The years 1841 to 1844 were remarkably productive for Robert Schumann, yielding a large number of songs, orchestral works and chamber music. In spite of this prodigious outpouring of masterpieces, including Dichterliebe
, the first and fourth symphonies, the first movement of the Piano Concerto as well as the Piano Quartet and Quintet, he became increasingly depressed, feeling himself to be in the perpetual shadow of his wife’s career. In 1843 he took a position at the newly opened Leipzig Conservatory teaching piano and composition. However, by 1844 his nerves were in such a state that he suffered a complete breakdown and so, in December of that year, the whole family moved to Dresden. Schumann took with him a pedal attachment for his piano – he had first encountered the device at the Conservatory, where it was introduced as an aid for the organ students – and here he set about honing his contrapuntal skills. In 1845 he produced three sets of pieces for the pedal piano or organ: Six Studies in Canon
Op 56, Four Sketches
Op 58 and Six Fugues on B-A-C-H
Op 60. Although his encounters with historic Silbermann instruments in 1841 kindled a desire to study the organ seriously – he keenly promoted the instrument to his students – this never actually came about and the writing in all of these pieces is somewhat pianistic. This is particularly so in the A flat major Study Op 56 No 4; the searing intensity of the melodic line, in canon at the fifth, is set against chugging chords, creating a texture which would not be out of place in one of his lieder. A more agitated middle section, combining rapid passagework with the characteristic rising motif from the main theme, is followed by a harmonically enriched reprise of the first section.
from notes by Stephen Westrop © 2000