Robert Schumann: Herald of a New Poetic Age

Robert Schumann: Herald of a New Poetic Age

Robert Schumann: Herald of a New Poetic Age

Robert Schumann: Herald of a New Poetic Age

Synopsis

Forced by a hand injury to abandon a career as a pianist, Robert Schumann went on to become one of the world's great composers. Among many works, his Spring Symphony (1841), Piano Concerto in A Minor (1841/1845), and the Third, or Rhenish, Symphony (1850) exemplify his infusion of classical forms with intense, personal emotion. His musical influence continues today and has inspired many other famous composers in the century since his death. Indeed Brahms, in a letter of January 1873, wrote: "The remembrance of Schumann is sacred to me. I will always take this noble pure artist as my model." Now, in Robert Schumann: Herald of a "New Poetic Age," John Daverio presents the first comprehensive study of the composer's life and works to appear in nearly a century. Long regarded as a quintessentially romantic figure, Schumann also has been portrayed as a profoundly tragic one: a composer who began his career as a genius and ended it as a mere talent. Daverio takes issue with this Schumann myth, arguing instead that the composer's entire creative life was guided by the desire to imbue music with the intellectual substance of literature. A close analysis of the interdependence among Schumann's activities as reader, diarist, critic, and musician reveals the depth of his literary sensibility. Drawing on documents only recently brought to light, the author also provides a fresh outlook on the relationship between Schumann's mental illness--which brought on an extended sanitarium stay and eventual death in 1856--and his musical creativity. Schumann's character as man and artist thus emerges in all its complexity. The book concludes with an analysis of the late works and a postlude on Schumann's influence on successors from Brahms to Berg. This well-researched study of Schumann interprets the composer's creative legacy in the context of his life and times, combining nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual history with a fascinating analysis of the works themselves.

Excerpt

Shortly after completing the draft of this book, I reread one of my favorite essays: Roland Barthes Loving Schumann. Like the French critic, I, too, must confess to loving Schumann, even at the risk of leaving myself open to the charge implicit in this odd passion: the adoption of a philosophy of nostalgia or untimeliness, as Barthes puts it. Moreover, the Schumann I love is the whole Schumann--not the one known to most everyone, the dreamy composer of quirky piano pieces and gorgeous songs who met a tragic end--and this Schumann, like caviar, is something of an acquired taste. After receiving a gentle nudge from Maribeth Anderson Payne, my editor at Oxford University Press, I decided to write this biography in part to set aside some old myths--that Schumann knew how to write short pieces but not long ones, that we can hear traces of his final illness in his later music--but also, and apart from any polemical intent, to draw a portrait of a composer who was perhaps the first in Western musical history to view the art of composition as a kind of literary activity. And above all, I felt the need to repay a debt, a debt to an artist who has given me untold happy hours as a listener to and performer of his music over the past twenty years. Loving Schumann may be a nostalgic and untimely avocation, but it exacts a price.

Although I'm sure to make some omissions, I would like to thank the many colleagues, friends, and students who have helped me to make good on my debt. Fellow Schumannians Arnfried Edler, Jon Finson, Rufus Hallmark, Claudia Macdonald, Gerd Nauhaus, Nancy Reich, R. Larry Todd, and Markus Waldura all offered much-appreciated advice at various stages during my research. I thank Barbara Barry, Mark Evan Bonds, Reinhold Brinkmann, Berthold Höckner, Klaus-Jürgen Sachs, and Howard Smither for generously sharing with me materials that enriched my understanding of Schumann's life and works. Drs. Mark Allen and Reed Drews provided invaluable insights on the interpretation of Schumann's medical history. I owe my gratitude to other friends and colleagues, including Anna Maria Busse-Berger, Karol Berger, Isabelle Cazeaux, Lewis Lockwood, and Herbert Sprouse, for their sage counsel . . .

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