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Robert Schumann: Novelletten Op. 21, Toccata Op. 7

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  • Artist(s): Paolo Vergari
  • Composer(s): Robert Schumann
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • EAN Code: 7.46160911847
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Piano
  • Period: Romantic
  • Publication year: 2020
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As a young musician, Robert Schumann had focused his attention on the piano for a long time. He had had the ambition of making a career as a solo concert pianist, a virtuoso who played his own works as was customary at the time. This focused interest is demonstrated by the long list of his first published opus numbers, in which the piano is the undisputed protagonist. The image of the young virtuoso pianist, however, should not mislead us into thinking that Schumann was obsessed by the piano to the point of neglecting other interests: as is well known, Schumann was a keen reader and a promising writer himself (and this, along with music, was his primary artistic interest), but he was also a law student (in this case, not due to a special interest of his own but rather to his family’s desires).
If music and literature were Schumann’s artistic passions, his personal life was enlightened by his love for Clara Wieck, who would later become his wife, and who was an extremely gifted pianist and a composer herself (one of his pieces is elegantly cited in one of the Novelletten recorded here). It is understandable, therefore, that on numerous occasions Schumann sought to unify these pillars of his creative and sentimental life, through the realization of musical works with a literary inspiration, a pronounced virtuoso character, and a more or less hidden dedication to his bride-to-be.
Clara, who was nine years his junior, had been educated by her father (who was also Robert Schumann’s mentor and teacher) who had developed his daughter’s musical and technical skills to an almost prodigious level. Her technique was extremely brilliant and dazzling, and one of the works which had contributed to this result was a Toccata by Carl Czerny. While Czerny is not remembered today for the lyricism and beauty of his compositions, his works are still widely used in piano pedagogy as exercises and etudes. Czerny had been a student of Beethoven, and had realized an instructive edition of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier which would become one of the most influential sources of inspiration for the interpretation of Bach on the keyboard in the following decades. This edition, according to Czerny’s claims, did not transmit his own idea of how Bach’s works should be played, but rather it did preserve Beethoven’s interpretation of Bach.
Indeed, Toccatas as a musical genre belonged more to Bach’s era than to Beethoven’s, Czerny’s or Schumann’s; they were a form typical for the early and late Baroque era, and had become a paradigm for a keyboard piece with an intense technical complexity, and which might adopt a recurring pattern. Like most technical exercises, in fact, a difficulty is overcome by repeating it – and is heightened by the same repetition, which may lead to fatigue and tiredness.
Schumann was a devoted admirer of both Bach and Beethoven; and though probably he was not as enthusiastic of Czerny, the fact that his beloved Clara had spent so many hours on Czerny’s Toccata might endear even this rather arid piano piece to the young lover.
Thus, Schumann’s own Toccata op. 7 represents a homage to Clara, to Czerny, to the Baroque era and to piano technique. Actually, the first draft of the Toccata was titled Exercice, and later he renamed it Etude fantastique en double-sons (Fantastic Study in Double Notes). The dimension of “exercise” is doubtless evident; Schumann himself considered this piece as the “hardest ever written”, and the claim was fully justified at the time of its composition.
However, the retrospective element of a reminiscence of the Baroque era is no less evident. Schumann in fact added a footnote to the first edition of this piece, stating: “In order to leave the performer as much latitude for the expression of the music as he feels it, markings are indicated only in those places where the performing technique makes heavy demands upon the player”. The piece’s visual appearance in print has in fact little more than the “bare notes”, and eschews the numerous indications for expression and dynamics which are found in most Romantic piano works. Schumann thus considered the “clean” appearance of Baroque musical scores as an unexplored field in which the performer’s fantasy could have free rein.
