Following her 1st prize win at the 2015 Leeds International Piano Competition, Russian-born Anna Tsybuleva releases her debut solo recording with Champs Hill Records as part of her prize.
The disc, entitled Fantasien, showcases four fantasy-themed works by CPE Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms.
Tsybuleva says of her passion for fantasies: “Ever since my childhood I have loved to fantasise, the absence of borders in our dreams has always appealed to me. In our mind’s eye, we can cover the whole world in the snap of a finger. I think everyone, regardless of age or profession, can at least once in a lifetime imagine themselves philosophers, able to find answers to life’s most difficult questions.”
Anna Tsybuleva began studying the piano at the age of six with her mother, Svetlena Tsybuleva, later continuing her studies at the Moscow Conservatory with Ludmila Roschina, and the Basel Music Academy with Claudio Martinez.
Recent concerto appearances include with the Hallé Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Basel Symphony and Mariinsky Orchestras.
On 26 July 1809, in the midst of the Napoleonic wars, Beethoven wrote to his publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, requesting scores of works not only by his immediate predecessors Mozart and Haydn, but also works by Johann Sebastian Bach – by then dead for well over half a century – and by Bach’s most celebrated son, Carl Philippe Emanuel: “I have only a few samples of Emanuel Bach’s compositions for the clavier; and yet some of them should certainly be in the possession of every true artist, not only for the sake of real enjoyment but also for the purpose of study.” For Beethoven, this interest in music from several past generations of composers was entirely new; hitherto he had been content to study the most current trends in music, including French revolutionary music. This change of focus, coming as it did in the turmoil of war, may suggest that he desired to retreat into past certainties; certainly he now rejected his former fascination with revolutionary France and absorbed himself in German culture, including not only music but literary works by Goethe, Schiller and Wieland.
Yet Beethoven’s particular interest in CPE Bach involved something far more profound than mere nationalistic chauvinism: his interest, rather, was in a composer whose music works on the principle of surprise and unpredictability – qualities which strongly chimed with Beethoven’s own creative spirit. Beethoven, thus, appears to have became profoundly aware of that extraordinary communion which musicians today – with their deep historical perspective – almost take for granted: that of a composer through his music, which speaks vitally to new musicians even long after his death. This was a quality also to be much appreciated by Brahms at the latter end of the nineteenth century.
Characteristic qualities in CPE Bach’s music include daringly innovative use of abrupt key changes and expressive use of harmonies. One of his most intriguing works for clavier is the F sharp minor fantasia, written in 1787, the penultimate year of his life, which he named CPE Bachs Empfindungen (“CPE Bach’s perceptions”). Though not the first of Bach’s fantasias, it is certainly the longest; marked “Sehr traurig und ganz langsam” (Very sorrowful and quite slow), its sombre and melancholic tone appears all the more disturbing since none of the music is ever quite repeated the same, as if no one idea can be reliably recalled. The title Bach assigned the work strongly suggests it represents his own state of mind as he advanced through his early seventies, dwelling as it does on qualities of uncertainty and the impermanence of things.
Beethoven composed his own Fantasia in G minor, Op. 77, in the same year in which he requested more of CPE Bach’s work. Several commentators, including Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny, have suggested that the Fantasia reflects the composer’s own style of improvisation, such as Beethoven performed just the previous year as part of a grand concert involving the premiere of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, as well as being in that same concert the soloist in the Choral Fantasia and the G major Piano Concerto! Yet there is an apparent spiritual kinship between Beethoven’s G minor Fantasia and CPE Bach’s in F sharp minor. The downward cascading scale with which Beethoven’s Fantasia starts, rather than merely a finger-warming gesture, plays a major and unpredictable role in the work, reappearing sometimes just as punctuation for the music’s rumination, or sometimes as a more disruptive element, nudging the music into keys far from the “home” tonality. Yet Beethoven, typically, reaches a more positive – albeit somewhat ambivalent if playful – conclusion.
Schubert revered Beethoven, and paid close attention to that great composer’s work; one may suspect that the B major passage about mid-way through Beethoven’s fantasia may have been in Schubert’s in mind when in 1828, the last year of his life, he composed his final Piano Sonata (the B flat major, D960). Another work Schubert certainly had in mind when composing that sonata was one of his own earliest songs, “Der Wanderer” – its opening is quoted in the first movement’s development section. Schubert again quoted that song some six years earlier, in 1822, in his Fantasia in C for solo piano, widely known since as the “Wanderer” Fantasy: an eight-bar passage from the middle of that song is the basis of the slow second section of that work. The C major Fantasia was written specifically for “a certain wealthy gentleman” – that being Emmanuel Karl Edler v. Liebenberg, a former pupil of Hummel’s. Schubert therefore created a work appropriate for a pianist of such distinguished training, one clearly intended to impress from the outset – extrovertly grandiose at its start, and ending with a fugue which certainly stretched Schubert’s own piano technique beyond its limit: on one occasion, when trying to play it, Schubert suddenly leapt from the piano stool crying, “Let the devil play this!”.
The quasi-orchestral textures of Schubert’s C major Fantasy subsequently inspired the piano works of Liszt and Brahms. Indeed, Brahms’s early piano sonatas were described in 1853 by his early champion, Robert Schumann, as “veiled symphonies”. It was almost forty years later that Brahms wrote his final series of piano works which he had published in several volumes, starting with his seven Fantasies, Op. 116. Brahms appears to have composed those pieces mostly in the summer of 1892, after a considerable break from writing piano music – the last published having been the Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, in 1879; in the meantime he had composed the last of his orchestral works, including the Second Piano Concerto, his Third and Fourth symphonies, and the Double Concerto for violin and cello. More in the spirit of his late piano pieces is his Clarinet Quintet, composed in 1891 – gentle, wistful and melancholic. Brahms then composed a good deal of piano music of a similar nature – technically intricate, emotionally deep, poignant yet complex – of which Brahms finally published twenty pieces, withholding several others which he either thought unworthy of public attention, or of which, possibly, he couldn’t conceive a suitable grouping. Certainly he appears have put some thought into the sequence of seven pieces that constitute the Op. 116 Fantasien, which begins and ends with vigorous pieces he named “Capriccio”; these frame a sequence of reflective “Intermezzos”, punctuated by a further “Capriccio” which serves as the third piece. While one can hear in those capriccios a good deal of the fieriness of Brahms’s early sonatas, there is a new quality of reflectiveness – wistful and sometimes nostalgic, without ever becoming sentimental – in the remaining pieces designated “Intermezzo”. Like CPE Bach’s F sharp minor Fantasy, Brahms’s intermezzos appear to represent the reflections of a composer near the end of his career.