Stephen Hough, piano
Sunday, November 14, 2021 at 3:00pm
(1905 – 1971)
(1810 – 1856)
Kreisleriana, Op. 16
Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch
Schnell und spielend
Cançion y Danzas I
Cançion y Danzas II
(1810 – 1849)
Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2
Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31
Please join us for a post-concert conversation with Stephen Hough and Caramoor’s Artistic Director, Kathy Schuman.
This program is approx. 70 minutes in length.
About the Program
“Schumann’s Kreisleriana, a set of eight pieces, is one of his most characteristic works, alternating searing passion and sublime tenderness, revealing the composer’s inner world to the listener with disarming candour,” explains Stephen Hough. Recently recording this “crazy, wonderful, kaleidoscopic cycle” inspired Hough to use Kreisleriana as one of the pillars of his solo recital program this season.
“I’m overflowing with music and beautiful melodies now — imagine, since my last letter I’ve finished another whole notebook of new pieces. I intend to call it Kreisleriana. You and one of your ideas play the main role in it, and I want to dedicate it to you — yes, to you and nobody else — and then you will smile so sweetly when you discover yourself in it.” So wrote Robert Schumann to Clara Wieck during the period of their courtship when Clara’s father (and Robert’s piano teacher) Friedrich refused to recognize the couple’s engagement and did everything in his power (including the pursuit of legal action) to keep the couple apart. The ensuing emotional turmoil, paired with the influence of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul, two literary icons of the Romantic era, inspired Schumann to write some of his greatest music for solo piano from 1834 – 1839.
The adventures of the fictional conductor Johannes Kreisler are chronicled in E.T.A. Hoffman’s Kreisleriana. Schumann describes Kreisler as “eccentric, wild, witty,” an artist who is obsessed with J.S. Bach but is forced to play frivolous dance music at his employer’s social functions. Hoffman portrays Kreisler experiencing the heights of ecstasy when playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the depths of despair resulting from a hopeless attraction to his employer’s niece. The stories resonated with the young Schumann as he was intently studying Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and suffering because of his forced separation from Clara. His pieces of music criticism in his New Journal for Music, founded in 1834, were inspired by Hoffman’s ability to relay his opinions on music through a literary lens and written in a similar style. Schumann further explores Kreisler’s emotional highs and lows in his own Kreisleriana written in April 1838.
Schumann initially wanted to dedicate his Kreisleriana to Clara, but she begged him not to as she was worried that doing so would anger her father and affect her ability to perform the work. Schumann contacted his publisher and told them to change the dedication to Frederic Chopin, whom he hoped would appreciate the work because of their shared love of Bach and distaste for salon music. Evidence of Schumann’s respect for Chopin can be found in the multiple glowing reviews of his works in the New Journal for Music. The two met for the first time in 1835 when Chopin came to Leipzig at the invitation of Friedrich Wieck, ever the impresario, to have him hear Clara play. Felix Mendelssohn invited Chopin to his house afterwards where an enraptured Schumann heard the two of them play their works for each other.
The final dedication of Kreisleriana inspired Hough to have works of Chopin serve as another pillar of the program, although Hough acknowledges that the relationship between the two composers was a bit one-sided. “In some ways, you couldn’t think of more different personalities, and indeed, Schumann admired Chopin hugely. It didn’t go in the other direction. Chopin did not like Schumann’s music very much. I think he found it too crazy.”
“Chopin always had this classicism there,” Hough continues. “His idols were Bach and Mozart, and so I think he found Schumann’s structures sometimes less clean and clear than he wanted, whereas we, of course, find them revolutionary and fascinating and creative. Whereas Schumann was a bit of a polymath … Chopin did one thing: he wrote for the piano. He did it better than anyone else has done before or since. It’s in his limitations, I think, you find his brilliance. I do think [Schumann and Chopin] go well together, partly because of the similarities and because of the contrast.”
While we now associate the piano nocturne with Chopin, we owe the creation and initial popularization of the genre to the Irish composer and pianist John Field via his publications and concert performances throughout Europe in the early 19th century. The “nocturne style” is clearly influenced by vocal models and song forms. Chopin’s application of his classical sensibility to the nocturne give his contributions to the genre more substance and increased dramatic effect. His Op. 15 Nocturnes were published in 1833 and no doubt influenced Schumann’s approach to composing character pieces.
