SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonic Etudes / Albumblatter / Arabesque
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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Etudes en forme de variations, Opus 13 (Symphonlsche Etueden)
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which helived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism inhis music and 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 tomake a name for himself in later years as a writer and editor of the NeueZeitschrift fuer Musik, a journal launched in 1834.
After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his widowedmother, Schumann, still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, turned morefully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whoseenergies has been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara,a pianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by aweakness of the fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment forsyphilis, which h had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment.
Nevertheless in the 1830s he was to write a great deal of music for the piano,much of it in the form of shorter, genre pieces, often enough with someextra-musical, literary or?áautobiographical association.
In health Schumann had long been subject to sudden depressions and hadon one occasion attempted to take his own life. This nervous instability hadshown itself in other members of his family, in his father and in his sister,and accentuated, perhaps, by venereal disease, it was to bring him finally toinsanity and death in an asylum. Friedrich Wieck, an anxious father, waspossibly aware of Schumann's weaknesses when he made every effort to prevent aproposed marriage between his daughter Clara and his former pupil. Clara wasnine years younger than Schumann and represented for her father a considerableinvestment of time and hope.
It was not until 1840 that Schumann was finally able to marry Clara,and then only after the successful outcome of litigation instituted by Wieck toprevent such an eventuality. The year was one of song, with Schumann settingverses of many kinds in an incredible burst of creative energy. In the earlyyears of marriage his wife encouraged him to turn his attention to larger formsof music and to writing for the orchestra, while both of them had to make anumber of adjustments in their own lives to accommodate their differentprofessional requirements.
A relatively short period based in Leipzig was followed, in 1844, byresidence in Dresden, where Wagner was now installed in the Court Theatre, hisconversation causing Schumann to retire to bed early with a headache. In 1850the couple moved to Duesseldorf, where Schumann had been appointed director ofmusic, a position the demands of which he was unable to meet, a fact that musthave contributed to his suicidal depression and final break-down in 1854,leading to his death in the asylum at Endenich two years later.
Schumann wrote his Symphonic Studies
during the years from 1834 to 1837, revising the work in 1852, when hededicated it to his friend William Stemdale Bennett. It was later to appear invariously extended forms after his death. The original composition came at atime when the composer was concerned in the editorship of the increasinglyinfluential periodical, the Neue Zeitschriftfuer Musik and with the writing of piano music.
In 1834, when the Symphonic Studies
were first conceived, Schumann was directing his amatory intentions towardsErnestine von Fricker, a young pupil of Wieck's. His ardour was only to coolwhen he discovered that she was the illegitimate daughter of her father, Baronvon Fricker, and not likely to inherit from him. The theme for the Studies wasconceived as a compliment to the Baron and makes use of a theme of his, thebasis of a set of variations for the flute.
At first Schumann brought together a group of twelve variations, out ofthe original eighteen, under the title 12Davidsbuendler Studien, a reference to his fictitious League ofDavid against the cultural Philistines of the day. This was later to be changedto Etueden in Orchestercharakter fuerPianoforte von Florestan und Eusebius, two of the pseudonyms used bySchumann in his critical writing. The publishers, however, preferred theplainer XII Etudes symphoniques,issuing the work under this title in 1837. The 1852 edition, dedicated toStemdale Bennett, bore the title Etudes enforme de variations and included only nine variations. Five furthervariations were published after Schumann's death, in 1872. The presentrecording includes all eighteen variations, as the work was originallyconceived.
The five Albumblaetter
formed part of the Bunte Blaetter published in 1852. The first of them, writtenin 1841, was later used by Brahms as a theme for a set of variations, writtenas a tribute to the older composer and to his wife. The second, composed in1838, originally bore the title Fata Morgana,and the third had been intended, in 1836, to form part of Carnaval. The fourth piece had originallybeen called Jugendschmerz, and,with the fifth, was written in 1838.
In the autumn of 1838 Robert Schumann left Leipzig for Vienna. Hisrelationship with Clara Wieck had reached a point of some intensity, but herfather's entrenched opposition to anything that might interfere with hisdaughter's career as a pianist and his very reasonable disapproval of Schumannas a possible son-in-law, had led to a great deal of subterfuge, with aclandestine correspondence between the lovers, carried on as best they could.
Wieck had, in any case, insisted that, if the couple were to marry,they should not remain in Leipzig, where Schumann was editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik. At Clara'ssuggestion it was proposed that the journal be moved to Vienna, if sponsorscould be found there, and this was the principal object of Schumann's journey,hard as it was to be separated from his beloved at a time of some anxiety intheir relationship.
In Vienna Schumann was to busy himself with a number of newcompositions, including the Arabesque, Opus18, written towards the end of the year and designed for women, asopposed to the robuster Humoresque to be written in the following year. Thecomposer claimed that his airn was to capture the feminine market for pianomusic in Vienna, a remark that need not be taken too seriously. At the sametime he continued to be influenced by Christian Schubart's book on musicalaesthetics, in which C major, the key of the Arabesque, was identified with thechildish and simple, leaving intenser passions to the sharp keys.
The Arabesque is wellenough known. Couched in rondo form, its gently lyrical principal theme framestwo slower, minor key episodes. The work was published with a dedication to thewife of Major Serre, on whose estate at Maxen the Schumanns were to take refugeduring the political disturbances of 1848 in Dresden.
The Austrian pianist Stefan Viadar was born in 1965 and started pianolessons at the age of six. From 1973 he studied at the Vienna University forMusic and Arts with Renate Kramer-Preisenhammer and Hans Petermandi. Afterwinning a number of awards in piano competitions in Austria, including thefirst prize in the Rudolf Heydner Piano Competition, he took the first prize inthe 1985 International Beethoven Competition, the youngest of the 140compe