THE NOTEBOOK

F. Schubert: Fantasia in f  D. 940  

The memoirs of Franz Schubert’s friends are full of references to Caroline Esterházy. In fact, Eduard von Bauernfeld wrote in February 1828. “Schubert was, in fact, head over ears in love with one of his pupils, a young Countess Esterházy, to whom he also dedicated one of his most beautiful piano pieces, the Fantasie in F minor for pianoforte duet. Countess Caroline had grown into a beautiful woman, and Karl von Schönstein writes in his later reminiscences “a poetic flame sprang up in Schubert’s heart for Caroline. This flame continued to burn until his death.”

 

J. Brahms: Variations on a theme by Schumann, Op.23

Composed in November 1861 Brahms dedicated the set, his first piano duet, to Julie Schumann. Talented and gifted, but with a delicate health — that is Julie, the third daughter of Clara and Robert Schumann. Johannes Brahms fell in love with her but never confessed his love. When she became engaged to another, Brahms was forced to renounce his undeclared love.

G. Fauré: Dolly Suite Op. 56

 

In his late 40s, the married Fauré fell in love with Emma Bardac. The affair inspired a burst of creativity and a new originality in his music. Fauré wrote the Dolly Suite for piano duet between 1894 and 1897 and dedicated it to Bardac's daughter Hélène, known as "Dolly". 

M. Ravel: 'La Valse'

The work was initially conceived in 1906 and went by the title “Wien” (Vienna), and was, in the composer’s own words, “an 

Johann Strauss, “The Waltz King” apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, linked in my mind with the impression of a fantastic whirl of destiny”. Ravel was also paying homage to Johann Strauss, the “Waltz King”, composer of beloved masterpieces such as The Blue Danube, Die Fledermaus, and Roses From the South, to name only a few. As Ravel wrote to a friend, “You know of my deep sympathy for these wonderful rhythms, and that I value the joie de vivre expressed by the dance.” The work was not completed until 1920, and by that time, the impact of two tragedies--one personal and the other global, had completely shattered the composer’s life. One was the death of his mother, and the other was of course the First World War.

The death of Marie Delouart Ravel on January 5, 1917 came as a devastating blow from which the composer would in some respects never recover. For the only time in his career he basically stopped composing, and from this point forward his output would dwindle to an average on perhaps one piece per year until his death. Letters from the end of 1919, when Ravel was finishing La Valse, bear witness to his continuing grief.  As for the war (Ravel served in the French Army as a truck driver), it seems entirely plausible that this experience caused the composer to see the Viennese waltz in a different light.

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