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Hyperion Records

CDA67120 - Schumann: Carnaval, Fantasiestücke, Papillons
Masquerade (1922) by Karl Hofer (1878-1955)
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne / AKG-Images, London

Recording details: Various dates
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: November 2005
Total duration: 72 minutes 46 seconds


'This is Hamelin's second Schumann recital for Hyperion. Once again, for the most part, there is a reassuring sense of a pianist expanding his poetic horizons as well as his legendary mastery' (Gramophone)

'Hamelin's combination of fleet-fingered delicacy and compelling drive suit Schumann's aesthetic ideally; but best of all is his gleeful sense of story-telling … the excellent sound-quality has all the warmth and detail that Hyperion habitually bring to Hamelin's CDs' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Marc-André Hamelin's refreshingly robust yet subtle, crystalline playing does justice to both sides of the composer's strange personality, the passionate Florestan and the dreamer Eusebius' (The Sunday Times)

'Not since Sviatoslav Richter's classic 1962 live account of Papillons have these fluttering miniatures been so stunningly brought to life as by that genius of the piano, Marc-André Hamelin … add an entrancing Op 12 Fantasiestücke to surpass even Argerich's, a stunning production from Andrew Keener and exemplary notes from Misha Donat, and you have a Schumann disc made in heaven' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Exceptionally lucid performances of three standards—performances that show off, in equal measure, the creativity of composer and the interpretive sensitivity of the pianist, undeniably among the handful of great perfomers of his generation … it's not news, but it's worth repeating: Hamelin's technique is unsurpassed; and no pianist of comparable virtuosity has applied his or her skills with more tact and subtlety … above and beyond the unparalleled level of detail, there's Hamelin's musicality and his consistently alert imagination, which give each of the 40-odd character pieces on this CD a distinct and meaningful character, mapping out the music's emotional shifts with a sureness that's astonishing' (Fanfare, USA)

'All three of these sets of pieces by Schumann—Papillons, Fantasiestücke and Carnaval—explore the world of the composer's imagination. And it is that sense of fantasy that comes across so beautifully in Marc-André Hamelin's performances' (The Evening Standard)

'All these works are played with a youthful vigour, and in Papillons Hamelin captures the spirit of the 20-year-old composer with lightness and clarity, subtle rubato and a dash of humour' (International Piano)

Carnaval, Fantasiestücke, Papillons
Introduzione  [0'15]
No 1  [0'37]
No 3  [0'47]
No 4: Presto  [0'45]
No 5  [1'23]
No 6  [0'52]
No 7: Semplice  [0'57]
No 8  [1'00]
No 10: Vivo  [2'00]
No 11  [2'52]
No 12: Finale  [1'51]
Arlequin: Vivo  [1'05]
Eusebius: Adagio  [2'09]
Coquette: Vivo  [1'35]
Chopin: Agitato  [1'04]
Aveu: Passionato  [1'06]
Pause: Vivo  [0'17]

Broadly speaking Schumann wrote two different kinds of piano work: large-scale abstract works in traditional forms such as sonata and variation; and works in a genre he created himself—the suite of small character pieces united by an emotional thread, often taking their inspiration from literature.

The three works on this disc fall into the latter category and the programme opens with Papillons, only his second published work and arguably his first masterpiece. Its inspiration seems to come from the description of a masked ball in the novel Flegeljahre by Jean Paul. Carnaval inhabits the same world as Papillons but on a larger scale (they even share the same tune in their finales); it is probably Schumann’s most popular piano work and has been recorded by all the great pianists from Rachmaninov onwards. Fantasiestücke takes its inspiration from E T A Hofmann and is perhaps a more inward-looking cycle.

All these works are cornerstones of the Romantic piano repertoire but Marc-André Hamelin need fear no comparison with his illustrious predecessors. There is a rare poetry and spontaneity in these performances, particularly that of Carnaval which Marc-André recorded as an afterthought in just a few takes when he finished a booked recording session early. Marc-André’s previous Schumann CD received excellent reviews—this one is even better!

