Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Variations of Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn

It is my first time to listen both pieces Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann Op.20 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses Op.54. I am glad to write some of my thoughts here.

Clara Schumann was a great pianist, and less known as a composer. She was very talented musician, and could be a great composer, but her role was as a wife and a mother of eight children, her compositions just got little attention comparing to those of her husband. Clara’s music has clarity of texture, lyricism, tonal color, and elegance of feminized style. Her Variations on Theme of Robert Schumann is a late piece of her works. It seems there was sadness around her during composing the music. The twenty-four measure theme is in F sharp minor within a ternary form, and it is based on Robert Schumann’s Bunte Blatter, Op.99, no.4. The melody is almost like a descending 5 notes-Clara’s theme. The seven variations are based upon increasing rhythmic motion, dynamic force, textural density and harmonic complexity. Generally, I think Clara, as a composer, she doesn’t have any special dazzling musical ideas comparing to other famous composers in 19th century. Even though the Variations Op.20 has more difficult technique, but there are no much interesting things to play. Let is just what I think.

Comparing to Clara Schumann’s Variations, Felix Mendelssohn’s Variations Op.54 in D minor is more interesting and more like a master piece. Mendelssohn was known for his easy and nice style, like ‘Songs without Words’. But the piece Variation Serieuses Op.54 is a surprise to me, because it is very serious and difficult to perform. It is traditionally ranked with the principal variations of Beethoven and Brahms. The first time I listen to the piece, I am truly amazed by the level of energy imagination that each variations contains and how from a simple theme the composer manages to explore totally different universes.
The religious gravity of the theme is remarkable for its hymn-like clarity and the four-part writing is close to the spirit of the chorale. Following the theme, there are 17 variations. Some of the variations display almost baroque contrapuntal writing style, and others are more purely romantic, coming close to Robert Schumann’s variation style.
Many textural ideas recur through the variations, such as repeated triads syncopated between hands, but each time given distinctive expression. (Var.2) Over the variations, the theme’s melody sometimes loses its rhythmic identity and its original pitches gradually show up with freedom. (Var.8) Bach’s music was first found by Mendelssohn, so he used Bach’s fugue writing style often, it happened in Var.10. This piece is a very fascinating piano composition which is worth to play by any pianists who are interested in.

1 comment:

XYBØRG said...

In May of 1993, Minister Louis Farrakhan staged a recital of the Violin Concerto, Op.64, by the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn in what was one of the most politically-resonant artistic displays in classical music history. In a performance manifesting the most dramatic confluence of art and politics since Richard Wagner penned his notorious tract, 'Das Judenthum in der Music' ('Judaism in Music') ~ and at once refuting that screed's main premise and theme ~ Farrakhan instantly established himself as the single most transformative classical musician in American artistic history.

Squarely placing himself at the epicentre of the most controversial event in the classical music world since the tumult sparked by the 'Tristan und Isolde' overture at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, Farrakhan's rendition of the Mendelssohn violin concerto left the audience aghast. For the eighteen months leading up to his performance, Farrakhan was coached by Elaine Skorodin Fohrman, a Jewish violin virtuoso and member of Chicago's Roosevelt University where she taught classical violin. Farrakhan's choice of the Mendelssohn piece was attributed by some observers to the composer's identity as a Jew ~ a gesture widely viewed as an "olive branch" to the Nation of Islam leader's Jewish detractors.

Farrakhan's first rendition of the violin concerto occurred as part of a three-day symposium, 'Gateways: Classical Music and the Black Musician' , at the Reynold's Auditorium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on 18 April 1993. The program included a rendition of the Glazunov Violin Concerto with former New York Philharmonic member, Sanford Allen, as soloist and the Saint Sean's Concerto for Violoncello featuring University of Michigan professor, Anthony Elliott. Farrakhan prefaced his recital by declaring that he would "try to do with music what cannot be done with words and try to undo with music what words have done."

Shortly thereafter, Farrakhan reprised his euphonious peace gesture before a Chicago audience of three thousand on May 17 on his eighteenth-century Guadagnini violin...