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Robert Schumann

Symphonic Etudes, Op.13  Play

Alon Goldstein Piano

Recorded on 05/09/2006, uploaded on 01/25/2009

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"Symphonic Etudes" (Studies in the form of Variations), Op. 13      Robert Schumann

Theme: Andante -- Etude I (Variation I): Un poco piu vivo --  Etude II (Variation II) --  Etude III: Vivace -- Etude IV (Variation III) -- Etude V (Variation IV) -- Etude VI (Variation V): Agitato -- Etude VII (Variation VI): Allegro molto -- Etude VIII (Variation VII) --  Etude IX: Presto possibile -- Etude X (Variation VIII) -- Etude XI (Variation IX): Con espressione --  Etude XII (Finale): Allegro brillante  

Robert Schumann's 'Symphonic Etudes' is widely considered his first large-scale mature work. Written in 1834 before his other great piano works- Carnival, Davidsbüdlertänze etc. - this is one of the most profound musical achievements of the nineteenth century.   Clearly in this gigantic work Schumann tried to elevate the piano to the status of a full orchestra and demonstrates its unique expressive capabilities.

The unifying element that connects the Symphonic Etudes is the opening theme written by an amateur musician - the Baron von Fricken. This Baron had an illegitimate child - Ernestine - to whom Schumann was engaged at that time. Following the theme is a series of twelve "Etudes in the form of Variations". However some of them are not really Etudes while others aren't variations. Schumann left no doubt that the work inhabited the same Romantic license as his other fanciful piano pieces.

The orchestral sound is apparent right from the opening of the piece when we hear a dark set of woodwinds and brass instruments. The first variation features recurring drum beats; the second variation features horns and trombones in its accompaniment figure. The third variation has violin-like arpeggios over a melodic cello-like theme, and so on and so forth.

Many characters that were part of Schumann's world, some real and some not so real, "pay a visit" in the Symphonic Etudes - Paganini, Mendelssohn, Chopin as well as his imaginary characters of the demonic Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius.

Symphonic Etudes was published in 1837 and was later revised slightly and published again in 1852. Nearly twenty years after Schumann's death five additional variations resurfaced. They were edited by Brahms and contain some of the most beautiful music Schumann ever wrote. An attempt to incorporate these posthumous variations into the fabric of the published version involves decisions that were not approved by the composer. Whether with these extra variations or not, Symphonic Etudes remains one of the greatest pieces in the piano literature.    

Alon Goldstein


Symphonic Etudes, op. 13      Robert Schumann

The first several years of Schumann's output as a composer was dominated exclusively by the piano. Following the lead of Chopin (whom Schumann greatly admired) and his op. 10 Études, Schumann set out to compose his own set of study pieces for the piano.

Known today as the Symphoniques Études (or, "Symphonic Etudes"), the collection has had a rather interesting genesis and history. It was begun in 1834 as a set of sixteen variations on a theme by Baron von Fricken. The baron was an amateur musician and also the guardian of Ernestine von Fricken, whom Schumann was engaged to in 1834 before breaking it off the following year. Concluding the original set of etudes was a solitary variation on the tune Du stolzes England freue dich ("Proud England, rejoice!") from Henrich Marschner's opera based on Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

Of the original sixteen variations on Fricken's theme, only eleven were published in 1837, along with the Marschner variation under the title of XII Symphoniques Études. Oddly, though, only nine movements were explicitly indicated as variations. Later, in 1852, Schumann published a second edition of the work. In it he eliminated the third and ninth etudes (the two not labeled as variations in the first edition) and made revisions to the piano writing. This edition appeared under the title of  Études en forme de variationes. Both editions were dedicated to Schumman's friend and English pianist  William Sterndale Bennet. Bennet performed the work in England to much success, though Schumann never thought the work entirely appropriate for the concert stage.

Five years after Schumann's death, a third edition of the work was published by his father-in-law, Friedrich Wieck. In 1890, Schumann's Études were once again republished. In this edition, Johannes Brahms restored the five variations cut by Schumman, now known as the "posthumous" variations. Today, these variations are often included in performances, though their exact placement often varies.

Joseph DuBose

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