Late Schumann: Mad not bad

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Haydnseek
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Late Schumann: Mad not bad

Post by Haydnseek » Sat Dec 16, 2006 7:31 pm

Mad, not bad

December 15 2006

In 1856, after two years in a lunatic asylum, the composer Robert Schumann died. Later in the same year, his wife Clara - a famous pianist - came to London to perform his works. They were met with a general cry of disapproval.

Now, 150 years on, Schumann’s music still inspires a mixed response. Most performers regard him as one of the greatest composers ever, and almost all composers love him (he influenced Bruckner, Debussy and Berg as well as others throughout the 20th century). But unlike other major German 19th-century composers, a significant number of his works are rarely played, particularly those written later in his life. There have been concerts and events in celebration of his anniversary this year; but considering how much promoters tend to love the idea of anniversaries, it is remarkable that we haven’t seen more of him - especially compared to Shostakovich and Mozart. Not for Schumann the anniversary.com websites or the countless new releases to coincide with the anniversary. Schumann’s anniversary hasn’t been hyped as an international tourist attraction; there have been no anniversary cruises or huge “special anniversary edition” media publications.

So where does the difficulty with this composer lie? Schumann’s image has been compromised by the misfortunes that plagued him: the self-inflicted hand injury that stopped him playing the piano, for example; or the concert in which he continued to conduct after the music had stopped. These two oft-quoted stories, however, are nothing compared to how madness and Schumann have become synonymous. It is now generally accepted that he suffered from bipolar disorder, although his decline late in life is usually blamed on the symptoms of tertiary syphilis (or on the mercury treatment he received for it). In 1854, at the age of 44, he tried to take his own life by jumping in the Rhine. Rescued by a passing fisherman, he insisted on entering an asylum, fearful that he would unwittingly harm his wife. She only visited him once, and that was two years later, just two days before he died. It is clear that the treatment he received made him deeply miserable, aggravated his condition and probably hastened his demise. The postmortem concluded that he “died in a state of extreme emaciation” - he probably starved himself to death.

There have been plenty of composers with mental-health problems - Smetana, Hugo Wolf and Donizetti all ended their lives in asylums. Only with Schumann has this been considered of such importance and had such an impact on the way his music has been received. Undergraduates write essays on Schumann and madness, chapters of musicological books are dedicated to the subject. It is true that there are aspects of both his music and his character that seem to celebrate the irrational. In 1830, for example, he created new, fanciful names for himself and many of his friends. Obsessed by the Romantic writers Jean Paul and E.T.A. Hoffmann, he shared their preoccupation with the idea of the split self, or doppelganger. He created two contrasting characters for himself: Florestan and Eusebius. Conceived as brothers, Florestan represented Schumann’s wild and impetuous side, Eusebius the introverted and reflective. These two figures occur repeatedly in his compositions as well as in his music criticism, and once led people to believe that he was schizophrenic. Similarly, there is a hypnotic concentration to his musical language that can create a sense of neurotic uneasiness. The obsessive repeated rhythms, fleeting phrases, extraordinarily abrupt transitions and sometimes radical use of harmony give an exceptional intensity to much of his music.

These qualities are to a large extent what make him so great. Mental instability has not always been considered detrimental to creativity: many of the Romantics believed that inspiration demanded an uncontrolled and exultant state of mind. Schumann’s fascination with illusionary and fantasy worlds was certainly not unusual for that time. His contemporary critics might, therefore, have seen his mental condition as an aid rather than a hindrance to his image as a great genius. Instead, however, they were confused and unsettled by his idiosyncrasies.

This confusion was caused, particularly in the first half of the 19th century, by the legacy of Beethoven. Schumann - like his contemporaries - lived in the shadow of that great, towering, figure. Beethoven was the mark against which a composer would be judged; his musical language was the one to which all composers were meant to aspire. Beethoven was the master of balancing material in order to create large-scale forms. In contrast, Schumann’s genius lay in subverting this balance. If it hadn’t been measured against Beethoven, critics of the time may have been less disconcerted by Schumann’s new musical style.

Schumann himself was dismayed by this comparison with Beethoven, as well as by the limited recognition his compositions received. Miniature forms - such as lieder, or the series of short movements that make up all of his early piano works - suited him naturally. But he became convinced that he should write more “sublime” genres, such as the symphony. This was at least partly to gain more respect from critics, as well as to please the highly perceptive but highly opinionated Clara.

