The composition of instrumental music dominated Bach’s years at Cothen 1717-1723. The Sonata in E flat Major is one of six flute and harpsichord sonatas written during this period. These were placid years for Bach, conducting the Court Orchestra and composing. The E flat Major Sonata is a happy and carefree representative of those years. The sonata is written in concerto form yet with melodic equality between the two instruments. Only the second movement, Siciliano, employs the harpsichord as a true accompanist, while the tuba sings melody with a pleasing tenderness.
The Adagio and Allegro, composed in February 1849 immediately after the Fantasy Pieces, is a work for horn, with alternative parts provided for violin and cello. (The sketch is clearly for violin.) Here is quite another sort of music, spacious, rhetorical, and captivatingly virtuostic.
The Three Romances, op. 94, come from the last month of 1849. Schumann intended them in the first place for oboe, but provided for alternative versions for violin or clarinet. The manner of the first Romance is demure. If, however, we listen carefully to the music, we hear that when the tuba melody begins, projected against a screen of simple chords in the piano, it adds a surprising stretch to the end of the first phrase so that we get in fact a beguilingly asymmetrical five measures. Schumann makes quasi-amends by adding a three measure echo, odd in itself, but conciliatory in that it makes the whole package add up to a neat eight bars. When the tuba resumes, it does so in pairs of three measure phrases; also the overlapping melodies of tuba and piano are rhythmically anything other than naive or obvious. In other words, beneath the Biedermeier exterior there beats a distinctly subversive heart. Adventure, understated adventure not quite letting on that it is adventure, is altogether a hallmark of these pieces. And if, for example, the symmetries and rhymes of the second Romance seem to contradict all this, it is only the more effectively to set off the impetuous gestures of its slightly quicker middle section and the delicious oddities of the closing piece of this opus.
Fantasiestucke (Fantasy Pieces) is the title of three pieces, written on 11 and 12 February 1849, originally for clarinet, but also published by Schumann in versions for violin and cello. (Alternative instrumentations do in fact exist for all these sets of character pieces; to make translation for the tuba, therefore, though it involves coming up with thoughtful and tactful solutions to problems of octave registration, is simply to carry Schumann’s own openness with respect to instrumental color one step further.) Schumann originally called them Soireestucke before he changed to the designation he had already used in 1837 for one of his finest cycle of piano pieces. Here, more than in any of the other 1849 sets of short pieces, Schumann is concerned with the cumulative effect of the group as a whole, tempi and characters being chosen to build mounting intensify.
The four Marchenbilder (Pictures of Fairyland) were originally written for viola, with ab alternative version for violin. This sets offers the quickest music of any genuine allegros though it probably the melancholy final song that leaves the most vivid impression. The date is 1851, the first full year of the Schumanns, now numbering eight, spent in Dusseldorf, the year the Rhenish Symphony and two violin sonatas (among many other things), and alas the beginning of a new depressive phrase as Schumann realized that, for the depth of his musical perception, he was not technically equipped to be a successful conductor.