Symphonic Etudes Op. 13, part 1
In this masterclass, Professor Till Fellner and student Nour Ayadi work through the variations of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes to achieve clarity and nuance in each. Fellner discusses the qualities of the opening theme and encourages the student to present it in a simple and straightforward manner, following the marked directions, but without extensive rubato, so that the audience understands it. Going forward, he reminds the student of the importance of always hearing the theme and the overarching phrasing, despite the technical difficulties that arise as the piece progresses. To help with clarity, Fellner works with Ayadi on pedal best practices. He demonstrates that a quick and efficient pedal with appropriate gaps is the best way to keep the notes from blurring together too much. Over the course of the class, Fellner guides the student through the complex phrasing, dynamics, and articulation marking to achieve a more orchestral quality in her performance.
Setting up the theme clearly and simply.
Maintaining clarity of phrasing despite technical challenges.
Timing the pedal for clarity.
Bringing out the dynamics and accents.
Always hearing the theme in the variations.
Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes is a compilation of etudes for solo piano, first published in 1837, though a revised edition was created in 1852. Brahms also later published a version after Schumann’s death, which included five previously omitted variations. The theme is a sixteen-measure melody that Schumann received from Baron von Fricken, the father of a woman that Schumann fell briefly yet passionately in love with. Every etude is a strict variation on this melody, though they portray vastly different moods. Schumann considered entitling the work Etuden im Orchestercharakter von Florestan und Eusebius, suggesting that he drew inspiration from the two fictitious characters Florestan and Eusebius, which he created to express the conflicting sides of his own personality. The piece’s eventual title proved apt, however, as it demonstrates a range in technical skill, expressive color, and contrast one might expect from a full orchestra.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Till Fellner’s feedback and comments.
First prize in the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Vevey, Switzerland in 1993.
Originally from Vienna, Austria, Till Fellner studied with Helene Sedo-Stadler before going on to study privately with Alfred Brendel, Meira Farkas, Oleg Maisenberg, and Claus-Christian Schuster. Till Fellner’s international career began in 1993, when he won first prize at the renowned Concours Clara Haskil Competition in Vevey, Switzerland. Since then, he has been regularly invited to play for prestigious orchestras, festivals and music centers of Europe, the United States, and Japan. He regularly collaborates with world-famous musicians, and has produced numerous recordings of the most important works in the piano repertoire. He has been teaching at the Zurich Hochschule der Künste since 2013.
As soloist, he performs with orchestras like Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and NHK Symphony Orchestra. Furthermore, Till Fellner has collaborated with Claudio Abbado, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Herbert Blomstedt, Semyon Bychkov, Christoph von Dohnányi, among many others. In the field of chamber music, Fellner regularly collaborates with British tenor Mark Padmore and with the Belcea Quartet.
Over the past few years, he has dedicated himself to two milestones of the piano repertoire: The Well-Tempered Clavier of Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as the 32 piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven. He performed the Beethoven cycle from 2008 to 2010 in New York, Washington, Tokyo, London, Paris, and Vienna. Moreover, Fellner has premiered works by Kit Armstrong, Harrison Birtwistle, Thomas Larcher, Alexander Stankovski, and Hans Zender. The ECM label, for whom Till Fellner is an exclusive recording artist, has released the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Two & Three-Part Inventions of J. S. Bach, Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano, chamber music by Harrison Birtwistle. In 2016, Alpha Classics released the recording of the piano quintet by Johann Brahms with the Belcea Quartet. This recording received the “Diapason d’Or de l’Année”. Two years later, a CD entitled Till Fellner in Concert, a live recording featuring the works of Franz Liszt and Beethoven was publicly released.
Born in Zwickau, Saxony (Germany) on June 8, 1810, Robert Schumann was a renowned Romantic composer still celebrated today mainly for his orchestral works and piano compositions. Many of his most famous piano compositions were dedicated to his wife and established pianist, Clara Schumann.
Unlike many composers before him, Schumann did not come from a musical family. Despite this, Robert began learning the piano at an early age at six-years-old. As a teenager, the young musician would become heavily influenced and inspired by Austrian composer Franz Schubert as well as the German poet, Jean Paul Richter. At seventeen, Robert Schumann began composing music that same year.
In 1828, Schumann studied for a few months with famed teacher, Friedrich Wieck — leading to the faithful meeting with Wieck’s daughter Clara. A year later, the young composer left Leipzig for Heidelberg where he composed several waltzes, which were later recycled in his works Papillons (Op. 2). He practiced the piano vigorously until he became a virtuoso pianist. He would return to study with Wieck in Leipzig.
The 1830s was a time for prolific writing and composing for Robert Schumann, where many of his piano pieces were published. They included Papillons, Carnaval, and Études symphonies. Around this period, Clara and Robert would eventually marry.
Robert Schumann would go on to write Davidsbündlertänze, Phantasiestücke, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, Arabeske, Novelletten as well as some chamber works — a departure from his usual compositions.
By the 1840s, Robert Schumann’s works lost the magic that they once had earlier in his life. He suffered from mental illness and would have periods of severe depression and anxiety. He lived the rest of his days near Bonn and died in 1856.