Official release: 2 April 2021
In many piano works by Robert Schumann (Zwickau, 1810 – Endenich, 1856) it is possible to relinquish extra-musical meanings. In fact, even without the contribution of these, the message they transmit elicits unconditional reactions in the listener. These meanings are actually grounded on the listener’s preceding perceptive experiences, which constitute a sensible endowment of the human being.
Indeed, as described in a very useful analysis by Greg Hansburg, composers can work exclusively through musical media, thanks to which the audience is led to an emotional context. Here, in spite of the absence of words (with the exception of opera), what happens is frequently revealed as devoid of concrete verbal notions or visual illustrations. At both the conscious and unconscious level, a free chain of associations is created in the listener. This is not controlled by the composer: it is only in this moment that performers are allowed to fully communicate with the listener thanks to pure instrumentalism. This is a very poetic stage in the extra-musical plot, which gives to the composer a certain freedom of action, sometimes independent from its earthly actualization. This phenomenon is efficaciously expressed by a keystone sentence by Robert Schumann: “Musical sound is generally a re-embodied word”. At different stages of a style’s maturation, in fact, music can go farther and farther, abstracting itself from the word and sometimes weakening its connection with it. This can happen only until the word’s distance from the musical material reaches a critical point: at that point, the connection will be interrupted (or will cease to be perceived) and its style will be replaced with a new one.
About this point, Hoffmann’s idea about art’s ascent to the peaks of artistic abstraction is important. Analyzing his point, the Soviet musicologist Daniel Zhitomirsky wrote: “Poems make room for singing, which absorbs the poems and later dominates them – this all happens, according to Hoffmann, at various stages, each of which generates sublime content”. All generations of Romantic composers worked probably in this direction. Quoting Zhitomirsky once more, “it can be said, about the Romantics of the first half of the nineteenth century, and about the Germans in particular, that they began somehow ‘from scratch’, i.e. once again, just as their predecessors in the mature Classical era brought simple genres and forms to the centre of attention, taking them from nature”.
Thus, when historical-musical style changes, there always is a tension towards novelty. However, the genius of Robert Schumann was never bent over itself, but rather oriented towards a careful sensibilization concerning what we would call today “dissemination”. In fact, in 1833 he founded the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (the New Journal of Music), in order to discuss on the problems of contemporaneous music with a passionate and clear-sighted intellect. He was also supporting some strong personalities, including F. Chopin, H. Berlioz, F. Liszt and J. Brahms. “It was a generous and heroic struggle for the new ideals of Romantic art, against mediocre, conformist and academic misoneism” (Rino Maione, Storia della Musica, p. 365). He therefore created the League of David, the Davidsbündler, with three fantastic characters, i.e. Florestan, Eusebius and Meister Raro. Their different personalities transmitted his own emotional and aesthetic stances. From Florestan’s impetuous and audacious elan, from Eusebius’ dreamy melancholy of an ideal art, and from Raro’s wisdom (his name was created as a combination of the syllables Ra from Clara and Ro from Robert), he managed to reach a compromise with the existent. In particular, he found in the dualism Florestan/Eusebius the translation of two typically Romantic ways to conceive life: one was impulsive and fighting, the other dreamily idealist. At the same time, his attentive care for architectonic order conferred unity and cohesion to his irrational inspiration, whereby in his art no antinomy is found between Classical and Romantic.
“For the whole week I have been at the piano, and I composed, laughed and cried at the same time. You will find a trace of this all in my great Humoresque…”. So wrote Schumann in his letter to Clara Wieck, on March 11th, 1839, regarding his Humoreske op. 20 for the piano (1839). The title “Humoreske” continues to have an unsustainable charm within the spectrum of the human (rather than of the musicological) experience. It requires from the performer (as well as from the listener and reader) the acceptance of a layered compresence of moods (Humor), which are instruments of knowledge elevated to spirited mottos. These aspects determine a large part of Schumann’s output.
At the same time, to enucleate this important aesthetic category from its genesis is never a dramaturgic operation to be pursued. In fact, this would dematerialize its features including both a great interpretive freedom and a typically sublime contrast of sound.
The five sections making the work, which is however conceived as a single thematic corpus, progressively reveal the display of a mutable but recurring design. The seducing lyricism of the first section (recognizable for its cyclic structure) makes room for the first strong contrast (Molto vivace e leggero), sustained by a dotted rhythm reconnecting itself with the initial episode through inversion. The second section is rapidly burnt by a climax of feverish and tormented impetus. Later, is loses itself in a soft whisper, announcing the third section. This is in a ternary form; the intermezzo seems to recall the Humor through its noisy quadruplets of sixteenth-notes. Yet another theme with a wide span and beauty introduces to the fourth section, agile and lively, which flows into a march rhythm (a movement which was particularly cherished by the composer).
The wish to know this work more deeply led scholars such as Heinrich Schenker to individuate an even deeper significance for this intimate internal voice, eliciting the perception of “wider spaces, wider boundaries”: the interpreter is called to fill them.
The Sonata in G minor op. 22 (1833-8) pertains to a tortured and tortuous compositional cycle, entirely different from the Humoreske’s feverish gestation. “I can’t wait for the Second Sonata to arrive; your entire being is so clearly expressed in it”, wrote Clara Wieck to Robert in 1838, and probably this was the case. The Sonata’s first movement has been cited as one of the most classically-structured works within Schumann’s output; it overflows with Florestan-like pathos. The indication So rasch wie möglich (“as quickly as possible”) is characterized by an impassioned principal theme, combined with an impetuous game of accents and chromatic movements. The second thematic idea, which is rather lyrical, reveals in turn an underlying agitation, described by persisting syncopations. Clara wrote once more to Robert, regarding this piece: “I love it (the Sonata) just as I love you; it expresses your whole being with such clarity, and at the same time it is not too unintelligible”. She was however inviting him to modify its last movement, which she deemed to be “too difficult”. She feared that it could not be fully comprehended by performers and listeners alike, probably ascribing this difficulty to its rhythmic aspect. In fact, the original Finale Presto Passionato offers itself with a rhythmically complex writing, whereby binary and ternary rhythms are further complicated by syncopated rhythms. For this reason, Schumann entirely suppressed the original finale, replacing it with an equally vertiginous Prestissimo. It is an unceasing cadential perpetual motion, further stimulated by the worrisome indication Immer schneller und schneller (Always quicker and quicker). This is bound to an effective pedal game, challenging the performer to a test of extreme expressive virtuosity.
The Theme with variations in E-flat major WoO 24, better known as Geistervariationen (Ghost variations, 1854) represents Schumann’s last work. Anecdotally, it was created following the spirits’ dictation in one of the last nocturnal moments of the composer. During the night between February 17th and 18th, 1854, Schumann wrote down the cycle’s theme. “According to Clara’s witness, it seems that it had been sung by the angels. Ruppert Becker reported instead that Schubert’s spirit had dictated it. According to Wilhelm von Wasielewski, Schumann’s first biographer, there were two spirits dictating it, i.e. Schubert’s and Mendelssohn’s”. So writes Maria Teresa Arfini in her Aspetti crepuscolari dell’ultimo Schumann. The Geisterthema is built on a fragment of three notes with a dotted rhythmic profile. It appears to us as an arrival point rather than as a beginning: it really seems to be the embodiment of that ascensional music which the composer feverishly pursued during his entire life without ever actually finding it. In the other variations, the theme is differently treated. It is doubled, for an almost introspective need (second variation); it is found at the bass, flowing into a contemplative dance (third variation); it is veiled in the internal parts, deeply elegiac, doleful and nostalgic (fourth variation); finally, it is hidden within the figurations of semiquavers thanks to constant chromatic appoggiaturas, as a touching and symbolic farewell to human reason (fifth variation).
Notes by Antonella D’Orio
Translation by Chiara Bertoglio
Luca Lione: Pianista italiano con all’attivo importanti riconoscimenti internazionali; recentemente (Novembre 2020) ha ottenuto la medaglia d’oro al concorso pianistico Gran Prize Virtuoso di Bonn 2020 dopo una lunga selezione di candidati. La sua formazione artistica e professionale premiata con lode e menzione d’onore, iniziata nei conservatori italiani di Cosenza e Potenza si deve all’antica scuola Matthay-Taubman e le sue figure di riferimento in tal senso sono state il pianista e docente italiano Vincenzo Marrone D’Alberti e la pianista americana Nina Tichman, - tra le ultime allieve di Wilhelm Kempff - sotto la cui guida ha ultimato un perfezionamento di studi presso la Hochschule für Musik di Colonia. Luca Lione si è esibito in diverse sale italiane tra cui la residenza di Richard Wagner a Venezia, la Sala Lanza di Palermo, la Cappella Palatina della Regga di Caserta, il Salone degli Specchi di Taranto, il Castello di Partanna di Trapani, in duo, Villa Pignatelli di Napoli, l’Aula Magna dell’Università degli studi Roma Tre, il Teatro Keiros di Roma. Ha debuttato, in qualità di finalista del “Premio Internazionale Annarosa Taddei” con l’orchestra “Roma 3 Orchestra” al Teatro di Villa Torlonia, eseguendo il Terzo Concerto per pianoforte e orchestra di L. v. Beethoven, diretto dal M. Luca Bagagli e successivamente presso l’Auditorium del Conservatorio di Potenza per l’A.M.B. con l’Orchestra Filarmonica Federiciana diretta dal M. Carlo Franceschi. Sempre in Italia, ha avuto l’onore di esibirsi in duo col pianista salentino Francesco Libetta in occasione di una serata dedicata al Risorgimento italiano presso il Teatro “Il Ducale” in provincia di Lecce; in repertorio, autori italiani. La sua formazione pianistica si è arricchita grazie alle lezioni dei Maestri Aldo Ciccolini, Benedetto Lupo, Andrzej Pikul, Angel Condè, Bruno Mezzena, Irina Voro e Cristiano Burato, figure grazie alle quali ha ampliato il suo repertorio che spazia dalla musica del’ ‘700 a quella del primo ‘900 con una particolare predilezione per il periodo romantico. La sua esperienza concertistica estera invece annovera recital in Germania, presso il prestigioso castello dei Baroni Von Ezberg a Mühlheim an der Donau, grazie al patrocinio del Lions di Tuttlingen (Freiburg), in Belgio, su invito dell’ambasciatore olandese Frans Bijvoet presso il Consolato Generale dei Paesi Bassi e a Vienna presso la Gläserner Saal della prestigiosa Wiener Musikverein, in qualità di vincitore del Primo Premio al Gran Prize Virtuoso 2018 e alla Beethoven-Haus di Bonn, in qualità di vincitore del Gran Prize Virtuoso 2020. Nel Febbraio 2018 riceve un premio al talento, consistente in una borsa di studio e una targa dal Senatore della Repubblica Italiana, Fabrizio Bocchino; è risultato altresì primo premio assoluto in diverse competizioni pianistiche italiane. Luca Lione è stato menzionato dal pianista, critico musicale e conduttore radiofonico italiano Luca Ciammarughi nel suo testo “Da Benedetti Michelangeli alla Argerich. Trent'anni con i Grandi Pianisti” dedicato ai più grandi pianisti, nella sezione relativa alle giovani promesse del concertismo italiano. Attualmente occupa l’incarico di docente di pianoforte principale presso il Conservatorio “Stanislao Giacomantonio” di Cosenza.
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.