Schumann was also haunted by the prospect of insanity (both his father and his sister died when he was 16 - his father of a nervous disorder, his sister probably of suicide). This probably influenced his decision, in the 1840s, to make his method of working less instinctive and more rational. “I used to compose almost all of my shorter pieces in the heat of inspiration... only from the year 1845 onwards, when I started to work out everything in my head, did a completely new manner of composing begin to develop,” he stated in a diary entry from later in the decade. This change of style can be attributed to the needs of writing larger-scale works, where it is necessary to have a more logical sense of form, he also “corrected” many of the most radical and wonderful moments in his earlier compositions.

His change of style, therefore, was largely to do with his own self-doubt. In my opinion, this was a tragic decision, for it is when he tries not to be mad that he fails as a composer. The corrected moments in his earlier compositions are far less extraordinary than the original versions. Although many of his late works are wonderful, some of the more “public” ones - parts of the symphonies, for example - can sound pompous and heavy. He was so desperate for the ideas to be clear that they become too obvious and drawn out. They lose the sense of poetry that pervades his more successful pieces. Of all the performers I know, the only ones who don’t like Schumann are those most acquainted with his orchestral works. It is also ironic that it is only his later works that, since his death, have been found problematic.

After his death, it was Clara and his close friend Johannes Brahms who had most influence on how his works were received. Unfortunately, they too - unable to remain neutral about the stigma surrounding his illness - ceased to trust in Schumann’s greatness. In compiling his complete edition, they suppressed some of his late works (Clara even destroyed some), believing them to be of an inferior standard because of his madness. Many of them were not known for years; when they were eventually published they had a reputation as “the rejects”.

Tarnished reputation aside, there are also some inherent problems with Schumann’s pieces - particularly with the later works. These make his works less immediately appealing to audiences, especially compared to music by other composers from the same time. One problem is that it can be difficult to project his ideas out into a large modern concert hall. Much of the violin concerto, for example, is written in a relatively quiet register. Some argue that, although a great musician, Schumann was not always a great composer, particularly in his use of the specific qualities of different instruments. The cellist Steven Isserlis is self-confessedly “obsessive” about Schumann. He says that, rather than any technical imperfection, when Schumann wrote these works he “was so deeply into his own personal world that he was no longer really concerned with writing ‘concert’ pieces”.

The later music is also less popular because it takes repeated listenings to make sense of, and is generally more challenging. Promoters - as well as performers less bold than Isserlis - hesitate before programming it. In the first movement of the second violin sonata, for example, the structure is hard to follow; in the first movement of the cello concerto, the melodies are haunting but not immediately memorable. When the piece is finished, it can be difficult to remember exactly what has just been played. It is too elusive; even if you are left longing to hear it again, it is hard to know quite what to make of it.

The magical quality of Schumann’s music, however, is that the more you hear it the more wonderful it becomes. For a performer - who sometimes works for years at perfecting a piece and often ends up performing it hundreds of times - this is ideal. The least appealing sort of music is that which becomes stale and tired. Schumann is the antithesis of this, which is why so many performers - as well as most major composers of the past 150 years - love him. Once you submerge yourself into his world, it becomes bewitching, poetic and even obsessive.

Fuelled by the passion of performers such as Isserlis, many of Schumann’s more “difficult” works are now making their way into the mainstream repertoire. Academic opinion is also reassessing the value of his suppressed late works. If we have not heard enough of him this year, it may be because we are saving up for his 200th birthday - it is only four years away - and definitely a happier date to celebrate than that of his pitiful death.


Daisy Gathorne-Hardy is a cellist and freelance writer.

FIVE OF THE BEST SCHUMANN’S LATE WORKS

Cello concerto in A minor, opus 129

My favourite cello concerto, this hauntingly beautiful work contains all of Schumann’s magic. Tenderly orchestrated, with changes in mood that transform one’s whole world without one even seeming to notice, it exemplifies how Schumann, as Isserlis describes it, “seems to dream in sound”.

‘Steven Isserlis Plays Schumann’, Bremen Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, con. Christoph Eschenbach (Red Seal).

‘Marchenerzahlungen’ for clarinet, viola and piano, opus 132

Four delightful and magical character “fairy tales”, described by Schumann himself as “predominantly cheerful pieces, written with a light heart” despite being written only a month before he was forced to resign from an ill-fated position in Dusseldorf.

‘Gyorgy Kurtag: Hommage a R. Sch.’, Kim Kashkashian, Eduard Brunner, Robert Levin (ECM).