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schumann was just twenty when he completed the chain of miniature dance pieces which he called Papillons, though some of its material was even earlier in origin. As a university student at Heidelberg, his principal sources of delight had been on the one hand the waltzes and four-handed polonaises of Schubert, and on the other the novels of the early-nineteenth-century writer Jean Paul (the pseudonym of Johann Paul Richter). Writing from Heidelberg in November 1829 to his future piano teacher and father-in-law, Friedrich Wieck, Schumann confessed: ‘Schubert is still “my only Schubert”, especially as he has everything in common with “my only Jean Paul”. When I play Schubert, I feel as if I were reading a novel by Jean Paul set to music.’ Writing in 1828 to his friend Gisbert Rosen, Schumann described how on a visit to Jean Paul’s widow in Bayreuth she had given him a portrait of the writer: ‘If the whole world read Jean Paul’, Schumann told Rosen, ‘it would certainly be a better, but unhappier place—he has often brought me close to madness, but the rainbow of peace and of the human spirit always hovers delicately over all the tears, and the heart is wondrously elevated and tenderly transfigured.’

It is above all in Papillons that Schumann unites his love of Schubert and of Jean Paul. For Schumann, Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre was a book ‘like the Bible’, and he once famously declared that he had learned more counterpoint from its author than from his music teacher. (The novel’s title is difficult to render into English. Often used to define the period of adolescence, the word ‘Flegeljahre’ carries a sub-text of unruliness. Thomas Carlyle, who translated several of Jean Paul’s novels, opted for ‘Wild Oats’, which conveys the spirit of the original, if not its letter.) In a letter of April 1832 to the poet Ludwig Rellstab, thanking him for his favourable review of his Abegg Variations Op 1 in the music journal Iris im Gebiete der Tonkunst, of which Rellstab was editor, Schumann explained:

Less for the benefit of the editor of Iris than for the poet and kindred spirit of Jean Paul, I am permitting myself to add a few words about how the Papillons arose, as the thread that binds them to each other is almost invisible. You remember the last scene in Flegeljahre—masked ball—Walt—Vult—masks—Wina—Vult’s dancing—the exchange of masks—confessions—anger—revelation—the hurrying away—the closing dream and then the departing brother. I often turned to the last page, for the ending seemed to me no more than a new beginning—almost unconsciously I was at the piano, and so one Papillon after another came into being.

Schumann’s own copy of Flegeljahre contains annotations which link the various episodes of the novel’s penultimate chapter to the individual numbers of his Papillons, and although we should be wary of taking any such parallels too literally there are connections which seem quite clear. The movement of the dancing figures in the ballroom which inspires Walt Harnisch with a feeling of poetic elevation (‘What a fertile northern-light sky full of criss-crossing zigzagging forms!’ is Jean Paul’s description) can be heard in a passage where Schumann has the pianist’s interlocked hands descending the keyboard in rapid alternation; and the animated antics of a giant boot that capture Walt’s imagination are represented in the third number of Papillons, played in galumphing octaves. (In a letter to his friend Henriette Voigt, Schumann urged her to read Jean Paul’s novel, ‘in which everything is written in black and white, down to the Giant Boot in F sharp minor’.) There is, too, the moment where the absent-minded Walt, by taking a wrong turning, finds himself in the punch room instead of the ballroom, and hears ‘beautifully muted music wafting from a considerable distance’ (‘Musik aus schickliche Ferne schön-gedämpft’). The notion of hearing a snatch of a dance tune from afar, before it emerges into the foreground as though a door has suddenly been thrown open, is one that Schumann duly carried through into his music: the agitated D minor sixth piece of Papillons is interrupted by a waltz-tune in A major, played pianissimo; and the same tune explodes with force a whole-tone lower, in a sort of Doppler effect, in the otherwise gentle tenth number. It was fragmentation of this kind, coupled with the music’s kaleidoscopic changes of mood (both were to become important features of Schumann’s mature music) that caused problems for early listeners to Papillons. When Clara Wieck played the piece at one of her father’s musical soirées in 1832, Schumann noted in his diary: ‘The assembled guests did not seem to me to take in Papillons, as they looked at each other conspicuously and couldn’t grasp the rapid changes.’

