Just yesterday, a student of mine (Daniele Boidi, truely talented among young pianists in career) discussed his thesis on the piano cycle Novelletten op. 21 by Robert Schumann. These are 8 pieces, almost never performed in their entirety, but of rare beauty and rich in infinite facets.
Schumann’s ingenious inspirations have emerged in the preparatory work of the thesis, enriching the interpretative choices in the final performance.
Title page of the Novelletten by Robert Schumann in a 19th century edition.
The title, Novelletten, is already intriguing in itself.
Why? Schumann explains it to us in a letter to his beloved (and, in that period, unattainable) Clara Wieck: “How happy I was in the past days, young, light… In the last three weeks I have composed an extraordinary amount of music: jokes, Egmont vicissitudes, family scenes with parents, a wedding. In short, all the most pleasant things together! I called it all Novelletten because your name is Clara like that of Novello and because unfortunately Wiecketten did not sound so good! (February 6, 1838)
With one of his usual tricks of prestige, Schumann manages to combine several elements in the title that, in this way, refers to affections and converging meanings. In the name of a singing Clara (the Novello) he can, in fact, celebrate “his” Clara and, at the same time, declare the profoundly literary inspiration of these pieces (novellette = novel, short story).
Schumann had listened to the Novello in Leipzig, just in those months in which he composed the Novelletten: “his voice is celestial, every note is clearly defined, as on the keyboard“.
The literary character of this and other compositions is then claimed by Schumann himself. But here, contrary to Kreisleriana op. 16 or Carnaval op.9, the references are well concealed and evoke very different texts: Goethe’s Egmont and Byron’s The bride of Abydos.
What unites the two stories is the opposition of a father to the union between two young lovers.
This is a significant coincidence if we consider that, in those months, Schumann and Clara had appealed in court against Clara’s father, to marry freely. They won the case and celebrated their wedding on the day Clara became of age, September 13, 1840.
Clara Weick e Robert Schumann
One hundred other bright features emerged from the work of Daniele Boidi. And all of them were reflected in the piano performance, admirable precisely because it was based on a profound knowledge of this compositional richness.
So, I have to think: why not bring this awareness also in concert halls or on the covers of discs / DVDs?
How pleasant and useful it would be for each listener to read a few lines in which the soloist (or the conductor), express himself on the nature and style of his own interpretation!
Certainly, such information, together with the classic room notes, would produce a more careful and critical listening: does the intention correspond to the practice? Do I find the interpretation of a certain piece convincing?
It would offer a direct way to know better the style and personality of each performer, with great advantage for every type of audience.
What do you think?
Martin Ivanov plays Novellette n. 6 in A major by Robert Schumann
For a complete version of the 8 Novelletten, performed by Lilya Zilberstein: