Marc-André Hamelin is an accomplished and unrivaled virtuoso when it comes to the renowned works of the established repertoire for piano. He brings to his Caramoor debut one of Schumann’s greatest works for solo piano, central to the early Romantic period, and Schubert’s elegant masterpiece – the last sonata for piano he would ever write. In “Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-flat … Hamelin’s virtuoso piano technique was fully harnessed in the service of Schubert’s unvirtuosic music, allowing soft playing to make a more penetrating impression than usual” (David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer).
“One of the most adventurous and certainly the most courageous pianists of recent times.” — International Piano Quarterly
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Schumann Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17 Schubert Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960
Complimentary Garden Listening Tickets for Members at the Family Level and above
Pianist Marc-André Hamelin is known worldwide for his unrivaled blend of consummate musicianship and brilliant technique in the great works of the established repertoire, as well as for his intrepid exploration of the rarities of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries — in concert and on disc.
In addition to this afternoon’s recital at Caramoor, Marc-André Hamelin performs this summer at the Nohant Chopin Festival, Klavier Festival Ruhr, La Roque d’Anthéron, Montreux, the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, The Edinburgh Festival, and with Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Festival de Lanaudière playing Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Marc-André Hamelin is a distinguished pianist, conductor, and composer having received numerous award including ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of the Year and Disc of the Year for an album of his own compositions.
The coming season includes Hamelin’s return to Carnegie Hall for a recital on the Keyboard Virtuoso Series plus recitals in Montreal, Seattle, Berlin, Florence, Salzburg, Wigmore Hall, Istanbul, among others. In repertoire from Haydn and Mozart to Ravel and Rachmaninoff, Hamelin appears with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles, Stuttgart and Moscow State Philharmonics, the Vancouver, Cincinnati, and Oregon Symphonies, and tours in Europe with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta.
Some highlights of Hamelin’s last season include recitals at Vienna’s Konzerthaus and at the Schubertiade, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, at Yale, Cincinnati and Savannah, Munich, Moscow, and Vancouver — as well as his second appearance on the Keyboard Virtuoso Series at Carnegie Hall.
With orchestra, he debuted at the Orchestre de Paris with Alan Gilbert conducting the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand; played the Schoenberg Concerto with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in the opening weeks of Vladimir Jurowski’s inaugural season, the Ravel Left Hand Concerto with Juanjo Mena and the Toronto Symphony, Ravel’s G Major Concerto with the St. Louis Symphony and John Storgards, Stravinsky with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot, Haydn with Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra, Mozart with Nicholas McGegan conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, the two Brahms concerti with the Moscow Philharmonic, and the Brahms D minor concerto with Andrew Manze conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
He was a distinguished member of the jury of the 15th Van Cliburn Competition in 2017 where each of the 30 competitors in the Preliminary Round were required to perform Hamelin’s Toccata on “L’Homme armé” which marked the first time the composer of the commissioned work was also a member of the jury. Although primarily a performer, Hamelin has composed music throughout his career; the majority of his works are published by Edition Peters.
Hamelin records exclusively for Hyperion Records. His most recent releases are a disc of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B Flat Major and Four Impromptus, a landmark disc of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Concerto for Two Pianos with Leif Ove Andsnes, Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus, and Medtner Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski. His Hyperion discography of over 60 recordings includes concertos and works for solo piano by such composers as Alkan, Godowsky, and Medtner, as well as brilliantly received performances of Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Shostakovich.
He was honored with the 2014 ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of Year (Piano) and Disc of the Year by Diapason Magazine and Classica Magazine for his three disc set of Busoni: Late Piano Music; and an album of his own compositions, Hamelin: Études, which received a 2010 Grammy nomination (his ninth) and a first prize from the German Record Critics’ Association. The Hamelin études are published by Edition Peters.
Hamelin makes his home in the Boston area with his wife, Cathy Fuller. Born in Montreal, Marc-André Hamelin is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the German Record Critic’s Association. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.
About the Music
Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17
A large percentage of Schumann’s music contains personal references to people and events in his life, often coded so as to be comprehensible only to the recipient of the message (or simply to the composer himself ). Of all these works, the Fantasy, one of his most personal and striking pieces is the one that, according to Schumann’s biographer John Daverio, most closely “plays intriguingly at the border of life and art.”
Schumann could be an extraordinarily fast composer, but the Fantasy took three years to bring to its final form. This had to do with Schumann’s changing ideas as to what the piece represented and the purpose to which he intended to put it. In the end it became a monument and an homage to the three most powerful figures in his life, one personal, the other two artistic.
