schumann’s sonatas


Thematically cohesive Schumann – this piece almost sounds Classical in structure. The first movement is built on the descending scale, syncopations, and the chromatic line. This is a side of Schumann I don’t believe I’ve heard (or if I have, I didn’t pay attention). This movement is strikingly akin to sonata form, with two different theme groups in different key areas, tension, and a return to the themes, resolving into tonic. (I will admit right here, my favorite moment was the voice-leading of the last chords, interspersed by the bell tones.) Although the development was not so developmental of the themes themselves and was more of a “fantasia,” it still had clearly recognizable elements of syncopation and downward motion. So even though the hummable parts of the themes may not have been recognizable, it was clear this was still woven of the same yarn.

The second movement continues with the downward scale/syncopation motives, but this time in the form of a scherzo. At the end of the first A section, I am particularly reminded of Beethoven’s Op. 31 No. 1, where the hands are unable to line up. The counterpoint that was introduced in the first movement gets more airtime in this movement, like the interaction of voice and bass line in one of his songs.

The third movement is very much like one of Schumann’s lieder. It still is built from the same elements as the previous two movements, but now it is unmistakably a vocal line with accompaniment – bass, filler, and occasional interludes. It is introspective, wistful, and nostalgic. The melody rises, falls, and breathes just as a singer would, and only upon taking singing into consideration will the true Song emerge.

What I find most interesting is trying to aurally trace this piece’s lineage. It sounds neither like Schubert, nor Mozart, nor Beethoven, and it only somewhat looks ahead to Brahms, and possibly Chopin. In its song-like quality, I hear some Schubert, but Schubert’s and Schumann’s song styles were different enough that I am uncomfortable connecting them.

sonata in f#

The first movement appears to be in sonata form, but if I hear this correctly, the recap begins in f instead of f#. That wouldn’t be surprising, considering Beethoven’s and Schubert’s tonal escapades (and even Mozart recapped K545 Mvt I in the subdominant. Scandalous!) In any case, I hear three clear sections in the exposition: the lyric, passionate main theme, double dotted against rolling triplets; a section based on an arch-shaped phrase and staccato, impish, sixteenth notes and a jumpy, playful middle section; and the final chorale-like closing section (I hear something like Beethoven Op. 2 No. 2, closing theme of Mvt I here). The development is based entirely on the second theme group, as far as I can see, until the first theme sneaks back in a semi-tone too low. It is interesting that for such a beautiful, heart-rending theme, Schumann spends so little time on it, and spends most of the movement sneaking and tiptoeing through different keys.

Ah, apparently he saved his lyricism for the second movement. This is a beautiful movement, very simple, with each leaning tone adding meaning. Like the Fantasia, it could easily be one of his songs – bass, accompaniment, and a melody line, easily sung.

The third movement made me feel like a kid. It was incredibly fun. During the first part of the Scherzo I felt like I was skipping down stairs and might fall at any moment, especially because of the lack of downbeat. This lasted quite a while, until I felt that I was spinning in circles – Scherzo, second part. Then back to the stairs! (How I didn’t fall down the stairs after spinning in circles, I’ll never know.) The Intermezzo reminded me of some kind of children’s game – tag, or Marco Polo, or Blind Man’s Bluff, or something else that involves a lot of running and evading, sticking your tongue out, and declaring yourself the winner. Then after a brief show of bravado, it’s back to the stairs!

I assume the final movement is also in sonata form, as it had several themes that appeared in the same order each time (plus development in the middle). But what really struck me was the gracefulness of the movement. Even in the opening statement, among those dense chords, there was an elegance that never left the piece. It was particularly noticeable in the skipping sixteenth-notes, which like the first movement got the most treatment. I wouldn’t say that this last movement carried the weight of the entire four movements, nor would I say that of any other movement. But it certainly rounded it out and gave it closure.


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