It is not by chance, in fact, that the Toccata’s second provisional title included the adjective “fantastic”: fantasy was the goddess of many Romantics, and had a special fascination for Schumann, whose creative activity had been nourished by his readings of Jean Paul and Hoffmann.
The Toccata’s seemingly mechanical structure must in fact be enlivened by the performers’ fantasy, and the virtuoso craze which seems to possess it must be brightened by a corresponding creative craze infusing the piece with variety and expressivity.
This is however difficult to achieve, both because of the sheer complexity of the piece, and because of the slightly distorted interpretation it has received in the subsequent years: after Schumann, in fact, the Toccata as a genre came once more to the fore, but, even in the hands of the greatest composers, it frequently maintained a rather dry and mechanistic character.
This risk is not found in Schumann’s Novelletten, a magnificent series of eight piano pieces conceived unitarily. The title reveals, once more, Schumann’s penchant for literature. There did not exist other “Novelletten” prior to his own, and the origin of the title is jokingly revealed by Schumann himself in one of his letters to Clara. Writing to her in 1838, he stated: “I have composed a frightful amount for you in the last three weeks: light-hearted things, Egmont stories, family scenes with fathers, a wedding – in short, the most amiable things; and have named the whole work Novelletten because you are called Clara and Wiecketten doesn’t have a good enough ring to it”. Schumann’s letter remains obscure unless one knows that both Robert and Clara were admirers of another Clara, a famous singer whose family name was Novello. Thus, one gathers, Schumann intended the cycle as a homage to his own Clara even though it cites the family name of another Clara. (It is open to question whether Clara Wieck appreciated this idea or not).
Schumann ended up dedicating the piece to Adolph Henselt, a pianist himself and a family friend; the cycle attracted the attention of some of the major virtuosi of the era, and even of Franz Liszt. The aesthetics of Schumann and of Liszt were at odds with each other, and at a later time Schumann would feel deep antipathy for the Hungarian virtuoso and composer. Liszt, however, was probably more broad-minded, and always demonstrated his appreciation for the compositions of his colleague. This antipathy had not yet shown itself in 1840, though, when Schumann heard Liszt playing the second Novellette in Leipzig; he reported his impressions to Clara with the following words: “The 2nd Novellette gave me great joy; you can scarcely believe what an effect it makes. Liszt wants to play it in his third concert here, too”.
The cycle in fact is a perfect showpiece for every virtuoso, but has also a profound and deep musical meaning – as happens with all works by Schumann. The second Novellette, the one played by Liszt, possesses a fascinating narrative structure derived from Goethe’s West-östlicher Diwan, and features the characters of the Saracen and of Suleika, whose opposing traits are eventually blended by the music. In turn, the third Novellette has a literary inspiration, and evokes the dark powers of Macbeth’s witches (though eventually Schumann dropped the literary reference from the published score). In general, these eight pieces display Schumann’s fantasy at its most felicitous, and reveal the joyful and bright side of his musical creativity.
The pieces concur to the creation of an overarching tonal plan, in which the key of D major is extremely prominent. The same key dominates the beginning of Eduardo Hubert’s Visioni, as was remarked by the composer himself in a recent interview. Speaking of his compositional method, he observed a number of seemingly casual coincidences, which may or may not reveal a subconscious project. For example, Visioni is inhabited by a powerful rhythm; when he was trying it, he realized that it sounded similar to a message in the Morse alphabet, and was curious about the letters it could make: he was surprised to realize that the rhythmical impulses constitute the letters A-M-O-R, spelling out “love” in Spanish, his mother tongue. Even though there is no immediate connection between the two Toccatas recorded in this Da Vinci Classics CD, therefore, the composer of the most recent of the two admits that a subliminal influence is admissible, even though Hubert’s Toccata had been written years before and was later revised in depth. In Visioni, Hubert acknowledges the presence of the “scent of a tango”, the passionate dance par excellence and the symbol for love in modern music. It can be said, therefore, that the hidden message of love (A-M-O-R) gently connects the two works by Schumann to the two contemporary pieces, inspiring them all through the means of piano performance.

Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio

Artist(s)

Vergari, Paolo (Pianist) was born in Falerone (1964, Fermo, Italy) and studied piano and composition at the “L. D’Annunzio” Conservatory in Pescara with Giovanna De Fanti, and subsequently with M. Della Chiesa D’Isasca, E. Hubert, A.Ciccolini, T. Nikolajewa, E. Murano and A. Hintchev.

He has given concerts as a soloist and in chamber ensembles at major concert halls and for international organizations including Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Sala Nervi in the Vatican City, Teatro Regio in Parma, the Reggia in Caserta, Teatro Regio in Turin, Teatro Verdi in Salerno, Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome and outside Italy at the United Nations Auditorium in New York, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the Dante Alighieri cultural centre in Moscow, the Klementinum and B. Martinu Hall in Prague, Salle Cortot Paris, the Manoel national theatre in Malta, IRCAM Paris, A. Williams Concert Hall in Buenos Aires.

His performances have been broadcast by RAI, TMC, Radio France, RSI, Radio Maltese, Blu Sat 2000 and ORF.
He tours Asia regularly, China specially, and has been in this Country several times since 2004, performing in the most important concert halls in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shenyang.
He has performed as soloist wih the Philarmonia of Salta, the Windkraft Orchestra, the Orchestra of Radio Sofia, the Lublin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bacau Philharmonic Orchestra (Romania), the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra, the Fiati di Parma wind orchestra, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Brno and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra. He has played under conductors such as Giorgio Bernasconi, Mirjam Schimdt, Marco Della Chiesa D’Isasca, Petr Altrichter, Kaspar De Roo, Michele Santorsola, Jorge Lhez.

His interest in the masterworks of chamber music has led to major collaborations with the “Quartetto Szymanowski”, with violinist Nicolas Chumachenco and with the Ensemble Oggimusica of Lugano. He was also a founding member of the ADM Ensemble of Modena.
He has partecipated in various international music festivals including: Montepellier and Radio France; Festival of Stresa; Musica Riva in Riva Del Garda; Giardino della Musica, in Milan; BadiaMusica in Bolzano and Festival Pontino in Latina (Italy).
He is been the founder and artistic director of BadiaMusica (Bolzano), an international festival launched in 2000 which each year hosts symphonic and chamber music played by prestigious performers.
He teached Masterclass at Kunming University (Yunnan, China), the University “G. Enescu” in Iasi (Romania), the Magnificat School of Music in Jerusalem where hebrews and arabian musicians share their musical life.

He has made numerous recordings, including the complete concertos for piano and orchestra by Gian Francesco Malipiero performed in 2005 with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Iasi (Romania) and released in 2007.
In 2006 he recorded the CD My love to China, wich includes traditional Chinese music. Hailed by the critics as one of the most important works released in recent years, in 2003 he made the first ever recording of a double CD containing the 40 “Studi di perfezionamento” by Gino Tagliapietra.
He has recorded the Goyescas by E. Granados for the label Clarius Audi and works by composers such as O. Messiaen, L. Liviabella and C. Rastelli for Phoenix and Altrisuoni.

In 2010 he composed the music for the movie “Duns Scoto” by director Fernando Muraca.

Following the passion and practise of improvisation, throught several workshops with M° François Rossé, Vergari have performed concerts on improvisations for piano solo and with other musicians as Carlo Rizzo (virtuoso player of Tamburello), Elisa Tonelli (voice), Massimiliano Dragoni (percussion); with them has recorded CD Taka’s Question (2010) and after series of concerts with the Ladinian poetess Roberta Dapunt, in 2001 he recorded Perdono, improvisations inspired by her poetry.
He has teached Piano in the Conservatories “G. Braga” Teramo, “Nicola Sala” Benevento, “Niccolò Piccinni” Bari, “Domenico Cimarosa” Avellino.

Composer(s)

Robert Schumann: (b Zwickau, Saxony, 8 June 1810; d Endenich, nr Bonn, 29 July 1856). German composer and music critic. While best remembered for his piano music and songs, and some of his symphonic and chamber works, Schumann made significant contributions to all the musical genres of his day and cultivated a number of new ones as well. His dual interest in music and literature led him to develop a historically informed music criticism and a compositional style deeply indebted to literary models. A leading exponent of musical Romanticism, he had a powerful impact on succeeding generations of European composers.