Schumann composed what was to become the first movement of the Fantasy as a single-movement work in the early summer of 1836. This was a low point in his life, because he had been forced to agree not to attempt communication with Clara Wieck, the love of his life, by the girl’s father, who had demanded that each of them return the love letters they had exchanged. Their future together seemed hopeless. (Papa Wieck has come in for a great deal of criticism for what has been regarded as his heartlessness in this matter, but it should be recalled that Clara was only sixteen at the time, while Robert was a decade older. Moreover he was a composer who had not yet had any particular success and no financial means to support a family — and he had also developed something of a reputation as a Lothario. What father would not behave similarly?)
In response to this situation, Schumann composed a single movement and entitled it (in French) “Ruins – Fantasy for pianoforte.” The ruin in question, clearly, was that of his hopes to make a life with Clara. And when he finally sent the finished piece three years later (once they had been able to resume their courtship after a somewhat older Clara defied her father), he wrote, “In order to understand the Fantaisie, you will have to transport yourself into the unhappy summer of 1836, when I renounced you.” The first movement, he wrote, was “a deep lament for you” drafted “down to its last details” at that miserable time. The original title page that Schumann planned for the piece included the phrase (in French) “dedicated to” with a blank space following. The obvious dedicatee at this time was Clara, though under the circumstances, he did not dare write her name.
Though the first movement was a reflection of Schumann’s gloomy mood at his enforced separation from Clara, the remaining two movements owe their inspiration to a different source, one that regularly inspired Schumann to greater heights of compositional daring — the example of Beethoven. During the late summer of 1836 plans were being advanced to produce a great monument to Beethoven in his birthplace of Bonn. Organizers of the plan tried to find various ways to raise the money for the project.
It is difficult for us to realize today, but at that time, less than a decade after Beethoven’s death, though he was certainly regarded by music-lovers as an important composer, many of his works were still unperformed because they seemed so difficult, bizarre, even incomprehensible. His music simply was not the center of the repertory in the way it is today. Schumann, though, was very enthusiastic, and he wanted to do his part to contribute to the creation of such a monument. In the summer of 1836 he quickly drafted two more movements to go with the opening “Ruins” and making a large-scale work that he felt was something on the order of one of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.
He had the idea that a certain number of copies of this new piece be given to the organizers of the monument fund so that the proceeds could become contributions to its completion. In this letter, he characteristically referred to his musical alter egos, who represented two different aspects of his style: “Florestan and Eusebius would very much like to do something for Beethoven’s monument and have written something to that end with the following title: Ruinen, Trophaeen, Palmen (Ruins, Trophies, Palms).” Kistner, the music pubisher, showed no interest in this scheme, and Schumann set the piece aside for several years.
Over the next three years, Schumann considered several possible titles for the three-movement piece and also for the individual movements. Finally in 1839 he almost published it as Dichtungen (“Poems”) but at the last minute he changed it to Fantasy, thus returning to the original title the work had borne when it was but a single movement. He dropped “Ruins” as the title for the first movement on the logical grounds that it would mislead people into thinking that it referred to classical antiquity, rather than the “ruin” of his own life — and in any case that was well in the past by 1839, when Schumann confidently expected to be able to marry Clara soon. But the lingering connection with plans for the Beethoven monument remain in the work’s ultimate dedication to Franz Liszt, who, when the fundraising seemed to be faltering, made the single largest contribution to assure that the Beethoven monument would be built.
Inspired in the beginning by Clara, then by Beethoven, Schumann composed one of his largest and grandest multi-movement solo piano works as an homage to Beethoven and in the elevated tone that such a tribute would require — yet he characteristically overturned the normal pattern of multi-movement sonatas but putting a heroic movement as the middle of the work (where the slow movement normally goes) and ending with a quiet expressive reverie.
Schumann’s musical personae Florestan and Eusebius are fully present — Florestan in the grand, heroic, assertive opening of the first movement, Eusebius in the quieter, Caramoor Summer 2018 XXV inward-turning conclusion. Florestan returns to dominate the heroism of the middle movement (Schumann took the name from the hero of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio), while Eusebius is the moving spirit of the hymnic third movement.
