FANTASIE op.17, C major
composed 1835/1836
dedicated to Mr. Franz Liszt 

Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen

Mäßig. Durchaus energisch

Langsam getragen. Durchaus leise zu halten

“Through all tones resound
In the colorful dream of the Earth
A quiet tone threaded through
For which one listens secretly.”
Friedrich Schlegel 
The motto of Fantasie, op. 17

The first sketch for the Fantasie, op. 17, occurred at the time of Schumann’s enforced separation from Clara Wieck. The first movement of the Fantasie, that of the Sonata in F minor, and the original Finale of the Sonata in G minor all belong to the category of the most dense, fantastical (in the truest sense of the word) musical constructs ever written for the instrument. The latter two have their origins in a descending fifth figure from Clara’s Andantino. This descending fifth is an expression of despair. Schumann wrote to Clara about the Fantasie: “You can only understand this Fantasie when you think back to the unhappy summer of 1836, when I abandoned you; now I have no reason to compose such unhappy and melancholy music.” In a later passage: “The first movement is the most impassioned that I have ever written—and a profound cry of anguish to you.” The original manuscript was entitled Grand Sonata. Later the composer called the three movements Phantasien, with the subtitles “Ruinen” (“Ruins), “Siegesbogen und Sternbild” (“Triumphal Arch and Constellations”), and “Dichtungen” (“Poems). “I searched a long time for that last word, with scanty results. But I find  it very noble, and evocative for musical compositions.” At its publication in 1839 the three movements were finally given the title Fantasie. As in the above poem by Friedrich Schlegel, “A quiet tone [is] threaded through” this work, “For which one listens secretly.” In the first movement there are three very quiet passages. In the first two the motion of the opening theme with its descending fifth and the rising third are reversed (beginning with a descending third and a rising fifth). This motif is repeated much later in the Piano Concerto, op. 54, written after Schumann’s marriage with Clara. It would become a symbolic motif for Clara (as he often called her, “Chiara”—“Light”—the motif would be repeated at the beginning of all the themes of the Piano Concerto). In the Fantasie, this motif is carried further with a figure reminiscent of the beginning of Papillons, which then gradually disappears. The third very quiet passage cites Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, which Schumann combines subtly with his own opening theme. Here all is inextricably bound. Due to the frequent use of syncopation the downbeat is obscured, but the melody is given a more elevated expression. The second movement in E-flat major is truly a triumphal arch that spans the whole keyboard. The third movement is distinguished by passages that come to rhythmical and melodic standstill. The composition was undertaken as part of a donation for a monument to Beethoven, and the mood of the third movement in C major recalls the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata, op. 111, in the same key. Schumann ends the Fantasie and this “Constellation,” as he originally named the piece, with a motif that sounds like an “Amen” from the liturgy, and ends on a simple, quiet C major chord.

Translation: William Melton
© Franz Vorraber