Jan. 26 recital includes works by Frescobaldi, CPE Bach and Margaret Bonds
By Peter Alexander Jan. 25 at 4:25 p.m
David Korevaar is an adventurous pianist.
“I’ve always been interested in music that’s off the beaten track,” he says. And the shutdown from the COVID pandemic has given him an opportunity to do more music off the beaten track than ever. “This has been an amazing experience, quickly learning a lot of repertoire,” he says.
His latest explorations will be revealed Tuesday on Korevaar’s latest online CU Faculty Tuesday recital (Jan. 26, livestream at 7:30 p.m.). Titled “Variations Fantastiques,” the program brings together composers that are not on the well worn path: 17th-century Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi; J.S. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel; Clara Schumann, the wife or Robert; and African-American composer Margaret Bonds.
Two other works are from more familiar composers: a Rondo by Mozart, and the Symphonic Etudes by Robert Schumann. “The Schumann Symphonic Etudes is the only thing on this program I had played before, and it’s been a long, long time,” Korevaar says. “That was a major act of resuscitation of a very difficult piece.”
Translation: Korevaar put a lot of work into this recital.
The opening piece gets right to the variations idea, Frescobaldi’s Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca—a set of variations over a standard Renaissance bass line known as Romanesca. Many composers wrote pieces based on the Romanesca bass, but don’t be embarrassed if you have not heard them before, unless you pay unusually close attention to the music played in church.
“Frescobaldi is not often played, period,” Korevaar says. “Organists play his music, and harpsichordists do. Frescobaldi was a native of the keyboard, he understood how to put notes together on a keyboard with hands.”
Frescobaldi’s music comes out of his experience improvising. “All of his toccatas and the variation sets represent a kind of frozen improvisation,” Korevaar says. “It’s fascinating— he manages to combine the traditions of renaissance vocal writing with keyboard improvisation. He transfers the kind of affective language of the Renaissance madrigal to this keyboard medium.”
The next work on the program, C.P.E. Bach’s Rondo in G Major, grows from the same soil as Frescobaldi’s Partite. “When C.P.E. Bach writes for keyboard, he’s writing again as an improvisor,” Korevaar says. “These rondos are particularly peculiar. This one has always fascinated me, because while there is a larger-scale structure, it works in four-bar bits that keep repeating the same material in various embellishments and modulations. And it’s like early Beethoven in the use of silence.”
Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes does not resemble traditional variation sets. “[Schumann] does say it’s etudes in the form of variations, but you’ve got to search a little bit,” Korevaar says. “Every now and then he’ll throw in the head motive to remind you where he started, but several have little to do with the theme. This is typical of Schumann’s transformative techniques.”
The piece actually began as an explicit set of variations on a theme by a friend of the Schumann family, plus a Finale that may be based on an entirely different theme from an opera by Heinrich Marschner. It is this original version of a later much-revised work that Korevaar will perform.
Even in that form, not all the etudes are related to the theme. Schuman’s approach is more one of transformation, as Korevaar says, than variation. At least three do not include the theme at all. “Thinking about it as variations, you realize how loose [Schumann] is with that term,” Korevaar says.
Both Clara Schumann and Brahms wrote a set of variations on the same theme by Robert Schumann. Both sets were published together in 1854, after Robert had been confined to a mental asylum. In both sets, Clara’s and Brahms’s, the variations on the theme are clearly delineated.
“It’s a remarkable piece because it’s a fully mature composition by a fully mature composer, with her own voice,” Korevaar says. “We forget that. We say, ‘Oh, she’s a woman who clearly did not get the opportunities.’ She played this piece throughout her career.
“It’s pianistically not friendly—she must have had a phenomenal technique! It’s a remarkable piece. This is a composer who was very much influenced by Robert Schumann, influenced by Chopin, influenced by Mendelssohn, and she has her own brand of virtuosity.”
Bonds’s Spiritual Suite comprises three movements, each derived from a spiritual or traditional African-American song, each a set of variations or embellishments of the theme. Korevaar compares the middle movement, based on “Peter Go Ring them Bells,” to a Bach chorale prelude. “She introduces this descant first before we get the tune. It’s quite fun what she does: nesting in the middle of it is this wonderful waltz. It’s a wonderful piece.
The third movement, “Troubled Water,” has been published separately and is performed more often that the other two. The recent interest in African-American composers this year has resulted in the whole suite being played more, Korevaar says. “A lot of people have started taking it on, which is nice. It’s a good piece. It deserves to be played and heard.”
Korevaar enjoyed building a program with so many pieces that are new to him and likely to his audience. “I had more fun putting this program together than I’ve had in a long time,” he says.
“It’s liberating to do stuff that I don’t know!”
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David Korevaar, piano
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Rondo in G Major
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K511
Robert Schumann: Symphonic Etudes
Clara Schumann: Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann
Margaret Bonds: Spiritual Suite
Free or pay what you can
CORRECTION: One quote by David Korevaar corrected 1.25 to state that we think of Clara Schumann as “a woman who clearly did not get the opportunities.” The original post omitted the word “not.”