Magazine article Musical Opinion

Schumann – the Faces and the Masks

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Schumann – the Faces and the Masks

Article excerpt

Schumann - The Faces and the Masks Judith Chernaik Faber & Faber hardback 350pp ?20 ISBN 978-0-33126-0

As the quintessential Romantic composer, an original genius whose music is more wide-ranging than the mere appellation of the 'Romantic' tag would seem to imply, Robert Schumann's life and works remain an endlesslyfascinating subject for study and personal enhancement.

The bibliography of this troubled genius is large, and continues to grow as he recedes more deeply into history and his place within European music since the dawn of the 19th-century becomes more secure, yet our knowledge and understanding of what his life meant and contributed to musical history remains in a constant state of flux - not least through the changing attitudes of later generations, as contemporary mores are applied to a character and his social contemporaries of almost two hundred years ago.

The generally-accepted view is that Schumann's death was hastened by serious mental illness, the exact nature of which cannot now, after so many years since his passing, be determined. But relatively recent research has surely shown that his last years were conditioned more by the later stages of tertiary syphilis than any familial mental disturbance - although the latter cannot be entirely discounted as his sister Emilie, fourteen years his senior, suffered from severe nervous illness. Judith Cheranik tackles this by no means superficial subject very early on in her book, which is beautifully written, excellently researched and shot through with love and understanding of her subject. …

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