Schumann “Symphonic Etudes”. Etude 2 . Part 4

When writing about the next series, it is difficult to rid the mind of “regular thoughts on the topic.” The influence of these thoughts pains the body and the soul. Our memory has become clouded by the hundreds of “interpretations”, penned by both the dead and the living, by the famous and the infamous, from near and distant corners of the world, including those opinions by some for which the musical world would be better off had they just been forgotten than repeatedly quoted.

But I’m here now – and I implore you not to lazily accept the first thing the internet tells you – I’m asking you to be thoughtful – to stop focusing on the thousands of options out there and open your mind to possibility – to clear your consciousness, to completely open your mind, to rid yourself of imitation and intellectual bias. This is what I did to cure myself of the disease which let the past unhealthily sap my clarity. And by resetting, I provided my mind and body an “escape to a healthier place.” Now doing this meant a serious intellectual shift in direction, but in doing so, I honed my thinking processes, and deepened my understanding of, and connection with, the material – with the man and his music.

Now, preparing Chopin’s nocturnes for the autumn-winter series, I was reminded of a mis-guided individual’s internet post from France, who is no longer with us. It was presented as an all-encompassing treatise, a “sample of nocturnes”. With Half a million views, it meant that a half million innocent souls, once clear headed and inquisitive, now had their minds and hearts corrupted by the ignorant notions of a person who could no longer explain herself. But precisely because the Internet is immortal, it can present us with an infinite Anthropological abyss – one which affects, and will affect, the whole musical world without end. It covers the dead and the living with a catastrophic layer of consequence for people and the whole of music. And it provides the dead with an eternal path to aggressively pursue the spread of their sick and tired agendas, their poison pens set free from the ashes to bite into your minds and souls. Its catastrophe of misunderstanding, frustration and falsehood permeates and fouls the space we live in, our thinking environment, with its ever-lingering poison.

But, I digress: “Flights with Robert”, is perhaps the most exciting. And I’ll tell you why. All composers, except him, are quite “earthly”. That is, they are in music “flying” in their dreams, but these are only dreams. Schumann was on this flight from birth – he lived his music, and his music was his life – he is, if you will, on this flight from birth. Therefore, it is not mere metaphor to fly with him in his music, this is not just an “art” we share, but a reality in which he takes us with him on his journey. It is profoundly intimate.

As you can see, Schumann immediately takes the bull by the horns, and in the first variation, as I said, puts life into the work by tapping into all the rich voices and textures the piano offers, using all the registers and “driving” them in parallel. Through the use of polyphonic methods, which we showed he already mastered brilliantly, he imbues his works with a wide range of incredible technical difficulties.

But does so only for the purpose of giving life to the flight’s engine.

As I have said before, and repeat once again: the transcendental difficulties of the studies of Liszt, and Chopin are remarkable and fantastic (I would generally call these works “Fantastic Etudes”, as this would most closely correspond to what Schumann did) …

So, the transcendental technique, which these three giants have developed each in their own way, depends on the intent of each composer, and the possibilities of physiology, ingenuity, and their generally amazing talent … As such, they transformed these difficulties into “engines”, so that we modern people could interpret these artistic tasks, based on these linguistic “engines”, and we view them through the lens of flying machines piloted by pianists.

And here is the main mistake … Well, I do not know whether it’s a mistake or a limitation, the limitations of interpreters, that in such works, while there are not so many of them, we see only the “motor”, but we do not see what it must elevate into flight.

So, in the first variation, we let death take a back seat. Time, having been allowed back in spite of death, has turned death upside down through the “motor’s” activity. In the second variation Schumann demonstrates again his mastery of using three simultaneous but different plains of thought or textures at once. But the result gives us a delightful romance, where I will now touch upon the mistakes of interpreters. Error number 1 – over saturation of sounds due to the rich texture of the “fabric”.

What do we have in common on all three “floors”? Let’s examine this amazing pathetique romance.

The romance is very exalted, in the most very-remarkable romantic traditions of the 19th century, sentimental, romantic, symbolic. We will now see that in this romance, in addition to all the knightly ideas and the chivalrous song, Schumann gives gratitude to, and converses with, Beethoven’s spirit. And we clearly hear it now in the music.

So, in the upper voice on the “top floor” we hear a theme, which again Schumann constantly turns over – mulling over the theme of death. He no longer desires a thematic romantic incarnation, nor does he want death, and performs this inversion routinely. The same is our romance, which will share the top layer. And this attracts our attention as the main song, staying contradictory to death, and using the theme in inversion (Andrei plays: 4:13-4:41), with a breathy romantic pause (4:22), so characteristic of Schumann’s way of thinking, which we must always exhibit.

A wonderful touching simple romance, precedes the middle “floors” and in basses (4:45-5:08), then leaves through the major (4:53), with a heroic ending which transports us into the major (4:59). Then we hear the middle part (5:15-5:22), but we’ll get to that…So, let’s take the first half. In the middle voice we have (5:31-5:33) an accompaniment, which is the biggest obstacle for interpreters. Schumann at times, believing that he deals with people who are conscious, who read the text well, calls for that the middle voices to be pianissimo ! That is, regardless of how loud and active everything is moving in the upper and lower “floors”, he wants the pulsation to be almost inaudible (6: 03-6:35). It’s amazingly beautiful!

This pulsation reminds us of the most fantastic examples of Beethoven on one side, and on the other hand, all sorts of our most beloved popular folk songs, which turned into pop music, rock music. Therein lies amazing beautiful harmonies that are forever pleasant for us regardless of chosen instrument, whether it’s an electric or an acoustic guitar, synths, or live orchestras. But this pulsation must caress our ears and our body.

