During the several years of frustration over Herr Wieck’s determination to keep his daughter Clara from a relationship with Robert, the composer persevered and created several piano works. One of these was his Opus 12, eight Fantasy Pieces that he, perversely, dedicated to a young woman pianist Anna Robena Laidlaw, whose existence he had made known to Clara. But such was Schumann’s unsettled mental state that he could taunt the woman he loved and wanted to marry. Before Clara was to make her first appearance in Vienna – a recital that proved a triumph – he confessed to her his deep psychological illness, and that he brooded for hours “as I look at your picture.” In today’s parlance that might be called mental cruelty, but Clara soldiered on and remained a loyal and loving fiancé, not realizing, of course, that this was but a preview of the ultimately tragic life ahead with this doomed genius.
The dedication to Anna Robena notwithstanding, the Fantasy Pieces are for Clara. The exquisitely poetic first piece, “In the Evening,” is clearly a love song to his bride-to-be, with its rhythmically ambiguous descending melody line (associated with Clara) embedded in triplet figures. The mood and the rhythm continue its intimate course throughout the caressing piece.
The other side of Schumann’s temperament comes with the next piece, “Soaring,” which fairly explodes with dramatic energy. From there to the end of the Pieces the Schumann fantasy, humor, emotional intensity, and poetry are set out with endless imagination, harmonic ingenuity, and, not least, pianistic elegance.
Clara performed the Fantasy Pieces often in her recitals, with great success.
After many years as Director of Publications and Archives for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orrin Howard continues to contribute to the program book.