Schumann Forum 2010

"Schumann’s Fantasie Opus 17 (and Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor)"

by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

15. September

“The unforgettable intensity in the third movement of the Fantasie! Sviatoslav Richter once said that he felt inhibited to play the third movement, because it is so incredibly deep.”
(Elisabeth Leonskaja)

“In my opinion Schumann’s Fantasie in C major is his greatest piano work.”
(Rudolf Buchbinder)

“To me, Schumann’s Fantasie in its inner poetic dimensions can be counted among the best works in the entirety of musical literature.”
(Lars Vogt)

The above quotations were taken from the answers to my Schumann/Chopin questionnaire that so many great pianists have so rewardingly answered during the course of this anniversary year.

9 Questions

All are in agreement that Robert Schumann’s Fantasie op. 17 is an unsurpassed masterpiece. Many pianists even rank it among the best piano pieces of all times. It’s clear that the Fantasie in C major deserves to be given a major role in our Schumann Forum 2010, and today its time has come.

It is generally known that, on its publication in 1839, Schumann dedicated the Fantasie in C major opus 17 to no less a person than Franz Liszt: “Dedicated to Mr Franz Liszt”. In turn, Liszt dedicated his Sonata in B minor, published in 1854 to Robert Schumann: “To Robert Schumann”. I felt almost electrified when Lars Vogt, the renowned German pianist, pointed out to me that this was the same year Schumann attempted suicide and was confined to life in the Endenich asylum. Almost certainly that is merely coincidental. But Franz Liszt's words of dedication were by no means chosen incidentally (especially in tone): this is a meaningful musical greeting to the "friend", hopelessly wasting away in Endenich. I put the word “friend” in quotation marks, because the relationship of the two was indeed not unclouded.

Lars Vogt and Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

This and the no less two most significant piano works of the 19th century, were the topic of my conversation with Lars Vogt, recorded for you.

It just so happens that Lars Vogt recently recorded both Schumann’s Fantasie in C major and Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor in a studio. The CD with the uncannily suggestive combination of the two masterpieces will be published in a few short days.


Schumann was aware that with this work he had created something outstanding and special. To his bride Clara he commented: “The first movement is probably the most passionate thing I have ever done”, only to add quite suggestively: “- a deep lament for you”. Now then, at first it does not at all sound like a lamentation, rather it resounds with great “world-embracing” joy (Lars Vogt). Moreover, Lars Vogt interprets the great beginning of the Fantasie in C major as the yearned for fulfilment of his passionate love:


It’s generally known that Schumann used a verse by Friedrich Schlegel as the motto for the Fantasie in C major; this motto is about “the quiet tone” that only he can hear “who listens secretly”.

This first movement is tremendous, in Lars Vogt’s opinion it “contains the entirety of life, everything!”

The second movement, Lars Vogt finds to be not typical of Schumann, because it is very “heroic” and terrifyingly boastful. But Lars Vogt smartly points out that, despite the powerful accords and the instruction to play “energetically”, the beginning is not in fortissimo and not in a fast tempo, but rather in mezzoforte and “mäßig” (= moderate)


And this is where Franz Liszt becomes involved. Obviously the entire second movement is technically extremely difficult for a pianist to accomplish, and the end with the stretta following measure 232 ff (“much more moving”) is probably one of the most greatly dreaded passages of the entire piano repertoire. The demands are gargantuan and almost impossible to play: leaps between accords with both hands, melody and reverse bass line at fast speed. For a Franz Liszt, though, pianistic peanuts, so to speak. Wonderfully portrayed in “Personal Recollections of Chats with Liszt” by Anton Strelezki (London 1893, p. 4 f.):

He [Schumann] asked me to proceed with the ‘March’, after which he would give me his criticism. I played the second movement, and with such effect that Schumann jumped out of his chair, flung his arms around me, and with tears in his eyes, cried: “Göttlich!”

Lars Vogt interprets the instructions “much more moving” at the beginning of the stretta of the second movement not so much as an indication regarding speed than as an indication of character. Of course the final passage is a conscious “overwind”, a demand “to push to the limits of what is possible and even beyond”. And still, in a performance situation the increase of inner excitation should be conveyed more strongly than a display of outward virtuosity:

The contrast between the second and the third movement in its calm, its peacefulness and the hymnal elements could not be greater. Schumann’s instructions under the title read “Slow and solemn. Consistently quiet”. No doubt: here “Eusebius” has finally asserted himself against the more lively and volatile “Florestan”.

