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LOVE? Homage to Clara Schumann

ON THE BIRTHDAY OF CLARA SCHUMANN ON 13.9.2019

Clara Wieck

Clara Wieck at the time when she composed the Romances op. 11.

“Frau Webenau loves me”

This note in Schumann’s diary from his time in Vienna is more than enough to set one thinking. Even more startlingly, the entry goes on: “Yesterday there was the biggest outburst yet from Ms. Webenau”. Julie von Webenau was born Julie Baroni-Cavalcabò and was herself a pianist and a composer as well as being the dedicatee of Schumann’s large-scale Humoreske op. 20. But it was the discovery of a piece in her work-list which, dedicated to Schumann, bears the title L’Adieu et le Retour that really roused my curiosity. Where was Clara Wieck at that time as Schumann’s muse and artistic companion? The answer is: Not far away! In 1838/39 Clara Wieck dedicated her Trois Romances op. 11 to Schumann, with whom she was secretly engaged. She could not be ignored either literally or compositionally. It would be interesting to know if there was anyone else with whom Clara had to share her Robert. But we could also ask the opposite question, a question that might well throw an illuminating light on the creative eroticism of this unique couple. Ultimately, we might also have to include under this heading the Preludes that Theodor Kirchner dedicated to Clara.

Theodor Kirchner

Theodor Kirchner

The relations between Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, conversely, have always been a topic that has fired our imagination. It was a relationship characterized by deep mutual respect and admiration. Less well known are the feelings of love that Brahms harboured for Julie Schumann, Clara’s and Robert’s third child. Julie was sixteen when Brahms dedicated his Variations for piano four hands to her, a set of variations on a theme by her late father. When she married six years later, he wrote a kind of epithalamium for her in the form of his Alto Rhapsody op. 53.

This revelation left me dumbfounded. How could this dirge-like song be a wedding present? After all, this music to a fragmentary text from Goethe’s “Harzreise im Winter” could hardly be more sombre. And why set it for an alto soloist and male-voice choir? Why was a male singer not entrusted with this vision of snowbound bleakness? Should it not be performed by women rather than by men as the former resemble angels that descend from above, bringing warmth, protection and comfort? The version heard here is intended as an answer to these questions. Of course, Brahms’s music does not need correcting, but why should it not be possible to perform the piece differently for once?

Julie Schumann und Brahms

Johannes Brahms und Julie Schumann

I am extremely grateful to the Chorus of Bavarian Radio, to the tenor Julian Prégardien and to the conductor Yuval Weinberg for their willingness to undertake this experiment. I should also like to thank Lukas-Fabian Moser and David Zell for their care in preparing the parts for this performing edition.

I owe an additional debt of gratitude to two musicologists for their support over a period of many years: to Dr Karsten Nottelmann for his help with Julie von Webenau and to Dr Michael Struck of the Brahms Complete Edition.

Yaara Tal, Munich 2019


"POLONAISE"

Franz Xaver Mozart, or the birth of the romantic polonaise

In a cruel twist of fate, Mozart’s son was born only four months before the death of his father. Although he was granted no time to get to know him, his destiny remained inextricably entwined with his famous father to the end of his days. His mother Constanze adopted the strategy of showcasing his existence in public, thereby turning him into an article from the “Mozart brand” that she knew only too well how to market. Though delicate and fragile by nature, the boy was assigned the role of the brilliant and successful heir: it was his mission in life to become as glorious as his father. That he was able to sustain a musical career at all, despite this enormous pressure, is perhaps the most incontrovertible sign of his remarkable gifts as a pianist and composer.

His move to Galicia at the age of 17 might have been a liberating blow, a breakthrough to his own identity. Indeed, it almost succeeded in being just that! The polonaises he wrote between 1811 and 1818 shed illuminating light on this promise. If his many sets of piano variations point to an idiosyncratic virtuosity in the use of the keyboard and the hands, his polonaises reveal an urge and longing for a new expressive universe unmoored in the classical tradition. But the direction this mental path might have taken, and how far it might have gone, remain matters of speculation, for the spirit of the age was not ready for it.

