Official Release: 17 September 2021
The blossoming of Robert Schumann’s musical talent took place under the wings of Friedrich Wieck, a talented and exacting teacher. Robert had genius, rather than mere talent; Wieck was able to channel and to focus the young musician’s impetus and to enable him to express his visionary imagination in an organic fashion.
At Wieck’s house, Schumann met his teacher’s young daughter, Clara, who was nine years Robert’s junior. At nine, she could already play the piano wonderfully, and she demonstrated a remarkable talent as a composer. In spite of his numerous youthful infatuations, Robert was soon to be enthralled by the girl’s personality, by her gifts, by her musicianship and by her brilliant intelligence.
When he was composing Carnaval, op. 9, Schumann was clearly fascinated by Clara, although their love was still just a possibility. Carnaval is a mesmerizing collection of short piano pieces, whose unity is guaranteed by the use of the same thematic material, as revealed by the cycle’s subtitle: Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes. Taking his cue from the habit of excerpting musical themes from a word’s letters (as is the case with the BACH motif), Schumann had observed a curious phenomenon: the only letters in his family name which could be translated into music (i.e. S-C-H-A) were also those composing the name of the city of Asch, were another of his female acquaintances, Ernestine von Fricken, used to live. Thus he decided to pay homage to Ernestine by composing a cycle on these four letters.
Incidentally, these four letter/notes might puzzle the English-speaking reader: C and A are rather straightforward, but the translation of S and H is less immediate. H is the German name for the English B (while the German B is the English B-flat), while S (or rather “Es”) is E flat. These same letters lend themselves to the creation of yet another musical motif, i.e. As-C-H, translated as A flat, C and B.
Each of the pieces in Carnaval portrays a traditional mask, or a living person, or a situation. Pierrot, Arléquin, Pantalon et Colombine are traditional characters of the Commedia dell’arte; each of them is represented according to his or her own personality. Pierrot is dreamy and rather lazy; Arlequin is quick-witted and brandishes his faithful stick; the elderly Pantalon is constantly complaining, while Colombine mocks him.
Chopin and Paganini were fellow musicians: the piece dedicated to the former mimics the style typical for his nocturnes, with long cantabile lines in the right hand and undulating arpeggios in the left hand. Paganini evokes the great Italian violin virtuoso’s mastery, rather than actual musical gestures reminiscent of violin technique (though a hint of the multiple stops could be guessed here); this piece is one of the technically most demanding of this extremely virtuoso piano cycle. Estrella and Chiarina are two other real people: “Estrella” is Ernestine, who inspired the cycle, while “Chiarina” is Clara Wieck. The piece dedicated to Robert’s future wife alludes to the opening musical gestures of a composition she wrote, and whose opening bars are cited also at the beginning of Davidsbündlertänze op. 6. Indeed, all pieces in Davidsbündlertänze are signed by either an “E.” or an “F.” (or occasionally by both together). These letters stand for Eusebius and Florestan, who are also the protagonists of two of the pieces of Carnaval. Both represent Robert Schumann himself, embodying the two souls he discerned in his personality and in his art. Both characters derive from creations by Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, a novelist who inspired some of the best among the early works composed by Schumann. In particular, Richter’s Flegeljahre features two twin brothers, Walt and Vult; the former is introverted, dreamy, with a penchant for poetry (in spite of his profession: he is a notary!). Vult is impulsive, extroverted, ardent and energetic. These two personalities are doubtlessly found in Schumann’s music, alternating moments of evanescent tenderness with passages of fiery passion. These two souls clearly emerge in the pieces assigned to “Eusebius” and “Florestan” in Carnaval; furthermore, within Florestan, Schumann inserted a musical quote which further reinforces the musical net of references and the extra-musical allusions. In Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre, both Walt and Vult are in love with the same girl, Wina. The novel’s climactic scene takes place during a Carnival ball, in which the similitude of a butterfly (“papillon”) is employed to describe Wina’s words, while the two siblings try to dance with her. Papillons, op. 2, is yet another piano cycle by the young Schumann: the theme of its first piece resounds in Florestan from Carnaval, while a piece called Papillons is found within the cycle recorded here.
Indeed, the word “Larve” has multiple meanings in German: it indicates the Carnival costume or mask, the ghost, and the pupa whence the butterfly will emerge. This gives an interpretive key to the idea of Carnival as an inspiring element found throughout Schumann’s output (and, tragically, also in his life, since he would attempt to commit suicide precisely during a Carnival evening, years later). The masks worn by the people hide the void behind them, the “ghost”; however, they also represent the current life, which is but the pupa of the butterfly of our spiritual being.
Other characters are found in Carnaval, such as the flirtatious Coquette and her own double, Réplique; the letters of ASCH-SCHA dance in the eponymous piece, while situations such as Aveu, Reconnaissance or Promenade punctuate the ball evoked by Schumann (while Valse noble and Valse allemande are reminiscent of the typical Romantic dance). Finally, the last piece is a triumphal march of the Davidsbündler against the Philistines. The Davidsbündler, to whom Schumann’s op. 6 is dedicated, are the companions of the Biblical King David, and represent the artists who fight for the freedom of art against the textbook rules of the Philistines. They march to a triple time, a dance tempo; moreover, the piece cites an old tune, the Grandfather’s Waltz, which is also heard in the last piece of Papillons op. 2.
If Clara was (seemingly) just a masked character among the others in Carnaval, she got pride of place in the other two works recorded here. A theme written by Clara is found at the Sonata’s heart, constituting the musical idea on which a set of variations is woven. This same theme, however, is deconstructed and remembered, as a motif, throughout the Sonata, and in particular in its opening measures. Clara’s presence is evoked musically at a time when her physical presence seemed unreachable. In 1836 she was barely sixteen, and her father had expressly forbidden her to see Robert, whom he considered as an entirely unsuitable partner for his daughter. The Sonata was originally conceived as consisting of five movements; Clara’s Andantino would thus have been right at the “heart” of the work. The two Scherzos which originally flanked it were later deleted, probably after a suggestion by the acute music publisher Tobias Haslinger, and the work was printed, in 1839, under the rather misleading title of Concert sans orchestra. Still later, in 1853, the Sonata underwent a further revision, and on this occasion one of the two scherzos was reinstated. Robert wrote to Clara regarding this piece, and his touching words of homage are slightly spoiled by the patronizing hint we may find in them: “I wrote a concerto for you – and if this does not make clear my love for you, this one sole cry of the heart for you in which, incidentally, you did not even realize how many guises your theme assumed (forgive me, it is the composer speaking) – truly you have much to make up for and will have to love me even more in the future!”.
The Sonata’s dedicatee was not Clara, however; it was offered to the great virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles, who had opened new views on pianism and musicianship to a nine-years-old Schumann when he had heard him playing. The originality of this composition was clear to its creator, who wrote to the dedicatee: “The suspensions… are often harsh, though justified. In order not to be disturbed or offended by them, one must be an experienced musician who can appraise the situation beforehand and wait to see how all the contradictions will be resolved”. This letter was later printed by Schumann on the journal he had founded, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and here Eusebius and Florestan appear once more: “So be it. Florestan and Euseb, make yourself worthy of such a benevolent judgment by continuing in the future to be as demanding on yourselves as you are at times on others”. As a matter of fact, Schumann used the two pen names also to sign his reviews of other musicians’ works or performances, and this explains why “Florestan” and “Eusebius” could be seen as occasionally harsh critics.
The present recording includes one final gem, i.e. the last Novellette from Schumann’s op. 21. The cycle’s title is commonly understood as obliquely alluding to Clara: Schumann wrote them when, once more, he was far from his own Clara, but seeing another Clara, by the family name of Novello. It is open to debate that this devious homage could truly be appreciated by his lover; certainly, however, the musical homage found in the last piece could not be lost on Clara. Here, another of her themes is employed once more, appearing as a fascinating and suggesting “voice from afar”. It is really a mystical moment: it embodies the deep spiritual union of Robert and Clara’s souls, joined by music but also by a love stronger than death.
Liner Notes © Chiara Bertoglio
Luca Delle Donne started studying piano at the age of six. He obtained his Diploma at the “G. Tartini” Conservatory in Trieste, his hometown, with full marks, honors and special mention under the guidance of Lorenzo Baldini and his Master in piano interpretation with Gabriele Vianello. To enrich his musical skills, he took part to several masterclasses with acclaimed musicians as Philippe Entremont, Claudius Tanski, Benedetto Lupo, Franco Scala, as well as the legendary Trio di Trieste. Aquiles Delle Vigne wrote about him: “Luca has an enormous musical sense and develops his Art with great convintion. His repertoire and his Love follow the steps of the great names of the Piano. He is a Poet and, in the same time, a lion of the piano.” In the well known “Mozarteum Universität” of Salzburg he debuted in the “Wiener Saal” and performed the complete execution of the Chopin’s Etudes op.10. Delle Donne has performed throughout Europe and went on tour several times in China and Japan chiefly in solo recitals but also in several chamber ensembles and with orchestras: from 2010 he continues to give recitals and concert-lessons dedicated to Beethoven. He usually plays with well known musicians as Emmanuele Baldini, Massimo Macrì, Monte Belknap, Dawn Wohn, Gervasio Tarragona Valli. Besides performing in concert, he usually works as a teacher and gives masterclasses, he has been invited as juryman in several national and international competitions, has been member of the executive in the prestigious “Società dei Concerti” in Trieste, he broadcasted classical music programs on radio and he is the co-founder of “Festival Internazionale Primavera Beethoveniana”.
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.