Schumann & Brahms

Schumann & Brahms

Husband-and-wife pianist-composers Robert and Clara Schumann’s love language was music; they communicated via private ciphers in their work, often embellishing the other’s melodies. Later, Brahms performed the Schumanns’ music in concert while his own compositions often referenced his friends’ work. Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor explores these varied connections in Schumann & Brahms, a solo album featuring pieces that bridge all three composers. “We start in the late 1830s, before Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann were married, through to the 1890s and some of the last works by Brahms,” says Grosvenor. “Although the Kreisleriana is one of Robert Schumann’s most accomplished and emotionally diverse works, it was actually composed in 1838 when he was just 28. I thought it was interesting to pair a young Schumann with an old Brahms – the 3 Intermezzi Op. 117 were written in 1892, not long before that composer died in 1897.” There are multiple threads holding the pieces together: “Clara’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 20 happens to have been composed in 1853, the same year the Schumanns met Brahms,” explains Grosvenor, “There’s lots of interconnection, embodied by Clara. As one of the greatest pianists of her age she was, in a way, a mentor to both Robert and Brahms.” Read on as Benjamin Grosvenor guides us through his album celebrating these three extraordinary musical figures. Kreisleriana (Robert Schumann) “Robert Schumann was inspired by ETA Hoffman’s character Johannes Kreisler, who was described as wild, witty, and fanatical about Bach. Kreisleriana is an amazing work; it inhabits so many different emotions. It’s also about Clara, to whom Schumann wanted to dedicate the piece, but because she was afraid of her father’s disapproval Chopin ended up being the official dedicatee. The second piece is the most substantial; it’s very lyrical, while Nos 3, 5, and 8 are more frenetic. 3 Romanzen: No. 2 (Robert Schumann) “The second piece of Robert Schumann’s Drei Romanzen was one that Clara was particularly fond of—there's a melody shared between the two thumbs in the right and left hands that feels like a very tender duet. Robert dedicated this work to Clara at her request, although he never rated it in the same way she did. It’s a very special piece: it was among the music played to Clara shortly before she died in 1896.” Blumenstück (Robert Schumann) “Colleagues, including Clara, suggested that Robert compose some shorter lyrical pieces that would have a wider public appeal. Blumenstück, which is based on two intertwining themes, is an example of Schumman’s attempt to attract the amateur (mainly female) pianists of Vienna. It was written in 1839, around the time of the better-known Arabeske. I find the construction very interesting, and the overall effect is rather enigmatic.” Piano Sonata No. 3: III. Quasi variazioni (Robert Schumann) “Robert Schumann used a theme by Clara as the basis for Quasi variazioni, a stand-alone movement from the Piano Sonata No. 3. We don’t know when or where Clara wrote the original melody—the descending line that emanates from the theme is a typical Clara motif that permeates a lot of Robert’s work. It’s dark, emotional music that I find very powerful.” Abendlied (Robert Schumman) “This beautiful piece comes from a book of piano duets composed in 1849 that has since been transcribed for various instruments. It’s a bit like a prayer—it’s very touching. I made this arrangement myself, but you can almost play the four-hand version for two hands with just a couple of little changes here and there, so I didn’t have to make drastic alterations.” Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann (Clara Schumann) “Clara and Brahms both use the same Robert Schumann theme from the first of the five Albumblätter for a set of variations, although they go in completely different directions. Clara uses very subtle harmonic fluctuations, which create a sense of poignancy. It might not be as radical as Brahms’ musical language, but these variations demonstrate such taste and subtlety they reveal Clara’s deep understanding of the piano, from her use of color to defiant octaves and gentle melodies.” 3 Intermezzi (Brahms) “These were some of the last pieces Brahms wrote and he described them as ‘lullabies of my sorrows.’ The first is set to words from a Scottish ballad and is grief-laden and beautiful. The second has a constant rippling motion that is shared between the hands. And then the third is dark and luminous. You can hear Clara’s presence: when, aged 73, she received these pieces, she said that ‘at last I feel musical life stir once again in my soul.’”

Kreisleriana, Op. 16
3 Romanzen, Op. 28
Blumenstück, Op. 19
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 14 "Grand Sonate": III. Quasi variazioni (Andantino de Clara Wieck)
Abendlied, Op. 85 No. 12 (Arr. Grosvenor)
Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 20
Intermezzi, Op. 117

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