Romance – The Piano Music of Clara Schumann
British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason’s debut album is a homage to the 19th-century pianist and composer Clara Schumann. “I first heard her second scherzo,” Kanneh-Mason tells Apple Music, “and I was really drawn to how passionate and fiery it sounded. I couldn't believe that I didn't know more of her music, so when I found out that  was the anniversary year, it just seemed the perfect time to do a project like this.” This is music that she hopes will become part of the standard repertoire. “I definitely want to come back to Clara Schumann’s music throughout my life,” she adds. And you couldn’t imagine a more exciting advocate for this music than Kanneh-Mason: Here, she proves herself as fine a chamber musician as she is a soloist—a rare quality indeed. Let one of classical music’s rising stars take you through an album that’s rich in variety and musical insights.
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 7 “Schumann started writing her piano concerto at 13, and I was amazed at how virtuosic and complex the piano writing is. Not only had she written the music, but she could also play it at that age, too, which is really impressive. Some of the piano writing is quite awkward: It feels similar to Chopin, but it’s so rewarding to play. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic were amazing in the sessions, and we had similar music ideas about how we wanted to approach the piece.”
3 Romances for Piano, Op. 11 “The three romances came early on in Clara Schumann’s compositional journey. The music’s quite simple and childlike in style. But there’s an underlying sense of melancholy, too—Clara wrote the romances a year before marrying Robert Schumann and she was under a lot of strain [her father had tried to prevent the marriage]. I find them really powerful.”
Scherzo No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 14 “This was the piece that drew me into Clara Schumann’s music. I first heard the scherzo in 2018 and thought it sounded so exciting and passionate. The way she uses harmonic tension feels really agitated and I love that. It’s short, but there’s so much inside the music. This was probably the most difficult piece to record because you need so much energy and passion. When you're doing it over and over again, it gets quite tiring!”
3 Romances, Op. 22 “I’ve always admired violinist Elena Urioste’s playing and thought she had the perfect sound for these romances. She has a great instinct for chamber music—even though it was our first time playing together, we connected quite quickly. I actually prefer chamber music to solo playing because you're not alone onstage and you can feed off the energy of your music partner.”
Myrthen, Op. 25: 1. “Widmung” (Arr. Clara Schumann) and Liederkreis, Op. 39: 5. “Mondnacht” (Arr. Clara Schumann) “I wanted to represent Robert Schumann in the album, and how he was such a big part of her life. She used to edit his songs and correct the mistakes. I like her piano arrangements because she keeps the simplicity of these two songs without adding extra flourishes, but she also captures their beauty. ‘Widmung’ (‘Dedication’) has this big flying element to it and it’s very passionate, whereas ‘Mondnacht’ (‘Moonlit Night’) is much more peaceful. But they’re both equally beautiful.”
Piano Sonata in G Minor “This sonata was never published in her lifetime, which is really interesting. No one’s been able to find out why, but she seems to have written it for Robert Schumann for a Christmas present during the early years of their marriage. All four movements are fairly short but musically very complex. It’s such a shame that she never performed it, because it’s such a great piece. It’s challenging to play, but so rewarding.”