On Sunday at the Gardner Museum, Paavali Jumppanen, the excellent, ever-curious Finnish pianist, opened a multi-concert exploration of music of Robert Schumann and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Pairing the eager 19th-century Romanticist and the out-of-this-world 20th-century modernist is less mysterious than it might initially seem. In fact, one zeitgeist-y way to consider it might be via mysteries themselves: After all, Schumann’s career coincided with the origins of modern detective fiction, Stockhausen’s crucial modernist innovations with the emergence of its analytical outgrowth, the police procedural. Jumppanen made the case for the two as complementary sleuths, each, in their own ways, as interested in recounting the investigation as in reaching a conclusion.
In Stockhausen’s “Klavierstück IX,” the famous opening — a single chord, played 227 times — became a singular clue, examined from every angle, returning as corroboration (reappearing as the harmonic underpinning of a seemingly unrelated idea) or contradiction (prompting the whispered rustling of the piece’s coda). Jumppanen related the case with heightened exactness, crisp clarity that carried over into Schumann’s Op. 1 “Abegg” Variations. Plunging its gemütlich theme into dense, ringing virtuosity, Jumppanen raised the stakes throughout, to a Vivace finale that was a blur of figuration, giving the final, simple cadence an air of ironic closure — the case closed, if not resolved.
Stockhausen’s “Klavierstück XI” and Schumann’s Op. 20 “Humoreske” both deal in fragments — “Klavierstück XI” providing 19 sections that the performer then arranges into a choose-your-own-adventure chain, the “Humoreske” juxtaposing pieces of style and mood. Jumppanen’s first pass through the Stockhausen swung between violent, chaotic action and cool, gimlet-eyed contemplation: a web of suspects under constant reconsideration, events reappearing from new angles.
The Schumann, by contrast, became a classic tale of ratiocination, as Poe called them. Jumppanen’s athletic playing kept a bright light on the music’s physical realization. The score became self-evidence: fast sections all about speed, soft sections all about softness. Schumann’s fondness for repetition — phrases or sequences obsessively rerun out of sheer sonic delight — seemed to neutralize sectional contrasts, revealing some essential quality about each looped idea. Instead of an implied extramusical narrative, there was a lucid portrayal of compositional exploration.
Jumppanen closed with a second, somewhat less mercurial realization of “Klavierstück XI”: longer stretches of similar music, be it delicate or declamatory, more sense of narrative arrangement. But, even given a more familiar formal arc, the work’s open-endedness still created the sense of unresolved secrets. Sometimes, even after an arrest, mysteries remain.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri