Schumann Piano Quartet Analysis

November 29, 2017 Music

Music Performance – Unit Three Outcome One and Two: Criteria One: Knowledge of Work Selected for Performance. WORK:| Piano Quartet in Eb major Mvmt’1 Op. 47 By Robert Schumann| <Instrumentation: Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano> Robert Alexander Schumann was a German Romantic composer and music critic who lived from 8 June 1810 to 29 July 1856. He composed this piece in 1842, also known as his ‘Chamber Music Year. ’ Schumann had never written a chamber work until this year except an early piano quartet in 1829.

However, in 1842, he composed the Three String Quartets Op. 41, the Piano Quintet Op. 44, the Piano Quartet Op. 47 and a piano trio, which became the Fantasiestuke Op. 88 later on. This Piano Quartet is also known as the ‘creative double’ of the Piano Quintet and is less known then its other significant half. He began writing this Quartet on October 24 1842; finished it within a month then was first published in 1845. At the time of Schumann’s ‘Chamber Music year’, chamber music was making the change in its stage from the private venues to bigger concert performances.

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Schumann and other famous composer of those times such as Mendelssohn and Brahms started experimenting with more complex and larger ensembles to meet the expectations of a larger and more demanding concert environments. They combined the strings with the newly developed and much more capable and virtuosic piano. Being an Early Romantic (1820-1850) piece, you can find typical stylistic features of the period in this piece. They are: * Big range of dynamics * Increase in pedalling in the piano * Focus on evoking emotion and self expression * The piano is the most prominent part The formal structure of the pieces were expanded * Emphasis on lyrical, song-like melodies * Adventurous and numerous modulations * Richer harmonies * Abundance of chromatic passages * Bold dramatic contrasts * Explores wider range of pitch and tone colours * Great technical virtuosity Some composers liked to experiment with the form of their compositions during this period. However, the piano quartet was written at a time when Schumann was studying the chamber music of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn extensively which influenced very strict forms in this piece. The piece is in four movements: 1.

Sostenuto Assai – Allegro Ma Non Troppo 2. Scherzo. Molto Vivace 3. Andante Cantabile 4. Finale: Vivace The first movement is in Sonata Form (large scale). It has the standard structure of a classical sonata form (introduction (optional), exposition, development, recapitulation and coda (optional)), although it has longer sections such as longer introductions and longer development sections. In this piece, the introduction is extremely long in proportion to the other sections. It begins with the strings playing in rhythmic unison of the Eb major chords with a very simple piano accompaniment.

On the 4th bar of this 12-bar introduction, the first forte is introduced on an Eb dominant 7 chord. This calm introduction ends with the violin and piano with a question-like passage, which ascends, in semitones. The final note is a Bb, which is the dominant of the key. The whole introduction is very diatonic but you could already notice some chromaticism in the first 12 bars of the piece, unlike classical music where accidentals were harder to see. Tempo marked is crotchet = 76 and the whole movement is in 4/4. In the exposition, themes can be divided into 2 subjects. st subject – which is chords followed by a 2 –bar simple piano solo consisted of quavers moving up and down in 2nds and 3rds and the 2nd subject – which is lyrical passages accompanied driving quavers. The exposition is from bar 13 to 63. 1st and 2nd subjects alternates throughout the first theme. Because of the detached chords, this section could be played ‘jolly’, however, this piece should be played in a style called ‘strum und drang’ which is often translated to ‘storm and stress. ’ Therefore, we should approach the chords with more seriousness.

The tempo marked is minim = 100. A section B section The 2nd subject is composed of many 4-bar ascending and descending melodies. It begins with a very rhythmic passage with a huge sforzando. The exposition ends with the 2nd subject – the lyrical of the two – and creates a huge contrast. The main melodies in this section are played – usually in canon – by the violin and the piano. The 4-bar ascending and descending figures build up, modulating many times in steps until they reach another rhythmic unison motive played by the whole ensemble in bar 102.

After this climax, it builds up with quaver-length scales in different parts at different times then calms down with descending scales until it reaches the lead up to the repeating Sostenuto section. The 2nd subject starts in Bar 64 and finishes in bar 124. Beginning of the second theme The rhythmic unison passage after the building up The lead up to the repeating Sostenuto section The Sostenuto section is repeated with only the last two bars altered. The first Sostenuto ended up with a questions but the second Sostenuto ends with a grace note-like passage leading into the development section.

First Sostenuto ending: A question-like ending| Second Sostenuto ending:Intense descending lead into the development section| The development sections starts in bar 136 and lasts until bar 236. It begins in the key of C major (Eb major’s relative minor’s tonic major) but from the abundance of accidentals in every single phrase, it does not sound ‘major’, in fact, most of the C’s are replaced with C#’s making the harmony to C# minor. The development section starts with his ideas from the exposition repeating.

Schumann uses the compositional device, ‘sequence’, many times to build up. He moves his phrases in semitones to build to the climax while creating tension. Just before the climax of the movement –back in its original key signature, Eb major – all the strings are playing rigorous quavers with numerous sforzando then when we reach the climax, the first fortissimo can be seen. The climax is a variation of the first theme. Instead of the short quaver length chords, it has broad, majestic crotchet length chords on the violin supported by driving quavers in all other parts.

Example of when the C is replaced with a C# Example of the use of sequence (line in the cello, which is played in canon with the violin) The Climax The recapitulation begins with 2nd subject of the exposition played by the cello in bar 237. After the recap of the exposition for a few bars, the whole 2nd subject is repeated but in different keys with the first time it was played. Apart from the different keys, everything else is the same until it reaches the lead in to the Sostenuto, which will lead in to the coda this time.

This passage has been lengthened and ends with a C diminished chord. The changed lead into the coda The piu agitato section brings the whole movement to conclusion. The piece ends very diatonic after all those crazy modulations it had been doing! Ending Performance techniques that could be adapted to the performance of this piece to play it as authentic to the style as possible are: * Varied vibratos; Broad and expressive to gentle and calm * Subtle slides that adds a bit of flavour Musical rubato that builds tension * Sometimes powerful, fast and ‘harsh’ bows, purely for the intensity * Experimenting with different sounding points of the violin strings to create different tone colour * Using varied bow pressure * Fingerings are made more for the sound rather than comfort Other Pieces composed in 1842 include Chopin Ballades and Mendelssohns’s ‘Mid Summer Night’s Dream,’ Symphony No. 3 and the Wedding March.


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