Fantasies - Marianna Rashkovetsky, piano

Complete Album Notes

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The first known instance of fantasie being used as the title of a musical work dates to the 16th century. The name indicated that the piece expressed a musical “thought,” rather than exemplifying a particular genre or structural form. From then on, fantasie (German), alternately, fantasia (Italian) or fantasy (English), has been the term used to denote any piece that takes its form only from the composer’s imagination.

Fantasies always challenge the listener to travel with the composer through a spontaneous, ever-changing musical landscape. And yet, they remain historically rooted. For example, any fantasie by Mozart or Chopin reflects the intellectual currents of the composer’s era. Mozart, a child of the Enlightenment, composed fantasies that are objective, impersonal, and rational, even as he explored exquisite style and texture. In contrast, Chopin’s fantasies, are subjective, freely emotive, and express a highly personal, interior reality — as we would expect from an exemplar of Romanticism.

Performing the fantasies on this disc required me to be attentive to the score and the composer’s intent, while remaining open to musical possibility and subtle shades of meaning. I had to use my own imagination and marshal both technical expertise and historical knowledge. These fantasies were a pleasure to prepare, and I hope that you will love listening to them.

~ Mozart ~

Musical episodes change and merge in Mozart’s fantasies, seemingly at the speed of light. His fantasies are rich with melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic improvisation, and exhibit his mastery of the cosmic and the mundane, as well as his essential humanism. Mozart’s fantasies offer fascinating paradoxes — they are at once abstract and intelligible, concrete and enigmatic. They are movingly intimate, sensual (even erotic), and still remain delightfully elusive.

Mozart’s D minor Fantasie begins in a nebulous terrain out of which a sorrowful melody emerges. This simple melody is transformed into a theme filled with a sense of looming fate. As the theme develops, episodes of turmoil and dismay shift into tragedy. Relief comes when a major-key finale resolves the tension; nevertheless, what lingers, as the last note fades, is a strange, haunting sadness.

~ Schubert ~

Each movement of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie begins with a variation on his most famous lied Der Wanderer, a setting of Georg Phillipp Schmidt von Lübek’s poem of the same name. The last lines of the poem describe happiness as being both knowable and unattainable:

I wander silently and am somewhat unhappy

And my sighs always ask “Where?”

A ghostly breath calls back to me,

‘There, where you are not, there is happiness.

The angst expressed in the poem became a subject that Schubert mined repeatedly and is rendered musically in the Wanderer Fantasie.

Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie entices us by its magnitude, tragic lyricism, passion, and intricate, technical complexity. None of the first three movements ends with a harmonic resolution, so each movement compels us to the next. We are unsettled at some times, entranced or deeply touched at others, but we willingly follow Schubert in his quest. Happiness and harmony do come in the end, but the moment though bright is tellingly brief.

~ Chopin ~

Polonaise-Fantasie is one of Chopin’s later compositions and was neglected by pianists and critics for decades due to its daunting complexity. Attributes of fantasie dominate the Polonaise-Fantasie, but features of a polonaise— especially the meter and rhythm of the uniquely Polish, processional dance form — are incorporated to create a heroic ballad. Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie juxtaposes objectivity (historical, musical references to the national pride of a suffering people) with subjectivity (his unique attitude and distinctive response to their suffering).

The opening of the Polonaise-Fantasie conjures images using both improvisation and a ballad-like melody — just as a troubadour might hush his audience by strumming the strings of his lute and entrance them by beginning his story as a recitative, mysterious and promising. Following the opening, a series of lyrical themes flow effortlessly, one replacing the other, sometimes ambiguously. But despite their improvisational nature, Chopin binds the themes together almost magically into a consistent and coherent form.

The central episode, più lento, begins sadly, as quiet as a long-forgotten memory. It continues lyrically, until suddenly, the tempo accelerates, the volume increases, and a hidden pulsating energy emerges which builds to a victorious culmination reverberating joy, nobility, pride, and a very human dignity.

The finale exudes joy, all encompassing and uplifting, and we feel completely alive at its conclusion. As the eminent Russian pianist and teacher Heinrich Neuhaus wrote, “I know nothing more inspirational than the whole finale of the Polonaise-Fantasie.”

©2013 Marianna Rashkovetsky