Robert Schumann liked to concentrate on one thing at a time. He spent 1840 on art songs, and in 1842, at age 32, he spent his year writing chamber music. His Quintet for Piano and Strings in E-flat, Op. 44 is one of the great warhorses of the repertory. Because Bob and wife Clara were both exceptional pianists, the piano part dominates the strings, and it comes off like a piano concerto backed by string quartet. But its still one of the great crowd pleasers in the game.
This video features Martha Argerich on piano and Misha Maisky on cello. Martha has some years on her, but she still looks majestic. Misha is obviously enjoying himself.
It starts off with a grand theme in E-flat marked allegro brillante (quick and brilliant) that just grabs your attention. But it almost immediately wanders into G-flat before working its way to the dominant key (B-flat) for the second subject. Then its back to the exposition for a repeat.
The development at 5:30 turns dark and wends its way through a variety of keys, mostly working on the first subject.
The recapitulation at 7:00 features everything in its proper keys. Take a close listen as Bob plays with triple-time within a 2/2 framework. The coda is short and wild leading to a bravura end.
The second movement, also in 2/2, marked somewhat broadly in the mode of a march, is a funeral march in C minor, with references to the second movement of Beethovens Third Symphony.
The first interlude in C Major at 11:47 works in triplets within the 2/2 framework, a trick that Schumann practically copyrighted.
At 13:32 the funeral march returns.
But at 14:49, all hell breaks loose with an agitato interlude in F minor that displays a combination of inconsolable grief mixed with genuine madness.
At 15:35 the piano plays arpeggios wildly while the strings take up the funeral march underneath.
At 16:17, the earlier interlude returns, this time in F Major.
At 17:31 the funeral march returns for a quiet ending in C Major.
The scherzo, marked molto vivace, very lively, has two middle sections bridged by the scherzo proper. The octaves in the piano part are octaves from hell. The articulation has to be really crisp.
At 20:07, the first trio section switches to G-flat
At 20:57, the scherzo returns minus the repetitions.
At 21:30, the second trio section is tonally unstable, wending its way through a variety of keys.
At 22:32 the scherzo returns with a short coda and a bravura ending.
The finale in 2/2 is marked allegro ma non troppo, which is quick, but dont over do it. This movement runs on too long and wears out its welcome. There are a few pages toward the end that should have been excised. The seams show, and in order to paint over those seams, a practice has evolved where the finale is played faster than the marked speed. Although Schumann did not mark the end of the scherzo with an attacca, which means start the next movement without a break, another practice has evolved where an attacca is observed to permit the finale to be played molto vivace like the scherzo. This provides the momentum to paint over those pesky seams.
It starts with an attention grabbing theme in G minor that oscillates to E-flat. There is a transition to G Major to resolve the theme.
At 24:50, a new subject enters in E Major, which morphs into the opening subject, but this time in C# minor.
At 26:13, we return to E-flat so that the subject can enter in C minor.
At 27:10, Bob makes it sound like weve reached a grand summation, and he should have headed for the showers at this point.
But at 27:35, we hear the opening theme again but worked up as a canon. He sets up an earlier theme and could have ended it here, too. But he slams on the brakes and brings back the first movement theme as a fugue. You have the feeling of one overtime too any.
At 29:34, he brings back the material from the finale, and finally he dances into the showers.
Thanks, unique, for the rocker!