Friday, February 13, 2009

Schumann: Fantasie in C Major: Arabeske; Humoreske; Novelette No. 9

Today we'll pick up where we left off with Schumann's piano works, and we'll tackle disc 3 of my four-CD collection of this brilliant composer's piano works, which contains his Fantasie in C major (opus 17), Arabeske (opus 18) and Humoreske (opus 20).
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Performed by Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
Schumann: Piano Works
Deutsche Grammophone, 1975

It's interesting to read that Robert Schumann and his wife Clara, despite the fact that they lived in the 1800s, experienced one particular problem that any modern two-career couple might find familiar:

In 1844, Clara persuaded her husband to accompany her on a lucrative four-month Russian tour. At a reception, he was asked if he too was a musician. A part of him resented her career and her fame.
--from David Dubal's The Essential Canon of Classical Music

Instead of feeling blessed (uh, and enriched?) by his wife's professional success, Schumann felt jealous. A shame, especially considering that over the next ten years his accelerating decline into insanity would sorely test--yet never break--Clara's loyalty and dedication.

Let's get into the listener notes. First, note that the three primary works on this CD are quite a bit longer than the three- or four-minute scenelets on disc 1 and disc 2 of this collection.

Listener notes for Fantasie in C major:
1) Right from the beginning, this work sounds very much like Chopin. Remember: the two composers were almost exact contemporaries--both born in 1810 and both dying young (Schumann at 46 and Chopin at 39).

2) There's a melody that appears a couple of times in the first movement (first at about the 2:45 mark, then again at 9:50) that sounds very much like the "recitative" passage of the first movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata #17, (Der Sturm/The Tempest). Hopefully I'll get to writing about some more of Beethoven's piano sonatas in the coming weeks!

3) Wilhelm Kempff seems to be playing this piece quite a bit more cleanly than some of the other works on this 4-CD collection. Ironically he was 76 years old when he recorded "Fantasy", some four or five years older than he was when he recorded the first two works on disc one, which I claimed had so many mistakes. There goes that theory.

4) Is it just me, or do I hear another passage in the third movement that sounds like an homage to the middle movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Piano Sonata? It starts at the 2:09 mark, then repeats at different points in the movement, most distinctly at 6:25.

Listener notes for Arabeske:
1) This all-too-brief piece (just six and a half minutes) may be the most hypnotically beautiful work on this entire four-CD collection. A perfect piece to help you de-stress on the commute home from work.

Listener notes for Humoreske:
1) Notice how the first movement of this four-movement composition has multiple discrete sections, each of which could be considered a mini-movement, or a standalone piece. Much like many of the works in Schumann's Papillons or his Carnaval.

2) I hear a few mistakes creeping into Kempff's playing in the second movement.

3) The third movement contains segments entitled "Sehr Lebhaft" and "Mit einegem Pomp" which roughly translates to "Very lively" and "With some pomp." I guess that's sort of humor-esque.

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