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Fantasiestücke

 


Text of the booklet "Fantasiestücke. Ilya Hoffman & Sergey Koudriakov"

All the compositions included in this album are entitled Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces). Apparently the name Fantasiestücke was introduced to musical practice by Schumann, who in turn borrowed it from Hoffmann. In 1814 Hoffmann published his first three volumes of novellas under the general title of Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier (Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner). These essays, music reviews and fairy tales brought him his first success and fame as a writer.

The authors of Fantasy Pieces – Schumann, Gade, Sitt, Naumann and Reinecke – belonged to different generations and lived in different countries. However, all were connected with Leipzig to a greater or lesser degree, and this factor is important. In the 19th century a distinct school of composers evolved in Leipzig and their influence spread far beyond the German border. Leipzig, the town of Bach and Bach’s circle, home of one of the most famous orchestras in the world (the Gewandhaus) and the first German Conservatory, was the ideal place of study for budding professional musicians. This was largely due to the efforts of Mendelssohn, founder and director of the Leipzig Conservatory and chief conductor of the Gewandhaus.

The conservatory opened in 1843 and soon gained international renown. Mendelssohn himself taught composition, instrumentation and singing. For a time Schumann was his colleague there, giving classes in piano and score reading.

Several years before, in 1838, Schumann wrote his Kreisleriana, based on Hoffmann’s Fantasiestücke. Probably at this time he changed the title of his earlier compositions under Hoffmann’s influence: Fantasien op.12 was renamed as Fantasiestücke, and this is the first known musical opus to bear the name. By then Schumann had written a three-movement piano Fantasia in C major (op.17), and probably he decided the shorter pieces should have a different name. Hence Schumann’s Fantasiestücke are ‘miniature’ fantasies.

Neither were the Pieces op.73 in this recording originally called Fantasy Pieces. First entitled SoirÎestßcke and dated February 12 and 13, 1849, they were actually intended for an evening concert.

The title page of the first edition states that the pieces were written for clarinet, violin or cello (the parts were included). Dresden clarinettist Johann Kotte and Clara Wieck gave the first performance, and later there was an interpretation by renowned violinist Joseph Joachim.

In the present case, the Fantasiestücke are played on the viola (in the cello version). Since the range of this instrument excludes several of the bass notes in Schumann’s score, the bottom string was tuned a minor third lower than usual to play the first two pieces. The lowest note on the viola, the great octave A, can be heard, for instance, at the end of the first piece as the concluding tonic.

In 1840s Schumann was one of the most respected composers in Germany. He was dubbed a ‘hero of our time’ and seemed to express the spirit of that epoch. Admirers wrote of him in rapturous tones, he became an idol, a dominant figure. Naturally most of the less well-known German composers felt his influence, and his intonation can occasionally be heard in their Fantasy Pieces.

Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817–1890) spent nearly his entire life in Copenhagen but was well aware of German music, and Leipzig played a defining role in his career. In the early 1840s he wrote his First Symphony, but could find nobody willing to play it in Copenhagen. He sent the score to Mendelssohn, who immediately agreed to perform it. The premiere was hugely successful and Gade set off for Leipzig. Mendelssohn held him in high esteem and with the composer’s assistance Gade was given a teaching position at the Conservatory and appointed second Gewandhaus conductor. After Mendelssohn’s death in 1847 Gade became first conductor of the orchestra, but when war broke out between Denmark and Prussia he returned to Copenhagen. There he more or less repeated Mendelssohn’s exploits in Leipzig, heading a music society and being instrumental in the foundation of the Copenhagen Conservatory, where he performed works he considered worthwhile. Some of these compositions were largely unknown to the general public at the time (Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Bach’s St Matthew Passion were first performed in Denmark under his direction).

Gade was highly respected as conductor and teacher, but his style as a composer proved controversial. In his youth Gade wrote a number of compositions based on Scandinavian legends (cantatas, songs, ballets, music for plays). But soon after his return from Germany national themes began to gradually disappear from his works. Scholars note that he was criticised for this. According to Grieg, Gade’s explanation for this change was simple: ‘One becomes tired of patriotism.’

The four Fantasy Pieces op.43 (1864) are some of the most frequently performed works by the composer. They were written in the Romantic style except for the Ballade, whose main theme is a stylised version of an ancient Northern folktale.

Hans Sitt (1850–1922) was born and brought up in Prague, but spent most of his life in Leipzig, where teaching was his primary occupation. Sitt was equally adept at playing the violin and viola. He taught the violin at the Leipzig Conservatory and played the viola in the celebrated Brodsky Quartet (the quartet was formed by Adolf Brodsky, a musician born in provincial Russia who in 1881 performed at the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in Vienna).

In the 19th century most educated musicians and conservatory teachers were usually well acquainted with composition. Hans Sitt was no exception. Apart from his pedagogical works for the violin and viola, he wrote concertos for violin, viola and cello; in addition, he arranged symphonies for violin and piano (his transcriptions of Mendelssohn and Schumann symphonies are particularly well known).

