Schumann

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Schumann's Choral works.

Thanks a lot for the "active moderation", Jane.

While I'm fond of almost everything Schumann composed in every genre, I felt somehow uncomfortable with his Choral works. I still believe that they represent the least solid output (contrary to his Lieder Opus) from his total legacy. However, I have to admit that they contain some heights that he rarely achieved elsewhere, it terms of expression of feelings, innovation in vocal writing, inventive orchestration and, above all, creative form surpassing the actual genres, but, maybe not serving faithfully any.

Out of his rather prolific output, I could claim that a devoted Schumann listener should indulge in the following works, in one or the other way, more or less:

Op.50: The oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri, 

Op.81: The only Opera Genoveva.

Op.112: His very underrated oratorio Der Rose Pilgerfahrt.

Op.148: The Requiem and

WoO3: His last oratorio-cantata Scenes from Goethe's Faust.

Probably his oratorios are the most effective, imaginative and moving scores in this field. Even the rarely performed Der Rose Pilgerfahrt is a rewarding work, moving and refined. Das Paradies und die Peri is the unconventional masterpiece (with very fine vocal writing and innovative form and concept) and the "Faust" (irrelevant to the operatic efforts by Spohr, Berlioz or Gounod) is a significant realisation of utterly dramatic, deeply moving and very expressive music, in a gloriously Romantic musical writing, which, however, does not escape from certain conventions and flaws in the narrative.

His Requiem is a strange creation of his late years (1852), albeit worth the investigation and further listening. The Requiem for Mignon is not exactly a Requiem, but another innovative combination of Lied and Choral writing, in a very short setting of about 12minutes.

His only Opera, Genoveva, struggles again with the libretto which hampers even the strongest musical narrative that Schumann managed to materialise with some very creative musical colours, meaningful melodic lines and a compositional form which could be considered as the precursor of Wagner.

For the "Paradise and the Peri", which has been served quite well in recordings, I would suggest: a) Gardiner for his great soloists and excellent recording (on Archiv), b) Sinopoli for his creative conducting (on Brilliant) and Giulini for the sake of the incomparable Margaret Price, at least (on Arts).

For "Das Rose Pilgerfahrt", the recent recording, on Oehms, with Spering serves the work very well (it includes the Requiem too!).

For the "Faust's Scenes", Abbado is a safe choice, particularly owing to the fine soloists. Harnoncourt, however, has a magnificent recording (SACD), live from Concertgebouw, with RCO in great form and some very good soloists too. His unusual extraordinary love for Schumann is evident. Vocally, the quite old version of B. Klee, on EMI, has pehaps the strongest cast (Mathis, Gedda, Fischer-Dieskau) too.

Finally, for Genoveva, Harnoncourt is now the obvious (and perhaps the only avilable) choice. An old recording (from the 70s), on Berlin, with Masur and the greatest cast (Moser, Dieskau, Schreier) is out of print, but it can be traced, I believe.

Parla

 

 

 

 

I must admit Jane that my

I must admit Jane that my view on Schumann goes against the general consensus: I think of him as an overrated composer.

 

In my humble view he found his true voice early on in life with his piano collections, but then he more or less decided he was part of a tradition he really  wasn't part of, the Viennese  tradition of Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, and started composing symphonies, string quartets and things like that, which I’ve honestly found pretty hard to digest.

 

One of my problems with Schumann is that he does not compare well with his peers. As a piano composer I find Chopin vastly superior. But it is when you put him next to Brahms that you realize… well, he wasn’t that good really, was he?

 

It goes to his credit though that he did spot Brahms straight away. And I think it is kind of meaningful because Brahms did belong in this tradition of music making that Schumann wanted to be part off. And not only that, he was good enough to take off where Beethoven left it which is what I think Schumann always dreamt off.

 

But enough of that, Schumann does have some really good music. Here are three of my favourites which don’t usually come up in a Schumann’s Essential Works List”

 

-His Opus 13, Symphonic Studies for piano is in my view one of his greatest achievements as a piano composer, and funnily enough, follow a traditional mould, the “theme and variations”

-His little known Op. 56 or Six Canonic Etudes are really worth knowing. Don’t be put off by the name, it is tender, straightforward music. Although it is for the piano I prefer them for a traditional piano trio, and this is not hard to find.

