I am pleased to invite you to the piano recital that I will give next Saturday, April 15 at 19:00 h, at the Auditorium of the Ateneo theatre in Madrid (Calle del Prado, 21). The program will be dedicated to German Romanticism and will consist of works by Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Nocturne in F-major, op.6 no.2 (from “Soirées Musicales”, op.6)
Fantasy in C-major, op.17
Variations on a theme by Paganini, op.35 (books I and II)
This recital brings together two major piano works of German Romanticism, Schumann’s Fantasy in C-major and Brahms’s Variations on a theme by Paganini. The Fantasy op.17, one of the summits of Schumann’s piano production and his most original essay in the sonata form, was composed in 1836 under the effects of a double source of inspiration: as a lament for the beloved – Clara Wieck – during a period of forced separation, and as a tribute to Beethoven in the occasion of a fundraiser for a memorial monument in Bonn. Musical references to Beethoven bear witness to this origin – a quotation from “An die ferne Geliebte” (“to the distant beloved”) works as generating seed for the material of the first movement, whereas the third, according to Schumann himself, might allude to the Seventh Symphony. Schumann would later write to Clara “the first movement is probably the most passionate I have ever written – a deep lamentation for you – the others are weaker, but they don’t exactly need to hang their heads in shame”. The three movements are arranged in an unusual order – considered from the point of view of a classical sonata -, with the rondo in the second place and the contemplative slow movement as a finale.
In his two sets of Variations on a theme by Paganini, Brahms sets one of his most imposing challenges to the performer (Clara called them “witch variations”, surely alluding to their great difficulty). However, the reputation of the work in this regard tends to ignore the richness of invention, beauty and poetry of many of these pieces. For instance, the four variations in slower tempo forming the core of the first book are particularly worthy of attention. Taking technical difficulties as stimulus and source of inspiration – as Chopin previously did in his 24 Etudes – Brahms offers us an admirable exercise of imagination, transfiguring the simple Paganini theme in a whole musical universe.
Preceding these two ambitious works, the Nocturne from the “Soirées Musicales” – extraordinary work by a very young Clara Wieck – surprises us with its melodic beauty and harmonic richness (just as an example, the first return to the tonic is skillfully avoided for 23 bars, and even then without a perfect cadence). It was a piece particularly admired by Schumann, who not only quoted the melody of the nocturne in the last of his “Novelletten”, but likely alluded to it also in the initial theme of his Fantasy.