Monday, December 28, 2015

December 24, 2009: Richard Goode returns to San Francisco Performances

On Friday, January 22, at 8 PM, Richard Goode will return to Herbst Theatre to present a piano recital under the auspices of San Francisco Performances.  For me there will be a strong sense of anniversary to this occasion, both public and personal.  Since this will be Goode's fifteenth appearance with San Francisco Performances, one could not think of a better selection for their 30th Anniversary Season;  but my first reaction to the announcement of this event was the discovery that he would be performing music that I had encountered the very first time I heard him give a recital.  This was a performance at Alice Tully Hall that concluded with Robert Schumann's Opus 16 Kreisleriana cycle;  and this same work will conclude the program he has prepared for his visit to San Francisco.

Those unfamiliar with the significance of the name of this eight-movement composition need look no further than its Wikipedia entry:
The work is intended to represent the fictional character Johannes Kreisler from the works of E. T. A. Hoffmann. Like Kreisler, each piece has 2 very different sections, resembling the imaginary musician's manic-depression, and perhaps recalling Florestan and Eusebius, the two imaginary characters created by Schumann himself, who said that they represented his impulsive and dreamy sides, respectively. Johannes Kreisler appeared in three books by E. T. A. Hoffman, most notably in Kreisleriana (1813).
Composed in 1838, the work was dedicated to Frédéric Chopin.  Not only is it one of Schumann's most sophisticated compositions;  but also it captures the spirit of Hoffmann's literary imagination far more perceptively than the music we usually associate with him, either Jacques Offenbach's operatic setting of his tales or the usual narrative line for Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet.  The last time I had to write about this music was another San Francisco Performances event, a recital by Jonathan Biss.  On that occasion I used my blog to provide a basic sense of the spirit behind both Hoffmann and his literary creation:
I first encountered Kreisler in my college days. A mathematics professor I knew had pointed me in the direction of Hoffmann's Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr nebst Fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler. This purported to be an autobiography of a cat (Murr), who was kept by Kreisler. Unable to find blank sheets of paper, Murr decided to write this autobiography on the opposite side of pages that Kreisler had used to document his own life. The resulting text is an oscillation of disconnected fragments as the "editor" (Hoffmann) reproduces both sides of each sheet of paper in the order in which he found them. Those fragments were enough to convince me that Kreisler was one scary character, so it did not surprise me that one of Hoffmann's working titles for his Kreisler material was Lucid Intervals of an Insane Musician.
The successful execution of Schumann's fantasies on Hoffmann's creation thus requires just the right combination of confidence and guts to situate the listener on that brink between lucidity and insanity without ever providing even a breath of security.  The young Goode I heard about a quarter-century ago had both the confidence and the guts;  but the overall narrative arc of the music eluded me, leaving me more with a sense of each nightmarish tree than of the entire forest.  Thus, I am looking forward with great curiosity to how Goode's approach to this music (and my own listening skills) will have matured with experience.

This recital may also provide further opportunity to consider the impact of Johann Sebastian Bach on Schumann's compositions.  Most likely Hoffmann never studied Bach's music as scrupulously as Schumann did;  but, in the literary world, he had Kreisler perform the Goldberg Variations at tea parties, presumably to rather uncomprehending ears.  Goode's ears are far more comprehending, and thus they serve us well in our own efforts to grasp the Bach listening experience.  This is particularly true in his approach to negotiating the complexities of Bach's counterpoint by invoking the metaphor of a social conversation of "statements" and "responses" embellished by some of the social cues (like nodding in agreement) through which understanding arises.  Thus, his selection of two prelude-fugue couplings from the second book of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (BWV 883 in F-sharp minor and BWV 884 in G major), should provide excellent preparation for how we, as listeners, approach intricate details and the overall structure of Kreisleriana.

Schumann's studies also included the keyboard music of Joseph Haydn, and it is likely that he came to know Haydn's sonatas before his first exposure to Bach.  One might even speculate that Haydn's coupling of often highly unorthodox invention with a mastery of formal structure may have provided an initial stimulus for the dialectical relationship between Schumann's Florestan and Eusebius.  Thus, Goode's decision to include three Haydn sonatas  (Hoboken XVI/21 in C major, Hoboken XVI/20 in C minor, and Hoboken XVI/40 in G major) on his program may provide us with as much preparation for Kreisleriana as his Bach selections will.  In addition, Goode will be giving a free pre-concert talk on Haydn at 7 PM, one hour before his recital begins.  I would not presume to speculate whether Goode will explore any "Schumann connection" in this talk, since any one of these three sonatas provides more than ample material for discussion on its own!

Tickets for the concert itself will be $49 and $32.  Further information may be obtained from San Francisco Performances at 415-392-2545.  Tickets may also be purchased through the Web page for this event.

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