SCHUMANN Robert, Fantasy in C Op.17

In December 1836, Robert Schumann finished a ‘Sonata for Beethoven’ but revised it in 1838 and gave it the new title Fantasie. It was published in 1839 with a dedication to Franz Liszt. Schumann marks the first movement to be played with ‘imagination and passion’. It is a highly original reinvention of sonata form, with unconventional key relationships and structural innovations, notably the interlude placed at the moment when the recapitulation might be expected to arrive. The second movement depicts Schumann’s imaginary army of Davidsbündler marching against the Philistines. Dominated by obsessive dotted rhythms, this colourful movement ends with a vertiginous coda. The third movement is a complete contrast. It is poetic, restrained, and noble – and surely full of quiet longing for Clara. When Clara first received a copy of the Fantasie she wrote to Schumann that it made her ‘half ill with rapture.’ Just over a year later, on 12 September 1840, they were finally able to marry. Liszt was immensely proud of the dedication, considering the Fantasie to be among the greatest of Schumann’s piano works, but he never performed it in public. Only with the next generation of pianists – many of them pupils of Liszt and Clara Schumann – did the Fantasie take its rightful place as a pinnacle of the Romantic piano repertoire.

© Nigel Simeone


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