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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Arrangements for Piano Duet, Vol. 1 (Eckerle Piano Duo) - String Quartet No. 3 / Piano Quintet
Piano arrangements were the main way for people to become acquainted with concert repertoire in Schumann’s day, and publishers ensured that the huge demand for such versions was met. Otto Dresel’s arrangement of the String Quartet, Op 41, No 3 was approved by the composer. Clara Schumann was dedicatee and soloist for the Piano Quintet, Op 44, and she was able to draw on her intimate knowledge of her husband’s work to make her own highly effective arrangement. This is the first of seven volumes including Schumann’s entire orchestral works arranged for piano duet.
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Arrangements for Piano Duet • 1
In an age before sound recording was possible, arrangements for, initially, solo piano offered the only way to get to know, play and hear works for larger music groups, for example for orchestra with or without voices and also for works not yet available for such instruments as the organ. From the early years of the 19th century, as keyboards became enlarged and produced more powerful sounds, there was an increasing need for arrangements for piano duets and, occasionally, in the second half of the century, for two pianos. In fact, where piano duets are concerned the number of published arrangements soon greatly exceeded that of original compositions. Sometimes the arrangements were done by the composer himself or by his friends or pupils, but in most cases they were the work of more or less accomplished professional arrangers in the direct employ of or outsourced by the publishing houses.
This is also the case for Robert Schumann, who was himself a keen duet player and wrote a series of significant works for that formation, most importantly the Bilder aus Osten, Op 66 (1848). These works were intended, however, not for public concerts but for the home and for the cultivated salon. In only the rarest cases did Schumann write the duet arrangements himself (for example the overture to Hermann and Dorothea, Op 136) or in collaboration with his wife Clara. Nevertheless, he almost always supervised the arrangements, which were made mostly by highly valued musicians of his entourage, such as his brother-in-law Woldemar Bargiel or his faithful disciple Carl Reinecke (Symphony No 3 ‘Rhenish’, in E flat major, Op 97), as the success and the dissemination of a piece were also dependent on the quality of the arrangement. In some cases he even recommended an arranger, dismissed another one and intervened directly with his own corrections.
This series of seven CDs conceived by the Schumann researcher and prizewinner (Zwickau 2003) Joachim Draheim presents all the orchestral works which were arranged for piano duet by Schumann himself or made under his supervision, as well as a representative choice of other orchestral works and important chamber music pieces for which musically significant and aurally convincing arrangements were published, sometimes after Schumann’s death.
String Quartet in A major, Op 41, No 3 (1842)
Arrangement for piano duet by Otto Dresel, revised by the composer (1852)
With his personal systematic and logical thinking, Robert Schumann dedicated himself, after his revolutionary piano pieces of the 1830s, to the other major musical genres, in particular those that were important for his reputation as a composer: in 1840 the Lied, in 1841 symphonic music and in 1842 chamber music, forms which made the highest demands on composers, performers and audiences. He started at once with the “king of the genres”, the string quartet. After a renewed deep study of the classics—Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven—which in part he already knew well and valued highly, he wrote three string quartets, in A minor, F major and A major, between 2 June and 22 July 1842. Their completion and a first private rehearsal on 8 September gave him great joy. Clara Schumann received the quartets as a present for her 23rd birthday on 13 September 1842 and expressed her delight about “all this splendour” and found “everything new, but clearly, finely made and always in a true quartet style”. As Mendelssohn, who heard the quartets in a subsequent rehearsal, also spoke several times in praise of them, Schumann ventured, in honour of Mendelssohn’s 34th birthday, to dedicate to him, the revered friend and most highly regarded composer in Europe, the first edition in separate parts of the three quartets. These were published as Opus 41 in February 1843 by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig.
It was only after Mendelssohn’s premature death on 4 November 1847, which shook Schumann profoundly, that he succeeded, in September 1848, in producing the complete score, indispensable for the study and dissemination of these works. It was then a normal process to think of creating the traditional duet arrangement. In the middle of 1848, Otto Dresel, at the time 21 years old, who, as a graduate of the Leipzig Conservatory knew and admired Mendelssohn and Schumann, sent his piano duet arrangement of the three quartets to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel who, however, first wanted to obtain the authorisation of the composer. As Schumann initially did not react, Dresel asked him personally on 9 October 1848; on that very day the publishers received Schumann’s approval: he declared the arrangement “very good”. Nevertheless, the edition was delayed until May 1852; moreover, Dresel had renounced his fee and Schumann had once more revised the arrangement and for reasons of sonority had added slower metronomic indications than in the original edition, which is attested in an annotation in the composer’s own hand. Schumann included the edition in the collection of his original works and thus authorised it.
