A few thoughts about Robert Schumann
Emmanuelle Swiercz, after a first album devoted to Rachmaninov’s major works for piano, you have now taken on the tormented universe of Robert Schumann. How would you characterize the aesthetics of these two composers?
Passing from Rachmaninov to Schumann, is like going from fever to folklore, from the emotion of love to the tormented soul, from suffering to the gentle memory of it. It is also like passing from music which addresses the crowd to music which is evocative and intimate. It also means approaching the human soul and its mysteries, accepting the heartbreak, the uncertainty, moving from one state of mind to another, from one feeling to another. Rachmaninov’s music is more orchestral, it galvanizes the public. With Schumann one enters into an imaginary, fantasy and luminous universe. With Rachmaninov the unfolding of the moment has only one dimension, whereas with Schumann his nascent schizophrenia is already there in his music, where torment mingles with calm, joy brushes against pain and profundity hides behind the charm.
Could you tell us about the construction of this programme, which brings together two of Schumann’s major cycles, Carnaval and the Bunte Blätter?
As with the Rachmaninov album which brought together the Études-Tableaux and Variations on a Theme of Chopin, I thought it would be interesting to associate two of Schumann’s major works, one of which is fairly unknown and too seldom performed, and the other of symbolic fame. The Bunte Blätter (coloured leaves) are an aesthetic adventure where the creation of the colours stirs little grains of feelings and atmosphere. Carnaval, on the other hand, is a human adventure where the characters, known or unknown, pass through, meet each other, call out to each other, meet up again.
These multiple and seething effusions are the source of a real and symbolic game of dissimulation which is all part of celebration. The obsessional waltz in these incessant movements and the confusion of identities through the prism of masks extol the destinies and their pasts. There is a part of emotional communication, but the code, the musical discourse requires a symbolism which is in no way a concept, but totally linked to Schumann’s sensitivity and imagination. More than any other of Schumann’s works Carnaval is an interpretation of the ineffable and a revelation of that which is hidden.
The complexity of Schumann’s music and its incredible emotional content allow for a multitude of different visions. Could you give us the main guidelines of your vision, particularly with a work performed and recorded as often as Carnaval ?
It is always difficult to follow a firm and linear conception with a work as kaleidoscopic as Carnaval. I felt it was important to guarantee the unity of the collection. On the formal level we have a significant thematic coherence where each idea is developed, lives its life and transformations, thereby giving a real dramatic composition to the work. The theatre is omnipresent here, but serves as a pretext for the elaboration of the collection, its actual life comes from the prodigious effort on the thematic development which flowed from Schumann’s unbridled imagination. One just has to breathe into this anecdotal procession its own inherent life where the organic structure and fantasy blend into one.
Generally speaking, what is your view of Schumann’s piano works? Is there, in your opinion, a specific way to approach these works?
Schumann’s piano music poses serious difficulties for the interpreters. In essence it is polyphonic and requires a heightened sense of the sound palettes. This is equally valid both for working on the contrapuntal textures and the academic polyrythmes which Schumann was very fond of, bringing an unbelievable flexibility to the discourse which is in turn breathless and passionate. It is also this aspect which makes Schumann a worthy descendent of J.S. Bach, revitalizing his message with a breath of Romantic inspiration. But Schumann is also a musician of colour, as shown in the Bunte Blätter, where the quality of touch is so essential in a pianist, whose fingers must evoke the intimacy of a Lied as well as the power of orchestral explosions. Schumann’s virtuosity differs from that required for his illustrious contemporaries in that he commands not only true technical discipline but above all an intellectual rigour which never yields to the spontaneity of his inspiration.