SCHUBERT: Arpeggione Sonata / SCHUMANN: Fantasiestucke (Kristin Merscher/ Maria Kliegel/ Teije van Geest) (Naxos: 8.550654)
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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Fantasiest??cke Op. 73
Five Pieces in Folk-Song Style Op. 102
Adagio und allegro Op.
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Sonata in A minor for arpeggione and piano, D. 821
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age inwhich he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in hismusic and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher andwriter, he showed an early interest in literature and later made a name for himself as awriter and editor of the Neue Zeitschrifl f??r Musik,a journal launched in 1834. After a period at university to satisfy the ambitions of hiswidowed mother, but still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann was able toturn more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher, whoseenergies had been largely directed towards the training of his beloved daughter Clara, apianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated bya weakness of the fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis,which he perhaps had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment. Nevertheless hewrote a great deal of music for the piano during the 1830s, much of it in the form ofshorter genre pieces, often enough with some extra- musical, literary or autobiographicalassociation. The end of the decade brought a prolonged quarrel with Wieck, who did hisutmost, through the courts, to prevent his daughter from marrying Schumann, bringing insupport evidence of the latter's allegedly dissolute way of life. He might haveconsidered, too, a certain mental instability, perhaps in part inherited, which broughtperiods of intense depression.
In 1840 Schumann and Clara married, with the permission of thecourt. The year brought the composition of a large number of songs and was followed by aperiod during which Clara encouraged her husband to tackle larger forms of orchestralmusic, while both of them had to make adjustments in their own lives to accommodate theirdiffering professional requirements and the birth of children. A relatively short periodin Leipzig was followed, in 1844, by residence in Dresden, where Wagner was now installedat the Court Theatre, his conversation causing Schumann to retire early to bed with aheadache. In 1850 the couple moved to D??sseldorf, where Schumann had been appointeddirector of music, a position the demands of which he was unable to meet, a fact thatcontributed to his suicidal depression and final break-down in 1854, leading to his deathin the asylum at Endenich two years later.
The Fantasiest??cke, Opus 73,originally Soireest??cke, were written in1849, for clarinet and piano, with the option of violin or cello. Strangely the disturbingpolitical events of that year in Dresden, which had forced Wagner to make his escape indisguise, seem to have brought Schumann a surge of inspiration, leading him to describethe year as his most productive. He mentions in his diaries a wonderful performance ofthese Fantasy-pieces by the violinist Ferdinand David and Clara Schumann in Leipzig in1852 and the following year in Hanover in the presence of the King and Queen, with theviolinist Joachim. The evocative and expressive opening piece, a song in all but name, isfollowed by the busy piano accompaniment of the second and the energetic third, with itscross-rhythms and relaxed central section.
The Five Pieces in Folk-SongStyle, Opus 102, were written in 1849 for cello or violin and piano and werepublished two years later. The work was dedicated to the Gewandhaus Orchestra cellistAndreas Grabau. The pieces are true to their title, the first of them, Vanitas vanitatum,making in its title a whimsical reference to scripture. The gentle second piece leads to apastoral third and a forthright fourth. The group ends with an element of drama.
Schumann's Adagio and Allegro for French horn and piano, or,alternatively, for violin or cello with the same accompaniment, was also written in 1849and originally bore the title Romanze. The slow opening is marked Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck (Slow, with heartfeltexpression), a characteristic direction. The Allegro, Rasch und feurig, has a quietercentral section, and after the return of the first section proceeds to a rapiderconclusion.
Franz Schubert, a composer greatly admired by Schumann, spentmost of his short life in his native Vienna, where his parents had previously settled, hisfather to run a school. He was trained as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, with thegeneral educational opportunities offered by that employment. Refusing a scholarship thatwould have allowed him to continue his studies after his voice broke, he trained brieflyas a teacher and thereafter worked intermittently for his father, while pursuing hismusical interests. He never held any official position in the musical establishment, butby the time of his death in 1828 publishers were showing increasing interest in his work.
The arpeggione, aform of bowed guitar, was invented or at least constructed by the Viennese maker JohannGeorg Staufer in 1823. The instrument had six strings, tuned like the guitar, and 24 metalfrets fixed to the fingerboard. Its on I y exponent of significance was Vincenz Schuster,who published a tutor for the arpeggione with the firm of Diabelli. It was for Schusterthat Schubert wrote, in 1824, the so-called ArpeggioneSonata, a work that now forms part of the repertoire of the cello and, infurther transcription, of the viola.
The first movement opens with a theme offered by the piano andrepeated, according to custom, by the cello, with aversion of the melody that is slightlyextended, leading to a second, livelier theme and the conclusion of the first part of themovement with plucked chords from the cello. Much of the earlier material re-appears inthe central development, which ends in a brief cadenza that re-introduces the first themein recapitulation. The Adagio, after a short piano introduction, otters a fine singingmelody for the cello solo, to the closing Allegretto, opening with a lilting theme thatshows all Schubert's facility of invention. A contrasting D minor episode recalls therhythm of the first movement, giving way again to the first theme. New themes appear,before the D minor episode re-appears in A minor, to lead in turn to the final return ofthe first melody.
Maria Kliegel achieved significant success in 1981, when shewas awarded the grand prix in the RostropoVich Competition. Born in Dillenburg, Germany,she began learning the cello at the age of ten and first came to public attention fiveyears later, when, as a student at the Dr. Hochsches Conservatory in Frankfurt, she twicewon first prize in the Jugend Musiziert competition. She later studied in America withJanos Starker, serving as his assistant, and subsequently appeared in a phenomenal seriesof concerts in America, Switzerland and France, with RostropoVich as conductor. She hassince then enjoyed an international career of growing distinction as a soloist andrecitalist, offering an amazingly wide repertoire, ranging from Bach and Vieuxtemps to thecontemporary. She plays on a 1693 Antonio Stradivari instrument which was previously ownedby Maurice Gendron.
Kristin Merscher was born in Frankfurt am Main and as aseven-year-old had her first regular piano instruction there at the Conservatory. One yearlater she moved with her family to Hanover, studying at the Hanov