SATO Motif

Mystery Schumann Performance Revealed

So what exactly is going on in that mystery audio clip from the Schumann Fantasia? It's my arrangement of just that part for four hands! Listen carefully, and you might be able to pick up a few extra notes that would be enormously difficult if not impossible to play with just two hands. A few lines I wrote some time ago will describe how this whole thing came about:

The Schumann Fantasia in C Major, Op. 17, is a great piece. But thanks to a technically nasty bit towards the end of the second movement that lasts (or should last) no longer than a minute, the Fantasia falls under a category of pieces the squirmy pianist does everything to avoid (myself included). The brave and/or ignorant one who finds enough guts to perform this dreaded work usually becomes the victim of a miserable fiasco, storming up an incredibly humiliating cataclysm of wrong notes at a moment that carries the potential to be one of the climactic points of the piece.

My friend Richard "Rick" Hagedorn's performance of the Fantasia proved otherwise. In fact, Francisco Carvalho (another friend who witnessed the event) and I were so astonished by Rick's fast, yet clean rendition of the coda in question that we decided to attempt a similar feat, but at an even faster tempo. The plan was simple: I would arrange the coda for four hands, we would then record the work on tape, then ultimately, we would play the recording for Rick, telling him that we got it off the radio but did not know who the performer was, just to see how he would react. With the inspiration from Rick's performance still fresh, I immediately went to work and produced the arrangement. Our scheme was under way.

Once Francisco and I began rehearsing the arrangement, however, we discovered that the task was not as easy as we first thought it would be, even for four hands. We had to reset our goals to more realistic levels. There was also another problem: the pianos that were available to us were not in tune. This would make it difficult to convince Rick that our recording was culled from a radio broadcast. It was decided then that the recording would be transferred to a poor quality telephone answering machine at Francisco's residence, hopefully camouflaging the sound slightly.

From our short recording sessions taken over three days, we chose a rendition that was by no means unusually fast nor impeccable, but nonetheless quite impressive. When we finally played the recording for Rick, he was not pleased initially, noting in particular the "crappy" instrument and recording quality. He also criticized the "pianist" for playing too fast for his abilities. However, upon learning who the real pianist, or more precisely, pianists were, Rick readily changed his mind and played the recording over and over, each time listening with a broad smile on his face.

Cheers to the squirmy!

Ah, the spare time we had as music students....

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