‘Gesange der Fruhe’ (Songs of the Dawn) for piano, opus 133

A beautifully poetic five-movement work published only days before Schumann threw himself into the Rhine. On this disc, Andras Schiff also plays Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Nachtstucke and Variations on an Original Theme WoO 24 (also known as the Ghost Variations).

‘Schumann: Andras Schiff’ (Elektra/WEA).

Violin concerto in D minor, WoO 23

The violin weaves a seemingly endless line in and above the orchestra in this wonderful work.

‘Brahms/Schumann: Violin Concertos’, Joshua Bell, Cleveland Orchestra, con. Christoph von Dohnanyi (Decca).

‘Scenes from Goethe’s Faust’

This huge and magnificent work - part oratorio, part opera - took Schumann nine years to complete and was not performed until after he died. He himself referred to it as his most significant composition.

Berlin Philharmonic, con. Claudio Abbado (Sony Classical).

‘Schumann’s Lost Romance’

A film in which Steven Isserlis investigates the final years of Schumann’s life, including Clara’s destruction of the Five Romances for cello and piano. Includes performances by Isserlis, Christoph Eschenbach, Joshua Bell and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie.

Dir. by Steve Ruggi (Bullfrog Films).

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/f817c27c-8a76-1 ... e2340.html
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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Dec 16, 2006 9:15 pm

Paging Jack Kelso! Jack Kelso!

I remember "discovering" Schumann's two late violin sonatas. I liked them more then than I do now, a rare case of music I discovered as an adult in the first place being downgraded in my estimation, but that only means something like they are at level nine rather than level ten. (I made that up, folks; I don't really assign numbers, before someone suggests that I do.) They certainly do not show signs of being the work of someone not in his right mind.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Sapphire » Sun Dec 17, 2006 4:12 am

As an ardent Schumann fan, I find the assesment in the opening thread pretty good, although it contains nothing new. The best overall summary paragraph is:

  • The magical quality of Schumann’s music, however, is that the more you hear it the more wonderful it becomes. For a performer - who sometimes works for years at perfecting a piece and often ends up performing it hundreds of times - this is ideal. The least appealing sort of music is that which becomes stale and tired. Schumann is the antithesis of this, which is why so many performers - as well as most major composers of the past 150 years - love him. Once you submerge yourself into his world, it becomes bewitching, poetic and even obsessive.

In his day, Schumann wasn't widely famed or recognised as a good composer. Mendelssohn thought of him mainly as a writer, and considered Clara the more gifted of the two. This fame came later, partly through through the efforts of Clara.

I think undoubtedly that Schumann's main gift was his solo piano work, the bulk of which he completed in the first 10 years of his composing life. However, his other works are still very high quality. I do not think the general quality of his works deteriorated as he got older. It is not clear exactly how much material was disposed of. It is well-known that Steven Isserlis has a very high regard for Schumann and bemoans the throwing away of any of this material. His late works - like the Cello Concerto, Violin Concerto, Mass Op 147 - are very good indeed. Brahms high regard for Schumann as a composer isn't appreciated widely.

There are some accounts of Schumann's time in the sanatorium that suggest he made a partial recovery at one stage, but such was the knowledge of mental disorders at that time that no-one knew how best to treat it. Obviously, these days there are drugs to treat bi-polar disorder.

As I have said before, I place Schumann very highly indeed. He was an excellent all-round composer whose style I find most appealing, in whatever frame of mind he was in.


Saphire

Ken
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Post by Ken » Mon Dec 18, 2006 7:57 pm

While the author makes an interesting argument, I personally admire Schumann's orchestral work precisely for its pompousity and heaviness. Could you imagine the Rhenish symphony without its triumphant opening theme?
Du sollst schlechte Compositionen weder spielen, noch, wenn du nicht dazu gezwungen bist, sie anhören.

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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Dec 19, 2006 3:33 am

keninottawa wrote:While the author makes an interesting argument, I personally admire Schumann's orchestral work precisely for its pompousity and heaviness. Could you imagine the Rhenish symphony without its triumphant opening theme?
Yes, exactly.....and conductors like George Szell (who considered him the greatest of the "purely" Romantic composers (Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms being the others)), Wolfgang Sawallisch, Bernstein, Gardiner, etc. always loved the symphonies and overtures. They are among the most inspired and important orchestral works of the 19th century and contain many significant advances in form, rhythm and content. And no one today considers the Mahler orchestrations to contain any performance advantages----on the contrary, they destroy the Schumann style and the opaque darkness with lurks beneath the surface of the scores.

