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The Etudes are very different, virtuoso pieces of considerable intellectual power based on a theme by Ernestine's adopted father. Schumann was undecided about the work's title. Originally '12 Davidsbündler Studies', they became 'Symphonic Studies in orchestral character by Florestan and Eusebius', and then 'Studies in the form of Variations'. As in the case of the Kinderszenen, Schumann wrote more pieces than he published; five more appeared posthumously in the complete edition, edited by Brahms. Schumann knew the studies were not only formidable technically, but might prove a stumbling-block to contemporary audiences. He approved when Clara wrote in 1838 that she had not played them at any of her Viennese recitals: 'You did right not to play my Etudes. They are not suitable for public audiences, and it would be pitiful if I complained afterwards that they had not understood something which was in fact not intended to be applauded in that way but only existed for its own sake.' It is hard to say, though, how Etude 3 would not make instant appeal [listen -- track 17, 0:00-0:50]. The 'Presto possibile' of Etude 9 requires initially the lightest of touches, but its quicksilver moods would keep any pianist at full stretch [listen -- track 25, 0:00-0:39]. Schumann very sensibly dedicated Op 13 to Sterndale Bennett, the first Englishman to give piano recitals in his native country.

One of Bernard Shaw's most engaging reviews involves the Etudes symphoniques and the first appearance of 'a wild young woman named Ilona Eibenschütz'. After 'stumbling hastily up the stairs, and rushing at the piano stool with a couple of strange gestures of grudging obeisance', Ilona seemed to Shaw to be 'friendless in a foreign land. But when she touched the first chord of Schumann's Etudes Symphoniques, the hand lay so evenly and sensitively on it, and the tone came so richly, that I at once perceived that I was wasting my sympathies, and that Ilona, however ingloriously she might go to the piano, would come away from it mistress of the situation'. She was, after all, a late pupil of Clara Schumann and acquaintance of Brahms. Luiza Borac can certainly produce Ilona's subtlety of touch, as for instance in No 4 of the Appendix variations printed by Brahms [listen -- track 26, 0:00-1:08]. If not all the studies have an equivalent sensitivity, the fault is partly Schumann's and that of the modern piano.

Copyright © 8 January 2003 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Schumann: Kinderszenen - Etudes Symphoniques - Luiza Borac

GBEZL0200011-40 NEW RELEASE 57'43" 2002 Luiza Borac and John Barnes

Luiza Borac, piano

Robert Schumann: Kinderszenen Op 15; Etudes Symphoniques Op 13


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