Notes and Editorial Reviews
Toccata in C
(original and published versions).
Abegg Variations. Paganini Studies,
Florian Uhlig (pn)
HANSSLER 98.632 (66: 54)
This is Volume 2 of what promises to be Florian Uhlig’s absolutely 100-percent entirely nothing-missing totally
Schumann’s piano music. My review of the first volume in
34:3 was hopeful, and this second go-round only confirms my optimism. The title of the release is
The Young Virtuoso
and it focuses on Schumann’s initial attempts at a career as a piano virtuoso, something cut short when he tried a mechanical device to help stretch his fingers, especially the third one on his right hand, and the results were disastrous—no piano career was in the offing after that. But one only has to listen to the op. 7 Toccata to hear what he was up to at that time—and capable of. This work has proven one of the most difficult he ever wrote, and it’s a particularly interesting exercise to hear Schumann’s first thoughts on the work with the presentation of the unpublished edition that initially tripped off his fingers, long in possession of pianist Alfred Cortot and made available on silver disc (or any disc) for the first time. The advances made between the start and finish of this barn-burning piece are sublime, and one can readily see that Schumann was making huge leaps in his composition ability in a rapid manner, most likely accelerated by his newfound handicap that dissuaded him from a piano career and made him think of the instrument in new and ever more creative ways.
His first opus, the “Abegg” Variations, was composed in 1830 (published a year later) and remains shrouded in some mystery as to the origins of the name. There were two Abegg students involved in Schumann’s circle, and the existence of a waltz notated in the autograph album of his friend August Lemke is quite similar to the Abegg theme. Also, Schumann may have been inspired by what was to be his last piano performance on January 24, 1830, where he played the notoriously difficult
Variations on the Alexander March
by Ignaz Moscheles. He received adulatory comments over this performance, and there is no doubt that variations were on his mind. The Abegg Variations are also in the hypervirtuosic mode, consistent with Schumann’s life and thought at the time, and remain popular today.
The two sets of Paganini-inspired works are hardly uncommon according to the mindset of the early 1830s. The op. 3 basically takes numbers 5, 9, 11, 13, 16, and 19 of Paganini’s solo violin caprices and makes them applicable to the piano. What we hear is still basically Paganini in Schumann guise. Three years later, in 1835, the op. 10 appeared, and here the tables are turned. These pieces, now called “etudes” as opposed to “studies,” are pure Robert Schumann in Paganini guise. The temptation to return to this body of music is all too obvious; Liszt, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff would all succumb, and even though Schumann found Paganini’s playing enthralling and frightening at the same time, he did establish the norm for the virtuoso playing of the age and could hardly be ignored by any composer worth his salt as the public was
not going to ignore him. Here Schumann (in 12, 6, 19, 4, 2, and 3) departs from his first effort where he essentially took Paganini’s melodies note for note, and created “an independent piano composition, losing sight of the violin original yet without the work sacrificing any of its poetic conception.” In other words, the new work uses the caprices as a launching pad and then goes its own way while remaining true to the spirit of the original.
Uhlig is quite persuasive in all of these performances, and it is nice having these pieces from the very early years in one collection. The entire series is supposed to be in 15 thematically related releases, and I eagerly look forward to the rest. Sound, by the way, is vivid and warm.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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