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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6 / 8 Fantasiestucke, Op. 12
"for the money, Mr Frith gets three cheers"
CD Review (UK)
"a 'dreamer' of the first order who can elicit the most magical sounds from the piano particularly at low dynamic levels"
By Phol Muse
Benjamin Frith poetically insightful performances of two Schumann favorites ...
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in
which he lived, combining both in his music and in his life a number of the
characteristics generally associated with Romanticism. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of
a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature, and made a
name for himself in later years as a writer and as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched
After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his
widowed mother, Schumann, still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, turned more
fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a well known teacher, whose energies
had been concentrated on the training of his eldest daughter Clara, a pianist of
prodigious early talent. Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were frustrated by a
weakness of the fingers, the possible result of mercury treatment for syphilis, which he
may have contracted from a servant-girl in the house of his teacher. Nevertheless in the
1830s he wrote a great deal of music for the piano, much of it in the form of shorter,
genre pieces, often enough with some extra-musical literary or autobiographical
At first when he lodged in Wieck's house in Leipzig, Schumann
had shown little interest in Clara, a mere child and nine years his junior, contracting
instead a secret engagement with another pupil. It was only in 1835 that he began to turn
his attention to Clara Wieck, now a fifteen-year-old, but any question of marriage was
strongly opposed by Wieck, who went so far as to appeal to the courts for their support in
preventing a match that would harm his daughter's professional career and seemed for a
number of other reasons unsuitable. Eventually the courts decided in Schumann's favour and
the couple married in 1840, a year of song in his career as a composer. In Dresden and
later in Düsseldorf, where he became city director of music in 1850, he turned his
attention to orchestral composition on a larger scale.
In health Schumann had long been subject to sudden depressions
and had on one occasion attempted to take his own life. This nervous instability had shown
itself in other members of his family, in his father and in his sister. In February 1854
he tried to drown himself and spent his final years at a private asylum at Endenich, near
Bonn, where he died in the summer of 1856.
Opus 6, and the Fantasiestücke, Opus 12,
both belong to the year 1837. Wieck had insisted that Clara should not see Schumann and
that letters should be returned. The latter, despairing of success in his pursuit of
Clara, turned to drink and conduct that his landlady, at least, found reprehensible. At
one point he sought revenge on Clara by publishing a satire mocking both her and a young
man who had been brought in by her father to give her singing lessons. He dedicated his Fantasiestücke, written between 22nd May and 4th
July, to an attractive eighteen-year-old Scottish pianist, Robena Laidlaw. It was Clara
who brought about a reconciliation through an intermediary so that August saw her pledged
to him and in September they were able to meet again. The Davidsbündlertänze were written in the late
summer and early autumn of 1837, after this reconciliation.
Schumann's League of David was a fictional creation of his, an
In all' und jeder Zeit verknüpft sich Lust und Leid: bleibt
fromm in Lust und seyd dem Leid mit Muth bereit.
pleasure and sorrow are joined together: be innocent in pleasure and bear sorrow bravely.)
The first dance opens with a quotation from a Mazurka by Clara
Wieck and is varied in mood, attributed to both Florestan and Eusebius. The second piece
is attributed to the latter and the third, marked With Humour, to Florestan, the author of
the fourth, marked Impatient. The simple fifth piece is in the mood of Eusebius, while the
sixth, in stormier mood, reverts to Florestan. The opening arpeggiated chords of the
seventh piece reintroduce Eusebius, followed by a brusque Florestan. The last piece of the
first book, marked Lively, carries an additional explanation: Hierauf schloß Florestan und es zuckte ihm schmerzlich
um die Lippen (Hereupon Florestan stopped and his lips quivered sadly).
Florestan opens the second set of nine pieces in ballad measure, with a whimsical third
piece framing a simple second for Eusebius. The fourth has room for both moods, with the
gently singing filth for Eusebius. Both are together again in the sixth piece as they
appear to be in the seventh, with its contrasting slower Trio section, which leads at once
to the eighth piece, Wie aus der Ferne (As
from the Distance). For the final dance Schumann adds the explanation: Ganz zum Überfluss meinte Eusebius noch Folgendes; dabei
sprach aberviel Seligkeit aus seinen Augen (Eusebius considered the following
quite superfluous; but at the same time he expressed much happiness with his eyes). The
last piece adds a gentle C major conclusion to the work.
of earlier in 1837, like the Davidsbündlertänze
in two volumes, came at a time of estrangement between Schumann and Clara Wieck. Anna
Robena Laidlaw was born at Bretton in Yorkshire in 1819 and educated at her aunt's school
in Edinburgh, moving with her family to Königsberg in 1830. She won a considerable
reputation and on 2nd July 1837 played at a Gewandhaus Concert in Leipzig, when Schumann
made her acquaintance, later dedicating the Fantasy
Pieces, Opus 12, to her. She married and retired from the concert platform in
1855 and died in London in 1901.
The gentle D flat major Des
Abends (In the Evening) is followed by the well known F minor Aufschwung
(Soaring). Warum? (Why?), again in D flat major, is gently brief, to be followed by the
capricious Grillen (Whims) in the same key. The second book opens with Schumann's own
favourite In der Nacht (In the Night), in F
minor with a major central section. Fabel
(Story), in G major, is suitably varied in mood as the narrative unfolds, followed by the
rapid F major Traumes Wirren (Troubled
Dreams). The book ends with an F major piece, Ende vom
Lied (End of the Song), marked Mit gutem Humor and moving to a livelier B flat
section before the return of the first material and key and a hushed chordal coda.
The young British pianist Benjamin Frith
has had a distinguished career. A pupil of Fanny Waterman, he won, at the age of fourteen,
the British National Concerto Competition, followed by the award of the Mozart Memorial
Prize and joint top prize in 1986 in the Italian Busoni International Piano Competition
and in 1989 a Gold Medal and First prize in the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master
Competition. Benjamin Frith enjoys a busy international career, with engagements in the
United States and throughout Europe as a soloist and recitalist, with festival appearances
at Sheffield, Aldeburgh, Harrogate, Kuhmo, Bolzano, Savannah, Pasadena and Hong Kong and
an Edinburgh Festival debut in 1992. His recordings include a highly praised performance
of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations on the
ASV label and for Naxos a release of piano music by Schumann, followed by the two
Mendelssohn Piano Concertos and the Third Piano Concerto of Rachmaninov.
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SCHUMANN, R.: Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6 / 8 Fantas...