Performing analysis of “Symphonic Etudes” op.13 by R. Schumann
“Etudes in the orchestral character of Florestan and Eusebius” was the name of the cycle. However, the first edition, released in 1837, received the title Symphonic Etudes. There was also another option – “Etudes in the form of variations.” The name that has come down to our days, in my opinion, fairly and accurately characterizes this work. If you pay attention to the texture, you can observe the image of orchestral timbres through the piano (violins, woodwind, brass instruments). “Symphony” is also reflected in the general idea of the work: dynamic purposeful development throughout the cycle, drama and pathetics, active dotted rhythms. All this is enclosed in a nutshell.
Schuman paid much attention to dramatic integrity. Already in the first edition, five studies were excluded, which are not inferior to the content printed, but, apparently, slowed down the general pace of development.
A real treasure for the pianist is the recordings of the lessons of G. Neigauz, which were made by a teacher of the State Music and Pedagogical Institute. Gnesins P. Lobanov in 1962. They exist both on digital media in the form of phonograph records released by the all-Union firm “Melody”, and in open access on the Internet. From the contents of these lessons, valuable insights, interesting sayings and discussions by a remarkable musician regarding such works as Ballad Chopin op. 52, Prints by Debussy, Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes.
The main tone of cis-moll is preserved in almost all variations, with the exception of those that are compositionally significant. In his works, Schumann pays a big role to the tonal plan. The logic of tonal comparisons for the composer is one of the most important means of dramatic fastening of parts of the whole.
The theme, borrowed from the music of I. von Friken, in the presentation of Schumann acquired the character of a mourning procession. Structurally clear and complete, two-part, it is close to the themes of classical strict variations. The harmonic plan, which, with the exception of the final study, does not change significantly, is related to the cycle with this form.
In terms of performing tasks, attention should be paid to the arpeggio chords. When performed, they must not disturb the natural flow of the melody. It is useful to play the upper and lower voices separately with both hands. Presenting a harmonic canvas theme will help prevent fragmentation into phrases and motives.
The pedal that the author put down is difficult to keep on modern pianos with such a dense chord filling. Therefore, you can use the harmonic pedal from the bass, or replace it during the game (half-pedal reception).
Despite the traditional framework, Schumann quite freely develops the main theme. In some variations, the theme is modified. There are studies that retain only a distant connection with her.
Already in the first variation, a new independent marching theme appears, singing unanimously in the lower case, which is tense. Then she sounds counterpoint to the main tune. Written in the Baroque style, this study carries some restraint and severity, despite the erupting emotionality. In the second part of the variation, the theme is held in chord presentation. The pianist needs to concentrate on the timbre of the upper voice, while not changing the general nature of the sound and maintaining a rhythmic pointedness.
An interesting presentation of the second sketch. A new pathetic melody, it would seem, sounds in the upper voice, but in reality, this is a free variation on the initial theme of the first study. The main theme now sounds in bass. The study is described in a typical three-layer texture for romantics. The harmonic background is a triol movement of chords. A clear separation of voices and accompaniment is required when performing this variation, and the task is also to preserve the through rhythmically-even movement of trioli. In the second part of this study, the musical fabric is polyphonized even more. New technical difficulties appear in the form of octave jumps in the left hand. The organization of the circular motion of the hand, directed from the dotted line to the accented bass, will help to overcome them.
The third study contains elements of orchestral expressiveness, even visually evoking associations with orchestral scores (it was excluded in the second edition). Accompanying light violin figurations imitate the reception of “spiccato” in strings. In the lower case, a beautiful smooth melody sounds similar to cello cantilens. This is an intermediate sketch, like rest after an emotional outburst.
It should be noted that the party of the right hand contains certain performing difficulties and requires special attention. It would be useful to teach these arpeggios in different ways, in order to build up a positional hit: with a shift in emphasis (duoles, trioli, quarter blocks), play at intervals.
The fourth study returns the listener to the dramatic development of the theme.