Tablet - Portrait

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Robert Schumann

The Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, is one of Schumann's greatest keyboard works, a completely original effort compelling in conception and design. Schumann originally composed the first movement as part of a fundraising effort for a memorial to Beethoven; indeed, it is based on a motive from Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (1816). The remaining two movements were later additions; if the work has any flaw, it is that the superiority of the first movement renders the second and third rather conventional by comparison.

The Fantasie differs from the more usual improvisational, single-movement cast of the keyboard fantasia in that its form is actually closer to that of a sonata; the first movement, in fact, is itself probably best described as a highly modified sonata-allegro. Here, Schumann turns his usual shortcoming -- the substitution of unrelated successive musical fragments for real development -- into the structural premise. Each section seems to expire, unresolved, to be followed by a new beginning; however, with the unifying element of Beethoven's motive, as well as the consistency with which each successive passage waxes and wanes, Schumann creates a unique structure that provides the appearance of unity despite the fragmentation of its content. He was never able to duplicate this feat in subsequent works, which tend to be fragmented by design into small movements, or, in the case of his large-scale efforts, lack the Fantasie's cohesiveness.

The second movement, a March with Trio, seems quite unremarkable despite its large scale. Still, it transcends mundaneness by the sheer brilliance of the material itself. The unremitting rhythmic drive of the principal section is utterly compelling, while the odd cross rhythms of the Trio result in a passage of exceptional lyrical beauty. The lengthy Adagio finale is of a similalry uncomplicated form that peaks in two large climaxes before the rather abbreviated coda; in the course of the movement, the tone moves from mystical to lyrical to majestic before repeating itself. Schumann originally wrote a longer ending for the Fantasie which quoted from the first movement, but rejected it prior to publication in favor of the extant coda. The depth and greatness of this work is such that only an artist of the very first rank can hope to do complete justice to its riches.