SCHUMANN Robert, Fantasy Pieces Op.73

Zart und mit Ausdruck [Tender, with expression] 
Lebhaft, leicht [Lively, light] 
Rasch und mit Feuer [Quick and passionate] 


Schumann’s three Fantasy Pieces Op.73 were sketched very quickly – in just two days on 11 and 12 February 1849 – and he wrote them to enchant: on the original manuscript, Schumann calls them “Soirée Pieces” (Soiréestücke). He was eager to hear them tried out: on 18 February, less than a week after finishing the work, a rehearsal was held chez Schumann in Dresden. Clara played the piano and was joined by the clarinetist Kroth from the Court Orchestra. Though intended for clarinet, the pieces were published six months later in alternative versions for violin and cello, and later in arrangements for other instruments – including flute, oboe, viola and double bass. Schumann was fascinated at the time by the possibilities of combining different solo instruments with piano, and worked with extraordinary speed during February 1849: the day after finishing the Fantasy Pieces he started the Adagio and Allegro for horn. As Clara herself put it, “all the instruments are having a turn” – and the very same day that the Fantasy Pieces had their first run-through, Schumann began one of his most astonishing instrumental experiments: the Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra.  


The three Fantasy Pieces were intended to appeal to professional players and to talented amateurs. Far from composing showpieces for the clarinet, Schumann uses a musical language that has a feeling of intimacy and tenderness, recalling the style and sound world of some of his most expressive solo piano pieces. One later performance deserves a special mention: a private concert in Rüdesheim in which Brahms and the great clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld played both of Brahms’s late Clarinet Sonatas, ending their recital with Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces. Heinz von Beckerath later recalled that though it took a little while for him to appreciate Brahms’s masterpieces, “the Schumann pieces were delightful”. 


Nigel Simeone © 2012 


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