Recorded on 10/12/2010, uploaded on 04/05/2012
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Robert Schumann’s Nachtstücke, published as his opus 23, were born out of a weird, yet personal, experience for the composer. Prone to hallucinations, particularly as his mental condition declined in his final years, Schumann witnessed unsettling premonitions during March of 1839. When he described these visions to Clara, he talked of “funeral processions, coffins, and unhappy, distraught figures.” Disturbing enough on their own account, the premonitions took on an even stranger element when shortly thereafter Schumann received news that his brother Eduard was dying. Yet, Schumann’s seemingly supernatural experience did not end there. He later recounted to Clara of hearing, in the middle of the night, a chorale played by trombones, which he would eventually discover was at the exact time Eduard passed away. Schumann then turned these odd circumstances into the inspiration for the four pieces of opus 23. Their title, Nachtstücke (“Night Visions”), was borrowed from E. T. A. Hoffman, an author Schumann on several occasions turned to, in some form or fashion, for inspiration.
The first piece of the set is a darkly-colored funeral march. Despite its professed key of C major, it begins more in D minor. Staccato phrases are alternated with legato ones as the piece progresses through a dimly lit netherworld. Beginning in F major, the second piece is an example of Schumann’s alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius, as a vigorous and extroverted opening section is alternated with a more intimate and lyrical one in the key of A-flat major. The third piece is a waltz in D-flat major imbued with a devilish energy. Two trios sections are present, the first somber with a long chant-like melody amidst sweeping arpeggios, while the second turns to an impish subject in the key of the subdominant minor. Lastly, the final piece, also in F major, is a gentle song without words. It ends solemnly with a somewhat ominous bass motif before a Romanticized version of an oft-heard plagal cadence formula. Joseph DuBose
Live in Firenze
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