The scherzo (literally translated as “joke”) is something that Haydn initially presented in his Op. 33 String Quartets and then Beethoven revolutionized in many of his works, most notably in his symphonies. Chopin’s Scherzos stand on their own outside of a multi-movement work and are characterized by contrasting motives presented at the outset of each work. The Scherzo in Bb minor, Op. 31 was written in 1835 – 37 and features an opening gesture that many hear as a hat-tip to Beethoven.
Hough carries on the tradition of the pianist-composer and presents one of his own works on this recital program. He shares:
“My Partita was commissioned by the Naumburg Foundation for Albert Cano Smit. Having written four sonatas for piano of a serious, intense character, I wanted to write something different — something brighter, more celebratory, more nostalgic. Written in 2019, it is in five movements. The outer, more substantial bookends have an ‘English’ flavor and suggest the world of a grand cathedral organ. The first of these alternates between ceremonial pomp and sentimental circumstance, whereas the final movement, taking thematic material from the first, is a virtuosic toccata — a sortie out of the gothic gloom into brilliant Sunday sunshine. At the center of the work are three shorter movements, each utilizing the interval of a fifth: a restless, jagged Capriccio of constantly shifting time signatures, and two Cançion y Danzas, inspired by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou.”
Hough also shares that the Capriccio is inspired by Béla Bartók, and he adds that “Albert (Cano Smit) is from Barcelona and (Fredericou) Mompou is Barcelona’s great musical son, so I thought it would be a nice little tribute. I thought he’d get a kick out of having pieces that were so directly linked to his own culture.”
Although Hough’s Partita was written for Smit, “it was a piece that I wanted to play myself. So when I decided to put that on the program, then I thought it would make a nice parallel to have another English piece on there.” Hough fills out the program with music by Alan Rawsthorne. “His Bagatelles, four contrasting miniatures based on a small motivic nugget, were written in 1938 and were dedicated to my main piano teacher, Gordon Green.” In the liner notes to his English Piano Album, Hough says that he “studied them with [Green] as a teenager and I remember his eyes filling with tears on one occasion after hearing the last piece, its restrained emotion reminding him of his affectionate friendship with the composer and the latter’s recent death.”
Hough describes Rawsthorne’s music as “Hindemith with cream. You’ll recognize something and the kind of contrapuntal life of his music, but it’s a little bit richer, a little bit more willing to embrace the romantic implications … [The Bagatelles were] written in 1938 so right before the Second World War. And I don’t think it was published until the early 40s, so it was a piece written in a very turbulent time. I’m not even sure exactly when the premiere happened but it might have taken a couple of years, just because everything suddenly was thrown into chaos and, of course, in those early years I’m not sure where my teacher was living, but he lived in Liverpool and in London. Those were both cities that were very badly bombed in the early 1940s. In fact, my own mother was living right in the center of Liverpool in 1940. She was a 10- year-old girl and they had to leave the city and move to Wales because a bomb landed in the back garden and almost destroyed the House that they were living in. I’m a product of that displacement because she met my father in North Wales. He was also living there, so, but for those bombs I wouldn’t be here.”
About the Artist
Stephen Hough is one of the world’s leading pianists, winning global acclaim and numerous awards for his performances and recordings. The first classical performing artist to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2001), he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2013. He has appeared with virtually all major American and European orchestras, has given recitals at the most prestigious concert halls worldwide, and has recorded more than 60 albums for Hyperion. Hough is also a writer, composer, and painter and was included in The Economist‘s list of 20 Living Polymaths. His writing has appeared in BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Times (London). He has also authored Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More, a major anthology of essays on musical, cultural, lifestyle, and spiritual subjects, and a novel titled The Final Retreat. As a composer, he has written for orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, and solo piano, and his compositions are published by Josef Weinberger, Ltd. In the fall of 2021, the Takács Quartet will premiere his newest work, Les Six Rencontres. Hough resides in London and is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music and Juilliard. He holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester, and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 2011.
Stephen Hough is managed by CM Artists New York and Harrison Parrott Ltd.
This concert was made possible, in part, by the Westchester Community Foundation, a division of The New York Community Foundation.
The Music Room piano, a Steinway Concert Grand, was the generous gift of Susan and John Freund.
The Music Room theatrical lighting was a generous gift from Adela and Lawrence Elow.
No photography or video / audio recording permitted.
Silence all mobile devices and alarms.
Wear a mask unless eating or drinking.