In 1839, Schumann sent to Clara a quatrain from the poet Friedrich Schlegel, which he made an epigraph on the score of the Fantasy, with the obvious hint that Clara herself, for whom he wrote virtually all of his works after their meeting, was the “one who listens.” The inscription can be translated: “Through all the notes in earth’s many-colored dream, a quietly long-drawn note sounds for one who listens in secret.”
One more personal reference, of many allusions that have been identified or suggested for the opening movement, seems to be a hint of Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (“To the distant beloved”), which — naturally, given the story of their love — seemed to them to have a clear significance, especially since the phrase alluded to the words, “Take, then, these songs of mine.” But the same phrase, it has been suggested, also seems intertwined with a line from Schubert’s much-loved “To Music,” a song that recounts how music has made bearable the worst hours of the poet’s life — a sentiment that Schumann himself expressed of the period of his separation from Clara. In the end we have a remarkable monument of composition for the piano that captures the full attention and emotional response of listeners who simply hear the melodies, rhythms, and harmonies for themselves, but connects at every point to the romantic and artistic passions of the composer.
Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960
Schubert composed three large piano sonatas, as well as the four Impromptus, in the last year of his tragically short life. He composed the three sonatas in an amazingly short time, in September 1828, when he had barely two months to live, and a series of surviving sketches shows that he took the task of writing large piano sonatas very seriously. He was, after all, writing these works just eighteen months after the death of one of the greatest of all composers of the piano sonata, Beethoven, whom he idolized. It is not surprising, therefore, to find some hints of Schubert’s homage to Beethoven, even as he was writing music that unquestionably expressed his own very different musical personality. Each of the three last sonatas — in C minor (D.958), A major (D.959), and B-flat (D.960) — contains much wonderful music, but for a long time, they were belittled by composers and scholars, largely because they were not Beethoven.
In recent decades, pianists have rediscovered their particular charms and the special personality that is Schubert’s. In particular — and especially to be noted throughout the B-flat major sonata — is Schubert’s magical control of mood through harmony, the sometimes surprising shifts of major and minor, whether in closely related keys or very distant ones. Almost always these affect the emotional stance of the given passage, suggesting a hidden poignant thought, a “smiling through tears.” Moreover most of the movements are subdued in character and relatively slow in tempo. The first movement — in most sonatas an Allegro of some kind — is “Molto moderato”; and even the relatively chipper finale is marked Allegro, but with the further advisory “ma non troppo.” These carefully controlled tempos add to the indrawing and expressive emotional quality of the entire sonata.
The very beginning of the sonata is utterly imbued with that wonderful lyricism that is Schubert’s great gift, broad and solemn, yet with a touch of mystery from a hushed trill in the bass at the end of the first phrase. And his harmonic palette is as rich as ever, drawing upon the tiniest idea (such as a small chromatic movement in the bass line near the end of the second phrase) and using it first for local expression and then to find surprisingly natural pathways to very distant keys — and back again. The eventful and varied development comes to a magical passage in which an apparently new theme seems to be hovering far from home, but intimations of the trill and the opening theme hint that we are closer than we think — and slowly we move back to the home key for the recapitulation.
The slow movement is one of Schubert’s most poignant and profound, with ambivalent harmonic play between major and minor. A theme first heard in C-sharp minor is later harmonized in E major, and vice versa. What is major? What is minor? The movement closes richly and gracefully in C-sharp major with a serene tolling of bells in the accompaniment.
It is time for something altogether lighter, and Schubert provides a scherzo of great delicacy (even indicating that character in his tempo marking). Yet even here, in the liveliness of the dance, the harmonies lead us into surprising places. The dance rhythm continues in the Trio, yet all trace of outward cheerfulness becomes internalized and private.
The Finale’s catchy rondo theme suggests a lively, even witty ending; it is, certainly, full of delightful touches, starting from the hint at first that it will be in C minor and not in the sonata’s home key of B-flat. Yet at the very beginning Schubert explicitly recalls the chromatic bass figure from the opening movement (a G repeated five times, then dropping to G-flat, and downward to F). He uses this first in a straightforward way to bring us around to the home B-flat at the end of the phrase. But it becomes embedded elsewhere in the movement in ways that shift the harmony, and the mood, quite suddenly beneath the cheerful surface of the dance rhythm.
Joie de vivre intermingles with wistfulness, twice breaking out in a march-like section that seems driven by rage, though gradually the storm passes and the rondo theme reasserts itself. However cheerful it might seem at some of its appearances, Schubert turns it, in the end, into a fierce Presto coda.