Robert Schumann(1810-1856) Märchenerzä0hlungen (Fairy tales), Op. 132, for Viola, Clarinet, and piano


We performed this strangely prescient work last Sunday, along with works by Mozart, Beethoven and CPE Bach. While Ihave performed the Fairy Tales of Schumann several times, performing it in the light of certain facts concerning the composer really brought to mind new observations and even sensations regarding both Schumann and this work. It is well known that Schumann is both regarded as the very soul of the Romantic Period, but in addition he published Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik.  about music and musicians, which as the first journal to recognize both Chopin, Mendelssohn ,and the young Brahms, whom he called a genius He was also a  pianist, who ruined his performing career by a device to stretch one of his fingers, a device which spoiled his career. Not only was he a composer of a tremendous body of music, for Piano, song cycles, (some of the most beautiful every written) 4 very important symphonies, and many other compositions for literally every conceivable combination of performers.For the clarinet, he gave us the Fantasy Pieces, Opus 73, and the Opus 94, also called Three Romances, for oboe, but frequently played by clarinetists.The Three Romances are very beautiful, but for the clarinetist, it will be helpful if you can circular breathe, which I never developed.The late Ken Wolf re-arranged ome of the Romances, playing one phras,while I got my breath.
Robert Schumann also was married to a great pianist, Clara Wieck, despite the protestations of her father. Schumann had actually studied with Claras Father.

In October 1835, Schumann met Felix Mendelssohn at Wieck’s house in Leipzig, and his enthusiastic appreciation of that artist was shown with the same generous freedom that distinguished his acknowledgement of Chopin’s greatness and most of his other colleagues, and which later prompted him to publicly pronounce the then-unknown Johannes Brahms a genius.The sad tale of Schumann’s later life is well-known; at the time of Märchenerzählungen, or Fairy Tales, Op. 132, 1853, his bouts of sleeplessness, hesitancy of speech and movement, and deepening depression were getting worse. A temporary ray of light, in the form of a visit by the young 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, gave him one last creative outburst.

The Fairy Tales were composed during this all-too brief Indian summer with the youthful genius of Brahms. Clearly, none of Schumann’s difficulties with larger forces are evident here. In the Fairy Tales, he draws closer and closer to his solo pianistic roots. Schumann cleverly links each movement, unifying them with subtle thematic references. The more intimate Trio setting allows his subtle harmonies, such as passing augmented sixth chords, and intricate melodic passages to be thrown into high relief. These figurations do not lose their effect, even when the clarinet or the viola doubles the piano line, which is far from the case in the crowded over-orchestrations of his symphonic works and concertos.

Despite the opposition of Clara’s father, she and Robert continued a clandestine relationship which matured into a full-blown romance. In 1837, he asked her father’s consent to their marriage, but was refused. Wieck ridiculed his daughter’s wish to “throw herself away on a penniless composer Early in their relationship, her father forbid them from marriage, however they persisted and spent their lives together until Schumann was committed to an asylum after several attempted suicides. He continued to compose, and, when he passed away , it was left to Clara his wife, assisted by Brahms to arrange his music, allow certain of the works to be published and edited. The other works were destroyed. The very last work that Clara edited and allowed to be published was the Opus 132, the Fairy Tales. For all clarinetists , it is a must for a recital and is one pf the more beautiful and difficult (for the piano) of all of his works. The clarinet and viola parts ae of medium difficulty, but the piano part is quite difficult, written very awkwardly for the fingers/ut, within the slow movement can be found dissonances which are strangely beautiful and resolved in unusual ways. These dissonance passage lie within a peacefully calm moveent, whicn I found to be incredibly surprising even yesterday. There are some performers who do not allow these passages and /pr dissonant note to be played in performance, howeverwhat you may think about changing notes should recall that the work is the last work that Clara edited and allowed to be published.

Works following Opus 132 were disposed of.These facts, I found fascinating. I had always been concernd about the “strange” dissonant passages found within an otherwise calm and peaceful movement. As mentioned above, there are some who leave out the dissonant passages and their resolutions , ss being mistakes or perhaps the products of a person who was considered as being insane, and who had tried to commit suicide several times. But then again, deeply respectful of both Clara Schumann and Brahms, both of whom had edited this work and had allowed publication, I found myself intent on both listening and performing these unusual dissonant passages. They are really quite lovely, regardless of how they resolve, and should be given special attention. Rather than demented, I think that Schumannws Fairy Tales, looks into the future.
Stay well, and get a good pianist for a performance of this. It lies awkwardly for the pianists fingers, so, take goodcare.



2 Responses to Robert Schumann(1810-1856) Märchenerzä0hlungen (Fairy tales), Op. 132, for Viola, Clarinet, and piano

  1. Dear Sherman,

    I hope you are well. In this photo you are holding an Amati clarinet, I suppose It is your Amati C ACL351, am I right?
    If you don’t mind, can you tell us a little bit about your setup choice for this piece? I’m not sure if you own a Lyrique C, but if you do, any reason to have chosen an Amati C over a Lyrique C? Thanks,


    JJ Cordel.

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