-His violin concerto, allegedly the work of a crazy man and one of those late works that as you said are ripe for re-evaluation. The work is totally arresting. I discovered it not long ago when driving. I put the radio on and there it was: I got hooked straight away, wondering who might have composed that music...

Schumann: Overrated?

Quite a few, even in this forum, probably think that Schumann was underrated, "squeezed" between the "happy" (more accessible) Mendelssohn and the great Wagner; the glorious past of Beethoven and Schubert and the brilliant future of Brahms and Bruckner and so on.

Anyhow, a composer, who wrote masterpieces such as the Fantasy Op.17 (an amazing and so original work for the Piano, going beyond even the "Wanderer's" by Schubert), the Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 47 (one of the two towering works in this very difficult medium, on a par with Brahms in f minor) and the Second Symphony in C (a difficult task to pay a worthy tribute to Beethoven with the Romantic means), to mention only few works of his, is worth getting some appreciation as most of his more obvious peers. Of course, Schumann is not easy, pleasant or approachable, but he was a musical genius. Harnoncourt seems to appreciate him more than any other composer of the Romantic era (that's why he recorded almost all of his core repertory plus some more works vis a vis Mendelssohn (very few), Wagner (none, I trust), Bruckner (few Symphonies).

Parla

I think all of the symphonies

I think all of the symphonies, plus the overture, scherzo and finale, are tremendous works worthy of a high place in the symphonic canon - and justifying the current rush of recordings of them.

'The Schumann Sound'

As contibutors have noted, there are different facets to Schumann's works - the piano, the lieder, the orchestral and the choral. This looks like it could be a really fruitful thread Jane with all these facets of his output to explore.

With the piano, I believe that people do speak of 'the Schumann Sound'. What exactly that is is not especially easy to define, but from my (limited) acquaintance with trying to play some of his piano music (note I said trying!) or listening to it, there is definitely a characteristic sound (or set of sounds).

For me, one of the most noteworthy characteristics is his use of lovely, open and really expressive harmonies that are exquisite (all the way through Kreisleriana for instance). Kreisleriana is noted, apart from being a great work, for its use of two contrasting textures throughout, so each of the 8 pieces contains 'the dreamy' alongside sections of 'the manic'. * This however is not always the case with his solo piano music, for example the third etude in the etudes op. 13 has only one unified texture thoughout the short piece - an arpeggio figure in constant semiquavers.

Although it's only a small fingerprint, he frequently uses a dotted quaver followed by semiquaver rhythm. It is almost obsessive in his piano music.
This is found in Kresleriana again, but also in other works like Papillons, Carnaval and the four pieces opus 32. Probably in a good many others also.

An interview I found online with Andras Schiff is very interesting, and only short. He says this: 'Now, on the surface they do not seem to be much different from the other composers: a singing line, often very cantabile, with a bass-line with middle voices filling out the texture. But the difference is HOW it is done. In relation to this, I would like to point out the unusual nature of these middle parts, especially the figuration between the upper and lower voices. With Schumann, these textures are always unusual and exciting. Schumann’s upper parts are often firm and resolute above a fast-moving, often almost nervous-sounding middle voice, which seems to come from the very centre of things. Take the opening of the C major Fantasie op. 17. That needs to be played in a way that you can hear the detail of the fantastic rushing sounds, but if you articulate the many chromatic notes too exactly and too prominently, it will sound risible. These roaring middle voices are the basis over which the melodic lines rise and soar. It must sound improvised and never “manufactured”. That is one of the deep secrets of Schumann’s piano works. And sadly, you don’t often hear them'.

(I recently watched some of a programme on line with Schiff giving a masterclass at the RCM on Beethoven. I hadn't realised just how good he is until that!)

