The masters of Schumann
We'll celebrate the 202nd birthday of perhaps the quintessential musical romantic composer, Robert Schumann, in Friday's WFCR classical music. In particular, we'll explore the intimate side of Schumann's character, music of poetry, tenderness, passion, fire, wit and profound love, as performed by some of the finest interpreters of his music.
At 9:00, the rippling opening strains of Schumann's Arabeske will flow simply and gently from the hands of Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991), one of the most eloquent and least assuming of the interpreters of the "great" works (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, etc.). Mind you, this is not simple music; rather, it's a splendid one-piece summation of the emotionally mercurial Schumann's musical personality, in which his artistic alter-egos, the dreamy Eusebius and the bold Florestan, do perpetual battle. And oh, the the beauty of the Arabeske's postlude, as played by this superb artist!
Later in the same hour, the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) will introduce us to the cast of characters attending Schumann's Carnaval, including Chopin, Paganini, Pierrot, Arlequin, Schumann's fiancée Ernestine, his future wife Clara, and our friends Eusebius and Florestan. Possessor of one of the richest piano tones on record, Arrau was too flexible for my late Schumann-loving friend Arthur, but gives each character so much, well, character, that I at least am willing to forgive him. And then some.
Central to the Romantic musical spirit was the marriage of music with the others arts, especially poetry. Hence, the development of the lied, or German song, a genre in which Schumann must be counted as second only to Schubert. Speaking of marriage, most of Schumann's greatest lieder come from the year of his marriage to Clara Wieck, 1840. And at the very summit of that "liederjahre" (year of song) is Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), a cycle of sixteen settings of poems by Heinrich Heine. Lieder will never be a major element of WFCR's music programming — too much attention to the words must be given for full appreciation to make lieder effective for midday broadcast — but we'll make an exception today, in order to remember the greatest lieder singer of modern times, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012). Don't miss his Dichterliebe, coming up during the 10:00 hour.
Most of Schumann's finest piano music was composed in the late 1830s, during his years of enforced separation from his wife-to-be Clara. And it's no stretch to hear at least some of them as musical love letters, even as heart-breaking expressions of longing. That goes especially for the Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17, composed at the request of Franz Liszt to help fund the erection of a statue in Bonn to honor Beethoven. Indeed, Schumann quotes Beethoven's song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte" ("To the Distant Beloved") in the Fantasy, whose final movement may be the most sublime in all the romantic piano literature. Many great pianists have played the Fantasy; none has been more universally acclaimed than the legendary Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997). Join us at 1:00 for a piano performance as fine as any in the classical discography.