Clara Schumann and friends

A few months ago I performed Clara Schumann’s beautiful Three Romances for Violin and Piano Op.22 and, on Saturday 30th January, Catherine Strachan, David Hammond and I will include her Piano Trio Op. 17 in our lunchtime concert in Chesterfield Library.

Born in Leipzig in 1819, Clara began learning piano at the age of five with her father and she went on to become one of the most famous pianists of her time, making her solo debut in the Leipzig Gewandhaus when she was just 11. She married the composer Robert Schumann in 1840 (at the time she was the better known of the two) and she premiered all of his works for piano. Following his death she concentrated on promoting his music in her concerts.

Of all her compositions the Piano Trio (1846) is thought by many to be her masterpiece. Felix Mendelssohn, who had been appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1835, was greatly impressed by the work, praising in particular the fugato section in the fourth movement. Clara and Mendelssohn knew each other for many years and he dedicated a number of his pieces to her, including the fifth book of Songs without Words Op.62, from which I will be playing the Spring Song on 30th January.

Another great friend of Clara was Johannes Brahms. He first made the acquaintance of the Schumanns in Dusseldorf in 1853 when he came to them for advice on his compositions. He and Clara remained firm friends until her death and he was a great support during the difficult periods in her life, such as Robert’s illness and death and later the deaths of a number of her children. Brahms greatly appreciated her opinion and sent many of his scores to her. David Hammond will perform his Intermezzo Op. 118 No. 2, which Brahms dedicated to Clara.

The concert begins at 11.45am in Chesterfield Library on Saturday 30th January and the performance will last around 45 minutes. Doors open at 11.30am and admission is free.

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Projects for 2014

Happy New Year to you all! As 2014 begins there are a number of exciting projects on the horizon for me.

Over the next few weeks I will be giving two lunchtime concerts, the first in the church of St Mary in the Baum in Rochdale on Wednesday 22nd. This will be my first appearance in their regular concert series and, together with my pianist David Hammond, I will perform two great 19th-century sonatas by Franck and Mendelssohn.

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Franck’s only sonata for violin and piano was written in 1886 and is in cyclic form; this means that the same themes are used in different movements to unify the work’s structure. It was first performed by the violinist Ysaye, to whom it is dedicated. Vincent d’Indy, a pupil of Franck, described it as ‘the first and purist model of the cyclic treatment of themes in the form of the instrumental sonata’.

The second work in our programme is Mendelssohn’s third Violin Sonata in F major. His first two were written during the early 1820s shortly after he began to learn the violin and he may well have composed them in order to aid his development as a player. The third dates from 1838, at which time Mendelssohn was working in Leipzig and presiding over the concert life of the city. He was not happy with the work, describing it as a ‘wretched sonata’ and in 1839 he began a revision of the first movement. It remained unknown until 1953 when Yehudi Menuhin obtained and published it. It is full of drama and beautiful melodies and, in my opinion, deserves to be better known.

On 8th February I will give another lunchtime recital in Chesterfield Library, where David and I will be joined by cellist Catherine Strachan in a varied piano trio programme. Later in the Spring I have been invited once again to take part in the York Schubert Day, organised by the Schubert Institute UK. On this occasion my colleagues and I will perform the String Quintet in C major. Later in the year I will be putting on two concerts in Sheffield (in June and September) to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. Keep visiting my site for regular updates about all these events.