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Three Fantasies, Op 11

'Stenhammar: Piano Music' (CDA67689)
Stenhammar: Piano Music
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No 1: Molto appassionato – Poco meno, ma agitato – Impetuoso – Presto
No 2: Dolce scherzando
No 3: Molto espressivo e con intimissimo sentimento

Three Fantasies, Op 11
The Three Fantasies Op 11 from 1895 have become the most frequently played of Stenhammar’s piano pieces. Indeed, they are unique in being the only works of his own which he performed in his recitals. In the years following the composition of the G minor Sonata in 1890 Stenhammar had spent seven months, during 1892 and 1893, in Berlin, studying the piano with Heinrich Barth. (It is interesting to note that he chose not to take any composition lessons, even though he spent a great deal of his time in Berlin composing.) In the veritable war that raged between the followers of Wagner and Brahms, Barth was firmly on the Brahms side. Stenhammar found himself torn between the two camps; as scholar Bo Wallner put it: ‘In daytime he played Brahms, in the evenings he indulged in Wagner.’ It is no surprise then that these German masters were to serve as his role models during the 1890s.

It is certainly easier to discern Brahms than Wagner in the musical language of the Three Fantasies, particularly in the passionate first piece with its sonorous opening chords and in the elegiac sentiment of the third. The piano-writing in the Fantasies is less demanding and the musical language more immediately communicative than in Stenhammar’s other piano works, something which has without doubt contributed to their popularity. The two contrasting sections that alternate in the first piece remain static without development, and it is the cumulative effect of these that drives the piece towards its climactic ending. By contrast, development is a strong feature in the playful middle piece, where the musical fabric consists of short syncopated fragments that, by cleverly avoiding the strong beats, keep the music aloft without touching the ground. Only in its final bars does it come to rest on a pianissimo E major triad where Stenhammar lets the third (G sharp) fade away while the other notes in the chord are repeated, thus providing a bridge to the E minor opening of the third Fantasy, again in the key of B minor. Its declamatory theme in dactylic rhythm (something of a favourite of Stenhammar’s) provides long ascending cantabile lines in the outer sections and, inverted, it turns into a dance-like middle section. As a distant echo, the dance motif reappears at the end of the coda as the piece gently fades away in B major.

from notes by Martin Sturfält © 2008

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