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Robert Schumann

Friday, January 20, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

January 7

We get to make music with the boss of DG

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discAnthea Kreston’s weekly Slipped Disc diary: I have been savouring my final moments of vacation before quartet resumes this week. Both daughters are home with us (our youngest had her 5th birthday this week) and I have spent much time preparing for the heavy musical workload coming my way in the early months of 2017. The luxury of a quartet schedule allows for time off between frenetic work cycles – a time to connect deeply with family and to have long, uninterrupted personal practice sessions. As Jason begins work, our house takes on a new order, with a nanny schedule and a house cleaner. We have connected with friends, and had a magical evening at a musical soirée – it felt almost historical in a way – a true European living room chamber music evening. The first snow has graced Berlin this week, and as Jason and I set off, early evening, to the home of a friend, the trees on Kurfürstendamm, still decked with millions of tiny white lights, glistened in the dark winter night. We passed the scene of the recent terrorist attack, boarded up, but bustling with people, a large memorial area covered with candles and flowers lines the sidewalk. Life continues quickly despite tragedy. We buzzed up to Clemens’s apartment – he is the host of the musical soirée. As the head of Deutsche Grammophon, Clemens is an unusual person . A passionate performer (clarinet), active concert-goer, and keen businessman, he also has a past resume which includes a law degree and work in the tech industry. When we met this summer, his easygoing and casual nature belied his high-powered musical career. Jason and I were among the first to arrive – Franziska Hölscher was already there, wrestling with the computer printer, which was furiously spitting out potential music for tonight’s concert (which was to begin in 90 minutes time). Jason and I plopped down our donations towards the reception food as other musicians arrived – Andreas Willwohl, Kristina Kerscher, Markus Groh, and Kian Soltani. We began to move the furniture, piano, set up stands and chairs, and lined up potential repertoire on the couch. It soon became apparent that we had no complete sets of music except a Schumann piano trio, so as people set tempi for that, someone ran to get more paper for the already overtaxed printer as it started to fill out the missing parts to Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence and the Schumann Piano Quintet. The Piazzola Seasons were found, and with the addition of a Prokofiev quintet, and Beethoven Gassenhauer, our program was complete. The doorbell began to ring, and the musicians all instinctively rotated into the rolls of greeters, dish washers, bread cutters and cheese-plate preparers, and fire-brigade chair retrievers from the cellar. As the tables began to fill with bottles of wine and plates of food, the musicians would find each other in the kitchen – someone had begun to rip the baguette and we passed it amongst ourselves, slicing Camembert and stealing grapes from the tray. And we were off – we gathered by the piano, in the living room with the wall of books reaching to the ceiling, audience piled on every possible piece of furniture, and the French doors open to the other rooms, and someone asked about the order. I quickly grabbed a magazine from the bedside table and jotted down a program on the back page. Before each piece, a counting of the tempo and checking repeats – and a lovely off-the-cuff introduction by one member or the other. As the audience stomped enthusiastically (their exuberance bolstered no doubt by their filled wine glasses), Clemens pulled out an encore – the slow movement of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. What a wonderful way to end the evening. As Jason and I left the party in the wee hours of the morning, the sidewalk dusted with fresh snow, and me with my new German driver’s license in hand, we look forward to 2017 and all the magic it will bring.

