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Piano Quintet

One of the most beloved of all chamber music works, Schumann’s Piano Quintet was sketched out in only five days. Begun on September 23, 1842 (Schumann’s ‘Year of Chamber Music’) by October 12 he had completed a fair copy of the score. The Quintet was dedicated to his beloved wife, piano virtuoso Clara Schumann, who made it a staple of her repertoire. Clara was a sought after performer, and though she championed her husband’s works, Robert often had trouble being the spouse of a celebrity. In one fit of pique, he cruelly criticized her performance of the quintet, angrily proclaiming that only a man could properly understand the work.

Schumann’s conception of what the addition of a piano to a classical string quartet should be is an entirely logical one. The piano is essentially a polyphonic instrument, its idiom utilizing at minimum two voices, more often three, four or more. Its addition to a string quartet should therefore be treated differently than the addition of an essentially single voiced instrument, say a viola, cello, clarinet, oboe or horn. Rather than carrying one fifth of the musical discourse, the piano and the string quartet as a whole are treated as equal partners.

The course of the first movement is the interplay of the brilliant opening statement and its derivations, with the lovely, coy cantabile melody. The remaining three movements all have the quality of character pieces about them. This would, by no means, be a negative comment to Schumann, who himself saw Bach’s Preludes and Fugues as lofty character pieces. The Second movement is marked "In the manner of a March," a somewhat spooky and somewhat close to a funeral march. In the third movement we have the nineteenth century version of "Raggin’ the Scale". The final exciting movement is packed with Schumann’s own style of contrapuntal devices, canons and fugato passages and a wild horseman or two.

Notes on this piece would probably not be complete with out the following anecdote concerning, some say the first, some say the second, performance of this work- take your pick. In any case, the story goes that Clara Schumann became ill on the day of the scheduled performance. As you listen to the work think about this: Schumann’s idol Felix Mendelssohn sat in for Clara, and sight-read the piano part. Mendelssohn was very impressed with the work, but suggested that Schumann re-write the second Trio in the scherzo movement – something livelier. Schumann obliged.


1.
Allegro brillante
9:05
Giudice, C.
2.
In modo d'une marcia (Un poco largemento)
8:41
Giudice, C.
3.
Scherzo (Molto Vivace)
4:59
Giudice, C.
4.
Allegro, ma non troppo
8:52
Giudice, C.