Buoyed by the successful premiere of the ‘Rhenish’ Symphony in February 1851, Schumann composed another of his adaptable chamber-music miniatures early the following month: the Märchenbilder
, Op 113 for piano with either viola (the composer’s first choice) or violin. The stimulus for these four ‘Fairy-tale Pictures’ was the virtuoso violinist Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, whom Schumann had recruited from Leipzig as leader of the Düsseldorf orchestra. Whatever their specific fairy-tale background (the composer left no clues), the four pieces seem to conjure in alternation the twin fictional personas of Schumann’s youth. The wistful musings of the dreamer Eusebius, expressed in delicate interplay between the two instruments, are countered by the impetuous Florestan in the rhythmically insistent second movement. The two personas appear successively in the third movement, whose brilliant outer sections enfold a romantic interlude in an exotically remote key (B major, after D minor). Eusebius has the last word in the finale, a lullaby marked Langsam, mit melancholischem Ausdruck
(‘Slowly, with melancholy expression’), and perfectly fashioned for the dusky tones of the viola.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2012