Schumann’s string quartets did not number among his most admired works in the 19th century, nor do they today, although they are unique masterpieces, in which the classical form is preserved and at the same time developed and enriched by the romantic spirit. The Quartet in A major, the longest and most impressive of the three, is characterised by its originality of form (a variation movement instead of a Scherzo) and a major section spanning lyricism and polyphonic link-ups of great expressiveness and driving vitality. Owing to the differences of range and texture between piano and string quartet, arranging such a piece for piano duet was extremely difficult. Otto Dresel solved this task brilliantly by extending and spreading the range to the higher and lower registers, by transposing passages an octave down or up, or by doubling in octaves, and by filling in or by modifying the accompaniment figures, since he was not only a professional arranger, but an eminent composer, acclaimed by (among others) Franz Liszt. His works included chamber music, piano pieces and Lieder, but only a small portion of them was published. Born in Geisenheim on the Rhine on 20 December 1826, the son of a wine merchant, he emigrated in 1848 to America, played a decisive rôle in Boston musical life from 1852 onwards and died in Beverly near Boston on 26 July 1890. He came back several times to Europe and also won great recognition for his arrangements of works by Bach, Handel and Beethoven, as well as for English translations of the Lieder of his friend Robert Franz.
Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op 44 (1842)
Arrangement for piano duet by Clara Schumann (1858)
Having successfully explored the possibilities of the string quartet, it was an obvious choice for Schumann to combine it with “his” instrument, the piano. He thus wrote between 23 September and 16 October 1842 a quintet for piano and string quartet, which gave a brilliant start to the “piano quintet” genre. Among others Brahms, Dvořák, César Franck and Béla Bartók followed in Schumann’s tracks. With this work Schumann also satisfied the wish of his wife Clara for an impressive piece for the concert hall, which at first served as a replacement for the not yet completed Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 54, and was later the chamber work by her husband that she most often played in her long career. It is dedicated to her in the published version (Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, September 1843) and was naturally also given its successful first performance by her on 8 January 1843 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, “a work full of vigour and freshness”, as she already remarked at the end of September 1842 in her “marriage diary”.
Mendelssohn and even Richard Wagner, who was not well disposed to Schumann, also praised the Piano Quintet, which has been held in high regard ever since. In its successful blend of concerto and chamber music elements, in the thematic interlinking of the four movements, the most significant of which is the brilliant concluding stretta of the Finale, where, the movement’s main theme, alternating between G minor and E flat major, is combined with the main theme of the first movement in a fugato, and, in its unusual construction (a poignant funeral march with two contrasting trios replacing a central slow movement), the work has a never-ending fascination.
To arrange such a work for piano duet was at the same time easier than with the string quartets, as one could occasionally take over certain passages unchanged in the Secondo part, and much more difficult, because piano and strings occupy mostly the same range. As early as 1845 Schumann suggested that the publishers have an arrangement for piano duet made by Alfred Dörffel (1821–1905), who later became known as a writer on music, but the publishers rejected this idea. Johannes Brahms offered to Clara Schumann for her 35th birthday on 13 September 1854—Schumann was already at the mental hospital in Endenich—a duet arrangement of the complete Quintet, and a solo, nearly unplayable version of its mighty Scherzo (first published in 1983), which delighted her. On 30 January 1855 he proposed the duet arrangement to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel, who refused it, considering it to be technically too demanding. The manuscript is since lost; it is nevertheless possible that Clara Schumann used Brahms’s work as a starting point for her own arrangement, completed in the autumn of 1857 and published by Breitkopf & Härtel in July 1858. The arrangement is still very difficult, but not unplayable, and shows once more Clara Schumann’s deep familiarity with the works of her husband, which she had before and after always happily arranged (among them the piano score of his opera Genoveva, other duet arrangements and thirty Lieder for piano) and in some cases published for the first time.
English translation: Michael Cook
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