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Fantasie op. 17
Kreisleriana op. 16

Irina Edelstein, piano

Catalog #S022577CD [DDD]


Program Notes

...All of Schumann's published compositions (Opp. 1-23) up to 1840 were for piano. The titles Schumann used for his piano compositions suggest that he intended his music not only to be considered as patterns of sound but in some manner to suggest extra-musical poetic fancies or the taking over into music of literary forms. This is a typical Romantic attitude and its significance is not at all diminished by the fact that Schumann, on his own admission, usually wrote the music before he thought of the title. His music embodies more fully than that of any other composer the depths, and the contradictions and tensions, of the Romantic spirit; it is by turns ardent and dreamy, vehement and visionary, whimsical and learned.

In his letter of September 1834 to von Fricken Schumann gives the first word of his new project: "The latest and most important event is that old Ludwig Bohner gave a concert here yesterday. I suppose you are aware that in his better days he was as celebrated as Beethoven, and was the original of Hoffman's Capellmeister Kreisler. But he looked so poverty-stricken that it quite depressed me. He was like an old lion with a thorn in his foot. The day before yesterday, he improvised at my piano for a few hours; the old fire flashed out now and again, but on the whole it was very gloomy and dull. His former life is now avenging itself. He used to jeer at the world with infinite boldness and arrogance, and now the tables are turned upon him. If I had time I should like one day to write "Bohneriana" for our paper, as I have heard a great deal about him from his own lips."

It was, however, not to be literary, but a musical work - Kreisleriana, op. 16 - in which Bohner, thought by Schumann to have inspired Hoffman's eccentric Capellmeister in Phantasiestucke in Callots Manier, appeared. To ensure the link with Hoffman the eight pieces of Kreisleriana were designated Phantasien. The first piece is a study in agitation with triplet figuration throughout. It is written in ternary form and in the key of D minor, with a lighter middle section in B flat. No. 2, taking the tonality of the middle section of its predecessor, is a thoughtful minuet, but with two intermezzi. Of these intermezzi the first is a strenuous but good-humored interplay of quavers and semiquavers in 2/4 time; but the second is full of dark thoughts. The rhythmic construction here especially intensifies the severity of the conception, the outside parts by their relationship preventing any escape. From this the intermezzo moves, by way of a tiny cadenza and an adagio intermission, to an abbreviated version of the minuet. No. 3 resumes the tonality of G minor, and a predominantly triplet figuration. The triplets in their present arrangement, however, are not as tempestuous as in the first piece. The fourth piece, a masterly resolution of recitative and aria style into pianoforte texture, begins in B flat major, but ends on a half-cadence in G minor. The approach to this ending is a notable insurance of Schumann's capacity for using colors that are somber yet luminous. The last three chords - major chords - appear in this context as the prophets of a new dawn. And in No. 5 the rhythm, first stirring within the anticipated key of G minor, leaps thus towards the light. No. 6 balances No. 4 and has similar structure and key. The seventh piece is rough and boisterous. It introduces a new, but related, key of C minor. The influence of Bach on Schumann's style is noticeable in this piece. Schumann was constantly studying the music of Bach, and constantly advising other composers to do likewise. One of his counsels to young musicians was: "Diligently play fugues of good masters, especially those of Johann Sebastian Bach. Let the Well-Tempered Clavier be your daily bread and you will certainly become a fine musician." Schumann leaves the piece indeterminate on a second inversion of the chord of E flat major. The finale of Kreisleriana is a rondo in G minor, rhythmically taut, with entertaining observations in the bass and a charming valediction as the lights are dimmed and the curtain lowered. As a deliberate study in psychology, Kreisleriana has few rivals in instrumental music and it is the manner in which the work strikes a curiously modern note that makes it even more interesting .

In June 1836 Schumann Composed a "deep lament" for Clara which he called "Ruins" and intended to publish as Op. 16a. Subsequently, in September, he had the idea of using this composition as part of a work to raise funds for the Beethoven monument in Bohn. He wrote two further movements, and the "Sonata for Beethoven" with movements called "Ruins" (Ruinen), "Trophies" (Trophaen), and "Palms" (Palmen) was ready by the beginning of December. The last movement was made apposite by hidden references to the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony. Published as a Fantasie the work lost its sub-titles, and also a thematic reference to the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony. There was, however, added a quatrain from Schlegel:

Through all the notes that vibrate
In earth's many-colored dream
One whispered note is sounding
For ears intent to hear.

The solution of this enigma lies, perhaps, in the references throughout the first movement to the sixth song of Beethoven's "An die ferne Geliebte" cycle. The purpose of quotation was a two-fold, for besides recollecting Beethoven it was a response to Schumann's enforced separation from Clara in 1836.

The first movement, annotated Il tutto fantastico ed appassionato, is large and strenuous and set within a northern, cold climate at the outset. It will be seen that the harmony here avoids all comfortable presence of major thirds. The second rather austere motif, marked Im Legenden-Ton, is metamorphosed into an antique ballad strain. But in contrast to this severity is the more alluring melody based on that of Beethoven. The whole movement gives the impression of constant development. We have, so to speak, come in on an action that has been long taking place.

In the second movement there is much pomp and circumstance in the most triumphant march that Schumann ever wrote. When Clara first saw the score, she wrote to Schumann: "...The March is enchanting, and bars 8-16 on page 15 {that is, bars 8-16 of the second movement] make me quite beside myself; just tell me what you were thinking in them? I have never had such a feeling, I heard a full orchestra, I can't tell you how I felt. It hurt me much and made me unhappy to think how long it is since I heard a single note of yours - and yet your notes are still so vivid in my memory! Don't you want to arrange the March for orchestra?". These comments about Schumann's "notes" are also to be understood as punning references to Schlegel's text.

The last movement - Lento sostenuto, il tutto piano - is a commentary on the lyric Beethoven. Commentators perplexed by the form of this movement have tended to avoid the risk of attaching analytical labels, taking refuge in stead in descriptions of their emotional response to it. It was called "pure poetry", "unorthodox", "a spiritual calm after the upheaval of the preceding drama", and "a deep, introspective meditation". Schumann wrote to his friend Herrmann Hirschbach in 1838, when the Fantasie was still unpublished: "You know nothing of my larger compositions, sonatas... here, I think (if not already in the smaller works), you would see how many and what new forms they contain." Though he mentions only sonatas specifically, he must have counted the Fantasie among his "larger" compositions. All three movements of this work reflect his rare sensitivity to musical form.

Schumann has written to Franz Liszt on January 14, 1839 telling him of his intention to dedicate the Fantasie to him. Liszt replied on March 1, telling of the great esteem and sympathy in which he had always held his "colleagues" Chopin and Schumann: "You will therefore easily understand... what a pleasure it is for me to accept the piece which you intend for me! However unsuitable it may be for public performance, do not doubt at all that I shall do everything in my power to give it its true value." Liszt played the Fantasie to Schumann in March 1840, when he visited the composer in Leipzig. Schumann mentioned the performance to Clara in a letter: " Much of it was different from what I had expected, but all of it was full of genius, and had a tenderness and sense of daring which is no doubt not an everyday occurrence with him." Liszt, to his later regret, never played the Fantasie in public, however it remained in his teaching repertoire until his very last years.


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