Performance Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 8 PM

Richard Goode

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Eminent American pianist Richard Goode guides the audience through music by Schumann and Chopin, two unmistakable voices of 19th-century Romanticism. Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana are definitive examples of Schumann’s scintillating and fantastical style, and Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 displays a rhapsodic musical language that Goode plays “with perfect diction and understated elegance” (The Washington Post).
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The Program


About the Composer

In 1830, when the 20-year-old Robert Schumann decided to pursue a career as a pianist, he also began to compose. (At the time, concert artists were expected to write music for their own performances.) His plans for a concert career, however, were soon thwarted by a lazy ring finger, so he consequently devoted himself to composition. Eventually, his oeuvre would include more than 200 songs, four symphonies, and even an opera—but until 1840, he wrote almost exclusively for the piano.

During the second half of the 1830s, Schumann wrote many of his best-known piano works, including Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana, but also Carnaval (1834–1835), Fantasiestücke, (1837), Davidsbündlertänze (1837), and Novelletten (1838). These were tumultuous years for the composer as he courted Clara Wieck in the face of her father's stern resistance. The changing fortunes of his relationship with her are reflected in his music. Kinderszenen has been said to depict the couple's childlike joy in their young love, and Kreisleriana was composed "in part to prove himself in Clara's and Wieck's eyes," musicologist John Daverio noted. 

Kinderszenen, Op. 15

About the Work

The 13 short pieces of Kinderszenen owe their birth to a remark by the composer's soon-to-be wife Clara Wieck, a professional pianist and talented composer in her own right; she described her betrothed as being sometimes "like a child," and he took that as his inspiration. He began the collection in February 1838 and finished it in March. Originally, there were 30 movements, from which Schumann chose 13 to publish as Op. 15. Clara immediately fell in love with these "small, droll things," as the composer himself described the pieces; they were not intended for children, but rather for adults looking back lovingly on the grace of childhood. The couple would eventually have eight children (one of whom died in infancy); fittingly, he presented Kinderszenen to Clara as something "gentle and loving and happy—like our future."

A Closer Listen

"Von fremden Ländern und Menschen" ("Of Foreign Lands and Peoples") is in A-B-A form with a poignant, arching melody in the outer sections. The title of each movement suggests (but does not define) the character of the music; Schumann himself described them as "delicate hints for execution and interpretation." Here, the hint is not of some exotic land, but rather nostalgia for home.

The striking detail in "Kuriose Geschichte" ("A Curious Story") is the hiccupping rhythm, relieved only briefly during a few measures of a more fluid, even line.

"Hasche-Mann" ("Blind Man's Bluff") is a brief blur of staccato runs and sharp accents in a minor key. Its two sections contrast only in harmony, while the basic melody and patterns remain the same; each is repeated in an overall A-A-B-B form.

A musical pun hides in "Bittendes Kind" ("Pleading Child"). The second half of the short piece—which is just a restatement of the first—drags out with ritardandos, slowing the music to match the plaintive wheedling of a toddler.

"Glückes genug" ("Perfect Happiness") has a soaring melody in the right hand and busy accompaniment—characteristic writing featured in much of Schumann's music. The dizzying ascent and quick punctuations at the end of each phrase suggest a child's boisterous, physical joy more than an adult's sense of contentment.

The dotted rhythms, rich chords, and heavy octaves in "Wichtige Begebenheit" ("An Important Event") lend the short piece a certain gravitas. Here, Schumann forgoes the kind of dialogue between hands featured in movements like "Blind Man's Bluff" in favor of a purely homophonic texture with both hands moving largely in lock step. After its bluster, the delicate and beloved "Träumerei" ("Dreaming") comes as a relief. It takes the form of a 32-bar song in A-A-B-A form, with the A section defined by the languorous ascent. Its repetition reaches even higher, the apex underscored by a poignant harmony. This piece marks the midway point through the set.

The concluding measures of "Am Kamin" ("By the Fireside") lead naturally into "Ritter vom Steckenpferd" ("Knight of the Hobby Horse") with rocking intervals that are transformed into a syncopated, hiccupping dialogue between hands.

What is too serious about "Fast zu ernst" ("Almost Too Serious") is the key—a remote G-sharp minor—and the rather complicated metrical displacements that keep the entire piece off balance. The creeping, chromatic opening descent of "Fürchtenmachen" ("Frightening") sets up the scurrying, scared response in the quick contrasting sections. But all ends happily with a final cadence in the major mode.

The more serious tone (and minor-mode inflection) of this second half of the set continues in "Kind im Einschlummern" ("Child Falling Asleep"). The piece combines hints of a sweetly rocking lullaby with a gorgeous, descending sequence at the end that suggests the slow nodding off of a rambunctious toddler.

