Sergio Fiorentino – The Early Recordings, Vol. 6 – Schumann
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Myra Hess – The complete solo and concerto studio recordings
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No 01: Préambule: Quasi maestoso
No 02: Pierrot: Moderato
No 03: Arlequin: Vivo
No 04: Valse noble: Un poco maestoso
No 05: Eusebius: Adagio
No 06: Florestan: Passionato
No 07: Coquette: Vivo
No 08: Réplique: L'istesso tempo – Sphinxes
No 08a: Réplique: L'istesso tempo
No 08b: Sphinxes
No 09: Papillons: Prestissimo
No 10: ASCH–SCHA (Lettres dansantes): Presto
No 11: Chiarina: Passionato
No 12: Chopin: Agitato
No 13: Estrella: Con affetto
No 14: Reconnaissance: Animato
No 15: Pantalon et Colombine: Presto
No 16: Valse allemande: Molto vivace
No 17: Paganini (Intermezzo): Presto
No 18: Aveu: Passionato
No 19: Promenade: Comodo
No 20: Pause: Vivo
No 21: Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins: Non allegro
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