The program contains three works, the first two played by the dazzling team of Andrea Di Maggio on flute and Neil Di Maggio on piano: Variations on “The Last Rose of Summer,” Opus 105 by German-born Danish composer Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832), and the Sonata for Flute and Piano (1968) by Georgian composer Otar Taktakishvili (1924-89). The concluding work is Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Opus 16, performed by the pianist Pascal Salomon.
As Prokofiev died the same day as Stalin, so Taktakishvili died in the year the Berlin Wall came down, with his beloved native country poised to become independent (1991) for the first time since the early 19th century. Naturally, his music is somewhat exotic, so involved was the composer in the culture of his homeland, which stands at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But it is the exoticism of Rimsky-Korsakov, not Toru Takemitsu. The Sonata for Flute and Piano is his best-known work in the West, and justifies its popularity with every bar.
Schumann said about Kreisleriana that “the title is understandable only to Germans. Kreisler is a figure created by E. T. A. Hoffmann ... an eccentric, wild and clever Kapellmeister.” Some annotators have seen in the work a bravura triple portrait — of the fictional Kreisler, of the composer’s real-life wife, Clara Wieck Schumann, and of Schumann himself — but this is making too many non-musical points that bewilder the music lover, rather than illuminate the work.
What’s interesting is Schumann’s assumption that only Germans would have read the Hoffmann stories the were the literary inspiration for his piece, for, like Schumann, Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a quintessential German Romantic, a wellspring from which many streams of Romantic art flowed. He was born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, but changed the Wilhelm to Amadeus when fashioning his pen name.
He was not only the author of wildly influential stories of fantasy and horror, but also a jurist, a composer, a music critic (!), a draftsman and a caricaturist. In addition to his Kreisler stories inspiring Schumann’s great work, one of his stories was the basis for Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker; another was the basis for Delibes’s ballet Coppélia.
There is a certain parallel here to the career of Maurice Maeterlinck, whose Pelleas et Melisande inspired great music from Fauré, Sibelius, Schönberg and Debussy, while his own works have faded into obscurity. But reading Maeterlinck today is a slog, while Hoffmann’s stories are still entertaining and moving. To be sure, the Romantic Movement expressed itself in all the arts, but the Romantic painters and composers and sculptors all looked to the Romantic writers for their subjects and inspiration. Schumann also read Byron, and his Manfred Overture is a Romantic masterpiece, but, loyal German that he was, he was delighted to be able to draw such profound inspiration from one of his own countrymen.