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Fantasie in C major, Op 17

composer
published in 1839

 
Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in F (Op 17), composed in 1836, has directly personal associations, although it was originally planned as a fund-raiser for Liszt’s scheme to erect a monument to Beethoven in Bonn. It was written, along with many of his most passionate piano works (three sonatas, and the Kreisleriana and Nachtstücke with their references to Hoffmann), during a period when he feared he would never be allowed to be united with Clara Wieck, and it is the most direct declaration of his love for her. Schumann, having decided in 1830 to devote himself to music, lodged in the house in Leipzig of the charismatic piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, who was grooming his ten-year-old daughter Clara to become a great virtuoso. The composer was the leader of a group, the Davidsbündler, who wanted to combat philistinism in music, and had founded the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, where he developed the double personality he had devised for himself: Eusebius, the melancholy dreamer, and Florestan, the impulsive and passionate enthusiast.

In April 1836 it dawned on him that he had fallen in love with Clara, still only fifteen, and from this point her father did everything possible to keep them apart. Schumann channelled his feelings into his compositions, frequently taking alternating roles as Florestan and Eusebius. Throughout the Fantasie it always seems clear which of the characters is his mouthpiece. The impetuous opening introduces the principal thematic material of the whole composition, which is based on music Clara had herself written, and the contrasting episodes draw the sequence of notes out into long melodies and also transform it into fragmented rhythmic interruptions. Unlike Schubert, with his seemingly effortless melodic gift, Schumann found the invention of thematic material a great struggle, and he would often start with the notes given by a word or a name (as in the “ABEGG” variations) or phrases from another composer’s work. But then this material would be subjected to every kind of musical fragmentation and manipulation to be integrated into his composition. The overall unity this gives to the diverse melodic and rhythmic patterns in Schumann’s music might be compared to the intense individuality of the composer himself with all his changing moods and shifts of personality.

The first movement contains repeated fiery episodes between passages of calm; at one point the harmony builds up from the bass as in a Baroque organ toccata, leading after interruptions of melody and recitative to a passage that resembles a chorale. Following a curtailed recapitulation, the toccata motif returns to usher in the meditative conclusion to the movement, with its final yearning cadences. The second movement uses off-beat accents to emphasize the energy of the marching pulse, while contrasting episodes introduce a more playful skipping rhythm, and a breathless coda brings back the off-beat accents to generate a furious pace. Much of the final movement belongs to Eusebius, with extended meditations and a long spun-out melody in waltz time (lifted by the 2 against 3 cross-rhythms Schumann favoured so much) that builds up to a twice repeated declaration, which seems to sum up the composer’s sentiments towards his beloved. Finally the thematic material goes through a series of modulations that are resolved in the same aching cadences that concluded the first movement.

Originally Schumann gave titles to the individual movements of the work (first also titled a Grand Sonata), which refer to the monument for Beethoven—‘Ruins’, ‘Trophies’ and ‘Palms’, the last two of which he changed to ‘Triumphal Arch’ and ‘Constellation’—but when it was published in 1839 it was as a Fantasie, with a dedication to Liszt and an epigraph from Friedrich Schlegel that was undoubtedly meant for Clara: ‘Through all the tones there sounds / in Earth’s many-coloured dream / a soft drawn-out tone / for the one who listens in secret.’ She wrote Robert that she was ‘ill with rapture’ after receiving the music from him, and she never performed the work until after his death.

from notes by Novelbond Limited © 2007

Recordings

Joseph James: Wanderer Fantasies after Schubert & Schumann
SIGCD095Download only
Schumann: Piano Music
Studio Master: CDA67166Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Movement 1: Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen
Movement 2: Mässig: Durchaus energisch
Movement 3: Langsam getragen: Durchaus leise zu halten

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