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Sunday, March 27, 2005
  Phantasiestücke Op. 12, Nos.5: In der Nacht
Robert Shumann
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Tracks 15-17

Before I was married, Sujean, now my wife, and I often lived in different towns. I would often fall asleep thinking of flying over the states between us like one those floating persons in a painting by Chagall. Though Robert had the story of aquatic Leander in mind, his experience was not so different. This piece revives the memory of those fantasies. Robert's life is as compelling, if not more, than any fiction. Writers inspired by his story have a difficult time producing anything as precise and effective as this short piano piece. This may be one of many reasons Jessica Duchen finds composer novels not so satisfying.

Other than the fine music he left behind, the compelling feature of Mr. Schumann's life, to me, is that he had it within his grasp to make a good living and felt the need to avoid doing so. In his place and time there was a strong market for lousy piano pieces which he could have churned out by the dozens. Instead, with no sense of profit, he rallied friends against the popularity of such pieces and put enormous amounts of energy into developing a musical sensitivity that would be repulsed by a contrary aesthetic and anything short of his level of refinement. I like to think, though I may be flattering myself, that were I in his place I would have done the same.

What I like about this fantasy is the moment before the recapitulation at track 17. Here Schumann is slowing down the musical narration to create that feeling of suspense before we return to familiar themes. Though, functionally, we only need some ambiguous harmonies and dwindling rhythms, Schumann's instinct for good voice leading and deft harmonic changes adds a voice-like quality to a writing tailored for keyboard technique.

By the way, congratulations to the Fredösphere for his recent world premiere. It is great to know that the bassoon can still get to people. 
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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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