Classical iconoclast

Yesterday

Wigmore Hall Sunday Muriel Herbert songs

An opportunity to hear a very unusual programme this Sunday at the Wigmore Hall. The Academy Song Circle presents the songs of Muriel Herbert,  (1897-1983),  a composer of promise whose career was restricted by the circumstances of her life and times.  Tickets are still available, HERE. Although Herbert was born into  alarge, musical family, her father died when she was 12, leaving the family in poverty. Her mother fell into depression. Yet Muriel started writing music in her teens and was ambitious enough to get accepted into the Royal College of Music in 1917, then in the grip of Charles Villiers Stanford, a man not given to innovation nor to female emancipation. In front of all the other students, Stanford made he play from sight, the Beethoven piano concerto arranged for two pianos. These days that would be deemed intimidation. Luckily, Herbert knew the arrangement well. then, as now, talent alone isn't enough : women have to be extra capable simply to be able to allowed into consideration. After her brief, unhappy marriage ended, Herbert returned to England, bit not to London and spent the rest of her life in rekativeobscurity.  Fortunately her daughter, the novelist Claire Tomalin preserved her manuscripts. In 2008, Herbert's songs were recorded by James Gilchrist, Ailish Tynan and David Owen Norris. This is the CD to get, from which I've taken the biographical information. The Academy Song Circle (Nika Gorič, Katie Stevenson, Nicholas Mogg, Michael Mofidian, Yi-shing Cheng and Michael Pandya) are performing a selection of Herbert's songs including the lovely How Beautiful is the Night,(1918) to a poem by Southey. and the  set of Childrens Songs which Herbert wrote in 1938, when Herbert's own children were young.   Playful songs, setting a popular contemporary poem : songs about tadpoles, Jack Spratt, gypsies. Escapism, or the multitasking of a mother who wanted to write music but had to earn a living and raise children oin her own. Or memories ?  While Herbert's mother was giving birth to her, the doctor played Schubert,  Brahms and Schumann on the piano in the parlour.  Herbert set modern poets as well as old , like Robert Bridges When Death to either of shall come, (1923) which has an early 20's feel.   The Academy Song Circle perform Herbert's songs in ontext.  One of her most beautiful songs  Renouncement, a setting of a Victorian poet, , was written after Herbert fell in love with Roger Quilter, not realizing that he was gay.  How she must have idolized father figures !  The wistfulness in this song masks genuine, personal anguish.  Herbert met James Joyce in her youth, and set one of his poems too, which isn't on this programme. Quilter's own songs are heard somewhat to Herbert's disadvantage as they are major works, like Love's Philosophy and Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal.  Several of Charles Villiers Stanfird are also on this programme, showing that Herbert wasn't dominated by him. He had status, money and power. She didn't. But she did her own thing as best as she was able. 






Classical iconoclast

December 27

Schumann, dramatist : Das Paradies und die Peri, Harding, Paris

Schumann Das Paradies et die Peri (Op 59) with Daniel Harding the Orchestre de Paris from the Philharmonie de Paris, with Christine Karg, Kate Royal, Gerhild Romberger, Andrew Staples, Alloan Clayton and Matthias Goerne last week in Paris, now on arte.tv.  This is an exceptionally interesting performance, because it reveals insight into Schumann's distinctive ideas on musical drama, eclipsed by the revolution Wagner wrought in operatic form.. Das Paradies et die Peri premiered in Leipzig in December 1843, but  Die fliegende Holländer had premiered in Dresden in January at same year. Schumann might seem eclipsed, but he represents an alternative but perfectly valid approach to music as theatre with roots in Germanic traditions like oratorio and Singspiele. Harding's firmly assured, yet refined perspective helps us appreciate Schumann on his own terms. This perceptive  Das Paradies et die Peri follows on from Harding's groundbreaking  Szenen aus Goethes Faust  and from his workon Schumann's symphonies. Eventually, the world will value Schumann as Schumann, not as Wagner manqué.   Die Paradies und die Peri is also seminal because it shows the depth of Schumann's engagement with literary sources. Even for the son of a Leipzig bookseller, Schumann was exceptionally well read and up to date on the latest literary trends. Moore's Lalla Rookh developed the fashion for orientalist fantasy, which intrigued the Romantiker imagination, opening up new horizons  and  alternatives to  western European constraints. The Generic East implied unparalleled extremes, and emotions too wild for Christian convention.  Lalla Rookh is One Thousand and One Arabian Nights on acid. Moore was an opium addict, like Thomas De Quincey and, later, Charles Baudelaire. Nothing like a bit of dope to break inhibitions.  Nonetheless, the literary style of Lalla Rookh is itself utterly relevant. It is written in an exaggerated, verbose style so highly perfumed that it's almost unreadable now, but that was part of its original appeal. Exotic names and words pour forth in hallucinatory frenzy, creating a haze of soporific delights.  How thrilling these references to strange, obscure places, people and objects to readers who had no idea of the real East, or Asia or Africa for that matter.  It was enough that the words sounded wonderful, and, significantly, musical on their own terms."Lalla Rookh", incidentally means "Tulip Face" which  was a compliment in times when tulips were prized imports from distant lands. The very context is inherently theatrical, the drama living in the imagination of the audience. Perhaps these days we're too used to passive entertainment, like reality TV, to comprehend. If anything, Schumann plays down the text so it flowers in his music.  The peri flits freely  between Egypt, Africa,  Syria ^the land of roses", "Cashnere (Kashmir) and other places including "Peristan" (the land of Peris?) and ends up by the throne of "Alla" surrounded by lotus blooms.  but Schumann's music is thoroughly German. Some figures, especially in the choruses, evoke the sturdy rhythms of Der Freischütz or even Der Vampyr, but the general style is distinctively Schumann. The narrative develops not through "characters" as in opera, but through commentary, as in oratorio.  The story, as such, is more allegory than plot.  To achieve her goal, the peri must produce three miracles blood, each episode more symbolic than stageable. Thus the florid text is depicted in indirect speech and in abstract sound. The young hero, for example, in a fanfare followed by tenor (Andrew Staples) and choir, the flow caught in its tracks by the dour tyrant (Matthias Goerne, sounding more bass than usual)  The women's choir weeps : the tyrant lives, the hero dies.  The "action" proceeds through choir ("Sacred is the blood")  and orchestra, surging forwards.  The second Part opens with a depiction of the Nile, (tenor, mezzo, female voices) , the horns inn the orchestra piping out a theme which could come straight from Mendelssohn. Think magic, not historical Eygpt.  The horns add  melancholy gloom. The peri weeps tears for the suffering of humankind, evoked by the interplay of all four soloists.  Kate Royal sings of healing balms, and Christine Karg of repose, cushioned in (possibly) Narcotic perfumes : exquisite songs, separated by delicately muted trumpets, like etended Lieder - one thinks ahead to Schumann's Requiem. The chorus "Schmucket die Stufen zu Allahs Thron" is glorious, the voices sparkling brightly: but still, the peri cannot enter Eden.  Thus the burnished darkness of "Jetzt sankt des Abends gold'ner Schei" (Goerne), broken briefly by the piercing brightness of the female voices. A haunting flute melody rises out of low cello murmurs, and Goerne returns : a quiet bass voice, singing of flowers, summer and the banks of the Jordan. Yet again, dramatic contrasts in sound. "Peri ! Oeri!" the chorus calls, shrilly, morphing yet again to bass baritone tenderness.  Yet aGain, resolution comes from the structure of the piece itself and its musical expression. The soloists interact, joined by chorus and orchestra, and the Angel emerges. Divine intervention ! this is a part Bernarda Fink has done so memorably, that she's hard to forget, but Christine Karg does admirably.  With a flourish, Das Paradies und die Peri ends with joyous tumult.  An uplifting performance, idiomatically refined and true to the spirit of Schumann and to the tradition that inspired him.  More to my taste than the several Rattle performances I've heard, yet also more "modern" than Gardiner and Harnoncourt, though I couldn't live without those.  Modern ? Yes, for Schumann is modern, and timeless, even if the texts he uses might be alien to modern ears.   photo Frédéric Désaphi

