Thursday, January 20, 2011

Schumann's C Major "Fantasy" et al

In all my years of collecting records and CD’s, I had never owned an “instance” of Robert Schumann’s notorious “Fantasie in C” (Op. 17), but now I have Marc-Andre Hamelin’s studied performance on Hyperion from 2001 (CDA67166).

 The Piano Sonata #2 in G Minor, Op. 22, while the latest, is the most conventional of the three opuses on the CD. It follows strict sonata movement forms (including a repeated exposition). The work brings back memories of piano days, especially the “song without words” for the Andantino. The presto finale does not go into major at the end; most works in G Minor don’t.

The Symphonic Etudes in C# Minor, published in two forms, shows Schumann’s tendency to “combine” forms. It’s a Theme and Variations, where each Variation is like a separate etude. It’s not quite a challenge to Beethoven’s “33 Variations” (the Diabelli, see Aug. 26, 2007 here).  But the last “variation” is a triumph.

The "C Major" Fantasy is one of the best examples of Schumannism, or perhaps a monument to Schumann's combinations of quaint elements into huge canvases.  It illustrates his ability to keep melodies in constant harmonic tension, and to build themes out of little technical motifs.  You can get a feel for its bizarre nature from the first page piano score images at “Pianopedia” here. Notice the long sequences of unresolved dissonances and continuous tension over the piano ground bass in the first and third movement openings.  It is effectively a free form Sonata, with two outer, somewhat episodic slow movements and a central crunching almost Mahlerian march.  So it is indeed a bit like a late Beethoven Sonata, with the last movement casting a spell a bit like the Arioso and variations of Beethoven’s 32nd Sonata (variations in the same key).  Just before the end it rises to a passionate climax, and then resolves quietly into peace.  

There is a story about the relationship of the piece to building a monument to Beethoven.  There had been a first movement called “Ruins”, with a reference to a Beethoven song cycle. Schumann would add the “Triumphal Arch” and “Constellation”.

The overall effect is, a little weird.

My sense of perfect pitch is changing. The music on the computer sounded pitched almost a whole step high, as if it were in D. Maybe my ear is changing with older age.

I have contemplated getting my own teen and early college years music entered on a computer, with an 88-keyboard (Casio or Yamaha) and I’m told that you really need a Mac.  Now  composer Timo Andres explained in a blog posting how to capture sheet music as you compose it on the iPad, as at the end of a daisy chain starting with the keyboard. Steven Jobs had never imagined all this. Here’s his link.     There was a conversation about this matter at his Dec. 11 concert (review on this blog there), which had presented Schumann’s  “Kreisleriana”.

I still play in my mind that last theme of the Schumann Second Symphony (which is said to be related to another Beethoven song cycle). It strikes me that someone should write two-piano variations on it, in the form of enigmatic “etudes”.  I can guess who might.  Did “Shy and Mighty” find some inspiration in Schumann’s “continuous variation” formatted piano works?  

The picture above is from my own 1961 handwritten manuscript for a "Sonata in C" ("Fantasy"??). The opening theme gets turned into a tone row for the development section:
Later, the slow movement starts with a tone row despite a signature of E-flat minor, and then wanders into other episodes.
I'd have my work cut out to play this on a keyboard, get it into a Mac or PC and onto the iPad, ready to print in a way someone can really work with it. 

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