ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 33

Reliving the romantic spirit

By Dr. Prashanthi Mendis

Enthusiasts of Western classical music were recently treated to a delightful evening of Viennese romantic music at the Lionel Wendt Theatre by an accomplished duo –Yvonne Timoianu (cellist) and Dr. Christoph Cornaro (pianist) from Vienna, Austria.

This concert provided an opportunity for the audience to enjoy the performing technique and artistry of a virtuoso solo cellist. Yvonne interpreted the romantic nuances, mood and emotional content of the compositions of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann belonging to the Romantic era in a truly Viennese romantic style using an emotionally-charged rich vibrato.

This delightful evening of music was organized by the Honorary Consul for Austria, Senake D. Amerasinghe with the help of several sponsors. Yvonne Timoianu, an Austrian of Romanian origin holds an honours diploma from the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and is an outstanding performing artiste who can hold any audience spell-bound. Through her interpretative power, the audience could re-live the romantic spirit and charm of Viennese romanticism in Western classical music. The brief introductions to each piece added spice and an endearing touch to Yvonne’s communicative skills and musicianship.

It would be useful to understand the core elements of the Romantic era to appreciate how effectively Yvonne and Dr. Cornaro conveyed the theme of the concert titled “Vienna charm in Romantic Music”. The elements of “Vienna charm” in the 19th century Romantic era can be described in the following manner.

Firstly, the composers of the Romantic era were greatly inspired by the ambience of the “Beautiful Blue Danube” river, “Vienna Woods” and the impressive castles and palaces. This ambience gave space for compositional creativity and performing artistry of romantic music.

The songs selected by Yvonne from Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise”/Winter Journey a collection of 24 songs are good examples of the impact of ambience on composers and performers. In the “Spring Dream (a dream of spring in winter), Yvonne portrayed the transient joy Schubert derived from the environment and ambience and contrasted it with the trauma and gripping sorrow caused by “unrequited love” beautifully interpreted in “Frozen Tears”/Vienna rain.

Secondly, in the Romantic era, polarity and contrast in style and mood were important elements. In her introduction to the songs of Franz Schubert, she said that such extremes in moods were very much a part of her temperament too. With an emotional rendition of these romantic songs, she captured the temperamental extremities of Schubert’s style in a charming manner.

Yvonne also took upon herself the challenge of translating the art songs of Schubert into powerful cello songs with equal poignancy. She convinced the audience by her words and performance that the cello being the closest to the tenor/male voice can replace the human voice for which the songs were originally composed.

Thirdly, the Romantic era was influenced by the new thinking of the French Revolution (1789). The composers revelled in the new freedom of expression. With this sense of freedom, composers in the Romantic era transformed the impressive grandiose structure of music prevalent in the Classical era into “short and sweet” compositions. This two-pronged core element of the Romantic era consisted of a simple structure and transparent intense emotion. In this era, composers felt free to create “art for art’s sake” and swung the pendulum from the scientific manipulation of sound prevalent in the Classical era to an artistic manipulation of sound. This core element was well-illustrated by Yvonne in the rhapsodic composition of Robert Schumann – Fastasiestueke (Op. 78). Yvonne gave emotional flight to the musical wings of Schumann’s fantasy set out in three contrasting movements, namely (1) Tender with expression, (2) vivacious and (3) Fast and fiery.

It would be a serious omission to overlook the important role of the piano in romantic music. In this era, the triumph of the beautiful romanticism and lyricism was partly due to the emergence of the piano which became a household possession in the 19th century. The piano was considered an extremely suitable instrument to accompany soloists, as it has the capacity to translate poetic images into musical images in chamber music.

It was therefore used to enhance the emotional content of the short and sweet compositions of the Romantic era. This role was ably accomplished by Dr. Christoph Cornaro. In this programme of romantic music, it is a moot point whether the accompanist/pianist should blend with the soloist in an emotional manner or allow the soloist to have all eyes and ears focused on her.

I believe Dr. Cornaro followed the latter approach, although in his own right he is an accomplished concert pianist. Dr. Cornaro is also a diplomat who served as Austria’s Ambassador to Iran, Egypt and India with accreditation to Sri Lanka.Indeed, Yvonne and Dr. Cornaro’s concert was an unforgettable and thought-provoking evening. It provided an opportunity to experience how the Viennese Romantics derived immense joy in condensing an eternity of feeling and romantic charm into short and sweet compositions.

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