In the early days of his compositional career Schumann wrote almost exclusively for his own instrument, the piano. Throughout the 1830s, even after his prospects as a concert pianist were ruined by permanent damage to the fourth finger of his right hand, he continued to mostly shun the demands of chamber ensembles, the orchestra, and, the voice. During the second half of the decade, the composer's affinity for the piano can probably be largely attributed to his relationship with Clara Wieck, the extraordinary pianist who was to become his wife. Some of Schumann's piano works, like Carnaval Op. 9 (1833-1835), and Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838), have earned a secure place in the repertoire; others, including the Drei Romanzen, Op. 28 (1839), remain lesser-known yet worthy examples of the composer's distinctive keyboard idiom.
Schumann himself was quite fond of these three romances, which, despite the suggestion of their title, are not lushly melodic; they are, more accurately, contrasting character pieces. The first, in B flat minor, is a breathless piece in ternary (ABA) form whose triplet rhythms never waver until the final two bars. Atop this glistening arpeggiation is a lyric melody in two strains that gives way to gentle syncopations. A passionate codetta marked by singing sforzandi and alternating piano and forte dynamics brings the work to a stern conclusion.
Of the three romances, the second, in F sharp major, has gained the most currency among pianists as an independent concert work. It is a relatively brief piece -- 34 bars long, including some repetition -- whose thick texture led Schumann to the then-uncommon step of notating it on three staves. The 6/8 meter lends the melody the flavor of a barcarolle. The romance comes to an end as lyricism vanishes into pianissimo syncopations.
The third romance, in B major, is both the longest and, arguably, the least successful of the three. It is structured on the rondo principle, with the central digressions, themselves separated by a return of the refrain theme, titled Intermezzo I and Intermezzo II. The principal idea -- sharply rhythmic, freely imitative and not at all what a later composer might think of as a "romance" theme -- is attractive enough, but the piece as a whole lacks the focus of the first two. The mellow tones of the finish, however, offer the listener ample reward.