Clavier Companion - July/August 2017 - 7
"book:" the ninth piece is headed with the statement,
"Here Florestan stopped and his lips trembled painfully," and at the last piece we read, "Superfluously
Eusebius added the following, while great bliss radiated from his eyes."
Returning to these pieces I first played in 2003
(and not since), I am astounded by the psychological
astuteness Schumann embeds in the music. Perhaps
more conscious of such things since my accident, I
found the process of relearning the pieces gave me
a sense of youth that I had feared lost forever. Each
piece is a world unto itself, yet there is a noticeable
plot line through the eighteen character pieces. To
explores the text, "I am a pilgrim on the earth, and
pass silently from house to house..." The eighthnote accompaniment suggests the steady trudge
of life as the melancholic melody haunts us with its
simplicity. Then the movement undergoes a sort of
nervous breakdown, unleashing not just turbulence
and foreboding but also chaotic violence. After a
short recitative, the first theme's return devastates;
one can almost hear Mahler in this music. Two more
movements follow, and slowly equilibrium returns.
Brendel calls the rondo finale a "big daydream of
bliss," perhaps the only way to resolve the existential
terror of the Andantino. The "thunderstorm
development" finds its way back
to the rondo theme, this time in a
higher register and in the key of
F-sharp major, resolving the minor
key of the second movement.
When the theme recapitulates in
A major, we know that good has
triumphed over evil, and it's just a
matter of time before all ends well.
Could I have seen in the sonata a
musical expression of my own near-death experience?
If so, it was entirely subconscious. Could I have been
pulled to this music in a desire to absorb the youth of
these composers, between twenty-seven and thirtyone when they wrote the music? Yet two of them,
Mozart and Schubert, were to die young (Schubert
within two months), and Schumann lived a tortured
life until his death at forty-six. Perhaps I was simply
drawn by the irrefutable greatness of the music. There
is something to connect with in every note, a way to
transcend the limitations imposed by the accident, to
touch the keyboard and feel the music flow through
me. Let Schubert and Schober have the last word:
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir.
Mozart clearly composes this music
with great care and attention to
detail. The performer's challenge
is not to get lost in all of it.
contemplate the composer, all of twenty-seven when
he wrote this music, burning with such emotional
awareness, was inspiring.
It was Schumann who coined the oft-repeated
phrase "heavenly length" when considering
Schubert's late works, and for better or worse, it has
stuck. The ear of the beholder will determine whether
one hears divinity or perpetuity. This performer
favors the numinous, but as I think back to playing
the Sonata in A Major, D. 959, twenty-five years ago
(and again, not since), I wonder how I ever managed
it. It is long. It is also humbling-I thought it would
come back quickly, but this body and soul was not
ready to inhale it as I did in the past. While its notes
may be "easy," the message of those notes requires
a great deal of thought and commitment on the part
of the performer, which is perhaps why Claudio Arrau
said that of all composers, Schubert was the most
difficult to perform well.
In September 1828, Schubert completed his last
three piano sonatas in C Minor, A Major, and B-flat
Major, all of which contain homages to Beethoven,
who had died in 1827. After a vital, teeming Allegro
comes a second movement in F-sharp minor, marked
Andantino. A hypnotically lulling theme recalls
several of the Heine songs and "Der Leiermann" from
Die Winterreise. We also see connections to the song
"Pilgerweise," where similar music in F-sharp minor
Robert Weirich leads an extremely active career as a
pianist, teacher, author, and activist. He has performed
at venues including Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center, Chicago's Orchestra Hall, Tanglewood, Ravinia,
and Marlboro. He holds the Jack Strandberg Missouri
Endowed Chair in Piano at the UMKC Conservatory
in Kansas City, MO. He has been a frequent contributor to many publications, and from 1984 to 2003 he
wrote the columns "The View from the Second Floor"
and "Out of the Woods" for Clavier. He is a past president of the College Music Society, and he has twice
received the Educational Press Achievement Award
for his writing.