Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 4:00 PM
Sechs Gesänge, Op. 107 Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Krista River, mezzo-soprano
Brett Hodgdon, piano
Quartet in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1
Introduzione (Andante Espressivo – Allegro)
Scherzo (Presto) - Intermezzo
Heidi Braun-Hill, Rose Drucker, violins
Kate Vincent, viola; David Russell, cello
Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
3. Mit Humor
6. Sehr rasch
7. Nicht Schnell
10. Balladenmäßig. Sehr rasch
12. Mit Humor
13. Wild und lustig
14. Zart und singend
16. Mit gutem Humor
17. Wie aus der Ferne
18. Nicht Schnell
Randall Hodgkinson, piano
In 1833, Schumann became editor of a new musical journal called the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik created by a group of young musicians to attack what they regarded as philistinism in music. Earlier, Schumann’s romantic imagination had created the Davidsbund (Society of David). Alluding to its biblical namesake, the Davidsbund strove to champion music of higher cultural value by destroying that which it considered low-brow. The journal, short-lived though it was, proved a wonderful public forum for these ideas and served as a mouthpiece for Schumann’s imaginary alter-egos, Florestan and Eusebius.
Davidsbündlertänze [Dances of the Society of David] was written in 1837 at a time when Schumann was filled with thoughts of marriage (still a difficult three years away). Schumann confessed to his fiancée, Clara Wieck, that he was affected by a “most delicious excitement” as he wrote. The early edition of the piece credits each movement as the voice of either Florestan or Eusebius, but the first notes we hear are a quote from one of Clara’s own compositions; she is surely the central focus.
Davidsbündlertänze is divided into two sets of nine ‘dances’. As with most of Schumann’s piano cycles, there is no real narrative (or perhaps it is too personal for us to discern) but each movement has its own unique character. Striking contrasts abound, as well as episodes of extraordinary harmonic exploration. No. 7 (nicht schnell – not fast) begins with rolled recitative-like chords, not really finding a tempo until the dreamy, harmonically bizarre B section. No. 8 stomps its way childishly though the key of C minor but is upstaged by the grand and proud strutting of No. 9. No.16 (mit guten humor – with good humor) starts with busy, chattering material, which is then interrupted by music of a more contemplative quality (as if the Philistines are shamed into silence by the Davidsbund).No. 17 (marked wie aus der Ferne - as if from afar) follows directly and is helped in its nostalgic and plaintive mood by a return of some earlier material (No. 2). It accelerates to a wild and tragic conclusion in B minor No. 18, a gentle epilogue, dissolves without rancor or regret - but still with a touch of sadness - into the key of C major, Clara’s ‘key’.
It was not unusual for Schumann to write in intense, feverish spurts, composing a large number of works in a very short period of time. 1842 (sometimes called the ‘chamber music year’) saw the composition of a quintet and quartet for piano and strings and three string quartets. Franz Liszt had encouraged Schumann to explore other mediums beyond solo piano music and he had made some earlier string quartet sketches.
The Three String Quartets, Op. 41 were written in a few short weeks and they are all of a very high quality. The first quartet, Op. 41, No. 1 in A minor, begins with a somber Introduzione, the instruments entering one at a time. The key is uncertain until the Allegro, a sprightly and pastoral six-eight dance in F major (the key of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony). The movement has a sunny disposition and is marked by the sequences, syncopations and imitative writing so closely associated with Schumann. The second movement is pure Mendelssohn (the dedicatee of all three quartets). The keening chromaticism off the middle section contrasts wonderfully with the fiery, quicksilver music that surrounds it. The Adagio contains a noble Beethoven-like theme accompanied by ‘pianistic’ arpeggios. A brilliant Presto follows. Near its end, a curious pastoral interlude takes us into the key of A major and on to a flashy conclusion.
In 1850, Schumann accepted the position of city music director offered to him by the Düsseldorf Music Society. The demands of the job, together with near continuous composing, put enormous strains on Schumann, both mentally and physically. The six songs of Op. 107 were written at various times in 1851. One of the poets, Wolfgang Müller, was not only a member of the Music Society, but also for a time Schumann’s doctor. Each song has well characterized piano writing - of note are the downward sighing motives in Herzeleid and the rickety sound of the spinning wheel in Die Spinnerin. The songs work well as a set of character pieces and have a cohesive harmonic progression. The last song Abendlied has the warm and reassuring harmonic sentiment often associated with Brahms and brings the set to a gentle conclusion.