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Phantasiestücke Op.12

Robert Schumann (b. 1810 - d. 1856)

Composer
Robert Schumann (b. 1810 - d. 1856)
Composition Year
1837
Work Movements
1. Des Abends (At Evening)
2. Aufschwung (Soaring)
3. Warum? (Why?)
4. Grillen (Whims)
5. In der Nacht (In the Night)
6. Fabel (Fable)
7. Traumes-Wirren (Dream Visions)
8. Ende vom Lied (End of the Song)
Artists
Dénes Várjon [Piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

I still consider that music is the ideal language of the soul: but some think it is only meant to tickle the ear, others treat it like a sum in arithmetic and act accordingly. So wrote the young Schumann justifying his highly individual blend of youthful romanticism. Much of his early music took the form of collections of miniatures, embodiments of definite moods, ideas or mental pictures, complete in themselves and written down on the impulse of the moment.


Schumann's mood in early 1837 had seemingly recovered from the depressions of the previous year when the development of his relationship with Clara had been crushed by her furious father. Schumann's reaction to the adversities of his emotional life varied wildly from gross over-indulgence to intense composition and study. A diary entry in December 1836 reads: Plans. Tears. Dreams, work, collapse. Reawakening. He recovered some of his poise by an intense study of Bach's Art of Fugue and in July was inspired by a young and attractive British pianist, Anna Laidlow, to start work on the Phantasiestücke.


It is a cycle of eight light-hearted character pieces harking back to the spirit of Carnaval. The title points clearly to E.T.A.Hoffmann's Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, a collection of essays and fanciful tales named after the French draftsman and illustrator Jaques Callot, a literary and artistic counterpart to his own fanciful musical impressions. Hoffmann's work exerted a powerful influence over the young composer, who recognised his vision of a world of everyday reality co-existing uneasily with a hallucinatory world of delusion, magic and shadows. Hoffmann's two worlds are reflected in Schumann's two alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius, the one the bold impulsive man of action, the latter the sensitive, introspective, poetic dreamer. Schumann's unexpected plunges to and from unrelated keys are another manifestation of these two opposing states of mind.


This work is less teasingly provocative and mystifying than Carnaval. Schumann himself wrote to Clara: In Carnaval, one piece interrupts the other, which some people find it difficult to endure but in Phantasiestücke the listener can spread out more comfortably. Certainly the individual pieces are broader and more self-sufficient. In the earlier work the miniature sketches took on an aphoristic quality as well as flowing into each other in the bewildering manner of the masked ball; whereas here they are both longer and clearly separate from each other. He seems to be consciously trying to control the wilder and more alarming faces of his imagination.


The titles of the various movements in Phantasiestücke are not in any literal sense programmatic and in some cases seem to bear little or no relationship to the music. The opening Des Abends is perhaps the loveliest piece in the work. Schumann conjures the tranquillity of evening with the soft bell-like resonance of his melody that subtly blends with the accompanying voices. There is a wonderful ambiguity of register as the melody passes from part to part, the melody melts into the texture, while the accompaniment becomes intensely expressive. The song-like beauty of Warum? is equally effective and like many of his short pieces reminds us of the songs still to be written. From the fourth piece the titles begin to seem increasingly irrelevant, the chords they struck in their composer's mind lost to our sensibility. In the last three pieces Schumann recalls something of the masked ball madness of Carnaval including the reckless spirit of the march of the Davidsbund against the Philistines, a battle that every generation has to fight.

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Phantasiestücke Op.12

Composer: Robert Schumann (b. 1810 - d. 1856)
Performance date: Thursday 6th July 2017
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Robert Schumann (b. 1810 - d. 1856)
Work Title Phantasiestücke Op.12
Composition Year 1837
Work Movements 1. Des Abends (At Evening)
2. Aufschwung (Soaring)
3. Warum? (Why?)
4. Grillen (Whims)
5. In der Nacht (In the Night)
6. Fabel (Fable)
7. Traumes-Wirren (Dream Visions)
8. Ende vom Lied (End of the Song)
Artist(s) Dénes Várjon [Piano]
Performance Date Thursday 6th July 2017
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Crespo Series
Duration 00:27:12
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Solo
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

I still consider that music is the ideal language of the soul: but some think it is only meant to tickle the ear, others treat it like a sum in arithmetic and act accordingly. So wrote the young Schumann justifying his highly individual blend of youthful romanticism. Much of his early music took the form of collections of miniatures, embodiments of definite moods, ideas or mental pictures, complete in themselves and written down on the impulse of the moment.


Schumann's mood in early 1837 had seemingly recovered from the depressions of the previous year when the development of his relationship with Clara had been crushed by her furious father. Schumann's reaction to the adversities of his emotional life varied wildly from gross over-indulgence to intense composition and study. A diary entry in December 1836 reads: Plans. Tears. Dreams, work, collapse. Reawakening. He recovered some of his poise by an intense study of Bach's Art of Fugue and in July was inspired by a young and attractive British pianist, Anna Laidlow, to start work on the Phantasiestücke.


It is a cycle of eight light-hearted character pieces harking back to the spirit of Carnaval. The title points clearly to E.T.A.Hoffmann's Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, a collection of essays and fanciful tales named after the French draftsman and illustrator Jaques Callot, a literary and artistic counterpart to his own fanciful musical impressions. Hoffmann's work exerted a powerful influence over the young composer, who recognised his vision of a world of everyday reality co-existing uneasily with a hallucinatory world of delusion, magic and shadows. Hoffmann's two worlds are reflected in Schumann's two alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius, the one the bold impulsive man of action, the latter the sensitive, introspective, poetic dreamer. Schumann's unexpected plunges to and from unrelated keys are another manifestation of these two opposing states of mind.


This work is less teasingly provocative and mystifying than Carnaval. Schumann himself wrote to Clara: In Carnaval, one piece interrupts the other, which some people find it difficult to endure but in Phantasiestücke the listener can spread out more comfortably. Certainly the individual pieces are broader and more self-sufficient. In the earlier work the miniature sketches took on an aphoristic quality as well as flowing into each other in the bewildering manner of the masked ball; whereas here they are both longer and clearly separate from each other. He seems to be consciously trying to control the wilder and more alarming faces of his imagination.


The titles of the various movements in Phantasiestücke are not in any literal sense programmatic and in some cases seem to bear little or no relationship to the music. The opening Des Abends is perhaps the loveliest piece in the work. Schumann conjures the tranquillity of evening with the soft bell-like resonance of his melody that subtly blends with the accompanying voices. There is a wonderful ambiguity of register as the melody passes from part to part, the melody melts into the texture, while the accompaniment becomes intensely expressive. The song-like beauty of Warum? is equally effective and like many of his short pieces reminds us of the songs still to be written. From the fourth piece the titles begin to seem increasingly irrelevant, the chords they struck in their composer's mind lost to our sensibility. In the last three pieces Schumann recalls something of the masked ball madness of Carnaval including the reckless spirit of the march of the Davidsbund against the Philistines, a battle that every generation has to fight.