Diving deep: Schliessmann in the Caribbean pai for sub inc br pr pains to compensate for thinner musical substance with increased instrumental brilliance, thereby preparing the ground fo of er vi th co th o S a for the golden age of the piano and the era of the Romantic virtuoso. Yet among the multitude of composers writing for the piano at that time, only two – Weber and Schubert – stand out as original creative fo e o t r s o forces. Schumann’s early piano works owe a greater debt to the intimate, romantic and deeply soul-searching idiom of Schubert than to Weber’s refined brilliance.
The originality, greatness and individuality of Schumann’s mature style comprises two aspects. His creative imagination took him well beyond the harmonic sequences known by his predecessors, but he also discovered a Romantic principle in fugues and canons by earlier composers. Schumann saw a parallel between the interweaving of voices, the essence of counterpoint, and the mysterious relationships between the human psyche and exterior phenomena. He felt impelled to express this discovery in what the German Romantics called musical arabesques.
Schubert’s broad melodic lyricism is often contrasted with Schumann’s terse motivic writing, erroneously regarded as ‘short-winded’. Yet it is precisely with these short melodic formulae that Schumann shone his searchlight into the previously unplumbed depths of the human psyche. His melodies are rarely through-composed, but their simple strophic form can express everything from tender intimacy to violent passion. The key to this transformation is harmony, achieved through Schumann’s use of chromatic progressions, suspensions, pedal points and a rapid alternation of minor and major modes.
Schumann’s unique instrumental style is perfectly attuned to his own compositional idiom. Following a period in which the piano had been used to explore sensuous beauty of sound and brilliant colouration, with Schumann it again became a tool for conveying poetic monologues. He avoids using the tone-colours of different registers in an orchestral, Beethovenian manner, but what counts is the dynamic richness and the differentiation between main and secondary voices. The fact that
Schumann rarely uses the top and bottom extremes of the keyboard is one feature of his piano style that significantly differentiates its colour palette from that of Liszt or Chopin. The use of the sustaining pedal over long arcs of sound, especially in lyrical passages, helps the performer to evoke Schumann’s dreamlike moods, mysterious sound quality and free-roaming imagination. It also reveals the limitations of the instruments of his day: notes can be sustained for much longer on modern instruments, making it easier to achieve what is indicated in the score.
Schumann gave fantasy names to different aspects of his own personality: ‘Florestan’ and ‘Eusebius’ represent opposing qualities such as ‘storm’ and ‘explosion’ versus ‘deep emotionality’ and ‘intimacy’. Recognising these extreme feelings is the key to understanding Schumann’s life, in which illusion became reality for him. By holding up a mirror to Schumann’s febrile inner conflicts, sharpness and poignancy, we can access his Romantic realm of fantasy.
In terms of his development, Schumann’s direction of travel was from large architectural forms to miniatures. His later works offer a concentrated explosion of sheer detail. Gesänge der Frühe (Songs of Dawn) Op 133 is one of Schumann’s most shattering and deeply touching works, created from the depths of his soul. It is visionary yet abstruse.
I strongly believe that intuition is an aspect of truth. Intellectual understanding is one way for an interpreter to approach a composer or a piece of music, but in the end, it is important to free oneself from thinking. True artistry can only be achieved by merging all aspects of music. The result is an ‘explosion’ felt by every member of the audience: intuition and emotionality end in catharsis, the highest level of art, interpretation and intermediation.
Away from the piano, I find inspiration for my musicmaking through scuba diving. I am a qualified PADI Master Instructor and have logged more than 8,500 dives in oceans around the world. Thanks to a phenomenon called synesthesia, I am able to express the colours of the underwater world through my playing. Diving also offers a psychological ‘border experience’, comparable with my experience of performing: when everything flows, the music merges with the intentions of the composer, the instrument, the acoustic of the hall and the audience to achieve artistic perfection – the highest ideal of all. IP
Burkard Schliessmann’s Fantasies features an all-Schumann programme on two SACDs/CDs: Fantasiestücke Op 12, Kreisleriana Op 16, Fantasie in C major
Op 17, Nachtstücke Op 23, Fantasiestücke Op 111 and Gesänge der Frühe Op 133 (Divine Art DDC 257530)
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