It's Robert Schumann's 200th birthday! Or at least it was in June. The Onyx Chamber Players and András Schiff celebrate a little late, with the Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47, the Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44, the Grand Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 11 and the 1836 "Fantasie" in C major.
The 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth was marked June 8 this year. But three notable performances of the 19th-century German composer’s music, some of it among the most beloved from the Romantic era, take place in Seattle over the next few days.
This weekend, the exciting Onyx Chamber Players, who combine modern instruments with an early-music-performance approach, take on two of Schumann’s piano-based chamber pieces from the 1840s in “Schumann and His World.”
On Saturday, the three-member Onyx, augmented by several guests, performs the Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina. The evening after at Town Hall, the ensemble presents Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44.
Both works follow a decade in which Schumann wrote almost exclusively, and prolifically, for piano. In branching out, he composed an astonishing number of songs, a few symphonies and chamber works.
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The St. Thomas and Town Hall programs delve a bit, musically speaking, into biographical elements of Schumann’s fascinating and somewhat tragic life. Besides the quintet, the bill includes a work written by his wife, Clara, and another by Johannes Brahms. In his capacity as a music critic, Schumann called the young, unknown Brahms a genius.
In one way, Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and her husband had opposite conflicts as ambitious artists. Robert’s early desire to become a virtuoso pianist ended when he mysteriously injured a finger on his right hand. He gave up that goal and concentrated on composition.
Clara, a former child prodigy, is considered an underrated composer whose writing was overshadowed by her brilliance as a concert pianist. Despite the intensity and drama of their initial romance, the fact that they had eight children together and that Clara’s performances helped get Robert’s music before the public, Schumann was on occasion openly jealous of his spouse’s accomplishments.
On Monday, pianist András Schiff introduces Seattle Symphony’s Distinguished Artists Series for this season with a program of solo pieces, including Schumann’s 1835 Grand Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 11 and 1836 “Fantasie” in C major.
Both are passionate works written during a long, tumultuous period when Schumann and Clara, before their marriage, were forced to meet in secret due to her father’s objections to their relationship.
Schiff will also perform Felix Mendelssohn’s “Variations sérieuses” and “Fantasie” in F-sharp minor. Like Brahms and Chopin, Mendelssohn was championed by Schumann. Schiff is considered an essential interpreter of Schumann and Franz Schubert, one of Schumann’s heroes. Born in Budapest, Schiff emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1979.
The Onyx Chamber Players consists of Chicago-based David White, at home on multiple keyboards and a busy conductor and composer; Meg Brennand, cellist for the Seattle Baroque Orchestra (SBO) and professor at Seattle Pacific University; and Port Angeles native James Garlick, also from SBO and a concertmaster for Northwest Sinfonietta and the Cascade Symphony. He is studying at the Juilliard School in New York.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com.