Yet it is precisely this suspension in stylistic uncertainty, this commitment to a new frame of reference, that lends these pieces their distinctive flavour. And as paradoxical as it might seem, the expression of such vague sensibilities gained in focus and audacity as he proceeded to compose his polonaises. Especially characteristic are their myriad expression marks regarding dynamics and tempo. Here Franz Xaver could hold his own with Mahler and Reger! Sometimes his instructions to the player are flatly contradictory and point in opposite directions within the narrowest of confines. In this respect he clearly parted ways with his father, who, as we all know, was extremely wary of such suggestions. On the other hand Franz Xaver resembles his father when it comes to the perfect forming of harmony at the keyboard, to the placement of notes, to consummate balance and contrapuntal workmanship – features characteristic of father and son alike.

Fate was also cruel in allowing Franz Xaver to fall in love with a woman who returned his affection but was unattainable. This relation remained intact until his death. Homelessness became an integral part of the emotional life that he was forced to endure: first as the shadow of an overpowering father, then as the son of an ambitious mother with a tendency toward simple-mindedness, and finally the need to share the woman of his life with another man. That his life took on a deep tinge of melancholy, and his vitality declined with advancing age, is as sad as it is comprehensible.

From today’s vantage point, we can assign the music of Franz Xaver Mozart to the place it merits in history: no one before him had so effectively set to music the idiosyncratic attitude towards life expressed in his polonaises, and many of the intermingled turns of phrase, gestures, lines and rhythmic motifs in the polonaises later found their way into what we call romanticism.

It is entirely possible, if unproven, that the young Chopin was aware of Franz Xaver Mozart’s cycles. After all, he wrote nothing but polonaises during his childhood, and his piano teacher, the Bohemian musician Vojtěch Živný, was familiar with every musical innovation from the Danube Monarchy. Nor can it even be dismissed that Chopin heard Mozart play the piano in Warsaw as a child! That the nocturnes of John Field (1782–1837) were of seminal importance to Chopin’s music is unquestioned and well documented. Is it more than a quirk of fate that Field had the same birthday (26 July) as Franz Xaver Mozart, who may well have been Chopin’s guide on the path to the polonaise?

Yaara Tal

Polonaise

Franz Xaver Mozart 1825 (K. G. Schweikart) | Frédéric Chopin 1829 (A. Mieroszewski)

"COLORS"

There is hardly any period in the history of music that was as colorful and that produced such a variety of ideas, trends and movements as the time around the turn of the 19th century. The centres of this wealth of creativity were Vienna and Paris. Our COLORS CD focuses on Paris and on two composers who were of major significance for the emergence of Modernism: Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss.

The repertoire, consisting of La Mer, L’après-midi d’un faune, Till Eulenspiegel, Salomé and Der Rosenkavalier presents absolute highlights of this period in excellent transcriptions.

This CD seeks to position itself between the poles of the works of Debussy and Strauss and is thus another production by the duo – after “1915” – to deal with Debussy in the light of his contemporaries and inevitably again forges a bridge to Wagner (“Twilight of the Gods" – Homage to Wagner on both banks of the River Rhine)

Salome

Nijinsky in L'après-midi d'un faune | Poster Salomé

"1915"

In January 1915, exactly 100 years ago, Reynaldo Hahn (1874 – 1947) composed three “lullabies” for a badly wounded soldier. These delightful miniatures, full of esprit and intimacy, are an example of French musicians' intensive and highly individual involvement with the topic of “war”. Hahn himself was called up and was sent to the front line, where - despite a martial daily routine – he found time and leisure to compose an extensive suite of waltzes entitled “Le ruban dénoué” (the untied ribbon). It is a remarkable cycle, in which, however, no trace of the turmoil and sufferings of war can be detected. Instead the music alternates gently between dreamily sentimental dances and seductively lyrical ones and presents a contrast to the reality of the times rather than a reflection of it. Reynaldo Hahn, who is known – if at all – as a composer of songs and chansons, developed an extremely complex and idiosyncratic piano style, which sounds simple and obvious only on the surface, but which in its detail is full of surprises and sometimes even mysterious (for the performer).

