Classical Music | Piano Music

Robert Schumann

Carnaval, Op. 9  Play

Carlos César Rodríguez Piano

Recorded on 06/20/2006, uploaded on 01/17/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Carnaval, Op.9         Robert Schumann

Préambule -- Pierrot -- Arlequin -- Valse noble -- Eusebius -- Florestan --Coquette -- Réplique -- Papillons -- A.S.C.H. -S.C.H.A (Lettre dansantes) -- Chiarina -- Chopin -- Estrella -- Reconnaissance -- Pantalon et Colombine -- Valse Allemande -- Intermezzo: Paganini -- Aveu -- Promenade -- Pause -- Marche des "Davidsbündler" contre les Philistins

Today's concert is a tribute to the artistry of Dame Myra Hess in that it presents repertoire which she performed frequently, and it is given by a pianist who admires that artistry greatly.

When listening to Myra Hess's piano performances, one can think of the contrasts represented by Apollo and Dionysius or Eusebius and Florestan.  Her sound was rich. Her performances were full of temperament, yet with full attention to clarity of texture and structure.  Her concentration as well as her personality was intense and passionate, yet spiritual and stoic.  She was born and raised in a Jewish family, yet as an artist she was known as a champion of German and Austrian repertoire.  Throughout her life she transformed herself into a persona whose artistry broke the boundaries of politics and spirituality.

She was born in London in 1890.  Soon her precocious musical talents were noticed.  At an early age she was giving recitals with great success. In 1903 she met with one of the great masters in piano pedagogy, Tobias Matthay.  He became like a second father, musically and spiritually.  His concept of free weight to make rich sonority and the idea of a strong rhythmic foundation would become two of the trademarks in Myra Hess's performance style. 

During the Second World War, Myra Hess established a series of midday recitals.  Throughout the war, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Scarlatti, Brahms and many others was heard at the National Gallery in London, accompanied by bombs and the sounds of war.  She provided defiance and hope to the nation with her music.

Her temperament, her intellect, her passionate outbursts, her intimacy, all  of these qualities in her performances were revered by the great musicians of the time such as Toscanini, Pablo Casals, Sir Adrian Boult, and Sir Thomas Beecham, to name a few. She was adored in the United Sates during her many tours. As pianist, Myra Hess was at ease with the wonderful romantic works. She was also a champion in the Baroque and Classical style for clarity, line, rhythm, structure and pathos, with a particular affinity for the Italo-Iberian composer Domenico Scarlatti.

Robert Schumann's Carnaval is a work that Myra Hess performed a number of times during the war-time National Gallery concerts.  It is a musical masked ball, depicting characters from literature such as Pierrot and Arlequin from the "commedia dell'arte".  Composers including Chopin and Paganini are also portrayed, as well as Schumann's beloved Clara.  This composition is preceded on the program today by two sonatas of Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti.  Elements of dances, with brilliant rhythmic delineations, are found in these "esercizi sonate".

Dame Myra Hess died in 1965, but her legacy continues to this day, through her many pupils, through her magnificent recordings, and through her art and entire persona.     Carlos César Rodríguez

Carnaval, op. 9     Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann's composition output was dominated by piano music up until 1840. His compositions of this period were highly Romantic and strikingly original. The English theorist and composer, Ebenezer Prout, called him one of the greatest harmonic experimenters of the Romantic period. Much of his piano music is still well-known today and forms an important part of the repertoire.

Carnaval was written in 1834-35 and was subtitled Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Little Scenes on Four Notes). The work is a collection a short pieces that represent masked revelers at Carnival, a festival occurring before the Christian tradition of Lent. During the course of the piece, Schumann musically represents himself, his friends and colleagues, as well as characters from commedia dell'arte, or improvised Italian comedy. Edward Elgar would later do the same thing in his famous Enigma Variations in which he characterized his friends in each variation.

Even more intriguing than Schumann's characterizations of his friends, is his use of a sort of musical code or puzzle in the work. Composers throughout music history have found ways to encrypt messages into their works either by using pitches to stand for letters in a name or acronym, or through the use of numerology. In Carnaval each piece is based on a musical motif of four notes that recurs in different forms. The basis of the musical motif is the name of a German town named Asch. The following motives derived from this are:

·      A, E flat, C, B - rendered as A-S-C-H in German

·      A flat, C, B - rendered as As-C-H in German

·      E flat, C, B, A - rendered as H-C-S-A in German

Understanding the permutations of the motif requires a little knowledge of German music notation. In German, B natural is called H while B flat is called simply B. Furthermore, A flat in German is called "As," and E flat is called "Es," sounding as in the letter "S." Thus, the letters of "Asch" are transformed into the three motives seen above. The town of Asch is significant because at the time Schumann was engaged to woman from that town by the name of Ernestine von Fricken. Other interpretations of the motive have been suggested as well. The letters form part of the German word "Fasching" which means "carnival," and "asch" itself is the German word for "ash" as in Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Furthermore, the letters also represent those capable of musical interpretation in Schumann's own name: Schumann.

During his lifetime, Schumann's piano music was considered technically challenging and was not performed often. However, today Carnaval is one of his most popular piano pieces and a staple piece of the repertoire.     Joseph DuBose