Piano Concertos by Schumann and Kuhlau
Robert Schumann spent his early years composing for piano, an instrument he favoured throughout his career. He received music lessons from Friedrich Wieck and it wasnít long before Schumann fell in love with Friedrichís young daughter, Clara. Despite his teacherís wishes to separate them, Schumann married Clara in 1840 and the love-struck composer was inspired to write songs, many of which with a romantic theme (Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe among others). In 1841, Schumann began composing a one-movement Fantasy for piano and orchestra. The unorthodox genre was not received favourably by publishers who turned it away suggesting the addition of a further two movements. Schumann didnít take the advice immediately, but eventually revised the work to become his one and only Piano Concerto, Op. 54, completed in c. 1845.
While compiling this CD series of piano concertos recorded by Felicja Blumental, we discovered some charming shorter pieces, which we wanted to make available. One such piece is Saint-SaŽnsí Wedding Cake (Op. 76). This lively, dance-like caprice valse was composed in 1886 as a wedding present for pianist, Caroline de Serres. In the same year, he completed Symphony No. 3 ďThe Organ,Ē which was dedicated to memory of his friend and composer Franz Liszt.
Sadly, Kuhlau only wrote two concertos, Concertino for 2 French horns (Op. 45) and Piano Concerto, Op. 7 performed here. The Danish composer, who unfortunately lost his eye in an accident at the age of 7, dedicated this work to his friend, the composer C.E.F. Weyse. Both composers represented the late classical and early romantic periods in their native country and Kuhlau also gained a wide reputation as a pianist in Scandinavia. Kuhlauís Piano Concerto is one of his more significant works and itís structure is similar to Beethovenís early concertos, whom he met during his many travels.
Robert Schumann (1810 to 1856)
German composer Robert Schumann spent much of his time socialising in both musical and literary circles; two of his passions along with fine champagne. He demonstrated great skill at the keyboard with the potential of becoming a concert pianist but Schumann was forced towards composing following a hand injury. Schumannís interest in literature remained and he founded the Neue Zeitschrift fŁr Musik where he was recognised as a notable critic and writer, sometimes writing under the pseudonyms, Eusebius and Florestan. Schumann was a prolific composer of piano music, favouring the instrument as a vehicle of his emotional expression. Although he attempted teaching and conducting, Schumann found no success in these posts and as a result, suffered bouts of depression and in the early 1850s, attempted suicide. Schumannís health was deteriorating and he spent his final years in an asylum where he was cared for by his wife, Clara and fellow composer, Johannes Brahms.
Charles Camille Saint-SaŽns (1835-1921)
French composer, pianist and organist, Saint-SaŽns was like Mozart, a child prodigy showing musical gifts from a young age. He was much admired by contemporary composers such as Rossini, Berlioz and particularly Liszt, with whom he became a close friend. Saint-SaŽns spent the majority of his life a bachelor but married a young woman when he was forty. Sadly, it was an unhappy marriage. His two sons died during their childhood and Saint-SaŽns eventually left his wife of three years. During this turbulant time, he composed some of his most popular works: Danse macabre (1875) and the opera Samson et Dalila (1878), then later in 1886, Carnival of The Animals. In France, he was perceived as a conservative composer, constrained by tradition, but Saint-SaŽns enjoyed great success in England and particularly in the United States where a concert tour raised further his profile. There was, and still is much speculation today about his private life and sexuality. Rumours abound about him dressing in a Ballerina costume for fellow composer, Tchaikovsky and reports of holidays in resorts noted for their liberal lifestyle.
Friedrich Kuhlau (1786 Ė 1832)
Danish composer and pianist Friedrich Kuhlau (of German birth) was an important composer of his time, bridging a gap between the Classical and Romantic periods. At the age of fourteen, be began studying theory and composition with Schwenke in Hamburg but when the city was invaded by Napoleon, he fled to Copenhagen. Kuhlau promtly gave a performance of his recently completed his Piano Concerto which led to an appointment at the Danish Court. Although the position held no salary, Kuhlau supported himself and his family financially by giving recitals and teaching. This period marked the beginning of his career as a pianist and composer. His flute music was in particular favour while his sonatas and sonatinas were popular as musical training. He began appearing regularly as a concert pianist but sadly, Kuhlau lost a number of unpublished manuscripts in a fire (including a second piano concerto) which resulted in a chest infection from which he never fully recovered. Kulauís musical output was not extensive but he was a respected concert pianist throughout Scandinavia and his influence on later Danish music was considerable.
Hans Swarowski (1899 Ė 1975)
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Hans Swarowski enjoyed a successful career as both teacher and conductor. Swarowski himself was taught in Vienna by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Richard Strauss in various capacities. He performed throughout Europe, conducting in major cities such as Prague, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Berlin and Zurich.
After WWII, having taken flight from the Nazis, Swarowskiís career began to flourish. He accepted the post of Professor of Conducting at the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts, where his pupils included Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Mariss Jansons, Bruno Weil and Giuseppe Sinopoli. Swarowski frequently conducted at the Vienna Staatsoper while fulfilling a conducting post in Graz from 1947-1950. Subsequent work came with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and as a result, his reputation soared as a notable conductor of works from the Classical and Romantic periods.
In Vienna, a conductorís competition was set up in Swarowskiís name. It continues to attract rising stars of the conducting world.