About this Recording
8.573436 - SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Sonatas for the Young, Op. 118 / 5 Gesänge der Frühe (Jinsang Lee)

Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Three Piano Sonatas for the Young, Op. 118 • Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 113


Robert Schumann is in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining in his music a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism, as he did in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. His father encouraged his literary and musical interests and at one time thought of sending him to study with Weber, a proposal that was abandoned with the death of the latter, closely followed by the death of Schumann’s father.

Schumann’s career now followed a more conventional course. In 1828 he entered the University of Leipzig, where his attention to his studies was as intermittent as it was to be the following year at Heidelberg. He was eventually able to persuade his mother and guardian that he should be allowed to study music under the well-known piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, whose own energies had been directed with some intensity towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. Schumann’s ambitions as a pianist, however, were frustrated by a weakness in the fingers, whatever its true cause, and his other musical studies had, at the very least, lacked application. Nevertheless in the 1830s he wrote a great deal of music for the piano, often in the form of shorter, genre pieces, with some extra-musical literary or autobiographical association. There was an affair with one of Wieck’s pupils, later broken off, but by 1835 he had begun to turn his attention to Clara Wieck, nine years his junior. Wieck had good reason to object to the liaison. His daughter had a career before her as a concert performer and Schumann had shown signs of instability of character, whatever his abilities as a composer might be. Matters were taken to an extreme when resort was had to litigation, in order to prevent what Wieck saw as a disastrous marriage.

It was not until 1840 that Schumann was eventually able to marry Clara, after her father’s legal attempts to oppose the match had finally failed. The couple married in September, remaining first in Leipzig, although journeys took place for concert appearances by Clara, generally accompanied by her husband, whose position was of lesser distinction. In 1844 they moved to Dresden, where it seemed that Schumann might recover from the bouts of depression that he had suffered in the earlier days of marriage. Here again no official position seemed to offer itself and it was only in 1849 that the prospect of employment arose, this time in Düsseldorf, where Schumann took up his position as director of music in 1850.

Mendelssohn had enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Düsseldorf authorities, and Schumann, much less skilled in administration and conducting, proved even less able to cope with the difficulties that arose. The pressures on him led to a complete nervous breakdown in 1853 and final years spent in an asylum at Endenich, where he died in 1856.

The greater part of the present recording is devoted to music written towards the end of Schumann’s life. Literary interests had always been of importance to him, and these are reflected in his Gesänge der Frühe (Songs of Dawn), a set of five short piano pieces, written in the closing weeks of 1853, after his replacement as conductor in Düsseldorf. The pieces were originally headed An Diotima, a reference to the poet Hölderlin’s beloved and wife of his employer, Susette Gontard, who appears under this name both in poems and in Hölderlin’s epistolary novel Hyperion. Diotima appears in Plato’s Symposium as a seer and poetess and as the source of inspiration to Socrates. Schumann would have been well aware of both identities of Diotima and early in his life had been fascinated by the tragic madness into which Hölderlin descended from 1807 until his death in 1843. In the event, however, the overt reference to Hölderlin and to Plato was abandoned in favour of a dedication to ‘the high poetess’ Bettina von Arnim, widow of Achim von Arnim and sister of Clemens Brentano, collectors and editors of the seminal Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn). Bettina von Arnim was herself a figure of some importance in the world of letters. Earlier, she had privately expressed some misgivings about Clara Schumann’s performances as a pianist, having met her after a concert in Berlin in 1837. Schumann had, as a young man, vainly solicited from Bettina von Arnim some contribution to his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. It was through Joseph Joachim, however, that she met the Schumanns when she and her daughter visited Düsseldorf in October 1853. She was to have a later part to play in Schumann’s life when, in 1855, having heard that Schumann was unhappy with his treatment at the asylum in Endenich, she visited him there, and was able to report that the innovative regime to which Schumann was exposed was thoroughly unsatisfactory.

At Endench Schumann still took care that the Gesänge der Frühe should be published, perhaps foreseeing the fate of other late works that were either suppressed or destroyed by his widow, anxious to defend a reputation that might otherwise have been tarnished. The first of the pieces, Im ruhigen Tempo (At a calm tempo), has the feeling of a strange hymn. It is followed by a second piece, also in D major, but marked Belebt, nicht zu rasch (Lively, not too fast), pressing onward with a continuing accompanying triplet rhythm. The third of the set, with the direction Lebhaft (Lively) and in A major, brings characteristic chordal textures in its dotted rhythm 9/8 metre. The following piece, in F sharp minor and marked Bewegt (Agitato), presents a melody above constant descending demisemiquavers, and the final piece, in D major once more and marked Im Anfange ruhiges, im Verlauf bewegteres Tempo (At first in calm tempo, then with movement), reflects the tempo direction, starting in the mood of the first piece, followed by a melody accompanied by continuing semiquaver figuration.

Schumann wrote his Three Piano Sonatas for the Young, Op. 118, in June 1853, intending them originally for his own children. The first sonata, dedicated to Schumann’s third daughter, Julie, starts with a ternary form movement in G major, followed by a slower theme in E minor, with five variations. The third movement, Puppenwiegenlied (Doll’s Lullaby), is in C major, to be followed by a final G major Rondoletto.

The second sonata, in D major and dedicated to Schumann’s second daughter, Elise, is more elaborate and demanding, with a longer first movement, leading to a lively B minor Canon, a G major third movement Abendlied (Evening Song) and a final Kindergesellschaft (Children’s Party).

The final sonata, in C major, is dedicated to the eldest of Schumann’s daughters, Marie, and starts with a cheerful movement in march tempo, leading to an expressive F major Andante, a rapid A minor Zigeunertanz (Gypsy Dance) and a final Traum eines Kindes (Dream of a Child), with reminiscences of the first of the sonatas.

Written in June 1836, Schumann’s third piano sonata appeared first in the same year with its original five movements reduced to three and under the title Concerto sans orchestre, presumably at the wish of the publisher, Tobias Haslinger. The second of the two omitted scherzos was later included by Schumann, when the work took its final form in a revision of 1853, which brought other adjustments. Dedicated to Ignaz Moscheles, what finally became the Dritte grosse Sonate (Third Grand Sonata) had a new finale. The demanding original final movement, has been transcribed and completed by Frederick Moyer and Paul E. Green, Jr.

The surviving sketches for another F minor sonata date from the same period of Schumann’s life, a work that may have been intended for the use of material discarded from its predecessor. The fragments of the final movement of what has become known as Sonata No. 4 were completed in 2010 by the Danish writer and composer Karl Aage Rasmussen. Fragments of a first and a final movement were unearthed in 2009 by Paul Green and the pianist Frederick Moyer. 66 bars of the Allegro molto exist, apparently suggesting two disparate elements, while 166 bars of the final Agitato offer something more substantial, if incomplete. A full account of their interesting search can be read online at www.frederickmoyer.com.

Keith Anderson

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