Reger/ Schumann: Variations(Schumann: Humoreske Op.20/ Reger: Bach Vars & Fugue Op.81) (Wolf Harden/ Wolfgang Seikritt) (Naxos: 8.550469)
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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Humoreske in B Flat, Op. 20
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S.
Bach, Op. 81
In September, 1838, Robert Schumann set out for Vienna. Forsome years he had lived in Leipzig, studying briefly at the University, and finally, afterless than a year at Heidelberg, returning as a pupil of Friedrich Wieck, who hadentertained some hopes of his pupil's future success as a pianist. Matters were to turnout differently. By 1832 a weakness in two fingers of the right hand, a possible result ofmercury-poisoning brought on by the use of that substance as a cure for syphilis, forcedSchumann to abandon his ambitions as a performer, enabling him to concentrate moreattention on composition. In 1834 he became closely involved in the Neue Zeitschrift f??r Musik, a publication that wasto win him a reputation as a writer and critic during the following ten years.
During his time in Leipzig Schumann had fallen in love withWieck's daughter Clara, a pianist of considerable ability, on whom her father had lavishedcare and attention. Wieck had considered Schumann of some use in furthering Clara's careerby his writing, much as Clara's inclusion of music by Schumann in her concert programmeswas serving to win the composer a reputation. He disapproved strongly, however, ofSchumann as a son-in-law and his opposition to the marriage of the couple had, by 1839,become overt. Litigation was to follow in bitter months of disagreement, ended only byWieck's final failure to convince the courts of the justice of his case, and the couple'smarriage in September, 1840.
Vienna had seemed to hold out some promise to both Schumann andClara Wieck. She had enjoyed success there in concert performances, and he hoped topersuade a Vienna publisher to take over the NeueZeitschrift. Their hopes proved illusory. Vienna had its own musicalpublications and had no need of any more. Clara had embarked in January, 1839, on asuccessful concert tour that took her to Paris, without her father, who, by his absence,hoped to show her that she could not do without him. It was from Paris that, in June, sheapplied to the courts for permission to marry Schumann. By then he had given up anythought of Vienna and returned to Leipzig.
As so often when Clara was absent, Schumann wrote a great dealof music during his months in Vienna. The Arabeske,Opus 18, was completed at the end of that year, followed, in early 1839, by theBlumenst??ck, Opus 19, the beginning of apiano concerto, and, in February, by the Humoreske,Opus 20. This was to be followed by the Faschingsschwankaus Wien, which he began in March, when his return to Leipzig had already beenplanned.
The form of the Humoreske
is elusive. The title itself appears here for the first time in the history of music,borrowed from earlier Romantic literature, where it had served to express something of theperiod's capricious changes of mood. Schumann put together a series of episodes, looselyrelated. These may be grouped together to form movements of a kind, although opinions maywell differ as to where these begin and end. The double bar-lines used by the composer areof no help in such an attempt at formal analysis.
The work opens with a section that contrasts the meditativecharacter of Schumann's pseudonymous Eusebius withthe wilder mood of Florestan, the latter returning in brief conclusion. There follows anepisode marked Hastig, to which Schumann added an inner voice in the score, the voice ofClara and her G minor Romance, a compositionhe was to see in July, finding in it confirmation of their unity of mind. Once againcontrasting moods are bracketed by the re-appearance of the music of the first section. Adelicate episode leads to a busily contrapuntal Intermezzo, rounded once more by there-appearance of the opening episode and a brief Adagio. The key of G minor is replaced bya return to B flat major with what follows, in a mood of gentle introspection, into whichFlorestan briefly intrudes. The music moves forward in a mood of dramatic excitement, a short pause being followedby the imposing ceremonial chords that lead gently enough to the final section, with itsfinal outburst of drama.
Max Reger was the son of a schoolmaster and amateur musician,who saw to it that his son learnt to play the piano and stringed instruments, andencouraged him to play the organ. His early interest in music led to lessons with theorganist Adalbert Lindner in Weiden, where the Regers had settled. These studies withLindner brought him a lasting love of the music of J. S. Bach and a fascination withcounterpoint that was to be a feature of his own later compositions, a tendency furtherdeveloped by study with Hugo Riemann, to whom he served for a time as assistant inWiesbaden.
A period of military service in Wiesbaden in 1898 ended withReger's discharge and his return home to his parents' house, where he remained until 1901,composing some part of the repertoire of the instrument. He then moved to Munich, hopingto establish his independence as a musician, performing and composing, but finding himselfin opposition to an influential group in the city, since he favoured the less fashionable'absolute' music. He was, in spite of this, to win a reputation as a performer, hiscompositions gradually proving more acceptable. It was during these years in Munich thathe wrote what may be considered his most important contribution to the literature of thepiano, the Variations and Fugue on a theme of J. S. Bach, a work that is based on a themefrom the Ascension Cantata: Auf Christi Himmelfahrtallein. >
In 1907 Reger moved to Leipzig as director of music at theuniversity, where he enjoyed great influence as a teacher and won still wider fame as acomposer and performer. This was followed by appointment to Meiningen as conductor of thecourt orchestra, a position that had been occupied by Hans von B??low, and, briefly, bythe young Richard Strauss. The death of Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen in 1913, however,saw the disbanding of the famous orchestra. Reger moved to Jena, intending to devotehimself principally to composition. He died of a heart attack in Leipzig in 1916, while onhis way back to Jena froma concert tour, his early death attributable in part to his apparently insatiable appetitefor food and drink.
The Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.
S. Bach, dedicated to his friend August Schmid-Lindner, with whom he undertook anew edition of Bach's keyboard music, provides a distinguished example of Reger'sachievement as a composer. From the theme itself, simply stated, he constructs a series ofvariations of contrasting brilliance, with impeccable harmonic and contrapuntal technique,the whole work ending in the massive fugue, in which we may sense the influence of lateBeethoven and the composer's great admiration for that master of variation form, Brahms.
The German pianist Wolf Harden was bornon 13th May, 1962, in Hamburg and studied the piano with Eckart Besch at theMusikhochschule in Detmold. In 1977 he began his career as a soloist and as a player ofchamber music and three years later joined with colleagues to establish the Fontenay Trio,studying with the Amadeus Quartet in Cologne and with the Beaux Arts Trio. In 1983 he wonthe Mendelssohn Prize and in 1985 first prize in the German Musikwettbewerb.
Wolf Harden has appeared throughout theGerman Federal Republic, in many European countries, in South America and in the UnitedStates.