Schumann’s lost sonata
Not finished, but at least found
By Rick Ganley email@example.com
Frederick Moyer is a professional concert pianist. The New Hampshire resident has played famous music halls all over the globe. Earlier this year, Moyer and his uncle, Dr. Paul Green, tracked down an unfinished fourth piano sonata from Robert Schumann, the famous 19th-century Romantic composer. They have since recorded it and made it available with a unique software application that allows the listener to see Schumann’s original sketch synchronized with the music, measure by measure. I spoke with Fred Moyer by phone from South Carolina, where he was touring.
Give me some background on Schumann and his place in classical music.
To me, he really epitomizes the whole Romantic era; his music was uniquely reflective of his life. It bears on this project because it came at a particularly dramatic time when he was pining away for Clara, the love of his life… Clara was this very famous pianist and composer — more famous than Robert was — … and her father was dead set against these two marrying.
How did you know this unfinished sonata existed? What made you go search for it?
My uncle found a note that it was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 1997. He and I had been in love with sonata number 3 in F minor, which I had recorded … he got so smitten with this piece and wondered why did he [Schumann] stop writing sonatas … and he looked in several books and found there was this unfinished fourth sonata … there are all sorts of references to it, but they all said it was lost, or missing or unknown.
Eventually your uncle traced it to an archive at Stanford University. When you finally saw it, did anything about it shed new light on Schumann?
Well, it was a revelation! They [Stanford] sent me a gorgeous scan … it was eight pages … I was surprised how neat it was for a sketch … for something he wrote for only his own use…. While it was very difficult to figure out a lot of little code he put in there, symbols only he knew what they meant, we had to figure that out … but he’s painted as such a crazy man, so compulsive and obsessive, I would have imagined it would have been much more messy.
I’m interested in how you went about recording it. What about the interpretation? You must have had to make decisions about what way he would have gone with it…
I only had to make a few executive decisions … for the most part, 99.9 percent of this is exactly as he wrote it. Of course, when you perform a piece it’s all about interpreting it and I certainly threw my heart and soul into that, but I didn’t change any of the notes. For example, I didn’t try to finish any of the unfinished phrases. It’s spooky … I’ve actually been performing it this week for the first time in public concerts, and there are places where you just stop … including the end of each movement and other places where there is just what we call scaffolding with just running bass notes where he obviously hadn’t figured it out. So I didn’t add anything… somehow it’s more poignant to hear it that way.
Explain the software application you wrote to accompany the recording on your Web site [frederickmoyer.com].
I’m a fanatic programmer, and I thought this was the perfect vehicle for a downloadable program … up top you see the manuscript in detail … and down below is our finished deciphered score that looks like what you’d get at a music store … and there’s other bells and whistles … like you can play the music and each part of the manuscript and score will highlight as that measure’s being played. It was really fun putting it together.
What do you hope people can take from it?
… the need to preserve these manuscripts… the only way we can really know what he wrote is to have access to these manuscripts… there are thousands of pages of Schumann where we don’t have that easy access … and that’s the beauty of seeing his handiwork on that piece of paper. It makes you think “Gee, I wish we could do this with more music.”
This project has just sprouted so many branches. There’s more intriguing music that’s embedded in the autograph of the third sonata … we have the autograph from the British museum … so it’s got me intrigued with the idea of finding scores. There’s all kinds of scores that have been found this summer; some music by Mozart, and earlier this year some music by Mendelssohn. So it’s still being discovered.
Rick Ganley is host of Morning Edition on NHPR. Ganley talked to Moyer for a piece called “Schumann’s Lost Sonata” that aired on NHPR on Sept. 24. Hear it at www.nhpr.org/node/27080 (or go to nhpr.org and search for “Frederick Moyer”).