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Piano

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Monday 29 July 2013

When Robert Schumann abandoned his legal studies, the world may have lost a lawyer, but it gained one of the freshest, most distinctive musical voices of the 19th - or any other - century. In this 70th anniversary week of the programme, Donald Macleod explores the work and life of this prototypically Romantic composer, who drew his inspiration as much from literature and the dramas of his own life as from the music of the composers he revered - above all, Bach, Beethoven and Schubert.

Largely self-taught, Schumann immersed himself in one musical medium until he felt ready to move on and tackle another. So this week's programmes look in turn at his five major fields of compositional activity: solo piano; song; chamber music; music drama; and music for orchestra.

For his first ten years as a composer, Schumann focused almost exclusively on the piano. He was a virtuoso pianist and had originally envisaged a solo career, so it was a natural place for him to start. Schumann's piano music is closely bound up with the circumstances of its creation, from the early Toccata in C, inspired by seeing Paganini in concert, to another C major work on an altogether grander scale, the Fantasie, op.17, which dramatizes the composer's inner life, and particularly his feelings of desolation at being separated from Clara Wieck (later to become his wife). The soberly-titled Variations in E flat major on an Original Theme are Schumann's last surviving work for solo piano, written days before his voluntary committal to the asylum where he would see out his final years. He said that the theme was 'dictated by the angels' whose voices he heard one night as he lay in bed.

Music Played

4 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Robert Schumann
    00:00

    Robert Schumann Studies for pedal piano, op.56 - no.1 Nicht zu schnell

    Performer: Piotr Anderszewski (piano)

    Virgin: 948625 2, 7

  • Image for Robert Schumann
    00:04

    Robert Schumann Toccata in C, op.7

    Performer: Ivo Pogorelich (piano)

    DG: 477 8618

  • Image for Robert Schumann
    00:14

    Robert Schumann Variations in E flat major on an Original Theme (Ghost Variations) WoO24

    Performer: András Schiff (piano)

    Warner: 2564 69967-4, 5

  • Image for Robert Schumann
    00:28

    Robert Schumann Fantasie in C major, op.17

    Performer: Maurizio Pollini (piano)

    DG: 479 0908

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