SCHUMANN & CHOPIN FOR SOLO PIANO

Stephen Hough

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Friday 29 November 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£22
£14 UC, DLA & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Book Tickets
Pianist Stephen Hough

CHAMINADE Selected Pieces (15′)
R SCHUMANN Fantasie in C (33′)
STEPHEN HOUGH Sonatina Nostalgica (10′)
CHOPIN Sonata No.3 in B minor (30′) 

Described by The Guardian as “a master pianist who lines up with the greats” and voted one of Classic FM’s top 25 greatest pianists ever, Stephen Hough returns to the Crucible Playhouse for the first time in five years. He performs works including Schumann’s Fantasie in C and Chopin’s breathtaking final piano sonata. 

Schumann’s Fantasie in C was described by Liszt, its dedicatee, as “a work of the highest kind” and here it sits alongside Stephen’s own work and Chopin’s final piano sonata, a breathtaking and dramatic work. 

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SCHUMANN Robert, Fantasie in C, Op. 17

In December 1836, Schumann finished what he called his ‘Sonata for Beethoven’, inspired by an appeal published in 1835 (to mark what would have been Beethoven’s 65th birthday) for a monument to the composer in Bonn. Schumann suggested to his publisher Kistner that the proceeds from sales should go towards the appeal. Kistner turned the work down and Schumann made a number of revisions, calling the work Dichtungen (‘Poems’) until shortly before sending it to Breitkopf & Härtel in January 1839, at which point he settled on Fantasie. While any explicit Beethoven link had been dropped, and the work now carried a dedication to Franz Liszt, at least one Beethovenian allusion remains in the third movement: a passage in the left hand is a slowed-down version of the persistent rhythm from the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony. Moreover, Kenneth Hamilton has detected ‘the ghost of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 101 hovering over certain elements of the work’, adding that the sonata was a favorite of both Schumann and Mendelssohn.  

It is unusual to have a fantasy in three distinct movements and perhaps Schumann had in mind the ‘quasi una fantasia’ subtitles of Beethoven’s Op. 27 sonatas. The first movement, marked to be played with ‘imagination and passion’, is an innovative reinvention of sonata form, with unconventional key relationships (suggestive of Schubert), and striking structural innovations, notably the seemingly self-contained interlude placed at the moment where the recapitulation might be expected to arrive. The second movement depicts Schumann’s imaginary army of Davidsbündler (League of David) marching against the Philistines. Dominated by an obsessive dotted rhythm, this is Schumann at his most flamboyant, with a vertiginous coda where the leaps become ever wider before the grandest of conclusions. The third movement is a complete contrast: the music is poetic, restrained, and noble – and surely full of quiet longing for Clara (whom he was finally to marry in 1840). When she received a copy in May 1839, she reported that she was ‘half ill with rapture’. The demands of the work are formidable and Clara never played it during Schumann’s lifetime. Liszt was immensely proud of the dedication, considering the Fantasie to be among the greatest of Schumann’s piano works, but while he played to Schumann and taught it to students, he never performed it in a public concert. It was only with the next generation – many of them pupils of Liszt and Clara Schumann – that the Fantasie was established as one of the masterpieces of the Romantic piano repertoire. 

Nigel Simeone © 2024 

CHOPIN Frédéric, Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58

Chopin developed many new forms of piano music, from the kind of audacious miniatures found among the mazurkas to extended single-movement works such as the ballades and scherzos. But he also wrote three piano sonatas, drawing on structures inherited from Mozart and Beethoven. The Piano Sonata No.3, Op. 58, was completed in 1844 and its first movement is in sonata form. Even so, the music seems closer to the world of Chopin’s ballades than to any classical models, particularly in the rhapsodic development section. The outer sections of the Scherzo are filled with rapid movement, the ideas delicate and airy, while the slow Trio is richly harmonised but never loses its hints of unease. After a declamatory opening, the slow movement – a Chopin nocturne in all but name – is dominated by the song-like melody heard near the start, the mood changing for a dream-like central section before returning to the opening idea. The finale has a seemingly unstoppable momentum and energy, and for Marceli Antoni Szulc, Chopin’s first Polish biographer, this movement evoked images of the Cossack Mazeppa on a galloping horse.

© Nigel Simeone

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