Robert Schumann Organ Recital Series

On Sunday May 21 at 5:15pm Associate Organist Benjamin Sheen presents the second of a two-part organ recital series featuring the Canons, Sketches, and the B.A.C.H. Fugues for pedal-piano for pedal-piano by Robert Schumann.

This recital will be webcast live. You can listen to an on-demand webcast of the first recital in this series, given on Sunday, May 14, here.

Program note

At the beginning of 1845, Robert Schumann, along with Clara, embarked on an intensive course of contrapuntal studies in Dresden. It had long been his goal to obtain complete command of the polyphonic style, and he pursued this goal tirelessly. His demand to apply the highest artistic standards in the creation of contrapuntal forms arose from a deep, lifelong veneration of Johann Sebastian Bach. The results are apparent in several groups of works written within a relatively short period beginning in 1845, including the Canons Op. 56, the Sketches Op. 58, the four Fugues for piano Op. 72 and the grandest of these – the Six Fugues on BACH, Op. 60.

The Six Fugues on the letters B-A-C-H (the pitches B flat-A-C-B natural in German parlance) were composed 12th March (‘evening: ideas for Bach fugues’) and 22nd November 1845 (‘completion of sixth fugue’). The works were published several times and eventually in a new edition by C. F. Peters in 1880. Schumann himself put great stores in his B-A-C-H fugues, as is apparent from a letter he wrote to his publisher:

‘This is a work which occupied me for the whole of the previous year in an effort to make it worthy of the lofty name it bears. It is also a work which, I believe, is likely to outlive my other creations the longest’.

The overall conception, the thematic material and the extremely high quality of the writing all derive from Bach; this fugue cycle represents the end of a developmental phase which culminated in Schumann’s study of Bach’s music (the six fugues may be viewed as directly modelled in the Art of Fugue) and of the fugue per se. Nevertheless, the fugues are by no means derivative stylistic copies, but effective ‘character fugues’ in the romantic vein. In the history of organ music, they represent the earliest significant organ compositions on the name B-A-C-H before Liszt’s and Reger’s monumental works on the same subject.