Schumann and BusoniJacob Greenberg, piano


Pianist Jacob Greenberg releases his second album on New Focus Recordings, featuring two towering works by Robert Schumann and Ferruccio Busoni.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 56:01

Humoreske, op. 20

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
01I. Einfach
I. Einfach
02II. Hastig
II. Hastig
03III. Einfach und zart
III. Einfach und zart
04IV. Innig-Sehr lebhaft
IV. Innig-Sehr lebhaft
05V. Zum Beschluss
V. Zum Beschluss
06Fantasia Contrappuntistica
Fantasia Contrappuntistica


The two masterpieces on this disc are musical fantasies of equal ingenuity but contrasting effect. Schumann's Humoreske, like many of his other early piano works, can be as private as a diary entry; Busoni's virtuoso Contrapuntal Fantasy, however, is meant for a grand stage. But both pieces are not so simply characterized as public or private, as each reflects the personalities of the composers in reaction to the spirit of their age.

Robert Schumann made a futile mission to too-conservative Vienna in 1838, trying to secure a wider audience for his compositions. He wrote straightforward pieces for those concertgoers - his Arabeske and Blumenstück - but simultaneously worked on the long Humoreske, for which he could not have imagined a likely performance. The piece therefore became everything Schumann could not create in his more "public" opuses - it is alternately flighty and pensive, and a thousand moods in between.

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The Humoreske can be described as a solitary walk through the woods, during which Schumann gets closer to the core of his true self and returns refreshed. That the music remains so sure-footed among its unpredictable adventures shows the mastery of its construction, which derives from one basic rhythm, a march figure that permeates the piece's main themes throughout its five episodes, routing it among many digressions, but is rarely explicit.

In the Humoreske, Schumann dons many guises - poet, warrior-hero, and languid Romantic - staying wide-eyed on his journey through identities. The private dimension of the piece is most striking at the beginning of the second section ("Hastig," or hasty), where Schumann writes out, in a staff of its own, an inner musical line not to be played but articulated only in reflection through the surrounding music. Labeled "Innere Stimme" (inner voice), the profoundly intimate melody begs the questions: who is this music even for, if its essence can only be thought by the performer alone? The wildly introverted passage is however at the same time ambitiously public, as it is an attempt to define the spirit of the Romantic era - an epic gesture, although one that is rooted in the secret expressions of an unheard language.

In his public life, Ferruccio Busoni assumed multiple roles: showman, classicist, and mystic. Known as the greatest pianist of his age and perhaps of all time, it was rather his role as a composer that obsessed him. Devoted to music's history - and specifically to J.S. Bach - Busoni was equally committed to a vision of music's future, best summarized in his inspirational Outline for a New Aesthetic of Music, first published in 1907. In it, Busoni accurately predicts nearly every major development in music through the twentieth century and beyond.

"Music was born free and to win freedom its destiny," Busoni proclaimed in the essay; but with that freedom, he realized, comes the need for rigor. Busoni developed a mature compositional style that was indebted to Bach's counterpoint, and which forms the basis of the Fantasy. But Busoni's harmony is unexpected, and alluringly ambiguous. Because he looked simultaneously to past and future, Busoni's "sound" always seems perched on a stylistic divide.

Busoni considered the Fantasy his most significant solo piano piece, and he rethought aspects of the work in the 1920s for an equally important two-piano version. It is "about" Bach's unfinished masterwork The Art of Fugue. As a prelude, Busoni writes a loose set of chorale variations on a Lutheran hymn, a trembling evocation of the idea of Bach - and then Bach himself arrives, as the last, multi-subject fugue from The Art is presented in Busoni's unique transcription, with pungent modern harmonies added. Bach's work trails off as the third fugue subject incorporates the letters of the composer's own name (in the German musical spelling, B-A-C-H starts with B-flat and ends with B-natural), and then Busoni completes Bach's third fugue as well as the projected fourth. From the start, Busoni conceived the Fantasy as a monumental form, and portrayed it in a drawing as a building - an edifice to Bach's legacy - with columns representing all sections of the work. The Fantasy is clearly a showpiece, but its Gothic and Baroque sacred architecture also houses Busoni's more contemplative, mystical communion with Bach.

What is a public epic of music, and what is a private one?

-Jacob Greenberg, from The Liner Notes

Executive Producer: Jacob Greenberg
Session Producer: Ryan Streber
Editing Producer: Jacob Greenberg
Recording Engineer: Ryan Streber
Digital Editing, Mixing, Post-Production: Ryan Streber
CD Design: Jill Malek
Photography: Jessica Slaven
Piano Technician: Arlan Harris

All works recorded at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY. Schumann recorded December 21-22, 2010, Busoni recorded January 8-9, 2011. Steinway piano.

Special thanks to Hinda Greenberg, David Greenberg, Ryan Streber, Jessica Slaven, Daniel Lippel, Claire Chase, ICE, Matthew Goulet, Arielle Javitch and Gus Powell, John Pendergast, and Brian Knight. This recording was aided by generous fiscal sponsorship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Jacob Greenberg

Pianist JACOB GREENBERG's work as a soloist and chamber musician has earned worldwide acclaim. As a longtime member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), he has performed throughout North and South Americas and Europe. His solo concert series, Music at Close Range, shows his equal commitment to classics of the repertoire.

A leading pianist of modern song, he has toured extensively with soprano Tony Arnold. Other ensemble performances include MusicNOW, with members of the Chicago Symphony, and Contempo at the University of Chicago. As an orchestral player, he has also appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, and Australian Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Greenberg has recorded for the Bridge, Naxos, Mode, Kairos, Centaur, Tzadik, and New Amsterdam labels, and live performances have been heard on WQXR New York, BBC Radio 3, WFMT Chicago and Radio Netherlands. Other CDs include solo and chamber music of George Crumb with ICE (Bridge 9261) and a disc pairing Schumann and Ferruccio Busoni. Mr. Greenberg is also a record producer, and has completed discs for major domestic and international labels.

Recent highlights include a guest performance of works of György Kurtág at the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt, Germany, under the composer's guidance; a recital tour with flutist Claire Chase; Messiaen's Harawi at the Library of Congress; and Harrison Birtwistle's Slow Frieze with conductor Ludovic Morlot at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival.

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