Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Profil Reissues Clara Schumann’s Piano Works

Regular readers probably know by now that one of my preferred sources for archival recordings is the the German Profil label. I have now discovered that Profil also releases more recent recorded performances, one of which is particularly appropriate at present. Readers may recall that this past September 13 marked the 200th birthday of Clara Schumann. Exactly one week following that date, Profil reissued a four-CD album of her complete works for piano solo, originally released in June of 2007. The recordings themselves were made in October of 1995 in a studio at DeutschlandRadio Berlin. The pianist is Susanne Grützmann, born in Leipzig in 1964 and a winner at the Robert Schumann Competition in Zwickau in 1981.

Readers may recall that, at the beginning of this month, this site reported on the latest album from pianist Lara Downes entitled For Love of You. This album was more “about” the relationship between Clara and Robert Schumann, first when he was a suitor and subsequently when he was her husband. As a result, the only one of Clara’s own compositions to appear on this album was her Opus 11 set of three romances.

The opening measures of the second of the Opus 11 compositions, one of the few of Clara’s pieces that I could practice with some sense of satisfaction (from IMSLP, public domain)

As one may guess, the full catalog of Clara’s compositions is much larger; but the lion’s share of her original works consists of the compositions for solo piano included in this Profil collection. It will not take long for the attentive listener to appreciate that she was influenced by sources other than Robert, the most evident of those resources being Frédéric Chopin. Nevertheless, there are a diversity of different styles and approaches that she pursues; and the second of the works in her Opus 5 set of four “characteristic” piece is a fascinating “Caprices a la boleros.”

Curiously, only two of the pieces are sets of variations. One of them, which tends to get much of the exposure, is the Opus 20, which is based on one of Robert’s themes. On the other hand there is an earlier set (Opus 8) which is based on a cavatina from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Il pirata (the pirate). This includes an introduction and a spirited finale, as well as an Adagio interjected between the third and fourth variations.

As I had observed in writing about For Love of You, my personal knowledge of Clara’s music came from the reprints of six of her compositions that had been published by Da Capo Press in 1979. Since that time, I must confess that I never gave much thought to the full scope of her solo piano catalog. As a result, the Grützmann collection has been rather an eye-opener for me. Mind you, for much of Clara’s life, composition was displaced by other priorities, including giving concert performances and seeing to family matters. (She had eight children with Robert.) Fortunately, her IMSLP Web page offers a more thorough account of her piano music than Da Capo provided, although I feel that my own skill will never be up to many of the scores to be found at that site.

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