The two protagonists of Flegeljahre are the twins Walt and Vult Harnisch. Walt is a poet and dreamer, while his brother is a dark-complexioned, passionate artist. Together, the twins may be seen as the literary embodiment of Schumann’s own creative alter egos, Eusebius and Florestan. In the ‘Larventanz’ chapter of the book cited by Schumann, the brothers exchange masks, in an attempt to discover which of them the beautiful Wina, whom they both adore equally, does in fact love. In German, the word ‘Larve’ signifies both a mask and a larva; and in its latter meaning it would naturally be expected to give rise to a fully fledged ‘papillon’. Not for nothing is Jean Paul’s novel full of butterfly imagery. As Walt finds himself whisked onto the dance floor, he imagines himself ‘flying after a summer aflutter with summer birds. Just as a youth touches the hand of a great and famous writer for the first time, so he gently touched—like butterfly wings, like auricular powder—Wina’s back, and moved as far away as possible in order to look at her life-breathing face.’

Schumann originally placed the final sentence of Flegeljahre at the head of his Papillons, though the quotation did not appear in the published score. The flute-playing Vult, accepting that the twins’ dream of creating a collaborative novel will never be realized, leaves their house for ever:

Noch aus der Gasse herauf hörte Walt entzückt die entfliehenden Töne reden, denn er merkte nicht, dass mit ihnen sein Bruder entfliehe. [Enraptured, Walt could still hear the fleeing sounds coming up from the street, for he didn’t realize that with them his brother was fleeing.]

In the closing number of Papillons, Schumann quotes the ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ traditionally used at the conclusion of a ball, combining it with the waltz-tune of the cycle’s first piece—as though to illustrate in music the view he expressed to Rellstab, that the end of Jean Paul’s novel sounds like a new beginning. In the last bars we hear the chimes of six o’clock in the morning, as the dancers disperse and the music vanishes into thin air. The effect is achieved by fragmenting the ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ so that it sounds as though it is disappearing into the distance; and, at the very end, by means of a quietly arpeggiated chord whose notes are slowly released one by one. Schumann carried out a similar idea in the concluding pages of his Abegg Variations Op 1, where the process of subtracting notes from a chord produces a ‘ghost’ version of the work’s theme.

The ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ resurfaces in the final number of Carnaval, where it represents the reactionary forces routed by the members of the ‘League of David’ (a progressive body called into being by Schumann in his guise as a music critic). The tune appears initially in the music’s bass line, and is labelled Thème du XVIIe siècle; but not even the stentorian accents in the opening bars of this piece can disguise the fact that the march is actually in waltz-time. A further butterfly flits—albeit in slow-motion—across the surface of Carnaval in the autobiographical number called ‘Florestan’, in the shape of a quotation of the rising and falling waltz-theme from the opening number of Papillons; and the ninth number of Carnaval is actually called ‘Papillons’. The latter piece does not quote from the earlier work, though the horn-calls in the left hand in its opening bars are perhaps intended to represent the insect’s antennae.

