Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA67180 - Schumann: Violin Sonatas & Three Romances
A Busy Riverside Village by Charles Euphrasie Kuwasseg (1833-1904)
Fine Art Photographic Library / Fine Art of Oakham, Rutland, England
CDA67180

Recording details: March 2000
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: May 2001
Total duration: 57 minutes 45 seconds

‘The best performances of these pieces on disc’ (Gramophone)

‘Recommended, without reservation’ (Fanfare, USA)

‘The performances have all the virtues – clarity, focus, warmth of feeling, superb technique – that have distinguished The Florestan Trio’s discs’ (International Record Review)

‘Anthony Marwood’s high range of colours serves the music’s passions perfectly, and the pianist Susan Tomes is very much an equal partner. Marwood is allowed to sing with rapture’ (The Sunday Times)

'Stylish, full-blooded artistry … matched with impeccable performing' (BBC CD Review)

Violin Sonatas & Three Romances
Allegretto  [3'45]
Lebhaft  [5'21]
Nicht schnell  [3'05]
Nicht schnell  [4'03]
Sehr lebhaft  [4'22]
Leise, einfach  [4'50]
Bewegt  [8'51]

Schumann told Wasielewski that he had composed his Violin Sonata in A minor at a time when he was 'very angry with certain people'. Whether or not that anger found its outlet in creative energy, he managed to complete the entire work within the space of less than a week. The Sonata is alone among Schumann's symphonically conceived chamber works in being cast in three movements, rather than four. The relative concision results from the fact that Schumann's middle movement takes a leaf out of Beethoven's book, and combines the functions of slow movement and scherzo. No less intensely passionate than the A minor Sonata is the Violin Sonata in D minor Op 121. Although Schumann eventually dedicated it to Ferdinand David, the violinist who had been so closely associated with Mendelssohn and the Leipzig Gewandhaus (it was for David that Mendelssohn composed his famous Violin Concerto), the piece was first performed by Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann in 1853. Towards the end of that year Joachim wrote enthusiastically to his friend Arnold Wehner, Director of music at Göttingen: 'I consider it one of the finest compositions of our times in respect of its marvellous unity of feeling and its thematic significance. It overflows with noble passion, almost harsh and bitter in expression, and the last movement reminds one of the sea with its glorious waves of sound.'


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Towards the end of 1849 Schumann was invited by the conductor and composer Ferdinand Hiller to take over his position as Director of the municipal choir and orchestra in Düsseldorf. (Hiller had just been appointed to a similar post in Cologne.) Schumann had been looking for salaried employment of this kind for some time, though his sights had been set on something a little nearer home, and in particular on the Leipzig Gewandhaus; but after some hesitation he accepted. The Schumanns arrived in Düsseldorf on the evening of 2 September the following year, and were immediately greeted with a serenade performed by members of the orchestra. Two days later an all-Schumann concert was given. It included the overture to his opera, Genoveva, and the second part of his oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri. Schumann conducted his first concert with the Düsseldorf orchestra on 24 October, and a follow-up less than a month later. That second concert included Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, with Schumann’s newly appointed orchestra leader, Joseph von Wasielewski, as soloist. By all accounts both occasions were highly successful, and Hiller was able to report that ‘the Düsseldorfers are now very happy, and I think the present arrangement will work out for the best’.

Alas, these heady days—they inspired Schumann to compose two of his most popular orchestral works, the Cello Concerto and the ‘Rhenish’ Symphony—were not to last. Already by the following spring both the orchestra and chorus were finding Schumann’s taciturn personality a problem, and criticisms of his conducting soon began to make themselves felt. That summer the composer had a serious falling-out with the assistant burgomaster of Düsseldorf, who was also the secretary of the Musikverein, over the programme for the following concert season. In October 1853 there was a major calamity at a performance of a Mass by the Dresden composer Moritz Hauptmann: oblivious to his surroundings, Schumann apparently went on conducting after the music had stopped. Several members of the chorus refused point blank to perform under his direction again, and matters soon came to a head. The following month two members of the Musikverein’s executive committee called on Clara Schumann, and put it to her that her husband should limit his conducting activities to his own works, and leave all other performances to his deputy, Julius Tausch. Clara was outraged, but it was clear that relations between Schumann and the Musikverein had broken down irretrievably. He never conducted again.