By way of contrast, Debussy's gems, which are stylistically far more avant-garde, feel more straightforward. The enigmatic triptych “En blanc et noir”, a “wartime work” par excellence, is a complex piece, filled with countless intellectual and conceptual elements in the form of (musical) quotations, verbal mottos, contradictory directions for the performer, written accompanying notes, etc., etc. The cultural and political background to this work is Debussy's declaration of war on everything German in general and in particular on Richard Wagner as the country's chief artistic proponent.

In their freedom from conventional musical language, the “Six Épigraphes antiques”, which are far removed from any reality, go one step further and create a strange blend of description and abstraction.

A glance at the precise titles of the movements and the attached texts (see below) opens up a view of a space full of poetry that adds to the already sensual soundscape an additional rush of inspiration and stimulus to the imagination.

CD release August 14, 2015.

SEVEN LAST WORDS

In the last days of October 2013 I recorded a solo CD. The main feature was Haydn’s passion music “The Last Seven Words of our Saviour on the Cross.” Originally composed for an orchestra, the version for a string quartet is part of the standard repertoire for this genre. What is not so well-known is that there is also a version for a keyboard instrument. When the publishers Henle produced a reliable edition of the work some years ago, I was attracted to the idea of one day giving voice to this meditation on the piano.

Yaara Tal

CD release September 05, 2014


Arnold Schönberg Center
Yaara performing her program "Seven Last Words" at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. March 24, .2015

Tal & Groethuysen  Tal & Groethuysen
Tal & Groethuysen  Tal & Groethuysen


Reynaldo Hahn

Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1907).
A portrait by Lucie Lambert

Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle.
A Love Letter to Religion

"“Talking of music, I don’t know if you are aware that I have composed a Messa di Gloria for four voices, which was given its first performance in the Palais of my friend Count Pillet-Will. This mass was performed by capable artistes […] and accompanied by two pianos and a harmonium. The foremost composers of Paris (including my poor colleague Meyerbeer, who is no longer among the living) praised me highly, although I do not deserve it. I have been urged to orchestrate it, so that it can be performed in one of the churches in Paris. I am reluctant to undertake such a task, because I have invested all my meagre musical knowledge in this work and because I have worked with a true love of religion.”

This is what Rossini wrote to Liszt in his humorous and witty way in 1865. In fact he did later secretly orchestrate the work, for fear that someone else might do it and destroy the specific character of this delightful composition.

As regards its length and depth, however, the “Petite Messe Solennelle” is anything but little. The adjective refers to the number of singers at the première, only twelve including the soloists, which is very intimate. There is probably no other work that infuses the sacred text with so much warmth, without descending into the folkloristic. Constantly noble and powerful, the music reflects in a natural and authentic manner the feeling of a belief that is at home both on earth and in heaven.

We have a special affection for this mass and have long cherished the wish to record the work. So we are greatly looking forward to the concert in Munich at the end of October 2013 and the subsequent CD production with Peter Dijkstra and the Bavarian Radio Chorus, as well as to the guest performance at the 2014 Lucerne Festival at Easter.

CD release April 11, 2014

Rossini

New CD recording of Mozart and Czerny

In the last week of January we completed another CD project, consisting this time of two piano concertos. As always, it will appear on the Sony Classical label, in this case as a co-production with the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation (BR).

Together with the conductor Bruno Weil and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, we recorded the Concerto for Piano for Four Hands and Orchestra by Carl Czerny, together with Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, KV 365.

The Czerny concerto is a true rarity with some magical moments, above all in the lyrical passages (who would have thought it?) and Chopin’s future style in the nocturnes can already be heard in it. The outer movements demand perfect mastery of the composer’s infamous studies….

Czerny was born in 1791, the year Mozart died. The latter’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is not a rarity, but rather a jewel of perfection and beauty.

This relaxed and cheerful photo was taken at the end of the recording session, which lasted four days, and also shows the conductor Bruno Weil (far left), as well as Christian Rabus, the piano technician, and Jörg Moser, the recording supervisor.

CD released February 14, 2014.


Recording of the new CD
Recording of the new CD