 and 2 (1842)
Arrangements for piano duet by Otto Dresel, revised by the composer (1852)

With his personal systematic and logical thinking, Robert Schumann dedicated himself, after his revolutionary piano pieces of the 1830s, to the other major musical genres, in particular those that were important for his reputation as a composer: in 1840 the Lied, in 1841 symphonic music and in 1842 chamber music, forms which made the highest demands on composers, performers and audiences. He started at once with the “king of the genres”, the string quartet. After a renewed deep study of the classics—Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven—which in part he already knew well and valued highly, he wrote three string quartets, in A minor, F major and A major, between 2 June and 22 July 1842. Their completion and a first private rehearsal on 8 September gave him great joy. Clara Schumann received the quartets as a present for her 23rd birthday on 13 September 1842 and expressed her delight about “all this splendour” and found “everything new, but clearly, finely made and always in a true quartet style”. As Mendelssohn, who heard the quartets in a subsequent rehearsal, also spoke several times in praise of them, Schumann ventured, in honour of Mendelssohn’s 34th birthday, to dedicate to him, the revered friend and most highly regarded composer in Europe, the first edition in separate parts of the three quartets. These were published as Opus 41 in February 1843 by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig.

It was only after Mendelssohn’s premature death on 4 November 1847, which shook Schumann profoundly, that he succeeded, in September 1848, in producing the complete score, indispensable for the study and dissemination of these works. It was then a normal process to think of creating the traditional duet arrangement. In the middle of 1848, Otto Dresel, at the time 21 years old, who, as a graduate of the Leipzig Conservatory knew and admired Mendelssohn and Schumann, sent his piano duet arrangement of the three quartets to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel who, however, first wanted to obtain the authorisation of the composer. As Schumann initially did not react, Dresel asked him personally on 9 October 1848; on that very day the publishers received Schumann’s approval: he declared the arrangement “very good”. Nevertheless, the edition was delayed until May 1852; moreover, Dresel had renounced his fee and Schumann had once more revised the arrangement and for reasons of sonority had added slower metronomic indications than in the original edition, which is attested in an annotation in the composer’s own hand. Schumann included the edition in the collection of his original works and thus authorised it.

Schumann’s string quartets did not number among his most admired works in the 19th century, nor do they today, although they are unique masterpieces, in which the classical form is preserved and at the same time developed and enriched by the romantic spirit. The Quartet in A major, the longest and most impressive of the three, is characterised by its originality of form (a variation movement instead of a Scherzo) and a major section spanning lyricism and polyphonic link-ups of great expressiveness and driving vitality. Owing to the differences of range and texture between piano and string quartet, arranging such a piece for piano duet was extremely difficult. Otto Dresel solved this task brilliantly by extending and spreading the range to the higher and lower registers, by transposing passages an octave down or up, or by doubling in octaves, and by filling in or by modifying the accompaniment figures, since he was not only a professional arranger, but an eminent composer, acclaimed by (among others) Franz Liszt. His works included chamber music, piano pieces and Lieder, but only a small portion of them was published. Born in Geisenheim on the Rhine on 20 December 1826, the son of a wine merchant, he emigrated in 1848 to America, played a decisive rôle in Boston musical life from 1852 onwards and died in Beverly near Boston on 26 July 1890. He came back several times to Europe and also won great recognition for his arrangements of works by Bach, Handel and Beethoven, as well as for English translations of the Lieder of his friend Robert Franz.

Studies for the pedal piano: Six pieces in canonic form, Op 56 (1845)
Arrangement for piano duet by Theodor Kirchner (1888)

With the year 1844 came some important turning points in Robert Schumann’s life: a serious psychological crisis, linked to a complete physical breakdown, put an end to his creativity for some time. After ten years he abandoned his editorial work on the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik which he had founded, and moved with his family from Leipzig to Dresden. In that city it was not until the following year, 1845, that his health gradually began to improve. The fact that Schumann, at this time, together with his wife Clara, dedicated himself with real enthusiasm to contrapuntal studies, may, with all due caution, be considered more a special measure of self-therapy than a means of mental discipline. The creative fruit of this “Fugenpassion” (“Passion for the Fugue”), as he himself called it, was a series of works in a rigorously polyphonic style, which also show his deep veneration for Johann Sebastian Bach. To these pieces belong the Six Fugues on the name BACH for organ or pedal piano, Op 60, the Studies, Op 56, the Sketches, Op 58 for pedal piano as well as the Four Fugues, Op 72 for piano.

“On April 24 [1845] we hired a pedal to put under the grand piano, which gave us much pleasure. The main aim was for us to practise the organ, but Robert soon developed a deeper interest for this instrument and composed some sketches and studies for the pedal piano, which will certainly attract great interest as something totally new”, wrote Clara Schumann in her diary. In fact in 1845 this interesting instrumental hybrid was introduced to the Leipzig Conservatory for the training of organists, but in the long run it found no place in musical practice. However on the 6 May of that year Schumann offered a first group of works for the pedal piano to the Leipzig publisher, Whistling, even before he had finished making a fair copy of the pieces. He wrote about them, inter alia: “I freely admit that I give some weight to the idea and I believe that they will in time bring new life into piano music. One can achieve absolutely wonderful effects with it…” On the title page of the edition of September 1845 of the Studies for the pedal piano (Six studies in canonic form) stands the dedication “to his honoured teacher and friend Herr Baccalaureus J.G. Kuntsch, organist at the Marienkirche (the Church of St Mary) in Zwickau”. In the past the latter had given the young Schumann his first insights into musical craftsmanship. In the six Studies, the strict canonic form is used in a very free and imaginative way. If the first piece seems almost an imitation of one of Bach’s Inventions, the fifth one is a Scherzo in the style of Mendelssohn, who particularly liked it when Clara Schumann performed it for him in August 1845. The melancholic second piece, the charming third and the lyrical fourth can be valued as romantic character pieces of high originality, which Clara Schumann particularly liked and played very often in concert, together with the closing Adagio in B major which foreshadows the musical world of César Franck.

An interpretation of the Studies on the organ, as is customary nowadays, sets the performer difficult, and sometimes barely solvable challenges, since the writing, with the exception of the first and last pieces, is more pianistic than organistic. As Schumann’s advice to play them “with three hands or as piano duet” is not really practical, Georges Bizet arranged them for piano duet (1873) and Claude Debussy for two pianos (1891). In 1896 Clara Schumann published her own piano arrangements of numbers 2, 4, 5 and 6 (available from Novello in London), but because of their exceptionally wide hand spans they had only a limited take-up. The most convincing solutions were found by Theodor Kirchner (1823–1903), at the time still appreciated and encouraged by Schumann as a musical prodigy and the first pupil of the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory, who was also a friend of Brahms and Clara Schumann and a master of the finely worked musical miniature for piano following the example of his greatly admired elder master. Kirchner, who had by now been long rediscovered as a composer, arranged the Six pieces in canonic form for piano trio (published in 1888 by Hofmeister in Leipzig) and for piano duet (published the same year by Peters in Leipzig), where both the pianistic and the linear polyphonic character of the pieces are brilliantly elaborated. One understands why Clara Schumann and Brahms so highly appreciated Kirchner as a sensitive and faithful arranger.


Joachim Draheim
English version: Michael Cook


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