David Rowland , Jonathan Cross. The Cambridge Companion to the Piano is an informative and practical guide to one of the world's most popular instruments. This collection of specially commissioned essays offers an accessible introduction to the history of the piano, performance styles, and its vast repertoire. Part 1 reviews the evolution of the piano, from its earliest forms up to the most recent developments.
Part 2 explores the varied repertory, up to contemporary music, with a final chapter on jazz, blues and ragtime. The Companion also contains a glossary of important terms and will be a valuable source for the piano performer, student and enthusiast. Pianos and pianists cc The piano since c The virtuoso tradition. Pianists on record in the early twentieth century.
Reversing the negative evaluation of the late works, once dismissed as the product of a sick mind, is the other theme the essays have in common. Roesner, for example, sees the Piano Trio in g minor as one of the works that "embody the culmination of the composer's ever innovative approach to large-scale musical form" p.
Compare that to an assessment in a collection of essays on Schumann published in , in which the Piano Trio in g minor "belongs to the period of Schumann's increasing mental instability and shows a sad decline from the standard of the D minor Trio. Both Kerman and John Daverio in one of his two essays devote significant space to the Violin Concerto , a work from that was suppressed by Clara Schumann as a weak effort, performed and published for the first time only in John Daverio devotes an entire chapter to Schumann's late style.
In doing so, he brings up some points that certainly complicate matters. For instance, he notes that Schumann's work was criticized as dark, exhausted, and morbid earlier than one would think: "Even before Schumann's commitment, some of his later works were criticized for Furthermore, while the late music was frequently described as exhausted, it was not called "mad. And then there is the bottom line: "Needless to say, it is impossible to prove the aesthetic worth of Schumann's late music.
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Even the most painstaking motivic analysis will not convince the skeptical listener In other words, evaluations of Schumann's late works are very much dependent on the personal taste of the beholder" p. Schumann composed a total of Lieder , mostly during two periods of his life: in , his so-called "Lieder-Jahr," and in the period between and his incarceration.
Because the first period produced his most well-known song cycles-- Dichterliebe , Frauenliebe und Leben , and the Eichendorff Liederkreis --the second period tends to be overlooked.
Indeed, it is not mentioned at all in Jonathan Dunsby's chapter on the songs in the Schumann Companion. The great song cycles offer so much that some feel no need to explore further. Doubts about Schumann's health have meant that many are quick to dismiss the later songs. For instance, in a very influential book on Schumann's songs first published in , Eric Sams found "evidence of deterioration" in Schumann never again reached or even approached the level of his masterpieces" p.
Finson's explicit purpose is to replace Sams's guide to the songs. Finson examines every song in varying degrees of detail, giving an overview of the date and circumstances of composition, the poet, the form and content of the poem, and the way the music sets the poem. His treatment of the individual songs pays special attention to the aspect of text setting that determines how the music matches the poem's metric scheme.
He also examines with great care how songs published together are related musically or thematically; he asks to what extent collections were also cycles of interconnected songs. As Finson treats the large number of song collections, he gives useful information about the more obscure poems and their authors. He also uses Schumann's correspondence with publishers to give an idea of the market for Lieder at the time. Staying focused on the songs, he avoids speculating on the state of Schumann's mind, instead finding interesting and beautiful things in the music.
Although this book functions for the most part as a guide--a source of helpfully organized information--Finson also presents a bold argument about differences in Schumann's style in his second phase of song composition.
He notes a change in text-setting. Schumann moved away from the "quadratic" style of setting each line of poetry to a four-bar phrase, and toward a more irregular, more prose-like setting. This change in style is attributed not to mental deterioration, as Sams would have it, but to the influence of Richard Wagner. The two composers both lived in Dresden during the later s and knew each other. Finson surmises that after being exposed to this music and hearing Wagner expound his progressive theories first hand, Schumann adopted the Wagnerian stylistic characteristics of "irregular phrases, avoidance of periodicity, subversion of clear-cut cadences, and rapid alternation between lyrical and dramatic styles" p.
This style favors dramatic expression over tunefulness. Finson further declares: "under the influence of his Dresden surroundings, he composed Zukunftsmusik in more than one sense of the word" p. These assertions are debatable for a number of reasons. First, Schumann's style change in took place ten years before "New German" and three years before "Zukunftsmusik" began to be used to label Wagner's theories and music.
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Finson refers to the "'New German' challenge," but in no such challenge existed. A showdown between the supporters of Wagner and of Schumann took place in the journal starting in , as Finson notes p. This debate shows that the two composers were seen as practically polar opposites. If Schumann's music was taking on specifically Wagnerian characteristics, as Finson claims, then all the critics of the time completely missed it.
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Finally, if Schumann wanted "to respond to the challenge presented by 'music of the future'" p. Finson's case for the late Schumann as musically progressive is convincing, but tracing the style directly to Wagner is problematic. Instead, it seems possible that general trends of the time allowed two temperamentally very different composers to pursue similar musical strategies. Overall, despite these criticisms, both books evince a scholarly respect for the composer's late works that is more positive, perhaps, than anything since the nineteenth century.
A large number of compositions have been authorized for appreciation and enjoyment. Who would want to argue with that? Alan Walker, ed. Citation: Sanna Pederson. Review of Finson, Jon W. H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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