Monday, February 17, 2014

Late Schumann in the Hands of Fine Musicians: Fairy Tales, Op 132

Last night I went to hear a trio of fine musicians play late Schumann: Maerchenerzaehlungen, Op. 132, for clarinet, viola and piano.  It is one of those borderline comprehensible works that tempt Philistines to attribute to the composer's madness.

One thing particularly struck me:  In the third piece the players are asked to produce two startling, sometimes ugly sounds of equal intensity, one after the other -- effectively two downbeats in a row.  It happens again and again in the piece, each time interspersed with scampering sounds evoking the image of little children running away from the menacing ogre.  How apt.

It is, indeed, menacing to produce two equally strong sounds one right after the other.  Well-behaved musicians do not do things like that.  It took me a while to figure it out, myself.

What is a fairy tale, after all, but an excursion into a fantasy world where logic does not prevail, where control is abandoned temporarily in favor of excess?  Schumann writes all kinds of excess into these pieces, including excess of intimacy.

I would have to say that these musicians did get it some of the time, but only as if by accident.