Robert Schumann - Grande Sonate opus 14 - Kinderszenen opus 15 - Kreisleriana opus 16


Robert Schumann
Grande Sonate opus 14 d'après l'autographe de 1836 
Kinderszenen opus 15
Kreisleriana opus 16

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet 
piano Yamaha CF 3 

Retenu dans "Les meilleurs disques de l'année" du Monde, Arts & Spectacles Spécial Disques


He dreamt of becoming a writer, but chose music instead. All his life Schumann must surely have nursed a lingering regret at not having been able to do both, and the writing career he rejected must also surely have exerted a vindictive pressure on his mind... A vindictiveness audible, for example, in his abiding attempt to be convincing (the literature of the time often had a "message"); to convince others of his craftsmanship, the latter being charged, according to Novalis, "with much more than telling a story". There thus lurks behind Schumann's instrumental works the sometimes annoying shadow of a moralizing professor whose "ordered mind invites philistinism" (Novalis). Here lies the source of all those "storms" and "attacks"; of that febrile vigilance keeping everything on edge. The lied, conversely, by assuming many-layered meanings in the poem to which it is set, is free to escape, to embark on adventures against which only an equal amount of "pure music" can provide a counterweight. Novalis again : "Confusion indicates over-abundant but unbalanced power and talent. Only lucidity can reveal what the proper balance should be, but lucidity resides on a level where talent and vigour lose their force. Order and precision alone do not confer clarity. By preying on itself, the confused spirit can achieve a celestial transparence and self-illumination achieved only rarely by the ordered mind. The true genius combines the two extremes, sharing both the vivacity of the one, and the plenitude of the other" (Blutenstaub No.54, 1798).

Schumann was well aware of rigidity's dangers, and actually favoured free forms. Yet he regularly felt the need (self-discipline?) to conform to traditional structures. Thus were born the Sonatas, Quartets and Symphonies that require a more biographical approach, since, in them, not only does "the poet speak", but the professor also administers his examinations.
With its fascination for the vertiginous, our own century tends to appreciate most those passages in which calculating reason is overwhelmed, and in which each of us can find precisely that proportion of deviation or virtue that suits us. It nevertheless seems barbarous (in as consistent and as consistently abundant a body of work as Schumann's) to separate the premeditated from the experimental; the methodical figures from the effusions in which gravity evaporates and reverie is freed.

The present concert thus represents an attempt to join (instead of severing) three vast works among which a great and highly "calculated" composition appears to serve as a preface to two so-called "free" ones. This choice did not even have to be made as a self-consciously demonstrative one : the works in question carry three successive opus numbers and were composed virtually simultaneously from 1836-38. This was a period during which Schumann used work to drown the torments he was being made to suffer by his master Friedrich Wieck's stubborn refusal to give Schumann his daughter in marriage... Long months of despair, of humiliating subterfuge prior to the opening of a shameful court trial and an unbridled campaign of defamation and slander perpetrated by the enraged man who had become his father-in-law.

Thus it was that embarking in 1836 on the Sonata in F-minor was a restorative project, especially after the successful completion of the Fantasia (future Op. 17) whose reception is now common knowledge. Although Schumann had initially planned five movements in order to deviate from the Beethoven model (with its formal tendency towards the diptych), that year he published only three parts (Allegro, Quasi Variazioni, Prestissimo), numbered Opus 14 - perhaps in a sudden desire to follow a pattern that Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven might have used; but more probably in order to establish formal symmetry with the soaring flights of Opus 17... In 1853 Schumann was again plunged into torment : his mental problems grew more acute and the members of the Düsseldorf Orchestra forced him to resign. He considered moving to Vienna or Berlin, re-read the books he had loved in his youth, and re-published his early works, notably Opus 14. To the latter he added a kind of opening Scherzo (Molto comodo) from the original manuscript, placing it second and thereby dislocating the repentant character of its former symmetry. After Schumann's death, Brahms was thus encouraged to restore a second scherzo, marked Vivacissimo, which he placed after the first movement, and before the addition made by Schumann himself. This 1866 edition therefore returns to the form of the initial project : a vast meditation which is developed, analyzed (variations), and then concludes in the best "concertante" tradition. It is on this basis (in addition to the "symphonic" nature of the pianistic writing) that the sub-title Concert without Orchestra was proposed in 1836 by the publishers. The addition also shaped an enormous series of (masked) variations on the initial theme (thought to have come from 17-year old Clara Wieck). The omnipresence of the variation pattern was confirmed by Schumann's hesitations when isolating an easier-to-interpret group at the core of his statement. The 1836 manuscript in the British Museum thus contains two additional variations that Schumann had at first crossed out, in red; and then decided to restore - writing "valid" in the margin in blue pencil. It was not until 1983 that Henle Verlag acknowledged the two variations, placing them in an appendix to the "Brahms Edition". Jean-Efflam Bavouzet wished to première their inclusion, placing them in our 4th movement, where they occur in the original manuscript. [In the first movement, there are eight dotted measures (1836 Edition) that were turned into an arpeggio and transposed down an octave in 1853. It was also considered that the innocent mood of the arpeggio treatment would be better preserved if played using the 1836 tessitura.] And thus we see that a work once considered "reasonable" was in fact nourished by the adventurous seeds from which the "great" Schumann has been too facilely constructed. And thus is also explained the simultaneous composition of the future successes Opus 15 and 16.

