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Hyperion Records

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Masquerade (1922) by Karl Hofer (1878-1955)
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne / AKG-Images, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67120
Recording details: December 1999
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: November 2005
Total duration: 29 minutes 35 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, Op 9
composer
1834/5

Arlequin: Vivo  [1'05]
Eusebius: Adagio  [2'09]
Coquette: Vivo  [1'35]
Chopin: Agitato  [1'04]
Aveu: Passionato  [1'06]
Pause: Vivo  [0'17]

Other recordings available for download
Alfred Cortot (piano)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Simon Barere (piano)
Myra Hess (piano)
Myra Hess (piano)
Stephen Hough (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ surfaces 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.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2005


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