Franz Liszt, to whom the Fantasie in C major was dedicated, surprisingly never performed it in public. He regarded it as too difficult for a large audience to understand. Maybe because of the third movement. Sviatoslav Richter’s seems to support this notion (see above) in speaking of the “incredibly deep” third movement that virtually inhibits him. The third and last movement of Opus 17 compounds the inner turmoil of the human soul in the sense of a conciliatory synthesis and metaphysical glorification. So clearly comparable to the inner structure of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor that also, and much more explicitly than Schumann, strongly confronts the demonic and the divine (all created out of one single musical idea!) and finally fades out in trifold pianissimo. Liszt was aware of the emotional anxieties that can torture highly sensitive natures, and in dedicating his most important piano composition – that he likewise never performed in public – to Schumann, at the time already without voice, in the insane asylum in Endenich, he meant to communicate just that. Lars Vogt spoke enthusiastically and with profound knowledge and in great detail about Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. He summarizes the ideas in the following words:


Thoughts on the ending of Schumann's Fantasie


What you see here is the last page of the Fantasie in C major op. 17 in the autograph version of Schumann’s copyist Carl Brückner from Leipzig. Why, dear readers of the Schumann Forum 2010, would I choose to show you exactly this last page? Because it is proof of the ending originally intended by Schumann for the Fantasie in C major. You will see if you are familiar with the Fantasie in C major, Schumann originally drew back on the wonderful ending of the first movement of the Fantasie to conclude the entire piece. And that is, as we know, that touching passage in which Schumann waves to his bride Clara with the Beethoven-citation: “Accept them, these songs” (from Beethoven song cycle opus 98 “An die ferne Geliebte [= Clara]”“).

But Schumann distinctly crossed out this passage and replaced it with the closing measures as we know them today. And that is the way they appear in the first edition that was proofread and authorized by Schumann himself. Had the handwritten manuscript for the first edition not survived, we would know nothing of this preliminary stage. But now we musicologists and musicians are left to speculate whether Schumann didn’t in the end weaken the originally “better” ending. Indeed, some very serious musicians do think that way.

For instance, the great musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen published a DVD with the Fantasie in C major with the original ending, the DVD also contains his comments. Next year András Schiff will release a double CD (ECM) with recordings of both versions (by the way there is a recording of a live concert of his on YouTube that you can listen to and watch to find out which version he prefers). Alan Walker, the great Liszt researcher, devoted an essay to this subject and sets the Budapest autograph in an exciting biographical context (Schumann, Liszt and the C Major Fantasie, Op. 17: A Declining Relationship, in: Music and Letters [1979], S. 156-165).

In 1987 the Fantasie in C major was revised by Henle, because we were allowed access to the Budapest autograph. The original ending appeared in a footnote in all of the Henle Urtext editions printed between 1987 and 2003. We ceased use of the footnote in the new critically revised edition published in 2003; the original ending is mentioned in the critical commentary. And of course, since then we’ve received the occasional letter from a piano player asking why we abandoned the footnote; many do find the original ending quite interesting, if not even better.

Exclusively for the readers of this forum I would like to present here, and here only, once more the page from the out-of-print Henle edition with the original version of the ending of the Fantasie in C major.

Download the page for free !

You will want to know why we decided not to include this addition in the current Urtext edition. Well, the answer has a lot to do with the responsibility that we carry as editors and publisher. As already stated, Schumann’s will is clear. He does not wish the original version to be played. In his opinion it is obsolete. He clearly crossed it out and replaced it. His proofreading of the first edition was very careful and meticulous. And final dictum is final. We have to respect that. As much as it is, from a scholarly point of view, highly interesting to see how the Fantasie in C major reached its final form, so little does that have to do with true Urtext. It is not our aim to show musicians the early versions of different parts of drafts; rather we aim to present the correct music as ultimately authorized by the composer. And so, in the former Henle editions, we made a mistake in printing the version that Schumann himself had purposely discarded (it looks almost like an “ossia”, even if it is not declared as such; see above pdf).

Do you agree? Or not? Please write to and share your opinion on this controversial topic. As a special thanks the first three senders will receive an autographed copy of the Lars Vogt’s newly released CD.





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