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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Piano trio in Chesterfield Library

This week I braved Snake Pass for the first time and travelled to Rochdale, where, fuelled by some delicious cheese and onion pie provided by the church, David and I performed sonatas by Franck and Mendelssohn to an appreciative audience in St Mary in the Baum.

As the saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked, and I am straight on to preparing for my next performance in a couple of weeks. The programme will be Haydn’s Trio in G major ‘Gypsy Rondo’, Giordani’s Duetto I, Grieg Andante con moto and Revolucionario by Astor Piazzolla. I will be joined by Catherine Strachan (cello) and David Hammond (piano) both of whom studied at the University of York at the same time as me.

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The Grieg is a particularly interesting piece. Composed in 1878, the same year as the G minor string quartet, it is a single-movement work, probably the beginnings of a complete piano trio. It was discovered after his death by his friend and colleague Julius Rontgen, but, like the Mendelssohn sonata I performed this week, it was not published until more recently, in the complete Grieg edition of 1978. The whole movement is constructed from a single theme which uses just 6 notes, but at the same time includes a huge amount of variety in its tonality, texture, use of instruments and tempo. Rontgen wrote: “What a solemnity it conveys! How he can’t get enough of that single theme, that even in the major mode retains its mourning character, and then develops so beautifully its full power”.

Grieg is one of my favourite composers and in the past I have performed two of his violin sonatas (G major and C minor), so I am very much looking forward to presenting this trio in Chesterfield Library. The concert begins at 11.45am and entry is free.