And I couldn't agree with Isserlis more about the Cello Concerto. All of Schumann's work involving 'cello are fantastic.

Many people still have to get over the idea that the songs and short piano pieces are the essential Schumann. That's like saying, "the essential Beethoven is primarily as a symphonist." I say: go to Schumann's oratorios, chamber music, overtures and symphonies to discover an equally fantastic world of Schumannian harmony, melody, rhythm and power.

Other examples: Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott has recorded all the the chamber works for 'cello and piano. He regards the 1st Violin Sonata as the "most important" since Beethoven and made an arrangement of it for 'cello and piano. Schumann was Sviatoslav Richter's favorite composer. Musical analyst and psychologist Hans Keller refered to Schumann's output as "spotless works of musical genius".

One of the problems with understanding the late works properly is not being able to distance oneself somewhat from the earlier, more spontaneous pieces. In his Third Period, Schumann was advancing his style---"modernizing" it if you will. That's why some of it sounds a bit "pre-Brahmsian" at times, four-square and economical at once. But listen to these works over and over and suddenly they begin to produce that "magic" we have come to know and identify with far greater immediacy in the earlier compositions.

Almost all of the works without opus numbers should be brought into the living repertoire, as the Violin Concerto has been.

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by lmpower » Tue Dec 19, 2006 2:34 pm

The cello concerto concerto is my favorite Schumann work. He kept working on it during his illness, and it is a very personal expression. The slow movement seems to say that his life was over but that life was still glorious and beautiful. The violin concerto is also worth hearing though not as deeply moving as the cello concerto. I think Schumann was at his very greatest as a songwriter though. I confess I haven't heard all of his late works and would probably find them interesting.

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Dec 20, 2006 1:20 am

lmpower wrote:I think Schumann was at his very greatest as a songwriter though. I confess I haven't heard all of his late works and would probably find them interesting.
Isn't it a wonderful testament to Schumann's output that each music-lover has his/her own favorite form? One friend of mine likes the symphonies best and for another the chamber music is tops. A Schumann biographer (Schauffler) considered the large-scale choral works his greatest.

If you enjoy the vocal music, go for the "Paradies und die Peri"! This was a huge success when first performed (bigger than the First Symphony). I guarantee it will knock your socks off.

We shouldn't worry about in which area Schumann was "greatest"-----he has eternal masterpieces in every form!

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 20, 2006 1:36 am

Jack Kelso wrote:We shouldn't worry about in which area Schumann was "greatest"-----he has eternal masterpieces in every form!

Tschüß,
Jack
Including fugue, as in the God-awful fugues on BACH for organ (actually pedal piano). Get real, Jack.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Dec 20, 2006 1:57 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:We shouldn't worry about in which area Schumann was "greatest"-----he has eternal masterpieces in every form!

Tschüß,
Jack
Including fugue, as in the God-awful fugues on BACH for organ (actually pedal piano). Get real, Jack.
Perhaps these works (and Schumann in general) are still just beyond your grasp, John. Most fine organists understand them----and one conductor has arranged them for string orchestra (I think it was Hans Zender).

Yep, you must be missing something there.....

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 20, 2006 7:29 am

Jack Kelso wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:We shouldn't worry about in which area Schumann was "greatest"-----he has eternal masterpieces in every form!

Tschüß,
Jack
Including fugue, as in the God-awful fugues on BACH for organ (actually pedal piano). Get real, Jack.
Perhaps these works (and Schumann in general) are still just beyond your grasp, John. Most fine organists understand them----and one conductor has arranged them for string orchestra (I think it was Hans Zender).

Yep, you must be missing something there.....

Tschüß,
Jack
Indeed, most fine organists understand them--for what they are, which is a refuge among the great composers when after Bach and a few other things there's not much in the way of elsewhere to go. A number of great composers did not know how to write a good fugue, and sometimes I wonder if Brahms mastered the form in part because he wanted to prove that he could do something his friend Schumann could not.

It's no shame on Schumann that he wrote some weak music. Most of Beethoven's stand-alone sets of variations are also not exactly a high water mark, and as I've pointed out many times, there is even some weak Bach among the early organ works. I simply don't understand a mode of thinking that implies, "I love this composer above all others; therefore he wrote nothing but masterpieces."

