A Schumann Rediscovery

Featured publications are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

It is certainly a wonder that even today we are rediscovering lost treasures composed by the great masters of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. Rarely does a year pass without another “lost” manuscript finding its way into the daylight after decades – even centuries – gathering dust in a library basement, museum attic or private collection.

And such was the case with the recent rediscovery of a small solo piano miniature, Ahnung – Albumblatt for Klavier, composed by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), which was found in the Leopold-Sophie-Bibliothek in Überlingen by librarian Roswitha Lambertz whilst cataloguing the bequest of one Leo Allgeyer.

Ahnung – Album Leaf for Piano

The manuscript is clearly in Schumann’s hand, and includes verification from his widow Clara, also featuring her handwriting dedicating the piece “to Mr. Julius Alleger with the wish that soft tones may always accompany you.”

The piece was first published in 2009 by Wiener Urtext Edition, and is now available as a single piece [UT 50271], the book itself containing eight pages in the standard Wiener Urtext house style.

At the start, there’s an image of the original manuscript in Schumann’s handwriting, followed by the composition itself (which is a single page long, and edited by Michael Beiche, with fingerings added by Jochen Reutter). To the rear of the publication we find the Commentary detailing the provenance of the manuscript and its history, and the editor’s Critical Notes.

Readers will undoubtedly want to hear the piece, and with that in mind and with the permission of Wiener Urtext Edition I have made this new recording of it for your interest, which you can listen to via SoundCloud:

Some comments on the piece

The Commentary speculates as to the provenance of the piece within Schumann’s considerable piano oeuvre of the 1830s, making what I think to be a convincing case that it was originally written as part of the composition of the masterpiece Kinderszenen. It was a period in Schumann’s life when he was enjoying the springtime of his love for the young Clara, to whom he wrote in a letter of 17-19 March 1838:

Having not included the Ahnung in that collection, he later used its primary musical material in his Novelette Op.21 No.5 (a facsimile of which also appears in the present Weiner Urtext publication for comparative purposes).

Short Analysis

The Album Leaf itself is 24 bars long, of which bars 9-24 are repeated. While I was curious to play through the piece, I must admit that my hopes weren’t especially high, given that the composer had himself set aside the piece and not published it. Perhaps the piece would resemble one of the myriad miniatures composed by Schumann’s many disciples.

But as soon as I played it I was struck by the flashes of genius that I immediately associate with this most special of composers.

For example, I was struck by the immediately engaging opening, in which the melody line is highlighted by the absence of harmony on the first beat prior to the addition of the dominant seventh chord in murmuring triplet quavers – a trick which Schumann builds on throughout the piece.

The transference of this simple melody to the tenor line at bar 9 – and the element of counterpoint that appears with the return of the soprano line in bar 15 – are so characteristic of Schumann’s fevered experimentation with compositional technique and the possibilities of the instrument’s timbre and texture.

And perhaps most striking of all – the startling harmonic shift in bar 15, which is as exquisite as it is unexpected, further enhanced by the introduction of the two-against-three time divisions.

The piece is quite simply a joy to play – and would suit any player at around ABRSM Grade 4 level. Indeed, it would make a brilliant exam piece at this level, and it would be wonderful to see Wiener Urtext Edition’s investment in bringing this fine edition to the market rewarded with it being licensed for inclusion in collections that will bring it to a wider audience.

Faschingsschwank aus Wien

Let me also mention that Wiener Urtext Edition have recently brought out a new edition of Schumann’s Romantic showpiece, Faschingsshwank aus Wien (Carnival Jest from Vienna) Op.26 – a masterpiece that many readers will be more familiar with.

This new edition [UT 50217] is similarly edited by Michael Beiche and based on the Urtext of the New Schumann Complete Edition.

Fingering and notes on interpretation are provided here by Tobias Koch. These notes take into account the sound characteristics of the early pianos played in the composer’s lifetime, as well as contemporary documents that include Schumann’s own preface to his Caprices Op.3, and publications by his teacher Friedrich Wieck and others.

These, and all of Wiener Urtext’s Schumann piano editions are available online from Musicroom here:

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.