Philip Hale's Boston Symphony Programme Notes: Historical, Critical, and Descriptive Comment on Music and Composers

By John N. Burk; Philip Hale | Go to book overview

ROBERT ALEXANDER
SCHUMANN

(Born at Zwickau, Saxony, June 8, 1810;
died at Endenich, near Bonn, July 29, 1856)

IT HAS BEEN URGED against Schumann that his symphonies were thought for the pianoforte and then orchestrated crudely, as by an amateur. This, however, is not the fatal objection. He had his own orchestral speech. Good, bad, or indifferent, it was his own. He could not have otherwise expressed himself through the orchestral instruments. His speech is to be accepted or rejected as the hearer is impressed chiefly by ideas, or by the manner of expression.

A more serious objection is this: the genius of Schumann was purely lyrical, although occasionally there is the impressive expression of a wild or melancholy mood, as in the chords of unearthly beauty soon after the beginning of the overture to Manfred. Whether the music be symphonic, chamber, a pianoforte piece or a song, the beauty, the expressive force lies in the lyric passages. When Schumann endeavored to build a musical monument, to quote Vincent d'Indy's phrase, he failed; for he had not architectonic imagination or skill.

His themes in symphonies, charming as they often are, give one the impression of fragments, of music heard in sleep-chasings. Never a master of contrapuntal technique, he repeated these phrases over and over again instead of broadly developing them, and his filling in is generally amateurish and perfunctory.

-[270]-

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