Schumann

93 posts / 0 new
Last post
janeeliotgardiner wrote:

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

 

Are you really saying that all those great pianists who revere him - Argerich, Horowitz, Lupu, Perahia etc - are suffering from a kind of collective blind-spot induced by the pressure of received wisdom?

(I'm not saying this isn't possible, by the way. This can happen. Think of Shakespeare..........) 

 

No Jane, what I’m saying is that the History of Classical Music, understood as the more or less linear narrative that explains the historical events of classical music, and evaluates its components and establishes what the high points are, and in fact created the concept itself of “classical music” is both nineteenth century-centric and Germanic-centric, and this is so because this narrative is a product of the nineteenth century and in a good measure Germanic.

 

I think Brahms understood this very well, with his poignant and incredibly generous attempts to bring Dvorak to Vienna. Brahms admired Dvorak greatly, as you probably know, but knew that as long as he was in the periphery he would be regarded as “exotic” as opposed to central. And that stays true right until now, when people still hear about the “central history” that goes from Beethoven to Brahms and Wagner (and then beyond with Mahler, Schoenberg, etc…), not without stopping in Schubert, and then Schumann and Mendelssohn.  And then the interesting periphery, or so called Nationalistic School, almost as a footnote.

 

It is in this sense that I think Schumann is overrated. I think the prominence of his reputation so to speak is due to the neat place he has in this narrative. Had Schumann been Czech, had Dvorak been German or Austrian…

 

In  a sense Schumann did understand this as well, and my wild hypothesis is that Schumann -wanting to be part of this History, that is, wanting to become a “Classic” started to compose in a way that was not his way and in forms that were not his.

So I don’t really mean that he is a bad composer and I do like much of his music, I just think that well, he is good but not great. That was my (re)evaluation of Schumann.  And maybe that he should have stuck to the piano….

Yes, I see exactly what you

Yes, I see exactly what you are saying, Camaron. It is a subtle position.

Over the years, I have given a fair amount of thought to these issues - I mean questions concerning narrative paradigms and so on - but rarely, for some reason, in the field of classical music. I have simply accepted the "tradition" and worked all my thinking around that......

I'll have to do some more thinking on this.

As for sticking to the piano, I believe it was Clara who pushed/encouraged him to do take on the traditional forms.

Oh dear, didn’t know that…

Oh dear, didn’t know that… the wife! the same one then that tried to get rid of his violin concerto, in case it tarnished his reputation…

Chopin vesrus Schumann?!

Camaron, I cannot see why and how one has necesserily to compare two important, for different reasons, composers, even in their common field of piano music. To take some of your points of this post:

Chopin, for some of his smaller scale works and miniatures, can sound as "light", even if his writing is always difficult and demanding. The Waltzes, Mazurkas, some of the Nocturnes even the Preludes can give this impression. The "snob" had to do with his "character", as goofyfoot mentioned. Many composers suffer from that...As for the "piano composer", it is correct in the sense that his great music was written almost entirely for the piano. His two Piano Concertos offer little to the orchestral music, while they still constitute pivotal works for the piano. His Chamber Music is almost negligible. His Cello Sonata is not that idiomatic, while the piano part is essential writing for the instrument. His Piano Trio is uneven, focused again on the Piano. His Songs are simply interesting. No comparison with the great Lieder composers, Schumann included.

The fact that Chopin said what you mentioned in your posts does not mean that this is the truth about Schumann. I can cite plenty of other remarks by very eminent composers, professionals, pianists and musicians who praise Schuman to the heighest (Harnoncourt, Elgar, Hutcheson: author of the Literature of Piano, Liszt, Horowitz, Arrau, Michelangeli, Hamelin and so on).

As you suspect, his piano works, quite often, are conceived and realised as cycles of the grand scale and, therefore, they constitute a whole Opus rather than independent pieces to be played also separately. The Op. 9 (Carnaval) was subtitled as "Scenes mignonnes sur quatre notes", where the 21 pieces of the work are much more than a depiction of character minatures; through recurring motifs Schumann develops a set of variations, in a very original and flowing way. The Op.16 (Kreisleriana) is a quite demanding work of highly virtuosic pieces, of quite intriguing diversifying sections with impressive chromatism, rhythmic complexity, imaginative form and a depiction of an amazing spectrum of emotions.

As for the "German composer" issue, there were a multitude of German composers, before, during and after Schumann, who simply fell into oblivion (Eberlin, Krebs, Kalkbrenner, Lowe, Hiller, Volkmann etc.) or are neglected (Kraus, Danzi, Spohr, Reinecke, Dietrich etc.) or underrated (Gluck, J.C. Bach, Weber, Bruch, Pfitzner and so on).

Schumann is a great composer because he excelled in every field, but not in a pleasant way. His works betray the difficult, complex, mostly unhappy man of fragile health he was. However, he was not simply a good piano composer. His Lieder, as we have already established even in this forum, are of the highest order, next to Schubert and Brahms. All the great (and not) lieder singers have repeatedly honour them in multiple performances and recordings.

His Chamber Music is second to none. Simply, his works are not easy or at first go. They are mostly inspired by (late) Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn, while the Romantic style was growing fast enough. So, in his music there is this conflict of converging the Classical tradition with the Romantic means. His Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet are of such quality and perfection that, only for them, he good be placed among the greatest composers of at least the Chamber Music. Besides, even his String Quartets are perfect examples of the genre. Take the a minor and, after a diligent listening and study, one may discover that Schumann was the linkage between Mendelssohn and Brahms' String Quartets, paying, at the same time, great tribute to the late Beethoven. Tha A major is also a very powerful work with an amazingly profound slow movement as the heart of the work. His Piano Trios are also great music throughout. His first Violin Sonata is one of the greatest examples of the core repertory and so on.