My Classical Notes

December 17

Remembering Giulini

This recording is a tribute to conductor Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005), who was equally famous as opera conductor (Falstaff, Don Carlos, Don Giovanni, etc.) and as an orchestra conductor. Walter Legge invited him to conduct ‘his’ Philharmonia Orchestra in London, whose brass section was created by Dennis Brain (1921-57). This tribute consists of the following music: Schumann: Manfred Overture, Op. 115 Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 97 ‘Rhenish’, orch. by Mahler Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17 ‘Little Russian’ Performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini conducting. Giulini expanded his repertoire at a careful pace, not conducting the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven until the 1960s. During this time he was in great demand as a guest conductor of leading orchestras around the world, and made numerous well-received recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and several others. Overall, Giulini’s impact on the musical world of the mid-to-late 20th century is summed up by Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times obituary of 2005: “Far from being an autocratic conductor or a kinetic dynamo of the podium, Mr. Giulini was a probing musician who achieved results by projecting serene authority and providing a model of selfless devotion to the score. His symphonic performances were at once magisterial and urgent, full of surprise yet utterly natural. He brought breadth and telling detail to the operas of Mozart and Verdi.” Here is Maestro Giulini rehearsing for a performance of the symphony number 9 by Beethoven:

Robert Schumann
(1810 – 1856)

Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 - 29 July 1856) was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law to return to music, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. He had been assured by his teacher, Friedrich Wieck, that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury caused by a device he created with the false belief that it would help increase the size of his hands prevented that. One of the most promising careers as a pianist had thus come to an end. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing. Schumann's published compositions were written exclusively for the piano until 1840; he later composed works for piano and orchestra; many lieder (songs for voice and piano); four symphonies; an opera; and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. His writings about music appeared mostly in the New Journal for Music, a Leipzig-based publication which he jointly founded. In 1840, Schumann married pianist Clara Wieck when she was of age, following a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father, his former teacher, to gain his approval of the match. Clara also composed music and had a considerable concert career. For the last two years of his life, after an attempted suicide, Schumann was confined to a mental institution, at his own request.



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