Chopin – Four Scherzi – Schumann – Carnaval – Samuel Dilworth-Leslie – CR4316
£9.99 – £15.99
In his biography of Chopin, Adam Zamoyski relates how Schumann picked up a copy of Chopin’s ‘La ci darem’ Variations in a Leipzig music shop in July 1831. On trying to play them, he found they were extremely difficult, but thought they constituted a work of extraordinary importance both musically and, as Zamoyski put it, ‘For lack of a better word, politically.’ This eventually led Schumann to make his often quoted comment: ‘Hats off gentlemen – a genius.’ This was at the end of a review in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung where he provided a highly fanciful programme of what was going on in the variations; for example the second represented Don Juan running about with Leporello. It is perhaps significant that Schumann had only written his ‘Abegg’ Variations the year before, and would probably have felt a certain kinship with Chopin since they both had written in the Romantic idiom and, in certain of the variations, there is a similarity in the figuration. However, Chopin thought Schumann’s ‘Programmes’ ridiculous, and it would appear the friendship was always one-sided, leading, as will be heard on this disc, to Schumann portraying Chopin in ‘Carnaval. Despite all this their talents and careers tended to go in opposite directions; for example Chopin soon abandoned the orchestra entirely whereas Schumann went on to write four symphonies. Temperamentally also they were very different: Chopin’s writing was always finely structured, as a result of his lifelong interest in Bach and Mozart, whereas Schumann tended to be the dreamer who was looking for new paths. It is accordingly interesting to have Chopin’s Scherzi juxtaposed on this disc with Schumann’s ‘Carnaval’.
The four Chopin Scherzi were composed over a twelve year period from 1830 to 1842 by which time only the B minor Sonata, Barcarolle and Polonaise Fantasie, of the larger works, remained to be written. It was a form that Chopin evolved himself, although earlier composers such as Schubert had written scherzi as independent works, but these were still in the form found in Sonatas. Chopin considerably increased the scale to produce works lasting around eight minutes with the ‘joke’ element entirely absent, in fact the only thing they shared with most other scherzi was a one in a bar rhythm. The first three are in minor keys, and although the last is in the key of E major, the Piu Lento section is in the key of C sharp minor, giving an air of resignation to the inevitable. Whilst each forms a very satisfactory work in its own right the four, in combination, produce an enhanced effect, and the first shows how little Chopin had to develop further a form and structure that he had made very much his own. It is noteworthy that none of the Scherzi, nor Ballades for that matter, was written in Poland, the first of both being composed during Chopin’s Vienna period, and already they show him in a more cosmopolitan light. The first Scherzo was a truly extraordinary work for a composer of around twenty, and has passages pointing towards the unearthly impressionism of the finale of the B flat minor Sonata. The third and fourth, composed during Chopin’s relationship with George Sand, whilst showing perhaps a greater and more mature emotional depth, in no way eclipse the achievement of the first; as Zamoyski says it is; “Amongst his greatest”, to which one might well add the other three.
It is of interest that ‘CarnavaT was originally to have had the title: ‘Fasching: Schwanke auf vier Noten fur Pianoforte von Florestan’. This having been discarded Schumann went on to write ‘Faschingschwank aus Wien’ some four years later. The make up of ‘Carnaval’ was unusual in as much as, Schumann apart, it featured two other composers, and in these ‘Scenes’ the ‘Vier Noten’ did not form the basis. The first was Paganini whose compositions had changed solo violin playing and, as performed by the master himself, were a lasting inspiration to many including both Schumann and Chopin; in the case of the latter he attended most of the ten Warsaw concerts of 1829. The second was Chopin who again Schumann recognised as one of those producing ‘New’ music, hence one to be included in the ‘Davidsbund’, those who, in Schumann’s imagination, were fighting the Philistines. Among the latter were Czerny, Herz and Hiinten whom Schumann regarded as music’s weeds. Suffice to say Schumann portrayed both brilliantly, catching their individuality, whether it was Paganini’s pyrotechnics or Chopin’s Nocturne style, without producing pastiche. Both Schumann’s personalities feature, namely as Florestan and Eusebius, with Clara Wieck, as his future wife then was, as Chiarina. During the period of composition however, when Clara was only in her middle teens, Schumann became engaged to another of Friedrich Wieck’s pupils – Ernestine von Fricken. She not only appears as Estrella, but is linked to Schumann in the ‘Lettres Dansantes’ in as much as SCHA are the musical letters in his name and coincidentally ASCH was the town of von Fricken’s birth, and are also the ‘Vier Noten’ in the original subtitle. Although there may be private allusions to others, as in the literary writings of Evelyn Waugh, the remainder of ‘CarnavaF appears to portray the characters one would expect to see, such as ‘Pantalon and Columbine’ or incidents like ‘Aveu’ which Harold Bauer pointed out could be either a confession of love by a bashful maiden or a fiery youth, leaving a consequent ambiguity of interpretation. It is possible of course that Schumann was thinking of Ernestine again here; it is usually played dreamily enough. However the fact is we do not know, which as Bauer says is probably just as well. The most nebulous ‘Scene’ of all, ‘Sphinxes’, is rarely played but in fact provides the three permutations of the ‘Vier Noten’ to give the basis of most of the ‘Scenes’. In fact there are really five notes since the second ‘Sphinx’ uses A flat rather than A as in the first and third.
Samuel Dilworth-Leslie, American pianist, received both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and the Master of Arts degree from Columbia University. He studied with Dora Zaslavsky, Mieczyslaw Munz and Nadia Boulanger who wrote: “he is a wonderful musician and I hold him in great esteem. ” In Europe, he performed in master classes given by Arthur Rubinstein, Gaby and Robert Casadesus, Clifford Curzon and Nikita Magaloff. His distinguished performing career has taken him throughout the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. After having studied the complete piano music of the
then seldom-played French composer Gabriel Faure with Boulanger, a pupil of Faure, he presented for the first time, in 1973, a series of four public recitals at Rutgers University, New Jersey where he is Professor of Piano. In 1974 the cycle was performed at the Salle Pleyel, Paris to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death, and in 1984 at the Purcell Room, South Bank, Fondon. Dilworth-Leslie organised and participated in many festivals including the First Chopin and Beethoven Sonatas Festivals. He has performed also in Bartok, Ravel and twentieth century music festivals. With the Swedish National Orchestra of Gothenburg, Neeme Jarvi conducting, he gave the first performance outside the former USSR of the Estonian composer Arthur Lemba ’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Sweden, in 1982 and in 1983 the American premiere was performed at Rutgers University during the orchestra’s first American tour. In 1993, he gave a recital in Madrid celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Federico Mompou and in the same year a recital was performed in Rome honouring the 100th anniversary of Banca D’Italia. In addition to concerts and master classes, he has presented lecture-recitals on Chopin and Faure and has served as adjudicator for many national and international piano competitions. His recordings of Faure (s compositions have been highly praised by both European and American critics.