PROGRAM NOTES: CONCERT BY MIHAELA URSULEASA (3/14/04)

By Lawrence Budmen

Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was the most acclaimed concert pianist of the 19th century. Trained by her father Friedrich Wieck, Clara won wide acclaim as a piano virtuoso who championed a repertoire by the progressive composers of her day (Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms). After her marriage to Robert Schumann in 1840, she continued to perform and held teaching positions at the conservatories of Leipzig and Frankfurt. Clara Schumann was also a sensitive and imaginative composer. (Her Chopinesque "Piano Concerto in A Minor," Opus 7 is a glittering pianistic display piece.) Her "Soiree Musicales," were composed in 1835-36 and were dedicated to Henrietta Voigt, also the dedicatee of Robert Schumann's "Sonata in G Minor." The second piece of this set "Notturno" (Nocturne) is palpably influenced by Chopin and John Field. The fourth piece a "Ballade" in D minor again makes reference to Chopin who first used the title Ballade in 1831. The fifth piece "Mazurka" (in G major) has strong Polish influences. (Robert Schumann used part of the "Mazurka" as the opening motif of his "Davidsbundlertanze.") Clara Schumann ceased composing after Robert's mental collapse in 1854. 

For Robert Schumann (1810-1856) the intimate character piece was a fertile creative genre for his experimental ideas and emotions. The composer noted that no score gave him greater pleasure in the act of creation than the "Davidsbundlertanze" ("Dances of the Band of David") of 1837. In many ways this score is his most personal work - a self portrait of his mood swings and split personality. The score's title refers to Schumann's fictitious Band of David, a brotherhood of artists who did battle with the Philistines of contemporary music and art. The title page of the manuscript states that the Dances were dedicated to Walther von Goethe (the poet's grandson) by (the fictitious) "Florestan and Eusebius." Eusebius embodied the composer's sensitive, softly lyrical side while Florestan represented his intense, rhythmically complex persona. The music ranges widely in its emotional extremes. Many of Schumann's contemporaries considered the work's sudden changes of mood and unconventional approach to tonality and rhythm so original that it verged on madness. This score is one of Schumann's most personal, intense creations. The technical and intellectual demands of this score pose a formidable challenge to the performing artist. 

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) was one of the most progressive composers in Russia in the early years of the 20th century. He was one of the leading rhythmic and harmonic innovators and became the most important avant garde presence on the European music scene prior to Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Scriabin embraced mysticism and attempted to abandon and transcend melody and harmony - to bring music to a new spiritual plane. His unusual intervals and tonal ambiguity brought his music to the brink of atonality. The Opus 65 etudes of 1908 represent Scriabin's most personal "sound world." The music is characterized by fierce octaves, clanging chords, chromatic ambiguity, and strange counter rhythms. The first etude was so difficult that Scriabin himself never played it. Here is music that places the composer's cosmic vision ahead of performance practicalities. The meeting of a creative visionary and a superb performing artist makes any performance of these etudes a bona fide "event." 

Johannes Brahms's solo piano works and piano chamber music are quintessential examples of 19th century European culture - the voice of the Romantic era. His "Fantasien" (7 Fantasies), Opus 116 were composed in 1891-92. These works were part of Brahms's last great creative surge - a period that also produced the remarkable clarinet works. Book 1 of the "Fantasien" consists of an opening and closing Capriccio (in D Minor and G Minor respectively) with an inventive Intermezzo in A Minor as the centerpiece. Book 2 opens with three successive Intermezzos - in E Major, E Minor, and then E Major again (a musical triptych). The series concludes with a Capriccio in D Minor. The beauty of Brahms's melodic inspiration and the magisterial grandeur of his keyboard writing shine through every bar of this music. 


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