Schumann: Kreisleriana & Ghost Variations; Widmann: 11 Humoresken / Pilsan

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Schumann composed Kreisleriana in April 1838, at the age of 27, exactly the same age as Aaron Pilsan today : “The youthful thing that I...

Schumann composed Kreisleriana in April 1838, at the age of 27, exactly the same age as Aaron Pilsan today : “The youthful thing that I can identify with in Kreisleriana is its spontaneity. If I had to describe the piece, I would use the German word for crazy, ‘verrückt’, which doesn’t just mean crazy, but also to be disconnected from reality. So, crazy, imaginative and intimate… There is a huge connection between these two German composers, as Jörg Widmann was inspired by Schumann’s music a lot and even his musical language is very similar, even though their styles are obviously very different. The starting point for Widmann’s music is from feelings, from the emotions and sentiments and that is where there is a similarity, but not only there. He even quotes Robert Schumann in his tenth Humoreske, taking a bar directly from Schumann’s Geistervariationen."


Pilsan expresses the inner turmoil of the Kreisleriana with a keen sense of the enigmatism that is one of the secrets of Schumann’s art. He also finds the right approach in the Geistervariationen, interiorized, cantabile and supple. The melodic tenderness is never obscured by melancholy. It is in such a clear and restrained interpretation that the loss becomes clear, for this is, after all, Schumann’s last work before he was committed to a mental hospital.

Between the two Schumann works Aaron Pilsan has inserted Jörg Widmann’s Elf Humoresken, whose title refers to Robert Schumann. He succeeds very well in showing what the composer wanted: "May the interpreter discover in each of the pieces its very own tone and make it sound, sometimes mocking, then again dry, here melancholically clouded, but always with humor and subtlety."

-- Pizzicato

[Pilsan’s] artistry has evolved considerably. You have to turn to the most esteemed recordings of Kreisleriana, by Horowitz, Pollini, and Argerich, for example, to outstrip Pilsan’s performance. He seeks more balance and moderation at times than those pianists...he’s clearly to the manner born.

Reading the informative liner notes to this new release, which also includes a brief interview with Widmann conducted by Pilsan, you pick up some obvious reference points. Schumann wrote his own set of humoresques, and he freely used the expression marking mit Humor or mit guten Humor, which a postmodern composer like Widmann doesn’t take to be as simple as it looks. He takes full advantage of an emotional spectrum extended even farther than Schumann’s.

The mood is often freely tonal and Romantic, easily accessible if you appreciate contemporary eclecticism and Widmann in particular, as I very much do. Fragmentary references to Schumann abound, and in the final piece a bar of music from Schumann’s last work, the “Ghost” Variations, is directly quoted, serving as a link to Pilsan’s performance of the whole piece. The other major work on the program, Kreisleriana, was based on the fantastical Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler created by E. T. A. Hoffman. The fact that Schumann borrows the title of one of the three Kreisler novels (the last of which is narrated by his cat) implies that the music describes Kreisler’s peculiar temperament as much as Schumann’s – in the medieval sense, temperament is rooted in the four humors.

I haven’t heard other recordings of the Widmann, but Pilsan’s account seems nearly ideal in the way he merges Schumann into the contemporary texture of the music.

-- Fanfare

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 26, 2023

  • UPC: 3760014198960

  • Catalog Number: ALPHA896

  • Label: Alpha

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Romantic, Contemporary

  • Composer: Robert Schumann, Jorg Widmann

  • Conductor: Aaron Pilsan (Piano), Aaron Pilsan (Piano), Aaron Pilsan (Piano)

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Robert Schumann, Jorg Widmann

  • Performer: Aaron Pilsan


  1. Kreisleriana, Op. 16

    Composer: Robert Schumann

    Performer: Aaron Pilsan (Piano)

  2. Elf Humoresken

    Composer: Jörg Widmann

    Performer: Aaron Pilsan (Piano)

  3. Variations on an Original Theme, Anhang F39, "Geistervariationen" (Ghost Variations)

    Composer: Robert Schumann

    Performer: Aaron Pilsan (Piano)