While it is unlikely that these disagreeable events played any part in precipitating Schumann’s mental breakdown in February 1854, it must have been a relief for him during this period to turn to the composition of chamber music. In March 1851 he wrote his Märchenbilder for viola and piano; and between September and the early days of November of that same year came, in rapid succession, the Violin Sonata in A minor, Op 105, the Piano Trio in G minor, Op 110, and the D minor Violin Sonata, Op 121. What the three large-scale pieces have in common is a concern with cyclic form of a kind Schumann had already explored in his symphonies, though it was largely new to his chamber music. It is true that the famous Piano Quintet of 1842 had ended with a spectacular piece of counterpoint combining the main themes of its two outer movements; but in these late chamber works the process of thematic recall is rather more subtle—so much so, indeed, that it has often gone unnoticed.

Schumann told Wasielewski that he had composed his Violin Sonata in A minor at a time when he was ‘very angry with certain people’. Whether or not that anger found its outlet in creative energy, he managed to complete the entire work within the space of less than a week, between 12 and 16 September 1851. The Sonata is alone among Schumann’s symphonically conceived chamber works in being cast in three movements, rather than four. The relative concision results from the fact that Schumann’s middle movement takes a leaf out of Beethoven’s book, and combines the functions of slow movement and scherzo. The tempo marking is ‘Allegretto’, though the main theme itself, with its phrases culminating in a ritardando followed by a long-held pause, is serene enough to afford the necessary feeling of repose between the Sonata’s outer movements. In atmosphere, the piece is rather reminiscent of the Intermezzo of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, whose key of F major it shares. The first reprise of the theme gives way to an episode in a quicker tempo whose flow is touchingly interrupted by a long-held violin note behind which the sound of hunting-horns can be heard on the piano, changing from major to minor. At the end, with a gently rustling sound followed by two pizzicato chords, this delicately scored piece disappears into thin air.

‘Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck’ is Schumann’s heading for the first movement. The passion of its opening bars is expressed largely through much use of the rich and intense tone of the violin’s bottom G string. The main theme, with its turbulent piano accompaniment, unfolds as though in a single breath; and by a splendid inspiration the start of the second subject coincides with the climax of the sequence of phrases by which it is approached. A similar overlap occurs at the start of the recapitulation. Here, as the development is still reaching its conclusion, the violin gives out the main subject’s phrase in an achingly expressive broadened form, and the original tempo is not picked up again until the theme is already in mid-flow.

It is that more expansive version of the opening movement’s main subject that will be heard again during the closing pages of the finale where, quite unobtrusively, it is played by the violinist while his partner interjects the characteristic ‘tripping’ figure of the finale’s theme. This combination of the two ideas is no gratuitous gesture: the themes arise out of a common melodic cell, though their rhythmic pattern, and hence their character, is very different. The finale’s theme is, in fact, a close relative of an important episode from the scherzo of the ‘Rhenish’ Symphony, which had been premiered at Düsseldorf some eight months earlier. The theme’s semiquaver figuration permeates not only the movement’s outer sections, but also the passionate episode in the major at its centre. For all the finale’s driving energy, it is this brief but wonderfully warm and lyrical episode that lingers in the memory long after the piece has finished.

