Recent Steinway Piano Series concerts have showcased the forms of piano sonata and piano variations. In this blog, we have discussed the sonata form as a sort of “hero’s journey,” with variations as more of a kaleidoscopic, transformative exploration of a melody. Now we have another form to consider, as Yulianna Avdeeva ushers in our musical month of March with multiple piano fantasies (or fantasias).
Fantasy as an artistic genre depicts imaginative fictional worlds, usually comprising fantastical and supernatural elements, often drawing from myth and legend. It is supremely popular today across all manner of media, from books, TV, film, and video, board, and card games, often achieving blockbuster status. Think Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, or Final Fantasy. Of course, classical music lovers are likely immediately reminded of Disney’s Fantasia. (Certainly this is true for me, as my first encounter with this iconic film was in my formative years—on the “big screen” in a re-release!)
Interestingly, composers have used the title fantasia since about 1500, though it was another hundred years or so before the term came to mean what you might expect: a musical creation born of freedom of expression. The main line of the piano repertoire has several types of fantasies: (1) works of a rhapsodic or improvisatory nature, often including an array of elements, like fantasies by C.P.E. Bach or Mozart, (2) multimovement sonata-like works, such as the Schumann Fantasy in C major that has appeared on Steinway Series programs, (3) smaller, imaginative character pieces, such as Brahms’s Op. 116 or the Schumann Fantasiestücke that Avdeeva will perform, or (4) virtuoso works that embellish material from other theater works or similar sources; for example, the Wizard of Oz Fantasy John Kimura Parker dazzled us with.
Avdeeva’s program is full of fantasia, including examples across these types. Schumann’s Fantasiestücke exemplify the power of a composer’s imagination to weave wondrous flights of fancy into music. The pieces take us into a capricious, fantastical dream world, alternately guided by Schumann’s fictitious alter egos, passionate Florestan and dreamy Eusebius. The “Wanderer” Fantasy of Schubert is an example of the multimovement fantasy, its essence deriving from the song of a solitary traveler. Truly fantastic is the freedom with which Schubert treats the “Wanderer” song amid highly virtuosic textures, all in service of integrating multiple movements into a cohesive whole. Beethoven’s Fantasia is an improvisatory wonder that traverses across forms, keys, and styles in a way that harkens back to the Fantasias of C.P.E. Bach. And his dazzling “Eroica” Variations, although not referred to directly as fantasia, call to life an entire realm, inventively spun from his own Prometheus ballet theme.
Whether invoking freer-form compositions of composers, contemporary storytelling populated by magical creatures, or simply the inspirations of the mind’s eye, the creation of an artistic fantasy weaves an enchanting yet cohesive world to explore, offering us the possibility to dream. May we experience surprise and delight this weekend through the magic of Yulianna Avdeeva’s fantastic intentions.