“Märchenbilder- What do you think of?” by Stephanie Block

The following post is by Stephanie Block.


Märchenbilder- What do you think of?

When my teacher back in Chicago introduced me to this group of short pieces, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I have always loved Schumann, but never really knew of his depth or of many of his pieces. I just knew they were all beautiful! The very name, “Fairy-Tale” or “Pictures from Fairyland” (whichever you prefer), allows for all sorts of imagination in phrasing. My favorite thing to do with a very emotional piece is to create my own story. For me, thinking of a love story provides me with the most feeling in my pieces. Who doesn’t love the very idea of love? It bothers us every day, ranging from simple infatuation to full-blown romantic love – the kind of love that drives you up a wall but then also gives you a reason to get up in the morning. It seems most everyone can relate to love on some sort of level, and it is certainly something that helps in drawing out my musical storylines.

But then, for those who prefer not to think of a love story, Schumann can still provide another sort of imagery – such as fantasy characters. Wikipedia states that the first two movements of Märchenbilde (I. Nicht Schnell and II. Lebhaft) depict scenes from Rapunzel. In the first movement (which is rather bipolar, just like Schumann), one can picture the king’s son amidst his struggle to climb up Rapunzel’s hair, while imagining the faraway love he feels for her as he stands at the bottom of the tower. In the second movement, the joyous and steady melody depicts a hero riding through the forest on his horse (for this reason, one should never rush this melody, as that would imply that the horse is nervous and running away). The third movement (Rasch) can then be Rumpelstiltskin dancing outside his house surrounded by fairies (the exciting range of dynamics through the quick triplets gives this “dancing” image, with maybe an edge of agitation).  And finally, the fourth movement (Langsam, mit melancholischem Ausdruck), with its entirely tranquil melody, clearly conjures up the image of Sleeping Beauty.

If this imagery is not enough, then sometimes I think of a seemingly typical relationship – one that meant a lot, but didn’t work out in the end – in order to give the piece even more emotion.

The first movement is the stage of initial attraction to someone – the time when maybe you have been talking to him/her and you start to notice how cute they are, or you see them right away and know that you want to know more. The recurring theme of this movement with the sudden crescendo and decrescendo makes me think of the- “Should I talk to him/her?… No. Yes! NO. YES!….Oh no… they’re walking away, and I missed my chance.” Everyone knows what this feels like (or at least most of you out there).

But finally, when you get your chance to talk to this desirable person and magic happens, you reach “the honeymoon stage”: the second movement. This is when the person you wanted to ask out so badly likes you back, and you couldn’t be happier. It’s all of a sudden easier to get up in the morning and people annoy you less. The “horse gallop” theme symbolizes this feeling, while the running sixteenth notes in the middle of the movement represent the flying, happy feeling of falling in love – the one that makes you feel as if you’re floating on a cloud.

The third movement, is Rasch in German. Rash. This is the stage where things in your wonderful fairy tale start to fall apart. Often, love makes us do rash things. The quick triplets and the variation from pp to ff make me think of the raging up-and-down emotions that come from a realization that maybe the relationship isn’t meant to be. This is not a feeling any of us enjoy, but unfortunately one that seems to hit us all at some point or another.  The third movement, for the most part, carries on in this craziness all the way through – with only a little break in the middle: a possibility that things might work out, that maybe the disagreement was nothing, and that maybe it will all blow over. But then, soon enough, the turmoil comes creeping back in and the craziness returns, starting at a pianissimo and going back to fortissimo. Finally, the movement ends with a bang. There is no solving this love story!

Finally, you arrive at the fourth stage – the last movement. In addition to giving your left hand a break from all of those crazy notes, the mood of the piece calms down. This part of the story can go one of two ways: 1) you have accepted that this relationship just isn’t good for you and you know eventually you will move on, just not today, or 2) you’re tired from all of the fighting and turmoil and you’re just done with all of this. You feel defeated, upset, and helpless. So, you soak in your loneliness until someone else comes along to drive you crazy again.

This probably sounds a bit melodramatic to some people, but it works for me! Being in touch with one’s feelings is what helps to create a great musician – pushing any performer to a level beyond just playing the notes well.  I’ve found that picking a favorite musical and imaginative path to follow can ensure that an audience will feel right along with me the pain and joy inherent in any piece I’m performing.

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