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Dec 20, 2006 7:44 am

Schumann was not incapable of writing fuges; for him, the form was pretty written-out. He has lots of excellent fugal passages in his piano, chamber and symphonic passages.

I never exclaimed that "everything" Schumann wrote is a masterpiece. Like the other composers of the greatest rank, he also has some clunkers.

Schumann's counterpoint, however, is consistently excellent. Listen to the coda of the Finale of the Piano Quintet (to mention an obvious example).

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Dec 20, 2006 8:23 am

Anyway, if we consider fugue a method rather than a form, Jack's statement stands, right, John? And that use of fugue (method rather than form) is true to the oeuvre of Bach as well, yes?

Cheers,
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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:34 pm

karlhenning wrote:Anyway, if we consider fugue a method rather than a form, Jack's statement stands, right, John? And that use of fugue (method rather than form) is true to the oeuvre of Bach as well, yes?

Cheers,
~Karl
Well, not exactly, IMO. There is a difference between fugato writing and writing a fugue. Heinrich Schenker among others considered the fugue a form (as a matter of fact, broadly, it looks a lot like sonata form in its tonal development if not in its technique, or if you will, method). I would be hard put to think of a work by Bach that is fugato without being from beginning to end strictly a fugue, but I have no trouble accepting that basically non-fugue-writing composers like Schumann could use the technique to great effect in the context of other movements.

But it is not for technical reasons that I question the Schumann works. It is because to me they are musically unconvincing. Some composers (Chopin, and yes, Schumann) also wrote sonatas that, it could be and has been argued (by Rosen for example), are not sonatas except in a superficial sense, but I would not say they are lacking in excellence because they don't fit into a procrustean bed.

Limiting myself only to organ fugues, it is a pretty select bunch that have ever gotten it "right." A few (Mozart, Mendelssohn) probably improvised fugues that were greater than most or all of the organ music they ever wrote down. The (organ) fugues of Brahms are not lacking in merit but are, frankly, unidiomatic in that they do not make proper use of the pedal. They strike one as exercisese in fugue writing that might have been consigned to the stove, and are rarely played. The great romantic master of the fugue was Reger. But Karl, since you are one to find gold to mine outside the Holy Halls, an organist/composer who wrote impeccable and beautiful fugues was Marcel Dupre. [/i]

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Late Schumann: Mad not bad

Post by burnitdown » Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:54 pm

Haydnseek wrote:It is now generally accepted that he suffered from bipolar disorder, although his decline late in life is usually blamed on the symptoms of tertiary syphilis (or on the mercury treatment he received for it).
For years they said the same thing about Nietzsche, and now we know better.

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Re: Late Schumann: Mad not bad

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 20, 2006 11:31 pm

burnitdown wrote:
Haydnseek wrote:It is now generally accepted that he suffered from bipolar disorder, although his decline late in life is usually blamed on the symptoms of tertiary syphilis (or on the mercury treatment he received for it).
For years they said the same thing about Nietzsche, and now we know better.
Yes, it is now clear that it was the near passage of an obscure comet that caused all these inexplicable cases of madness among 19th century geniuses. :)

Actually, the latest I read about Nietzsche, who to the best of our knowledge was an ascetic, goes all the way back to Walter Kaufmann, who speculated that he contracted syphillis by contact with wounded soldiers he was nursing. Do please tell me the latest (I mean it seriously).

I've always had my doubts about Schumann because he had a healthy wife who wrote about their frequent and enthusiastic love making in her diary, as well as a number of healthy children.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Late Schumann: Mad not bad

Post by burnitdown » Wed Dec 20, 2006 11:44 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Actually, the latest I read about Nietzsche, who to the best of our knowledge was an ascetic, goes all the way back to Walter Kaufmann, who speculated that he contracted syphillis by contact with wounded soldiers he was nursing. Do please tell me the latest (I mean it seriously).
Brain cancer. Kaufmann always made more noise than sense.