Carnaval is, in fact, essentially a masked ball on a much larger scale than Papillons. Among the revellers are figures from the Commedia dell’arte, as well as Schumann himself in the dual roles of Florestan and Eusebius, Clara Wieck (in the number called ‘Chiarina’), Paganini and Chopin. Once again, it was surely Jean Paul’s seminal novel that fired Schumann’s imagination—not the ‘Larventanz’ episode this time, but an earlier chapter whose relevance to Carnaval seems to have been overlooked by Schumann scholars. The novel’s starting-point, and one of Jean Paul’s great comic scenes, is the reading in the town of Hasslau of the last will and testament of its most eccentric inhabitant, Van der Kable. According to the terms of the will, Walt Harnisch will inherit the bulk of the estate, on condition that he fulfil successively, and for a specified length of a time, the various professional roles that had been assumed during his life by Van der Kable himself. With every mistake he makes, Walt will sacrifice a part of the estate. Thus it is that he finds himself having to act as a piano tuner for a day, under the watchful eye of a notary. At the house of the bookseller Passvogel the piano is clearly in a poor state:

It wasn’t so much that the piano wanted tuning, as strings to tune. Instead of a tuning-hammer, Walt had to turn and work the musical keys with a cellar key. A pretty, adorned fifteen-year-old girl, Passvogel’s niece, was leading a boy of five—his son—around in his shirt, and was singing quietly, trying to weave a quiet piece of dance music for the little devil out of the random tuning notes. The contrast between his little shirt and her long chemise was agreeable enough. Suddenly three strings broke—A, C and B according to the official Hasslau catalogues, which, however, do not specify in which octave. ‘Merely letters from your name, Herr Harnisch’, said Passvogel. ‘You know the musical anecdote about Bach. All you’re missing is my p!’ ‘I’m tuning B flat’, said Walt, ‘but I can’t help the breakages.’ Since the lame notary was knowledgeable enough to realize that a tuning-key couldn’t break three strings at once, he stood up, looked and found the reason. ‘Out of the Ach we’ll get a Bach!’ (the bookseller joked, turning away). ‘How many puns chance produces that certainly wouldn’t be written down in any library of belles lettres. Only the lame notary was convinced that the affair was strange, and warranted reporting; and while he was taking another look at the sounding-board, out of the sound holes behind the paper spirals peered—a mouse.

The affinity between the nomenclature of the broken piano strings and the musical ciphers that weave their way through Carnaval is striking. Schumann’s original title for his work had been Fasching: Schwänke auf vier Noten (‘Carnival: Jests on Four Notes’). That title itself concealed the four notes on which the work is based, in their two principal formations: A–S–C–H and S–C–H–A. (In German notation, H is our B natural, while S, or ‘Es’ is note E flat. The A–S–C–H motif can be ‘spelled’ musically in two different ways: either as A natural, E flat, C, B; or simply as A flat, C, B natural—in which case the first note stands for ‘As’ ). Asch was the home-town of Schumann’s one-time fiancée, Ernestine von Fricken; and he must have been intrigued to find that the same letters figured in his own name, though in a different order. Eventually, Schumann settled on Carnaval as a synonym for ‘Fasching’, though he was clearly loath to relinquish his first title which he eventually used for a later work in which the four-note motifs did not appear: Faschingsschwank aus Wien.

Between the eighth and ninth numbers of Carnaval Schumann quoted his musical ciphers, or ‘Sphinxes’ as he labelled them, in a secret form that was intended solely for the pianist’s eyes (though one or two performers—notably Rachmaninov—have tried to make something out of Schumann’s cryptogram at this point).

The three motifs are closely related, and appropriately enough Schumann’s own cryptogram (the first of the three ‘Sphinxes’) appears, very discreetly, only in the ‘Eusebius’ and ‘Florestan’ numbers. For the rest, even the piece that occurs at the exact mid-point of Carnaval under the title of ‘A–S–C–H — S–C–H–A (Lettres dansantes)’ does not actually make use of the S–C–H–A cipher. What Clara made of the fact that her piece so clearly alludes to the residence of Schumann’s old flame is hard to imagine, but no doubt she had console herself with the thought that the first two letters of her name in its Italianate form of ‘Chiarina’ are so strongly emphasized by means of sforzato accents in the music’s inner line. Only the characters of Chopin and Paganini, who do not strictly speaking belong to Schumann’s autobiographical circle, are wholly exempt from the scheme. (Paganini’s piece, which evokes both his spiccato and his legato bowing, forms a quasi-trio for the ‘Valse allemande’.) It is true, however, that the cryptograms do not appear in the ‘Préambule’ either. This opening number, whose music makes a partial return in the final piece to round the work off in circular fashion, actually grew out of a projected set of variations on Schubert’s famous ‘Trauer-Waltzer’, whose harmonic outline can still be traced in Schumann’s opening bars.