Infinitely better known, the thirteen short pieces that make up the Kinderszenen, Opus 15 (1837) are, conversely, credited with liberties they do not exhibit to the same degree : did that moralizing shadow perch on Schumann's shoulder and dictate how these children must be ("prayer")? Did it stay his hand from painting of a riskier sort (Moussorgsky)? It is true that Schumann was not yet the father of eight children and that these conventional "naïvetés" ("Blind-Man's Buff", "Rocking Horse") reflect human inexperience more than a genuine constraint on his inspiration... For if we forget the word "child", everything again becomes exemplary in these pieces intended to be simple but no less powerful than the Symphonic Etudes of an earlier period ("Almost too simple"). What is required above all is consummate professional pianistic skill, even though the composer asks (from Clara) for "a completely simple, natural and unstudied grace" ("Bogeyman"). Since the eloquence of this music speaks for itself, here we might simply offer equivalent translations of the German sub-titles : Distant Lands and Peoples, Strange Tale, Blind-Man's Buff, Child's Prayer, Perfect Bliss, Solemn Occasion, Reverie By the Fireside, Rocking Horse, Almost Too Serious, Bogeyman, Child Falling Asleep and, lastly, The Poet Speaks - an apparent echo of Hölderlin's confession : ''The child's trusting calm, divine serenity. How often have I not halted and silently thought of thee, invoked thee lovingly?"

The year 1838 marked the culmination of the crisis opposing Wieck and Schumann. The composer reacted with a flood of definitive creations : in addition to Sonatas 2 and 3 came the Novellettes and the Kreisleriana. It is curious that apart from Jean-Paul Richter (who rises above them all), the writer who influenced Schumann most was Hoffmann. Arnim seems more powerful to us, and Heine (so many of whose verses Schumann set to music) could soften the blast of the composer's panic. But no. Obvious analogies in their respective fates (the magistrate-writer and the journalist; both composers; alcohol for one, madness for the other) place Schumann on a parallel with the writer of the Der Kater Murr. Today we find Hoffmann's music banal, and it was perhaps in order to compensate for this lack of power that he conceived the character (graphic and literary) of Johannes Kreisler, the mad musician who could inscribe only terrifying notes onto his paper and whom the author "suicides" parodistically, knifing him with an augmented fifth... Lost in admiration for nightmares such as these, Schumann placed his most personal collection under their egis and dedicated it to Chopin (whose two Ballades and three Scherzi were already known and considered by Schumann to be "absolute models of romantic music"). To Clara Wieck, he confessed he was writing "a bizarre, mad, sometimes solemn music" and, further, that "you'll have to close your eyes when you play it", As with the preceding Opus numbers, performing only a part and not all of the sections would be inconceivable. Marcel Beaufils has given us the clearest description of this cycle : "the odd numbers are violent, wrenching, seething with fantastic visions traversed by slow, vertiginously hollow episodes. The even numbers are slow and more than depressing, swamped by what seem to be tormented questions and attempts to rebel". The first piece ("extremely agitated") is a succession of thrusts disintegrating as they reach their peak. Only the central trio episode seems to recall a possibility of calm. "Very intimate and not fast", the second (by far the longest) seems to restore the threatened serenity of the preceding trio, despite two tempestuous intermezzi sowing doubt and fury in their wake. The again "very agitated" third piece, famous for its obsessive triplets, opens with a long; somewhat distant median episode before electing to continue the struggle... By contrast, the following "very slow" section appears to take shape painfully in the depths of the piano before surfacing and abandoning itself to the unexpected innocence of the central effusion. Written in a highly romantic G-minor, the fifth ("very lively") Kreisleriana could have been composed by a Chopin labouring under the weight of Germanic fantasy and attempting to escape it by means of ineffable elegances. The staggered rhythms (3/2 then 3/5) have the last word, however, cruel caricatures of what ought to be pianistic joy. The sixth piece is one of the most penetrating in the collection : it appears to be attempting ("very slowly") to recount some legend or other, but an inexorable numbness slows the pace... Then a fateful cavalcade (C-minor) gallops to the fore in the "very fast" seventh piece.