No less intensely passionate than the A minor Sonata is the D minor Violin Sonata Op 121. Although Schumann eventually dedicated it to Ferdinand David, the violinist who had been so closely associated with Mendelssohn and the Leipzig Gewandhaus (it was for David that Mendelssohn composed his famous Violin Concerto), the piece was first performed by Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann at a concert given on 29 October 1853 which marked the start of a musical partnership that was to last for several decades. Towards the end of that year Joachim wrote enthusiastically to his friend Arnold Wehner, Director of music at Göttingen:

You know how expressively Clara interprets his [Schumann’s] music. I have extraordinary joy in playing Robert’s works with her, and I only wish you could share this joy … I must not fail to tell you about the new Sonata in D minor which Breitkopf & Härtel will bring out very soon. We played it from the proof-sheets. I consider it one of the finest compositions of our times in respect of its marvellous unity of feeling and its thematic significance. It overflows with noble passion, almost harsh and bitter in expression, and the last movement reminds one of the sea with its glorious waves of sound.

The work begins with a majestic slow introduction. The melodic outline of its initial chords (they are to return at the close of the Allegro’s exposition, in a manner which implies a close tempo relationship between the two sections) gives rise to the opening theme of the main body of the movement; and even the broader second subject affords little real contrast of mood. Both subjects, together with a syncopated descending scale idea that separates them, are explored at length in the turbulent central development section; while in the coda the music’s agitation increases still further.

If Schumann had provided his A minor Sonata with a central intermezzo-like slow movement and scherzo rolled into one, this less concise companion-piece has two self-contained middle movements which are nevertheless closely interlinked. The scherzo second movement, with its driving 6/8 rhythm, is a piece that seems to have left a strong impression on the young Brahms, whose own early C minor Scherzo for violin and piano is very similar in mood. (Brahms’s piece was composed at Schumann’s instigation, as part of a joint ‘greetings sonata’ in honour of Joachim’s visit to Düsseldorf in 1853.) Schumann’s scherzo reaches its climax with the opening phrase of the chorale melody ‘Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ’, given out fortissimo by both players—an anticipation, as it turns out, of the gentle serenade-like theme of the following variation movement. (Both in its actual melody and the manner of its presentation, the moment is one that echoes the chorale in the finale of Mendelssohn’s C minor Piano Trio, Op 66.) Conversely, the third movement’s penultimate variation recalls both the figuration and the actual material of the scherzo; and its coda ties the pieces together still more closely, in such a way that the two seem to be inextricably interwoven. Once again, one is reminded of Brahms: this time, of his F sharp minor Piano Sonata of 1854, in which the theme of the slow movement so strikingly generates the main motif of the scherzo.

Like the opening movement, the finale, with its ‘waves of sound’ so evocatively described by Joachim, is a tumultuous sonata-form movement. This time, however, the more lyrical second subject affords genuine relief from the music’s prevailing intensity; and the piece has an extended coda in the major whose hard-won effulgence provides a splendid conclusion to the work as a whole.

In the late 1840s Schumann had begun to experiment with various forms of duos for different instruments with piano, as though keen to encourage new areas of domestic music-making. Four such works were composed in the year 1849 alone: in February came not only an Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, but also a set of Fantasiestücke for clarinet. These were followed in April by a cycle of five Stücke im Volkston (‘Pieces in Popular Style’) for cello; and in December by Three Romances for oboe and piano.

Just as the Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano was published with alternative parts for violin or cello, so the Three Romances appeared with a violin part as a substitute for the oboe. Schumann may have conceived the music for the more melancholy sound of the wind instrument, but it works very well on the violin, and it is worth bearing in mind that one or two of the descending octave leaps in the second piece actually fall below the oboe’s range.

Like the clarinet pieces, the Romances are all in A major or minor. However, their cyclic unity is less in evidence, and they do not offer so strong a contrast in mood or tempo. In fact, all three pieces are played at a similar pace (though the middle section of No 2 is more agitated), so that the cycle gives the impression of unfolding in a single span. Unlike its two companions, the opening piece does not have a clearly demarcated central section. Instead, each phrase appears to grow out of the last, and the music is further bound together by the manner in which it so inextricably weaves together theme and accompaniment.

Misha Donat © 2001

   English   Français   Deutsch