Robert Alexander Schumann Composer
6 Etudes in Canon Form, for pedal piano or organ, Op.56
Musicology:Schumann composed his Op. 56 Etudes, entitled Sechs Stücke in kanonischer Form (Six Pieces in Canonic Form), in the spring and summer of 1845. Along with the Four Sketches, Op. 58 for pedal piano, the Six Fugues, Op. 60, for organ, and the Four Fugues, Op. 72, for piano, the Etudes are the result of an intense "course" of counterpoint Schumann undertook with his wife, Clara, early in 1845. In an attempt to master the polyphonic style, Schumann wrote pieces in imitation of the works of J.S. Bach.
6 Etudes in Canon Form, for pedal piano or organ, Op.56Key: A-
Pr. Instrument: Pedal Piano
- 1.In C: Nicht zu schnell
- 2.In A-: Adagio
- 3.In E: Andantino
- 4.In Ab: Mit inningem Ausdruck
- 5.In B-: Innig
- 6.In B
Studien fur den Pedal-Flugel (Studies for Pedal Piano), Op.56 (arr. C. Debussy)
- No.1 in C: Pas trop vite
- No.2 in A-: Avec beaucopu d'expression
- No.3 in E: Andantino
- No.4 in Ab: Expressivo
- No.5 in B-: Pas trop vite
- No.6 in B: Adagio
The Six Pieces in Canonic Form was published in September 1855 by F. Whistling in Leipzig as "Volume I." The second volume, however, never appeared, and the Four Sketches may have been intended as its contents. Schumann dedicated the canons to his first piano teacher, Johann Gottfried Kuntzsch, who was organist at St. Mary's in Zwickau.
Mozart is known to have used a pedal attachment for his piano in 1785. Around 1800, Johann Gottlob Wagner developed a pedal keyboard to add to a larger, square piano. By this time, two types of pedal pianos had developed, the first a device that used the same strings as the fingered keyboard, the second a separate unit placed under the grand piano, employing hammers to strike its own strings. It is most likely the latter type that the Schumann's possessed, primarily to practice playing organ works. Schumann expected the instrument to become popular, but this never happened, and his Op. 56 Etudes were arranged for piano two- and four-hands.
Schumann's Op. 56 Etudes bear a strong resemblance to Bach's Inventions in their texture. The first of the six is a strict canon at the octave in C major that touches on D minor in its second half. The canon deviates from it strict path only in the last two measures, all the while with a harmonic underpinning of sustained notes. The second piece, in A minor, features repeated chords in the left hand supporting a canonic texture in the right hand alone. The pedal part becomes very animated in the middle of the work, which closes in A major. After a brief introduction, the third Etude becomes a canon at the fourth below. Again, all the contrapuntal material appears in the right hand as the left plays a figuration that is clearly a nineteenth century idea. The fourth is much like the third in its distribution of material, the canon appearing in the right hand at first, but both hands sharing material when a new canon begins. No. 5 sounds the least Baroque of the set because of its detached chords; however, it becomes clear that a canon spins out between in the upper notes of the right and left hands. Halfway through the piece, a more legato canon begins. A two-part canon opens the final piece, which boasts the most active pedal part of the set.
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5.In B-: InnigThis etude from Schumann's collection of Pieces in Canonic Form was originally written for Pedalflügel (or pedal piano), an organ-like piano that the composer had rented in order to improve his organ technique. But it is rarely played on that instrument. Concert performances and recordings typically tend to feature organ (whose sonorities resemble those of the pedalflugel), as well as piano and even chamber ensembles. Theodor Kirchner made a very effective arrangement of the collection for piano trio that has received some currency. Lively and rather Schubertian in its march-like mixture of stiffness and humor, this Etude in B minor is probably the most popular piece in the set. Marked Nicht zu schnell (Not too fast), the work opens with a catchy theme that is both jovial and playful. Yet it also exhibits an air of primness in its graceful gaiety and sense of reserve. Still, the music's overall mood leans more toward humor and good spirits than toward anything serious. The second subject and variants on the theme maintain the merriment, the whole yielding an utterly memorable listening experience. Lasting about two-and-a-half minutes, this piece will appeal to a wide audience no matter what instrumentation is used. Dating from 1845, the year Schumann immersed himself in the study of counterpoint, it shows the composer's ability to infuse something of his own personality into a piece that was, at least in part, a compositional exercise.
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