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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Intermezzi, Op. 4 / Impromptus, Op. 5 / 3 Romances, Op. 28
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Intermezzi, Op. 4
Impromptus über ein Thema von Clara Wieck, Op. 5
Drei Romanzen, Op. 28
Albumblstter, Op. 124
Much of the piano music of Schumann was written before his marriage in 1840 to Clara Wieck, a match that her father, Friedrich Wieck, once Schumann's piano teacher, had done all he could to prevent. Schumann himself combined literary interests with musical, eventually persuading his widowed mother and his guardian to allow him to leave university and devote his attention to the latter, rather than pursuing studies in law. A weakness in his fingers frustrated his ambition to become a virtuoso pianist and after 1840, the year of his marriage, in which he wrote a vast number of songs, he was encouraged by his young wife to tackle larger orchestral forms, before turning his attention to chamber music. Although widely respected both as a composer and as a writer on musical subjects, he had no official position until his appointment as director of music in Düsseldorf in 1850, his unhappy tenure there interrupted by a break-down and final insanity, leading to his death in 1856.
Abandoning his legal studies in Heidelberg, Schumann returned to Leipzig to resume lessons with Wieck in 1830, eventually finding temporary lodgings in two vacant rooms in his teacher's house. His six Intermezzi, Opus 4, originally entitled Pièces fantastiques were completed as a set in 1832 and published with a change of dedication. The pieces had originally been dedicated to the twelve-year-old Clara Wieck, but the new dedication was to J. W. Kalliwoda. Schumann himself described the pieces as extended Papillons, referring to the set of pieces of that title forming Opus 3, short works based on Jean Paul's novel Flegeljahre. The first of the set opens in the majestic mood familiar from his later evocations of the great cathedral of Cologne and its ritual. A quicker Alternativo section makes reference to the same material, before the return of the opening section. The second Intermezzo, marked Presto e capriccioso, moves from the A major of the first to the key of E minor in a forceful opening. The central section, recalled in conclusion, is tender and relaxed in mood. To this Schumann has added the words of Goethe's Gretchen Mein Ruh' isthin. The third, marked Allegromarcato, returns to the key of the first in its opening chord, proceeding in asymmetrical rhythm to a gentle secondary theme and an Alternativo section in E major, modulating through A flat, enharmonically changed to G sharp, to the return of the first material. Without a break the fourth Intermezzo follows, moving into C major with music adapted from a sketch for the tenth of the Papillons. The D minor fifth Intermezzo contains a B flat Alternativo section and is followed by the B minor six th, starting with forceful triplet rhythm, like the second, and again containing an Alternativo section, now in D major, before the return of the original key and material to bring the whole set to an end.
Schumann's Impromptus on a Theme by Clara Wieck, Opus 5, appeared in 1833 under the title Impromptus sur une Romance de Clara Wieck, composés pour le piano et dédiés à M. Frédéric Wieck. The theme was taken from Clara Wieck's Romance variée, dédiée à M. Robert Schumann, so that Schumann's work was a returning of the compliment. The Impromptus were revised by Schumann in 1850, with the variations renumbered, the eleventh, which is hardly a variation, omit1ed and the fourth replaced by a new variation. Taking a cue from the last movement of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Schumann presents first the bass of the theme, which then follows. This forms the foundation of the first variation and in the second is joined by the Romance theme in an inner part. The third, numbered fourth in the earlier version, is simplified in its cross rhythms in the second version, in which the bass has a less noticeable part to play. A gentle chordal 6/8 pattern appears in the following variation, over the original bass line, while the metre of the earlier version of the next variation, 12/16, is modified to 6/8 marked Lebhaft (lively), preserving the original in longer note-values. Asymmetrical accentuation is still more noticeable in the revised version of the next variation. This is followed by the Romance melody in the left hand, a touch of Eusebius, the pen-name of Schumann's gentler persona, leading to an outburst from his passionate Doppelgtinger Florestan. A variation with crossed hands was followed in the earlier version of the work by an F minor intermezzo, later omitted. The revised version moves at once to the introduction to a five-voice fugue, a demonstration that Schumann's counterpoint lessons with the Leipzig opera director Heinrich Dorn had born some fruit. The bass of the theme and the Romance itself appear in conclusion, the latter in fragmentary form in the early version and in full in the 1850 revision.
In 1838 Schumann decided to try his luck in Vienna, where Clara Wieck had won signal success. Her father was still opposing her marriage to Schumann and there was, in addition to this problem, the rather different situation offered by Clara's position as a very successful and independent artist and Schumann's own relative lack of such success, in spite of the interest aroused by the new criticism of his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which he edited, and the compositions he had published. Vienna, however, offered no repetition of Clara's success for him, and in 1839 he returned to Leipzig, while Clara remained in Paris, where she was enhancing still further her reputation as a pianist, in a city of pianists.
Schumann's Three Romances, Opus 28, were written in 1839 and were intended to be played as a group, linked by key, starting with B flat minor and sections in F sharp major and E flat minor, followed by F sharp major and B major. The Romances, of which the composer had a high opinion, were dedicated to Graf Heinrich II Reuss-Köstritz. The first of the group is characteristic in its texture and figuration, a contrast with the relative simplicity of the second, with its opening melody in two inner parts. The mood changes with the strongly marked opening of the third Romance, the first two sections re-appearing in inverted order in conclusion, the first of them a recurrent episode, used to introduce sections given the title of first and second Intermezzo in the score.
The Albumblatter, Opus 124, were published in 1854 but include some pieces written much earlier, like the Schlummerlied of 1841 and earlier pieces going back to 1832, the date of Nos. 1, 3, 12, 13 and 15. No.2 dates from 1833 and Nos. 4, 11 and 17 from 1835, with Nos. 5 and 7 in 1836. The set opens with a rapid Impromptu, followed by Leides Ahnung (Foreboding of Suffering) and a contrasted Scherzino. No.4, Walzer, is based on the ASCH cryptogram used in Carnaval and elsewhere, a musical transliteration of the name of the town where his once beloved Ernestine von Fricken lived, a girl to whom he was secretly engaged until the illegitimacy of her birth and her likely prospects became known to him. The fantastic dance of No. 5 is succeeded by No.6, a little cradle-song, a country Landler and the unending song of Lied ohne Ende. The following Impromptu and Walzerdate from 1838. No.11 returns to the world of ASCH in its A E flat C B motif, leading to the rapid 1832 Burla. A brief Larghettois followed, after a brief sustained octave, softly played in the lower register, by a rapid Vision, while Nos. 15 and 17, Walzerand Elfe, pieces that rely on the ASCH motif, frame the well known Schlummerlied (Slumber-song). No.18, Botschaft (Message)forms a tender prelude to a graceful Phantasiestück (Fantasy-piece). Albumblatter ends with a brief Canon.
Dénes Várjon was born in Budapest in 1968 and studied there under Sándor Falvai at the Academy of Music, where he now serves as a demonstrator in the Piano Department. He has taken part in master-classes in Hungary and abroad under the most distinguished teachers, and recent prizes include the 1991 award of first prize in the Géza Anda Piano Competition in Zurich. He has appeared as a recitalist and soloist throughout Europe, and for three seasons in the Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music. At home he is a frequent performer for Hungarian Radio.
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