M

* PS Jane et al., the youtube version of Horowitz playing Kreisleriana which shows the music has this written underneath: 'The work's programme, or at any rate the basis for a depiction of psychological music-drama, is based on the character Johannes Kreisler from works of E. T. A. Hoffmann. Like the kaleidoscopic Kreisler, each number has multiple contrasting sections, resembling the imaginary musician's manic-depression, and recalling Florestan and Eusebius, the two imaginary characters of Schumann's inner vision (representing his impulsive and dreamy sides, respectively). Johannes Kreisler appeared in three books by E. T. A. Hoffmann, most notably in Kreisleriana (a section of "Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier" published in 1814)'.

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

camaron wrote:

camaron wrote:

I must admit Jane that my view on Schumann goes against the general consensus: I think of him as an overrated composer.

In my humble view he found his true voice early on in life with his piano collections, but then he more or less decided he was part of a tradition he really  wasn't part of, the Viennese  tradition of Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, and started composing symphonies, string quartets and things like that, which I’ve honestly found pretty hard to digest.

One of my problems with Schumann is that he does not compare well with his peers. As a piano composer I find Chopin vastly superior. But it is when you put him next to Brahms that you realize… well, he wasn’t that good really, was he?

Nice to hear from you again, Camaron. Yes, I've come across this view quite a lot in my reading. Schumann, the young radical genius, shackling his talent for the sake of traditional forms........You could be right. I don't know enough to judge for myself just yet, but I'm not sure I would say Chopin was "vastly superior". As wonderful as Chopin is, for me is a bit on the "light" side as a composer. All those waltzes and mazurkas and dreamy chocolate-advert Nocturnes........Schumann (so far anyway) seems to have far more weight and depth, a genuine spiritual and intellectual complexity - a product, perhaps, of the larger, more ambitious forms which Chopin usually avoided. I know just about everything by Chopin, but I can't think anything that comes even remotely close to the Fantasy in C. (Apart, perhaps, from first Ballade.....)

As it happens, the Symphonic Etudes is one of the few Schumann pieces I know. I particularly like the so-called "posthumous" etudes (especially the fifth one).

I'll have a look out for the other pieces you mention and will report back at some point. Come back soon!

pgraber wrote:

pgraber wrote:

I think all of the symphonies, plus the overture, scherzo and finale, are tremendous works worthy of a high place in the symphonic canon - and justifying the current rush of recordings of them.

Where to start? Give me a number.......

partsong wrote:

partsong wrote:

* PS Jane et al., the youtube version of Horowitz playing Kreisleriana which shows the music has this written underneath: 'The work's programme, or at any rate the basis for a depiction of psychological music-drama, is based on the character Johannes Kreisler from works of E. T. A. Hoffmann. Like the kaleidoscopic Kreisler, each number has multiple contrasting sections, resembling the imaginary musician's manic-depression, and recalling Florestan and Eusebius, the two imaginary characters of Schumann's inner vision (representing his impulsive and dreamy sides, respectively). Johannes Kreisler appeared in three books by E. T. A. Hoffmann, most notably in Kreisleriana (a section of "Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier" published in 1814)'.

I'm listening to Kreisleriana this evening..........much easier to understand with the music in front of you!

Speaking of Schiff, I saw an interview with him somewhere or other in which he said that Schumann sent Chopin a copy of Kreislieriana. Chopin took one look at it, declared it was rubbish and tossed it aside. Schiff went on to say something like, "Chopin must have been having a very bad day indeed, because Kreislierana is a clearly an absolute masterpiece."

Liking Schumann isn't a Requirement

I can fully understand the arguments against Schumann, generally speaking, he can seem rather self indulgent. He is however seen by most if not all musicologists as a leading Romantic composer.

But as for Chopin,

'Chopin took one look at it, declared it was rubbish and tossed it aside'.

Chopin was a snob and he could have been so enamoured with himself that it wouldn't have mattered what Schumann had sent him.

goofyfoot

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

 

pgraber wrote:

 

I think all of the symphonies, plus the overture, scherzo and finale, are tremendous works worthy of a high place in the symphonic canon - and justifying the current rush of recordings of them.

 

 

Where to start? Give me a number.......

 

I'd go 1 4 3 2, though the general orthodoxy, with which I disagree, is that the 2nd is the strongest. 1 and 4 are short with easy to follow musical arguments. (There's something about the half-hour symphony.) I used to rely on Sawallisch, but your near namesake, Jane, is pretty good in all of them.

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