Schubert's Fantasie in F Minor for piano, four hands
performed at Staunton Music Festival
August 20, 2019
Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA
Carsten Schmidt and Andrew Willis
fortepiano by Rod Regier (after Graf, 1830)
loaned courtesy of Vernon McCart
video by Stewart Searle
About the Music
Not on par with virtuoso contemporaries like Chopin or Liszt, Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was nevertheless an extremely proficient pianist. His keyboard pieces explore its capabilities and ask much of the players. Even when composing the F-minor Fantasie with his piano student Karoline Esterházy in mind, Schubert made no concessions. Karoline was the unattainable love of his later years, which were marked by illness and depression. Here was a real-life fairy tale: the sickly composer, a former schoolteacher of humble background, pining in silent devotion for the beautiful young countess he could never attain. Schubert sketched the Fantasie during January 1828 and worked on it through the early summer. By the time it was published the following spring, crocuses would have been blooming on Schubert’s grave.
The Fantasie opens with one of the composer’s most attractive and sensuous themes, graceful but haunted. Later in the work Schubert returns several times to this theme, inflecting it toward increasing rhythmic intensity or major-mode lyricism as context dictates. Each recurrence is also highlighted by a pregnant pause. One always teeters precariously between light and dark with Schubert, and this Fantasie is no exception. For instance, when the main theme first appears in a major key, Schubert maintains the threatening octave drumbeat in the bass. Key changes abound in this multi-sectional work, but the most abrupt change from F minor to F-sharp minor is also the most structurally important. Schubert uses this modulation to launch the Baroque gravitas of the slow “movement,” then stays in F-sharp for a fleet-footed scherzo. His use of fugue as a closing idea recalls Beethoven’s late style, which, it should be noted, precedes Schubert’s work on the Fantasie by just a few years.
(c) Jason Stell, 2019
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In 2017 Andrew Willis led a fabulous period-instrument performance of Schubert's beloved "Trout" Quintet. Featuring Guillaume Pirard (violin), Kyle Miller (viola), James Wilson (cello), and Heather Miller Lardin (double bass). Program notes included.
Acclaimed pianist Andrew Willis welcomes you to see and hear two of his own early keyboards: a Bösendorfer from 1841 and a Pleyel built in 1848. Both are ideally suited to the performance of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Chopin. Andrew discusses differing Viennese and Parisian tastes and how these preferences influence each piano's basic mechanism and construction.
In 2019 Andrew Willis joined with other Festival musicians for a rousing performance of Mendelssohn's Capriccio Brillant--a modest-sized piano concerto in all but name. Performing on a stunning replica of an 1830 Graf, Willis reveals the beauty of yet another early piano. Includes program notes.
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