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Exuberant virtuosity is a distinguishing feature of Schubert’s great Fantasie in C Major Op. 15 on the motifs of the song Der Wanderer. Even today this fantasy remains one of the most demanding tests of instrumental skill. The work exemplifies an important source of Romantic inspiration: references to a vocal piece, its musical motifs and its text. The Wanderer, one of Schubert’s most moving and finest songs, takes up the Romantic motive of wandering as a metaphor of life. The Fantasy seems to enter into a playful polemic with the fatalistic message of the song. The unbridled vitality that permeates the bulk of this music appears incredibly remote from the mood of the song, of which only a fragment is directly quoted in the Adagio.
“Before Artur’s arrival I had just completed my second Piano Sonata. At first I did not think much of it, but when Artur carefully studied and played it, he brought out all its “hidden virtues”. Consequently, ‘Ficio’ and Artur enthused over this sonata, almost claiming it superior to the Symphony.” This is how Szymanowski described Fitelberg and Rubinstein’s reactions to his new sonata; the latter premiered it in Berlin in 1911. The sonata has some formal elements in common with the Symphony No. 2 mentioned in the letter. Both works mark an important stylistic caesura in the composer’s output, ending the post-Romantic phase which had begun with his earliest surviving music – the Preludes written by an 18-year-old Szymanowski at the frontier manor in Tymoszówka (now Timoshivka in Ukraine). Still distinctly influenced by Chopin and Scriabin, they already foreshadow his later musical explorations and bear testimony to the young artist’s highly original talent. Also this cycle attracted the admiration of his friend Artur Rubinstein, and Szymanowski decided to have them printed. Consequently, they now open the catalogue of his works as his Opus 1.