Performance Analysis: Fantasy in C Major, Op. 15 (D. 760) (“Wanderer” Fantasy)

Topics: Franz Schubert, Wanderer Fantasy, Frédéric Chopin Pages: 6 (2206 words) Published: November 22, 2011
Performance Analysis: Fantasy in C Major, Op. 15 (D. 760) (“Wanderer” Fantasy)

Schubert composed the Fantasy in C Major (“Wanderer” Fantasy) in 1822. This fantasy became a milestone in music history because it was the first time when a composer “integrated a four-movement sonata into a single movement.” Schubert did so by matching the sequence of a traditional four-movement sonata (Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo, Finale) to one big sonata form (exposition, development, recapitulation, coda). This exploration opened a new era of composing romantic music because it created an expanded form with more freedom in theme. Composers in this way were granted more freedom to compose based on their personal imagination and to compose with more virtuosity. The Fantasy in C Major got its nickname after one of Schubert’s biographers, August Reissmann, discovered the theme in Adagio came from an earlier song of Schubert, Der Wanderer (D.493). The dactylic “wanderer” theme in Adagio becomes a major focus for performers because it is the cyclic theme for the whole Fantasy. More importantly, how performers phrase this poetic melody reflect their different stylistic approaches. Ever since 1823 when the Fantasy was published, this work was famous for its virtuosity that even Schubert himself broke down in the last movement when he was performing in front of his friends and announced, “Let the devil play the stuff!” Traditionally, the Wanderer Fantasy is considered as a virtuoso showpiece for performers and often appears in live performances. This makes the general approach to this work pretty much “straight” and modern. Performances of this piece were usually characterized by steady tempi and continuing legato, which fill into the category of mainstream modern style. Performers of this piece generally “excel in technical detail” as “strait” players. Among them, Maurizio Pollini’s recording in 1974 is a good example of modern “strait” playing. Pollini started every part of the Fantasy with a reasonable tempo and kept the tempo steady for each part. In Allegro, Pollini started with a quarter note equals to 130 and pretty much kept this tempo throughout the Allegro section. The few exceptions was in bar 61 and from bar 181 to the end where he slowed down to around 98. Pollini would not speed up in crescendos. One of the examples was from bar 14 to 16 (see Example 1) where the dynamic changed from piano to fortissimo. Pollini kept the tempo steady while making the dynamic change as accurate as possible. The wide range of dynamic produced by Pollini’s touch of the piano enables him to play musically impressive without yielding to the tempo. In one of the reviews from Gramophone, Joan Chissell praised Pollini’s playing as “not a single note that has not been precisely weighed, colored and fitted into its context” and a “faithful reproduction of Schubert’ written text.” This proved Pollini’s modern “straight” approach to this piece, as well as many other modern performers. Recorded two years earlier than Pollini’s recording, Alfred Brendel made a splendid modern recording with more flexibility in tempi. Brendel started the Allegro with a quarter note equals to 155 comparing to Pollini’s 130. When the dactylic theme appears for the second time at bar 18, Brendel slowed down to a quarter note equals 128, making the theme both rhythmically and dynamically different from the beginning. The climax begins at bar 132 where Brendel eventually speeded up to around 158. Pollini, by contrast, stayed around 128. By making these contrasting tempi changes in Allegro, Brendel prepared us for a dramatic contrast between Allegro and Adagio. Pollini started on an eighth note equals 67 from the beginning of Adagio and reached the top of his speed by the end of bar 21 where an eighth note equals around 95. Brendel, who started at 59 from the beginning, reached up to 112 at bar 22 and slowed down to 75 when the wanderer theme reoccurred at bar 27. For this wanderer...
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