A fugato trio is undermined by a generalized throbbing, marked "faster still". Then the enigmatic, decelerating, and almost serene coda seems to cut itself free from the chaos. The conclusion outlined by the eighth piece combines the intentions of the two preceding ones : a solemn, spectral, timeless cavalcade that is difficult to qualify with certainty as either menacing or peaceful. An initial intermezzo with broader ambitions preserves the same rhythm and intones with sinister solemnity, an intimation confirmed by a second parenthesis in the same rhythm that this time is brutal and threatening. And yet the conclusion returns to the perpetual motion of the beginning, a course recalling the degree to which, in the world of Germanic fantasy, the most familiar objects can conceal an inherent evil...

"Vivacity", "plenitude", "celestial transparence": Novalis could not foresee that "preying on" the "over-abundance of power and talent" evident in Schumann's youth would eventually lead this composer into "confusion". Mental confusion, alas.

Marcel Marnat
English adaptation by Louise Guiney

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet


Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was born in 1962. He studied piano at the Metz (France) Conservatory, also taking courses in oboe, percussion, and composition for electronic instruments. He went on to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, where he studied under Pierre Sancan and was awarded a number of first prizes. There he attended courses by Jean Hubeau , and Master Classes led by Paul Badura-Skoda, Nikita Magaloff, Menahem Pressler, and others. In 1986 he won first prize at the Köln International Beethoven-Tomassoni Competition and the New York Young Concert Artists Auditions. His early professional performances won unusual acclaim from American critics. In 1989 Bavouzet won the Chamber Music Prize at the International Van Cliburn Competition. In 1992, he won the Esther Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary (Canada).

Recent concert tours to North America have provided opportunities to maintain his dialogue with Alexander Edelman in New York. Bavouzet's musical tastes are wide-ranging, with special emphasis on contemporary music, jazz, and jazz-rock (some of his favourite musicians include Chick Corea, John Mc Laughlin, and Bill Evans).

A number of contacts were especially significant in Bavouzet's musical life. His 1989 interview with Karlheinz Stockhausen was a great experience, and his friendship with Maurice Ohana played an important role in his development.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performs regularly in France and at a number of music festivals (Festival Estival de Paris, Les Jacobins International Piano Festival at Toulouse, Festival de La Roque d'Anthéron, etc...) and also in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia. Notable among the many conductors he has performed with are Marek Janowski, Armin Jordan, Ken Ichiro Kobayashi, Emmanuel Krivine, Kent Nagano and Michel Plasson.

Music and recording critics have acclaimed the high quality of Bavouzet's Joseph Haydn, Sonatas & Fantasia : "... his inflexible dynamics, perfect phrasing, and shared musical enjoyment with the listener are masterly" (quoted from a review by Sophie Roughol).

"... Through his exacting, supple, carefully constructed and powerfully logical playing, Bavouzet takes unerring aim and never misses the mark" (quoted from a review by Patrick Szersnovicz).

For the daily paper "Le Monde" his record Robert Schumann, Grande Sonate opus 14, Kinderszenen & Kreisleriana is selected among "the best of 1994" : "To play Schumann, to organize, without showing it, the flood of his music, you need a pianist with mind and heart : that is Bavouzet. The three antinomic works are played with astounding correctness..." (quoted from a review by Alain Lompech).

piano Yamaha CF III




Grande Sonate (Concert sans orchestre pour le Piano-Forte)
d'après L'autographe de 1836 
Dédiée à Monsieur Ignace Moscheles

Allegro brillante
Scherzo Vivacissimo opus posthume
Scherzo Molto comodo
Quasi Variazioni
Andantino de Clara Wieck
Variation 1
Variation opus posthume
Variation 3 Passionato
Variation 2
Variation Scherzo Prestissimo opus posthume
Variation 4
Prestissimo possibile


(Scènes d'enfants)

Von fremden Ländern und Menschen
Kuriose Geschichte
Bittendes Kind
Glückes genug
Wichtige Begebenheit
Am Kamin
Ritter vom Steckenpferd
Fast zu ernst
Kind im Einschlummern
Der Dichter spricht


Seinem Freunde F. Chopin zugeeignet

Äußerst bewegt
Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch
Sehr aufgeregt
Sehr langsam
Sehr lebhaft
Sehr langsam
Sehr rasch
Schnell und spielend

Selected by "Les meilleurs disques de l'année 94" du Monde, Arts & Spectacles Spécial Disques :

Pour jouer Schumann, pour organiser, sans en avoir trop l'air, le flot de sa musique, il faut un pianiste qui ait une tête. C'est le cas de Bavouzet qui ne manque pas non plus de cœur. Il joue ces trois œuvres antinomiques avec une justesse confondante. Lorsqu'il était venu à Paris, Horowitz l'avait auditionné dans cette Troisième Sonate. Il avait hautement apprécié le jeu de ce jeune Français, dans une œuvre qu'il jouait lui-même comme personne. - Alain Lompech.
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