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Schumann Toccata in C major, Op 7



The Schumann Toccata, is the only of Schumann's original compositions that was inspired by considerations of technical difficulty.  Unlike his contemporaries, Chopin, Liszt, von Henselt and many others, he did not write studies for the piano, though he early fell under the spell of Paganini and transcribed for piano several of the latter's violin caprices.  Whether this was because of the injury he sustained while trying to strengthen the fourth finger of his right hand that ended his ambition of becoming a concert pianist, or whether it was the result of his nature as a "pure" musician  and thus immune from the virtuosic tendencies of the time, is impossible to say.

When the work was completed in 1836, Schumann believed it was the "hardest piece ever written."  It may well have been at the time as the final version of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes was not completed until 16 years later.  Chopin's Opus 10 Etudes were published in 1833 but they are so pianistic that while many are extremely difficult, for the most part they tend to fall more naturally under very well trained fingers and hands.

Do not be deceived by the lack of apparent bravura of what you hear.  The opening passages are right hand breakers, the streches are uncomforable and relentless, and unless you have tried playing this piece, you can't imagine the pain.  I secretly believe playing this piece is really what done him in.

Few toccatas of note were written after the Baroque era.  The Schumann Toccata seems to be the only significant Toccata written until a revival of the organ toccata in the late 19th Century.  Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy have written wonderful toccatas for the piano, and some composers have composed toccatas for orchestra.

Below you will hear the Schumann Toccata played very musically by some and as fast as possible by others.  Some, like Richter, can do both.  My favorites are Lhévinne, both by Horowitz, and Pogorelich who plays the Toccata marvelously and emphasizes polyphony in the music that is seldom really heard.  And to paraphrase what Ferdinand Leitner, the great German Conductor, once said to me about Haydn, "Isn't that young Gilels something?"  And two relatively recent discoveries, Rob Demat and Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy, certainly belong among the finest.

There are a number of other very good performances and two major disappointments here.  Jörg Demus, a fine pianist whom I have always greatly admired, makes utter hash of the Schumann Toccata, and Earl Wild plays it like an study that he has not quite mastered, without any musical coherence.



JOSEF LHÉVINNE
Russian Pianist (1874 - 1944)




SIMON BARERE
Russian-American pianist (1896 - 1951)

recorded in 1947




LUBKA KOLESSA
Ukranian pianist (1902 - 1997)

recorded in 1949




ANATOLE KITAIN
Russian pianist (1903 - 1980)

recorded in 1938




VLADIMIR HOROWITZ
Russian-American pianist (1903 - 1989)


recorded in 1934



and some years later




GRIGORY GINZBURG
Russian pianist (1904 - 1961)


recorded in 1949



recorded in the early 1960s




GYORGY SANDOR
Hungarian pianist (1912 - 2005)




SVIATOSLAV RICHTER
Soviet pianist (1915 - 1997)



what appears to be a later performance



and live in Stockholm in 1986





EARL WILD
American pianist (1915 - 2010)

recorded live in 1974




EMIL GILELS
Soviet Pianist (1916 - 1985)

recorded between 1934 and 1938




VICTOR MERZHANOV
Russian pianist (1919 - 2012)

recorded in 1979




GYORGY CZIFFRA
Hungarian-French Pianist (1921 - 1994)




MARIA YESHCHENKO
Ukrainian pianist (1923 - 2000)




RAYMOND LEWENTHAL
American pianist (1923 - 1988)

recorded in 1955




SAMSON FRANÇOIS
French pianist (1924 - 1970)




ROB DEMAT

radio broadcast taped in 1950s




JULIUS KATCHEN
American pianist (1926 - 1969)

recorded in 1958




ANNEROSE SCHMIDT
German pianist (b 1936)

recorded in 1973




RAFAEL OROZCO
Spanish pianist (1946 - 1996)

recorded in 1967




FRANÇOIS-RENÉ DUCHABLE
French pianist (b 1952)

recorded in 1989




YOURI EGOROV
Soviet pianist (1954 - 1988)




BALÁZS BODA
Hungarian pianist (b 1954)




IVO POGORELICH
Croatian Pianist (b 1958)




VLADIMIR SOULTANOV
Uzbekistani pianist (b 1960)




WOLFRAM SCHMITT-LEONARDY
German pianist (b 1967)




NIKOLAI LUGANSKY
Russian pianist (b 1972)

recorded in 2004










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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