Widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, Emil Gilels plays Robert Schumann’s Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 (also known as Arabesque).

Emil Gilels plays Robert Schumann’s Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 (also known as Arabesque)

Robert Schumann’s Arabeske

Robert Schumann’s “Arabeske” in C major, Op. 18, is a piece for solo piano that holds a special place in the Romantic piano repertoire. Schumann wrote this piece in 1839 when he was 29 years old, along with several other shorter pieces. The work has found a permanent place in the general piano repertoire. The term Arabeske is used here as a poetic metaphor, not only to describe florid decoration but also, in Schlegel’s terms, to suggest a fluid, organic system of fragments that transcends artificial Classical forms.

The title “Arabeske” suggests an ornamental, intricate design, which is reflective of the piece’s structure and expressive content. In terms of its musical structure, the Arabeske is relatively simple compared to some of Schumann’s more complex compositions. It consists of a series of contrasting sections, which flow seamlessly into one another, creating an overall effect of elegance and lyrical beauty. The main theme is gentle and song-like, with a tender and introspective quality that is typical of Schumann’s lyrical style.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Arabeske is its emotional depth. Schumann was known for his ability to convey a wide range of emotions in his music, and this piece is no exception. It encompasses feelings of longing, joy, and introspection. The recurring main theme, interspersed with more animated and contrasting middle sections, creates a sense of emotional journey for the listener.

The Arabeske also reflects Schumann’s literary interests and his connection to the world of poetry and fantasy. He was deeply influenced by literature and often sought to translate poetic ideas into musical forms. This piece, with its evocative title and expressive nuances, can be seen as a musical counterpart to the romantic poetry of the time.

In terms of its technical demands, the Arabeske is considered to be more accessible than many of Schumann’s other works. Its lyrical melodies and relatively straightforward structure make it a favorite among both amateur and professional pianists. However, the challenge in performing the Arabeske lies in conveying its emotional depth and subtlety, requiring a sense of maturity and understanding of Schumann’s unique romantic style.

Emil Gilels

Emil Gilels
Emil Gilels. Photo: limelightmagazine.com.au

Emil Gilels (19 October 1916 – 14 October 1985) was a Soviet pianist. He was born in Odesa, Russian Empire (now part of Ukraine), the son of Esfir and Grigory Gilels, Lithuanian Jews. His father worked as a clerk in a sugar refinery. His sister Elizaveta, born 3 years later, subsequently became a renowned violinist.

Gilels had perfect pitch (a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone), and at the age of five and a half, he began lessons with Yakov Tkach, a famous piano pedagogue in Odessa.

In May 1929, aged 12, Gilels gave his first public concert. In 1932, Artur Rubinstein visited the Odessa Conservatory and met Gilels, and the two of them remained friends through the remainder of Rubinstein’s life.

Gilels is universally admired for his superb technical control and burnished tone. Gilels had an extensive repertoire, from Baroque to late Romantic and 20th-century classical composers. His interpretations of the central German-Austrian classics formed the core of his repertoire, in particular, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann; but he was equally illuminative with Scarlatti and 20th-century composers such as Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev. His recordings of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 and Sonata in B minor have acquired classic status in some circles.

Gilels was in the midst of completing a recording cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas for the German record company Deutsche Grammophon when he died. His recording of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata received a Gramophone Award in 1984.

Gilels recorded with his daughter Elena Gilels, including Mozart’s double piano concerto with Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic and Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor for piano duet. He also made some outstanding chamber recordings with the violinist Leonid Kogan and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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