Masterclass: Carolin Widmann on Schumann Violin Sonata no.2

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Interpretational insights into the first movement of a work written by a musical genius with an increasingly unsettled mind

Something special happened when I was in the studio recording the Schumann sonatas with my pianist, Dénes Várjon. We were so in paradise over those two days that I didn’t care if anybody liked it or not. Every time I hear two notes of Schumann I’m pulled in right away. When I touch his music I feel so close to him and this special language.

I find it interesting how late in his life Schumann discovered the violin: he wrote the First (op.105) and Second Sonatas in 1851; the Violin Concerto and the Third Sonata in 1853; and in 1856 he died. The First Sonata is the most ‘sane’, if you can talk of sanity in Schumann’s music; the second is huge – so big and grand, with an almost-broken fragility in the minimalistic second movement, as though he didn’t care if anyone heard it or not. It was not written to please anybody: it was something he needed to write for himself, to survive.

Clara Schumann said the Third Sonata was the work of a sick man. She was ashamed of it and many people even today say it has no context, as though it is falling apart.

The opening

I rarely dare to play this sonata to open a concert. It feels better to play a few pieces before it, so that I am in the flow already and able to set the tempo with the pianist, with complete focus. The opening chords look so simple, but to get them together with the piano is so difficult! When I play this with pianist Alexander Lonquich, we close our eyes before we go on stage, and count through the opening bars together in quavers. If we don’t feel these bars together, the impact of the chords will be much weaker, but if we come in perfectly together, the impact is devastating.

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