The chorale continues in the final piece, "Der Dichter spricht" ("The Poet Speaks"). Schumann is obviously the poet in question whose fancy takes flight in the middle, recitative-like section. The dozen preceding pieces have traced a busy day in the life of a child (complete with the midday nap of "Träumerei"). Now, with the baby asleep, comes a more adult conversation.

Kreisleriana, Op. 16

About the Work

Kinderszenen was completed in March 1838 and Kreisleriana begun in April. By mid-September, the set of eight pieces that took its name from the writings of E. T. A. Hoffmann was complete. Schumann identified with Hoffmann's fictional Kapellmeister, Johannes Kreisler, who (like the real composer) cycled from wild highs to deep emotional lows. Perhaps wary of the mood swings in the music and in the man, Clara responded cautiously upon first reviewing the new opus: "Sometimes your music actually frightens me," she confessed, "and I wonder, is it really true that the creator of such things is going to be my husband?"

A Closer Listen

The two sides of Kreisler's character are represented in Kreisleriana by different keys: G minor for his wild character and B-flat major for his melancholy, sensitive nature. Or alternately, these two keys could represent two completely separate characters: Kreisler and his cat. The novel by E. T. A. Hoffmann that inspired Schumann is titled Lebensansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern (The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, Together with a Fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Wastepaper). The biography of the musician is interleaved with the autobiography of his cat, Murr. Thus, there are two separate but related stories told at the same time in the novel—and in the music.

Kreisleriana alternates between fast and slow movements, and even fast and slow sections within movements. The slow movements are cast in B-flat major, the fast in G minor; however, the opening and penultimate movements fall outside this set scheme. The finale brings together—but does not unite—the two distinct voices. The melody in the right hand never quite coincides with its supposed accompaniment in the left. Instead, the two characters exist in their separate but shared realms. The composer himself worried about how the decrescendo softening at the close would come off, fearing audiences would not know when to applaud.

—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55, No. 2; Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39; Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3; Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2; Waltz in F Major, Op. 34, No. 3; Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47

Chopin is a unique figure in music history. Virtually self-taught as pianist and composer, he made a wholly personal synthesis of disparate traditions: Polish folk music, French salon, the traditional disciplines of Bach and Mozart, and Bellinian bel canto. (Ravel reportedly spoke of Chopin as "the greatest of the Italians!") He achieved greatness despite writing chiefly for one instrument and mostly in small forms. This most personal of composers wrote pieces with self-effacing, generic titles; the poetic spirit coexisted with an impenetrable reserve.

There is nothing especially nocturnal about the nocturnes. They are among the purest examples of Chopin's art of translating voice to piano. Much of the magic is in its characteristic sound: The bass and widely spaced inner voices provide the harmonic web on which the treble voice can float. The sustaining pedal makes this possible; it is the key to Chopin's sonority, and he is the only composer who writes all pedal markings into his scores. The melodic writing of the Nocturne in E-flat Major often imitates an intertwining vocal duet, and the harmonies have the richness and chromaticism of late Chopin.

The demonic side of Chopin can be heard in the C-sharp–Minor Scherzo, dedicated to pianist Adolph Gutmann—notable according to contemporaries for his powerful assaults on the keyboard (Chopin was more of a piano whisperer). The motoric middle section is succeeded by a solemn, Lutheran-sounding chorale whose effect is transformed by the delicate waterfall of arpeggios between phrases.

For me, Chopin's lighter music can be as moving as his more ambitious works. In the waltzes, the relative simplicity of the form was a challenge to the composer, who responded with wonderful melodic and harmonic subtleties. In the middle of the Op. 64 Waltz in A-flat Major—the most suave and debonair of his A-flat waltzes—Chopin quietly introduces a jaunty dotted figure in C Major (a fragment of a mazurka or polonaise?) that quickly dissolves in the flow. The celebrated C-sharp–Minor Waltz alternates between a seductive opening strain and agitated perpetual motion music, with a radiant major episode at the center. The F-Major Waltz chases its tail brilliantly—one frivolous episode that must have charmed Rossini and Chabrier.

Of the four ballades, three are dramatic or tragic in tone and end in Chopin's closest approaches to violent chaos. All are in 6/8 or 6/4 meter and seem to embody a hidden poetic narrative. The Third Ballade is the exception, a noble and sunlit work in A-flat major (which even for Beethoven was a gentle and mellifluous key.) The mood is set by the flowerlike opening of the first melody. A wayward, oscillating motive turns stormy, then gives way to a waltz episode. There is a wonderful moment when the opening tune rises sotto voce from the depths unexpectedly before the exultant coda.

—Richard Goode

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

This performance is part of Solo Piano - Students, and Keyboard Virtuosos II.