And in the lower voice, Schumann invariably presents (7:08-7:12) his remarkable heroic theme, which lives though the death of the Hero in Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, the entire intelligentsia from the beginning of the 19th century, to the present Russian folk heroes (7:29 -7:32).

Here are the three “floors”. On the first floor is a romance, a piercing romance.

On the ground floor, a reminder of the Hero. And in between on the middle floor, life is pulsing. And always be mindful of the title: “Symphonic Etudes”, always ! In my literary preamble, prefacing our lecture about music, I say how Schumann’s consciousness ranged among different names: “symphonic,” “pathetique,” “variations,” “etudes” and so on, and so on … Because he wanted to define too many goals. And these goals, unfortunately, have not yet been realized. And I wish that once and for all we all already knew what the author wanted …

Symphonic – because such a pulsation in the orchestra cannot be played unevenly. Because many people play pulsations, be it wind instruments, be it pulsations on stringed instruments (8:54-9:25), and so on, and so on … This pulsation is life. In addition to the fact that interpreters play it very loudly, they still play unevenly, giving in to their emotions, not understanding aesthetically, philosophically, or informally what the music is about. Therefore, everything is broken: harmony, aesthetics, taste. All meanings are broken, everything becomes vulgar, rude and it’s just a mockery of the author! Without understanding all the classics and beauty that are embedded in this music. It is precisely in the even pace of pulsation, which in symphonic performance (and this is “Symphonic Etudes”!) – Schumann now gives a hint to interpreters, whom he foresees will make these mistakes. Thus he writes: “expressively.” And expressiveness is related to the main materials, but in no case to breathing. And here between all these”floors” or layers where completely separate life exists, there must be complete separation, something that I have already indicated.

This division is both characteristic, and philosophical, and involves content separation, mental separation, and technical separation … That is, as I said, and I repeat: it is a problem of the vestibular apparatus, it is a problem of thinking, of mastery of all our physiology and physics, all of which goes against what is advocated by Schumann. He does not want the music limited by man’s physical material. He sets tasks exclusively in the artistic realm, despising and overcoming the material barriers. And if we understand all this its complexity, then we get a refined beautiful multi-story building (11:32-12:45), where the Hero lives in the bass (11:44). In the descant (11:46) is an amazing song , which Ophelia could sing, and in the middle voice (11:58) is the breath of life (12:03), the heroic (12:13) appearance of the Hero rising from the ashes (12:22). Here’s our first half.

Now why did I talk about Beethoven. The transition to the second half gives us his sound and a rhythm of dynamic ornament, I think you will immediately know why: it’s hello to Beethoven (13: 07-13:13).

So, we remember that Schumann, Chopin, Liszt are the children of Beethoven. They found him. 12 year old Liszt was kissed on the forehead by Beethoven at one of Liszt’s early concerts. Beethoven is the spiritual father and practically a material father. Beethoven – the Super Star, to whom they pay homage and eternal deference. Now we remember the name”Etudes Pathetique”. Pathetiques. Even the tonality (13:43) coincides with Beethoven (13: 47-14:00):

– “Hello, Ludwig!”, Says Robert. And the moonlit landscape here appears, lunar or oceanic, something nightly, connected with nature, with night conditions, with the symbolism of the night and the sublime poetic atmosphere of the Pathetique … And we are now halfway through the time of the funeral of the Hero, because at this time, everything is developing the same theme. At all times it develops in the same framework, using the same standards that the author of this topic demanded. Well, the author … we can assume that this is not amateur, sent by Baron von Fricken, a folk theme entirely, which already hung in the minds of European people of the early 19th century. So it (as we have analyzed) is already characteristic of romantic consciousness. Three-part form: the death of the hero, memories of the living hero, a terrible reality, the funeral of the hero. And epitaph, epilogue, so Schumann here adds a funeral bell. It’s very beautiful (15:11-15:21)! While the upper part of the romance – we can already imagine it as an image of the night: either it’s the running clouds in the night sky, or it’s an exciting ocean under the night sky. That is, (15:32-15:36), considering this nocturnal pathetique Beethoven’s lunar state, we, of course, can identify the images that flashed before his eyes when he wrote this music (15:47-15:52).

The Hero’s Theme (15:54-15:56), the funeral bell (15:55-15:57), night images of nature (15:59-16:01). And all this together turns into an amazing picture of already symbolic poetry. Here we can recall the “Crow” by Edgar Allan Poe and all the poetry of Maeterlinck, and symbolism with overlapping symbols, which completely draw our poetic consciousness from a sinful land to another reality (16:33-16:53). A remarkable roll call (16:55-17:02) between the souls of the Hero and, obviously, the beloved Hero. This can also be treated quite calmly.

Voices (17:06-17:10) in the night, in the funeral bell, in this amazing color of symbolism, dark, but at the same time very tempting, which is still very much loved by the romantic strings of our soul. Especially when we are connected by loneliness, thoughtfulness, it is an absolutely necessary condition for the soul of a person to purify it (17:31-38).

Again, on three “floors”, this wave rises, this wave rises again, there is a scream against death – the theme of death in an inversion (17:49-17:59). Again leaving in the major (18:00-18:23), as you remember, this is the life of the hero and a return to the mortal reality, but turning death backwards.

Here is a pathetique Beethoven, moon-pathetique, romantic variation evocative of the name Edgar Allan Poe and Maeterlinck.

And we get it not in the 80’s, not in the 90’s of the XIX century, but in 1834. Well, now I’m will play this whole delightful lunar pathetique variation with its reversal of death.

Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris

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