Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Programme Notes

Faschingschwank aus Wien, Opus 26  ——  Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

Though the music of both Schumann and Chopin similarly represent highly romantic, tuneful and expressionful pianism on a firm structure, Chopin vehemently rejected all attempts to hear stories in his music while Schumann positively courted such. This work, titled "Carnival Jest from Vienna" (and described as fantasy pictures in the Breitkopf edition), was largely composed in Vienna in 1839, towards the end of the long and frustrating battle with Clara Wieck's father who did everything he could to prevent her marriage to Schumann. In name and subtitle it harks back to "Carnaval", his earlier set of fantasy pictures and musical riddles composed in 1834/5 which we hear next, but its moods and its battles are different. Nor are these fantasy pictures named in the same way; they are more like the movements of a "grand romantic sonata", as he subsequently described it. (You will see the significance of the title when we come to Carnaval: (F(asch)ing(sch)w(a)nk).) It is in five movements. 1. Allegro (Very lively; B major) by far the longest movement, a rondo in 3/4 time, notable for its innovative rhythms and a brief reference to "La Marseillaise". 2. Romanze (Rather slow; G minor) a short, simple, sad piece largely in G minor but resolving into G major for the final bar. 3. Scherzino, (Bmajor) a playful respite between the two sombre movements. 4. Intermezzo (With the greatest energy; E minor) a slow melody against a rush of background notes.  5. Finale (To the highest degree lively; B major) the sonata-form finale is reminiscent of Beethoven with the melody moving in both hands. This is the second longest movement.

Carnaval, Opus 9     –———  Robert Alexander Schumann (1810 – 1856)

Carnaval, Op. 9 (1834/5) is one of Schumann's most characteristic and frequently played works. The 24 year old Schumann was studying piano with Friedrich Wieck, a difficult man whose first wife divorced him. Schumann was secretly betrothed to a fellow pupil (17 year old Ernestine von Fricken). Carnaval is subtitled "Cute (or dainty) scenes on 4 notes". The 22 tiny sections mostly begin with musical cryptograms, possible because of the German names of notes (As=A, Es(=eS)=E,C=C, H=B; Fricken's family lived in Asch (Bohemia); Robert A SCHumann). Many of the "scenes" are named after a real or imaginary characters (Chopin, Paganini, Harlequin, Pierrot, Pantalon & Columbine, Ernestine herself and Clara Wieck (at 15 still only girl, though already famous throughout Europe). Eusebius (adagio) and Florestan (passionato) were two sides to Schumann's own personality. Other scenes were named preamble, valse noble, coquette etc. (Trying to identify them distracts the listener from the music.) The work ends with the triumphant "March of the band of King David's men against the Philistines" which represents an important element in the philosophy of Schumann's band of young music critics who recognized the genius of Chopin, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Bennett but resented the popularity of Cramer, Thalberg, Henri Herz, Czerny, Meyerbeer and others they classed as artistic Philistines.

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Sonata No 2 in B minor Op 35  ––  Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)

i. Grave-Doppio movimento, ii. Scherzo, iii. Marche funbre (Lento), iv. Finale (Presto)

This sonata, though finished at Nohant, was mainly composed during the miserable winter of 1839 in Majorca where Chopin had gone for his health with George Sand and her two children, though the third movement, famous for its 'funeral march', was composed two years earlier. The unmarried pair were not welcomed by the islanders and their eventual accommodation was stark; a deserted monastery. There is a bleak quality about the whole work lightened occasionally by contrasting lyrical sections, but a vigour and inventiveness also. (Chopin was working concurrently on his set of 24 preludes.) The extraordinary technical demands in this sonata never seem to be virtuosity for its own sake but seem absolutely necessary to carry the emotional content of the work. The first movement contains a highly agitated motif, a lyrical 2nd theme and a 3rd element in 6/4 time; then a fusion of all three elements. The agitation, the minor keys and the hammering octaves give the movement a somewhat brooding aura. The second movement (scherzo) opens as a devilish waltz with both hands hammering away in octaves, but contains contrastingly lyrical 'trio' sections (in G major). The third movement begins and ends with the celebrated funeral march (in B minor), but it also has a calm interlude (in D major) reminiscent of the "raindrops" prelude of the same period. The finale is a bewildering and unremitting moto perpetuo of triplets in parallel octaves, without rhythm or harmony; or dynamic until the final two chords.

 Sonata No 3 in B minor  Op. 58  ––  Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)

i. Allegro maestoso, ii. Scherzo: Molto vivace, iii. Largo,iv.  Finale: Presto non tanto; Agitato

Chopin's 3rd (and last) piano sonata was written in 1844 towards the end of his happy years with George Sand at her country estate of Nohant. It is a vastly different work from the previous sonata; altogether sunnier; much bravura passage work but exuberant rather than shocking; and the lyrical passages so many and lovingly indulged as quite to dominate the whole work. It is far more often played than the opus 35 sonata.

 (Programme notes compiled by Ian West, from numerous sources.  )


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