It is not entirely true that Schumann wrote his Symphonies and his other Orchestra works because of his wife. Clara urged him enough to convince him to start...Then, Schumann took over for good till the end of his (short) life. His Orchestral Music is also superb but not always easily accessible or impressive in musical colours. Clara was right, nevertheless, as for the Violin Concerto: an extremely difficult and not idiomatic work for the instrument. Even violinists avoid, neglect or overlook it, because of the unnecessary and extreme difficulties, not needed in an idiomatic work for the instrument (it is not like Paganini, Ysaye etc.).

His Choral Music, as we have already mentioned here, has some great heights of unique and innovative character, heralding, in various ways, the Wagnerian era.

Finally, the argument "had he not been a German composer", the answer is: He would have never composed these works, which are utterly within the German tradition and pay hommage to the great Masters of the past. As for Dvorak, for all the great things he wrote, he left a lot of mediocre or less inspiring or pefect works (half of his Symphonies, two out of his three Concertos, 2/3 of his String Quartets, almost all of his Piano Music, a good deal of his Opera and Vocal works etc.). As for the comparison to John Field, how on earth Schumann could be "regarded" as such, when he contributed so many works in every genre, while John wrote only for the Piano (including his Concertos) and survived only for his 18 Nocturnes, as second to those by Chopin. Even his Piano Concertos cannot convince...

I could fully comprehend and, subsequently, accept the fact that one does not "like" Schumann's Music, but, in order to justify that, to try to denigrate his work and attribute his position among the great composers to his descent is...unfair and misleading...

Parla

 

Very sorry for having upset

Very sorry for having upset your blood pressure, Parla!

No problem, Camaron. Thanks

No problem, Camaron. Thanks for the concern though.

Best wishes.

Parla

Jane - sorry for delay.

Jane - sorry for delay. Schumann dedicated Kreisleriana to Chopin, but the general view I've heard is that he wrote it in a crazy burst of inspiration when besotted with Clara.

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

Schumann's Greatness

I've not been around much these last days and will be away altogether after this until after 10th August.

 

So time being at a premium, Parla, you just saved me writing a long post!  I completely second your comments.  I was going to say I don't understand why Camaron feels the need to attack such an acknowledged master so, but I think I do understand.  I suspect each of us tries to explain away our 'blind spots' by blaming the source, music, poetry, painting whatever, rather than our own bias. Time and again though, I've found that when I think I have identified some characteristic that explains my lack of enthusiasm for a work or a composer, I then come across the very same traits in one I love and admire! Anyway, enough of that!

 

For me Schumann is one of the greatest composers for the piano, finer even than Brahms and second only to Schubert as a composer of Lieder. One important aspect of Schumann's Lieder style is the increased importance of the piano: indeed it can no longer be called 'accompaniment'.  I was just listening again to Dichterliebe after reading Mark's (Partsong) beautiful analysis of Schumann's piano style, which I really enjoyed reading - thanks Mark for that.  What fascinated me is that everything you describe is to be found also in the piano parts of his Lieder, and indeed beyond (see below). His great innovation is in the extended postludes that he wrote for many of his songs - quite unique. In a way one can think of his works for piano and his Lieder as part of the same genre.  Makes me wonder whether lovers iof piano music who have not so far fallen under the spell of Lieder (most Forum members it would seem) might do well to start with Schumann.

PJ (Graber), I'm glad you appreciate Schumann's symphonies too. They are difficult to bring off well but when they are well performed they seem to me to belong amongst the greatest works of their genre. Of course that's a big 'when'.  The question of Schumann's allegedly thick orchestration keeps coming up (once again in the current Gramophone for example).  For me 'Schumann-lite' is not the answer. My favourite Schumann symphony cycles are (in no particular order); Sawallisch, Bernstein, Kubelik (Sony) and Solti - the latter much to my surprise because I'm not a Solti fan in general.  What these performances share in common is orchestras whose sonority is rooted in the central European tradition.  I think Schumann must have had this sort of sound in mind because with these players the so called problem does not exist, for me at least. Klemperer's Schumann is superb but however well the Philharmonia play for him they don't have that sound.

Listening to the last movement of the second symphony the other day (my favourite at the moment) I was struck by how that characteristic style Mark mentions - the busy middle lines below simple melodies in the upper voices - dominates in that movement, and no doubt elsewhere.  It makes choosing the right tempo very difficult. Too slow to accommodate the players of those middle parts, and it falls apart, too fast and the players fall apart! I must explore this further. Thanks again Mark

As Jane and Parla both know, I'm not a fan of the lightweight vibrato-less style that is invading all music, even Bruckner these days, but I'm curious to know Jane how you find these newer lighter performances that are currently admired in Gramophone and elsewhere.

 

Phew! Got to go now.

 

All to best to one and all!

 

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

Schumann

Just heard Marchenbilder for the first time (on the radio - Imai / Argerich). The first mvt reminds of K 427. Will need to get a recording of it.

Regarding camaron and parla's exchanges - I find that "liking" viz "greatness" needs more analysis. As I indicated before, the value of a musical work can't be forced upon by virtue of expert opinion. One can listen to the opening of Beethoven 5 ad nauseum, and if he doesn't like it, what can you do?

One may like something that he knows is not great. But if he dislikes something, it's difficult to see how the said thing can be great in the person's view.

Perhaps I'm linking liking and admiration.

c hris johnson wrote:

c hris johnson wrote:

I've not been around much these last days and will be away altogether after this until after 10th August.......

Chris

Have a nice time! I hope you return to find the forum in good shape......

Jane

Pages

Log in or register to post comments

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019