In 1854, Schumann reported suffering from a “very strong, painful aural affection”. Two days later he had the illusion of “wonderfully beautiful music” sounding in his head. He wrote down the theme in Eb major and composed five variations on it which were to become the Geister-Variationen
and which were published after his death two years later in an insane asylum.
The Gesänge der Frühe Op.133
were composed between 15 and 18 October 1853. Schumann subtitled them ‘Five characteristic pieces for the pianoforte.’ The Gesänge der Frühe
are hymnic appeals to a new dawn, but they refer not to the light of a day on earth, but to the hereafter. Nachtstücke Op.23
, composed in 1839, in the same period as the far more virtuosic Humoreske
, are rarely performed on the grounds that they are allegedly ‘ungrateful’. Nachtstücke
, too, is a cycle written in the face of death – in this case, the composer’s presentiment of the death of his brother Eduard.
Although the titles of both the Nachtstücke
had been used by E.T.A. Hoffmann, neither work relates to a specific Hoffmannesque text. Both may be taken, rather, as symbols, or as keys that open the door to Schumann’s inner world. Kreisleriana Op. 16, is one of Schumann’s most popular and successful works, in which the composer succeeds in expressing the most disparate aspects of the human psyche, from extreme effusiveness to the most moving inwardness.
“…Schiff’s crisp, almost snatched articulation of the brisk opening march, his tempestuousness in the second piece, and his wonderfully warm, delicately balanced voicing in the third are beautifully judged.” (Sunday Times, 12th April 1998)