Schumann Symphonic Etudes Op. 13

Theme

Andante

This Theme was written by Schumann's Father in-law at the time - Baron von Fricken and amateur flautist. The original dedication was to his daughter and Schuman's fiancee - Ernstine von Fricken who was coincidentally also a student of Friedrich Wieck Father of his true love and eventual wife - Clara Wieck. When the Fricken/Schumann engagement broke off the dedication to both father and daughter were removed in the Schumann Symphonic Etudes score!

 

The subsequent pieces are variations on this theme and was originally titled Variations Pathetiques but later known as etudes - which is a fair description as they certainly do challenge the pianist to study.

 

The work was completed in its first version in 1835, however not as later published, missing some of the following variations/etudes and including 5 additional pieces which now are part of an appendix. The order of the works changed multiple times too.  Clara Wieck played three of the works in 1837. Originally it was unpopular with the public and Schumann admitted that they were "not suited for an audience" yet applauded Clara the great pianist"I still remember the way you played my Etudes, you cast them as masterpieces"

 

Etude 1

Un poco piu vivo

This first etude and variation on the theme is like an excited march into battle. It begins in the distance with the dotted staccato rhythm imitating and overlapping between the hands. 

Etude 2

Marcato il canto

In this passionate and expressive variation we hear the theme immediately in the resonant bass line with the right hand playing a counter melody. At first these melodies are singing alternate lines then half way switch to the same melody in unison almost as if a conversation which finally agrees. Throughout the middle part commentates through a variety of pulsating harmonies.

The melody here is on the left hand with the right hand contrasting in a bubbling arpeggio type pattern.  It swirls around in a varieties of harmonies, in the middle section - the hands unify with a feeling of uncontrolled emotion and unsteadiness offset by the irregular placed accents. 

This Etude is for chords and balance between the hands. The right hand marching chords start of the melody and this is imitated in a canon by the left hand with punchy accents setting off each phrase. 

Etude 5

Scherzando

A light and plaful conversation between the hands in dotted rhythms.

Etude 6

Agitato con gran bravura

.This bravura etude is marks out the theme with big leaps in the left hand and chords in the right hand. The short phrases rise and fall dramatically. 

Allegro Molto Sempre Brilliante

In contrast with the previous etude this is in the bright relative major key of E major. Jumping between high and low with energetic chords. The end grows to a triumphant and joyful E major chord. 

Sempre Marcatissimo

This Etude provides an emotional climax at approximately the golden section of the piece. Schumann was a great admirer of Bach and this etude is very closely reminiscent of the prelude from Bach's BK 2 g minor Prelude und Fugue with the main motif surging upwards then gentle falling.   

Etude 9

Presto possible

This effervescent etude seems a distance from the serious character of the original theme. The cascading sixths build chromatically into an explosive E major chord sequence which then see the return to the original C# minor key.

Etude 10

This etude is a strong and powerful march - listen out for the way the left hand spins around the right hand in a funky chromatic style pattern.

Etude 11

The penultimate etude in the dominant key of G#minor. The left hand searches through different harmonies guided by the right hand which sings in a duet with itself based on the original theme. 

Etude 12 - Finale

The triumphant finale in Ab major is based on the original theme, but in this key is a huge contrast.  

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