The Op 12 Fantasiestücke, completed in the early weeks of 1838, pay oblique tribute to another of Schumann’s favoured authors, E T A Hoffmann. Their collective title (Schumann was to use it again in later years for a set of pieces for clarinet and piano, as well as another for piano trio) evokes Hoffmann’s Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, a collection of tales and essays that encompasses the writer’s two ‘Kreisleriana’ cycles. When the volume appeared, it bore not only an introductory note on the famous seventeenth-century French engraver Jacques Callot by Hoffmann himself, but also a preface by Jean Paul.

The eight Fantasiestücke (there was originally a ninth piece, but Schumann omitted it from the collection and it was not published until 1935) do not form a unified cycle in the sense that Carnaval does. They were designed more for the drawing-room than the concert-hall, though writing to Clara Wieck on 12 February 1838 Schumann recommended individual pieces for public performance—in particular, ‘Des Abends’ and ‘Traumes Wirren’. Curiously enough, he thought ‘In der Nacht’—surely one of the very finest pieces in the series—too long for such a purpose. As for Clara, she confessed that her favourites were ‘Fabel’, ‘Des Abends’, ‘Aufschwung’, ‘Grillen’ and ‘Ende vom Lied’.

Schumann divided the Fantasiestücke into two Books, each having its own tonal centre. Three of the four pieces in Book I are in D flat major. Significantly enough, the exception—‘Aufschwung’—sets off as though it is to be in B flat minor, the closest relative among the minor keys to D flat major; and the first of its two contrasting episodes is actually in D flat. Not until the very end does the main theme at last cadence with deliberate abruptness onto the home chord of F minor.

‘Des Abends’ is among the most perfect and intimate of all Schumann’s piano miniatures. Its smooth melody is syncopated throughout (it is the left-hand accompaniment that maintains the actual beat); and when it passes to the inner voice in the second half of the opening section, it undergoes a further shift in relation to the bar-line. The pianist playing this piece finds his thumbs interlocked virtually throughout.

Following the dramatic intensity of ‘Aufschwung’, with its upward-surging melody, the question posed in ‘Warum?’ seems to be of secretive innocence. The piece is much shorter and simpler than the remaining numbers, and could almost have been designed for Kinderszenen—the collection Schumann composed immediately after completing the Fantasiestücke. The end of its second half links back to its repeat, but it does not provide a real conclusion the second time through. Instead, the circular, repetitive nature of the closing bars leaves the music hanging in mid-air, as though on a genuine question-mark.

The melodic contour of ‘Warum?’ is taken over in the opening bars of the good-natured ‘Grillen’—another piece that begins by approaching its home key obliquely. Schumann wanted it played with humour—a concept he later described (apropos his Humoreske Op 20) as being characteristically German—a happy combination, as he put it, of ‘Gemütlichkeit’ and wit.

Of the pieces in the second Book, both ‘In der Nacht’ and ‘Traumes Wirren’ unfold in a constant swirl of semiquavers—dark and intense in the former (though it has a warmer, more lyrical episode in the major), dazzlingly light in the latter. There are more cascading semiquavers in the middle section of ‘Fabel’, though for the rest this piece alternates a slow, smoothly expressive phrase (the ‘once upon a time’, perhaps, suggested by the piece’s title) and a much quicker staccato idea. The final piece makes a return to the slightly pompous Biedermeier style of ‘Grillen’, and once again the pianist is instructed to play it good-humouredly. But the coda introduces a new element of poetry into the proceedings, and the nostalgic final bars echo the opening melody in slow-motion, and as if from afar.

Misha Donat © 2005

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