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Showing Schumann Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Joyce Yang's Ultimate Freedom

This week, we're showing some respect to the oft-misunderstood Robert Schumann, whose bicentennial was more or less celebrated earlier this year. Do you like Schumann's music? Tell us your stories and your favorite pieces. Don't care for Schumann? Tell us about that, too, in the comments section. Below, pianist Joyce Yang talks about the piece that made her love chamber music.

First of all, hands down (no pun intended), I love playing Schumann.  His music gives me the ultimate freedom to take off in any direction at any given time.  There is a built-in spontaneity that is completely inspiring.

My favorite Schumann piece -- as of today -- is a tie between the Piano Quintet in E- flat major and the "Intermezzo" from the solo piano piece Faschingsschwank aus Wien.

The Quintet is what I play most often in the chamber repertoire, and I love playing chamber music because of this piece. It allows different instruments to completely have their own voices, but it is composed in a way that the five of us act together in an unshakeable unified whole.

It’s not that someone plays and the others accompany; it’s like a 10,000- piece jigsaw puzzle where every instrument, phrase and section reveals the bigger picture. When we get to the end, I feel it can’t get any better; it’s complete and wholly satisfying, and we have touched upon every emotion in the book.

Every time I play the Quintet, it comes out differently because Schumann gives me the opportunity to go with the moment. Some of those moments -- crucial ones -- can’t possibly be described with words, even if they only last a few seconds.

Right now, I have a fantastic recording on my iPod of Martha Argerich playing Schumann’s Piano Quintet with Dora Schwarzberg, Lucy Hall, Nobuko Imai, and Mischa Maisky. It’s amazing how five completely different artists, who are all basically soloists, can come together so incredibly as a whole. This is the essence of chamber music.

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When I listen to the "Intermezzo" from Faschingsschwank, it reminds me of looking at a person crying, but there is a big smile on their face.

It’s a strange mix of emotions. I call it “smiling with tears in your eyes” -- hard to tell if it's joyful or sad. There’s such emotional energy with nowhere to go -- a momentary release that never gets released. This fleeting paradox is one of the most gratifying three minutes of music I could ever play.

My favorite recording of Faschingsschwank is by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. He really brings out the essence of this paradox -- technically brilliant, emotionally intact, architecturally balanced, and just gorgeous. I can't even begin to imitate him. The emotion is completely unique to him. You just have to listen and be in awe of his playing.

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Joyce Yang