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Re: Late Schumann: Mad not bad

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 21, 2006 12:50 am

burnitdown wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Actually, the latest I read about Nietzsche, who to the best of our knowledge was an ascetic, goes all the way back to Walter Kaufmann, who speculated that he contracted syphillis by contact with wounded soldiers he was nursing. Do please tell me the latest (I mean it seriously).
Brain cancer. Kaufmann always made more noise than sense.
Makes sense, but I woudn't go that far about Kaufmann. He is still probably the greatest Nietzsche scholar of all time. If he had a flaw, it was idolatry (Nietzsche can't help but be a letdown after you've been pumped up by Kaufmann.)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Dec 21, 2006 1:43 am

jbuck919 wrote:But it is not for technical reasons that I question the Schumann works. It is because to me they are musically unconvincing. Some composers (Chopin, and yes, Schumann) also wrote sonatas that, it could be and has been argued (by Rosen for example), are not sonatas except in a superficial sense, but I would not say they are lacking in excellence because they don't fit into a procrustean bed. [/i]
If the Schumann sonatas are "unconvincing" to you then you're not hearing their beauty or grasping their meaning. "The most important violin sonata since Beethoven" is what 'cellist Daniel Müller-Schott (and other world-famous musicians) calls the opus 105.

If Schumann's "are not sonatas except in a superficial sense" then Brahms' 3rd Symphony is not a symphony, but a suite.

Why shouldn't Schumann alter the classical form to suit his philosophy and style? Didn't Beethoven do the same? Didn't Brahms do it when he chose NOT to compose scherzi in three of his symphonies? Or when he wrote a four-movement piano concerto?

Let's be fair and democratic; accept Schumann on his OWN terms----not on those predetermined by others---and this includes Rosen, if the shoe fits.

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 21, 2006 2:12 am

Jack Kelso wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:But it is not for technical reasons that I question the Schumann works. It is because to me they are musically unconvincing. Some composers (Chopin, and yes, Schumann) also wrote sonatas that, it could be and has been argued (by Rosen for example), are not sonatas except in a superficial sense, but I would not say they are lacking in excellence because they don't fit into a procrustean bed. [/i]
If the Schumann sonatas are "unconvincing" to you then you're not hearing their beauty or grasping their meaning. "The most important violin sonata since Beethoven" is what 'cellist Daniel Müller-Schott (and other world-famous musicians) calls the opus 105.

If Schumann's "are not sonatas except in a superficial sense" then Brahms' 3rd Symphony is not a symphony, but a suite.

Why shouldn't Schumann alter the classical form to suit his philosophy and style? Didn't Beethoven do the same? Didn't Brahms do it when he chose NOT to compose scherzi in three of his symphonies? Or when he wrote a four-movement piano concerto?

Let's be fair and democratic; accept Schumann on his OWN terms----not on those predetermined by others---and this includes Rosen, if the shoe fits.

Tschüß,
Jack
We're not reading or reporting each other correctly, or rather we are, as German speakers say, in the process of aneinandervorbeireden. I should have said "piano sonatas," and you will note that I did not say anything negative about any work allegedly in the sonata form. Let's leave that aside, because I do not think we are in disagreement.

Here is what you wrote about Schumann on this very thread:

We shouldn't worry about in which area Schumann was "greatest"-----he has eternal masterpieces in every form!

That is simply not true, and if you consider fugue per se a form, as I do, it is a bit ridiculous. But even then, as I stated, I simply find the "organ" fugues of Schumann boring, as I might the many works of Haydn that he composed of necessity at Esterhaz, except that obviously the motivation for their composition was different.

Part of this (without intending to appear to be trying to read Jack's mind) may have to do with the seductive sound of the organ. The purest tripe a la Messiaen can be made to sound earth-shaking on a proper instrument in a proper atmospheric. Even Bach is not inseparable from context in this respect, though it his case it means more like making the acoustic your servant rather than the other way around. But a big noise does not mean a big achievement.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Jack Kelso
Posts: 3004
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2005 11:52 pm
Location: Mannheim, Germany

Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Dec 21, 2006 2:50 am

Okay, John. "Eternal masterpieces in every form" can stand if does NOT include the fugue, as its popularity in the 19th century was flagging, to say the least----and Schumann obviously didn't wish to compete with Bach in a rather written-out form. However, you have no proof that Schumann was incapable of writing fugues, had he set his mind to it....any more than Brahms was "incapable" of writing an opera, had he wished to.

What I include in "eternal masterpieces" is: piano solo works (to include the sonatas, opp. 11, 14 and 22!), songs, string quartets (yes, they are masterpieces), trios, violin sonatas, symphonies, concert overtures, oratorios, mass and requiems, concerti (piano, 'cello, violin and 4 horns), dramatic choral compositions and one opera (even if it's not "good theater", it contains glorious music).

I will agree that Schumann's organ work is not among my favorites, and that Reger's organ works (like Rheinberger's) are some of the best organ music of the late Romantic Era.

Hopefully, this settles any misunderstanding.

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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