The three Fantasiestücke on this album were actually intended for viola and were possibly used in his teaching repertoire. They are written in different keys, their tonics forming an F minor triad. Yet the cycle (short monologue – slow elegy – precipitous finale) comprises a most accomplished whole. One has the feeling these pieces are not the product of one composer, but of the entire 19th century: the themes and their development are typical for German Biedermeier music, the style for composers wary of musical innovation. In the noble impulse of the melody and the elegant refinement of the harmonic language we can hear Schumann, but this is a ‘tamed’ Schumann: the breathing is slightly shorter and the phrasing a little more predictable. As a prototype we see here neither the Kreisleriana nor the Fantasy, but a more reserved and traditional Quartet and Quintet.

As with Sitt, for Ernst Naumann (1832–1910) composition was a secondary occupation. Grandson of Dresden court Kapellmeister Johann Gottlieb Naumann and cousin of composer Emil Naumann, Ernst Naumann is known today mainly as the editor of Bach’s works. He prepared six volumes of Bach’s cantatas and keyboard pieces for publication as well as a nine-volume edition of his organ works. His edition of Haydn’s string quartets remained unfinished. A scholarly mind combined with love of music determined Naumann’s sphere of activity as music scholar and composer, Jena town organist and director of academic concerts. In his youth he studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and also graduated from Leipzig University (where he wrote a dissertation on the utilisation of Pythagorean tuning in modern music).

Ernst Naumann wrote primarily chamber music, some songs and vocal church music, as well as a series of arrangements (his interests covered a wide range from Handel to Schumann). Naumann’s compositions attracted the attention of Leipzig musicians and won their approval in the early 1850s. The three youthful Fantasiestücke for viola and piano (the composer concedes that a violin may be substituted for the viola), like the Sitt cycle, are reminiscent of Schumann yet very different in nature: Novelletten and Humoreske.

One of the founders of the Leipzig compositional tradition was Carl Reinecke (1824–1910), who lived to a ripe age. Three at Beethoven’s demise and dying a year before Mahler, Reinecke witnessed the formation of the German Romantic school from beginning to end.

He taught at the Leipzig Conservatory for over forty years. The list of his pupils is impressive, including many illustrious names: Felix Weingartner, the conductor, important interpreter and researcher of Beethoven’s scores; composer and classic author of violin literature Max Bruch; Hugo Riemann, one of the founders of the German school of music theory.

As a teacher Reinecke was widely known outside Germany. His pupil JanÇcek lived in Prague and his two former students Edvard Grieg and Christian Sinding in Norway, while the half-deranged Ciurlionis, one of the last to study with the elderly Leipzig master, worked in the small Lithuanian town of Druskininkai.

In his youth Reinecke was primarily recognised as a pianist. In 1845 he set off on a concert tour from Danzig to Riga. His gentle legato and poetic touch were praised by Franz Liszt (when Reinecke later settled in Paris, Liszt’s daughter, the famous Cosima, took lessons with him). But the musician received a particularly warm welcome in Leipzig, where Mendelssohn and Schumann sat among the audience.

Fifteen years later he was invited to join the Leipzig Conservatory, and in 1897 the famous composer, pianist, teacher and conductor Carl Reinecke became director of that institution. Shortly before his appointment he left his previous honorary post as leader of the Gewandhaus orchestra, where he was succeeded by Arthur Nikisch. Reinecke also visited Russia, where he was renowned as composer, conductor and pianist. At his Moscow concerts he conducted his own Third Symphony and performed Beethoven’s Third Concerto.

The three Fantasiestücke op.43 were created not by a venerable professor, but a twenty-year-old youth clearly influenced by Mendelssohn (the first two miniatures are very reminiscent of Lieder Ohne Worte) and Weber whose style is recognisable in the third piece, Jahrmarkt-Szene.

***

All the Fantasiestücke represented in this album were written in strictly classical forms and in no way transgress accepted 19th-century canons of harmony or polyphony. What does the title Fantasy Pieces denote in this context? Where does the element of ‘fantasy’ lie? At first sight there is nothing to distinguish them from other Romantic miniatures or single them out as a specific genre.

Moreover it would appear that in the case of Schumann, who probably first applied the term to music, the title Fantasiestücke expresses exactly the same idea as many of his other titles. Like his Papillons, Carnaval, Bunte BlĘtter and DavidsbßndlertĘnze, the title Fantasiestücke promises light, ‘flighty’, volatile movement. This is important since Schumann’s music seems not only mobile but all the time moving towards a certain goal, and even at the end of the piece a stable, regular conclusion does not always occur. Scholars have frequently noted Schumann’s very unusual approach to concluding his musical phrases: he seldom positions a definite cadence where we expect it, consequently the melodies ‘flow’ from one to the next and the phrase rushes forward. Other composers of Fantasiestücke obviously attempted to imitate this aspect of Schumann’s music, this singular plasticity.

Curiously enough, Schumann’s attitude to fantasy was rather unusual. In one of his aphorisms the fantasy is associated with neither freedom nor improvisation: ‘The silver thread of fantasy ever entwines the chain of rule!’ exclaimed Schumann’s Eusebius. Strange words from a hot-headed innovator! But most surprisingly Schumann’s fantasy really does ‘entwine the chain of rule’. While carefully respecting the existing rules of composition, he gives a powerful impression of musical freshness by a scarcely perceptible alteration of common methods.

 

Elena Dvoskina, Anna Andrushkevich,
translation by Patricia Donegan

 

Text of the booklet "Fantasiestücke. Ilya Hoffman & Sergey Koudriakov"

 


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