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Robert Schumann

Monday, May 29, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 23

Competition: Write us a piece of hoax musicology

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discIt can’t be hard. A brilliant phoney paper titled ‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct’ was accepted and published in a peer-reviewed, gender studies journal. It contained such beautiful formulations as ‘We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations’. Here’ s how it was done. Now let’s apply these enlightened ideas to contemporary musicology. Here are few gender themes for our creative readers to play around with as abstracts for academic papers: – Gender suppression as subtext in Schumann’s piano concerto – Intertextuality in the left hand part of Für Elise – Manspreading in Mahler – Penile aggression in Pli selon pli. Have fun! There will be a record prize for the winner. UPDATE: The advanced class may choose to write their papers in the style of (a) Richard Taruskin , (b) Carol Oja or (c) Joachim Kaiser .

Tribuna musical

May 16

Ups and downs of National Symphony: Ministerial bureaucracy, CCK logistics

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (National Symphony, NS) is one of the two top symphonic ensembles we have in our concert life; the other, of course, is the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. The latter has its home at the Colón and is costly; the NS plays at the CCK, at the Blue Whale and is always free. The Phil has solid financial backing, the NS depends on the Culture Ministry´s capricious and ineffective bureaucracy with its constant problem of non-payment of conductors and soloists and just as harmful, of orchestral material. Plus the CCK´s absurd policy of being totally free (no worthy orchestra in the world plays under such conditions) and allowing babies. And being a cultural centre, it depends on the Media chief, Hernán Lombardi, instead of the Culture Minister, Pablo Avelluto. And Lombardi doesn´t give the NS what it needs to feel at home, including appropriate offices and rehearsal times. So the NS season proceeds with constant alarms. And the orchestra is playing sometimes below expectations. But one thing holds fast: the audience fills the vast hall; is it only because they love the orchestra or because it´s free? Well, the Phil is expensive and generally has a close to full house. And is it because it´s free that the CCK seems unable to provide reservations to reviewers? A February night of Chinese music was postponed to a later date with a different conductor, and celebrated the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Argentina. Much later, in September, the NS might visit China and Korea if both Ministries (Cultural and Foreign Relations) understand the importance of giving the NS a foreign tour after so many years without that experience. The NS has programmed both the artists and the repertoire. Zhang Zheng was the conductor, and the soloists were Yuan Yi (violin), Duan Biyan (piano) and Yang Yue (erhu); all made their debut. The music was all Chinese except for Bernstein´s "Candide" Overture. To my Occidental ears the adaptation of Chinese culture to an European product such as the symphony orchestra sounds forced and superficial. It seems to veer between the bombastic and the excessive sweetness, and significantly I only found interesting ideas in the final piece, the tone poem "The Hani minority" by Shao En (the Hani are Tibeto-Burmese). The concert started with three short works by Bao Yuankai and was followed by the fourth movement of the Erhu Concerto "The Chinese Wall´s capriccio"; the erhu is the two-string Chinese violin and it´s amazing how varied and beautiful are the sounds that come from this apparently limited instrument, played with virtuoso panache by Yang Yue. But apart from the very professional Yuan Yi and Duan Biya, I found little to like in the fragments from the Violin Concerto "The butterfly lovers" by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, and the third and fourth movements of the Piano Concerto written by six composers (!) based on the cantata "The Yellow River" by Xian Xinghai. The efficient conductor got decent playing from the NS in this repertoire almost wholly new to them. I skipped the next concert, too crossover for me (symphonic rock -Emerson- and tango –Schissi), and went on to the following one, in which Günther Pichler made his BA debut as a conductor, though we knew him as a member of the marvelous Berg Quartet decades ago. The programme couldn´t be more divergent with the two mentioned, and I enjoyed it a lot, for Pichler is a master of style and clarity, even in the score I would have thought not quite up his aisle: the splendid Overture to "Guillaume Tell" by Rossini. But otherwise we heard Mozart, and Pichler´s phrasing was a lesson to all: the NS did its best to assimilate his teaching and accompanied beautifully that early masterpiece, Concerto Nº9, and afterwards gave us an admirable "Jupiter" (Symphony Nº41). There was a further pleasure: the debut of Japanese pianist Yoko Kikuchi, utterly refined and precise, with interesting cadenzas. And equally notable in a contrasting encore: Liszt´s transcription of Paganini´s "La Campanella". Finally, after many years, the return of Yeruham Scharovsky to where he was born, after decades of professional conducting in Israel and from there to other 50 countries. The programme started with a favorite overture of mine, Weber´s "Oberon", in a middling version. But things promptly picked up when the twin clarinet players Daniel and Alexander Gurfinkel showed their fantastic technique and beautiful timbre in two works (both wrongly called in the hand programme, and as usual, with no comments on the music – another bad thing of the CCK). First, the Concert Piece (not Concerto) Nº 1, op.113, by Mendelssohn (originally for clarinet and corno di bassetto –a clarinet a third lower- and piano), a charming and typical score fast-slow-fast. The orchestration may be by Mendelssohn and at least in this version the music was a BA première. And so was the following work (both unannounced...): "De mis raíces" ("From my roots"), Concert variations (not a concerto) for two clarinets and orchestra, Op.41, by Aby Rojze, who was a violinist of the NS during more than four decades until his retirement some years back and during his mature years decided to start a parallel career as a composer. It's only fair that his beloved orchestra should give him a place in their programming. These variations are tonal and pleasant, with a curious orchestration of strings, trumpets and percussion and virtuoso interventions for the clarinets. The music indeed refers to his roots, which are Jewish and Argentine, so we hear a milonga but also parts that refer to the klezmer tradition, and the main melody sounds solemn and religious both at the beginning and the end. Wonderful playing by the twins, who added as encores two klezmer pieces, and committed accompaniment by conductor and orchestra. Rojze saluted the audience. Tchaikovsky created not only the six numbered symphonies but also the very impressive programmatic symphony "Manfred", on Lord Byron´s antihero (who also inspired Schumann). His Op.58 (1885), the score is huge, about 55 minutes, dominated by the ominous melody of the very start, which reappears in all movements (as its model, the "idée fixe" in the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz). It is the doomed Manfred that is portrayed, he who has loved Astarte and lost her, he who has been damned and is in the deepest despair as he recollects stages of his life. But in the second movement , a scherzo with trio, the Alps Fairy appears under a cascade in exquisite balletic music later interrupted by Manfred´s theme. A charming Pastorale is an interlude before the terrible, devilish bacchanale of the fourth movement, until the spìrit of Astarte is evoked with solemn organ chords and Manfred dies. The orchestral imagination is prodigious almost throughout, and the work is very difficult though fascinating. Scharovsky had a brave go at it with some ups and downs but certainly with much expressive power; warts and all, this was a worthwhile occasion to meet a major Tchaikovsky creation. And the Klais organ certainly made a difference. The concert was dedicated to the clarinet player Eduardo Prado, who died recently and was member of the SN for decades. For Buenos Aires Herald




Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 14

Emmanuel Macron: My favourite composer

Here’s the original text of the French president’s reply about his musical preferences to Classiquenews.com. He has great admiration for Rossini – ‘he completely reinvented the lyric art’. However, as a trained pianist, he is most affected by the music of Schumann and Liszt, ‘that major European’. J’ai une grande admiration pour Rossini. Il occupe à mes yeux une place essentielle dans l’histoire de la musique. Sa liberté, sa propre vie et son génie m’ont toujours impressionné. Il a sorti l’opéra de son carcan en offrant une liberté nouvelle à la voix : il a totalement réinventé le chant lyrique. Du Barbier au Voyage à Reims en passant par Cenerentola, il a créé un style irrésistible – mais je suis sensible aussi à ses opéras sérieux, comme Moïse ou Maometto II, qu’on donne si rarement. Dans un tout autre genre, j’accorde un prix tout particulier à Bach. Il a beaucoup compté pour moi. Son oeuvre pour clavier (orgue, clavecin) et pour violoncelle est d’une précision qui n’empêche pas l’élévation spirituelle, mais pour ainsi dire la favorise. J’entends moins une froideur mathématique qu’un discours musical charriant toutes les émotions possibles. Bach est un passeur entre plusieurs mondes, indéfinissable et génial. Comme vous le savez peut-être, je suis particulièrement sensible à la musique pour piano – j’en ai moi-même beaucoup joué et tente d’en jouer encore dès que j’ai le temps. L’oeuvre de Schumann occupe une place à part : elle porte des images et des sentiments que je ne trouve nulle part ailleurs, avec une variété de tons unique. J’ai également un grand attachement à Liszt, cet Européen majeur, moderne résolu ancré dans la grande tradition : l’incandescence des Années de Pèlerinage reste intacte après tant d’années.

Classical iconoclast

May 9

Matthias Goerne Schumann Einsamkeit

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi.  Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive.  The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.  If the breathiness that once made his style so immediate is gone, that's more than made up for by the authority with which he now sings. In this recording, the lustre of the voice combines with  Goerne's truly exceptional powers of interpretation : an ideal channel for a composer like Schumann, whose genius, surprisingly, is still underestimated.  Many of the songs in this collection come from the composer's later years, sometimes unappreciated because the style changes, heading toward new pathways.  Schumann was well informed, aware of new currents in cultural life. Certainly he knew Wagner, but Wagner and Schumann were probably heading in different directions. Goerne has been interested in late Schumann for many years, and sang many of these songs in his concert at the Wigmore Hall in 2015 with Menahem Pressler, where the songs were presented in the context of late Schumann piano pieces.  (Please read more about that here  because it is important to consider the songs in relation to the piano works so dear to Schumann's soul). This recording, thus, is a must for anyone genuinely interested in Schumann beyond the "greatest hits" for it shows how Schumann remained a creative force, despite encroaching illness, an illness that might possibly be better understood today, which might have extended his creative years. Nikolaus von LenauSchumann's op 90, to poems by Nikolaus von Lenau, were written in August 1850.   Goerne and Hinterhäuser began with Mein Rose, the second song in the set, evoking the fragrance of love song which makes Dichterliebe an enduring masterpiece.  Goerne's voice though formidably powerful, can also be remarkably tender.  The gentle lilt of Die Sennin suggests warm summer breezes wafting the herdgirl's songs down from alpine meadows to the valley. It's a song in which tenors excel, but Goerne captures its sunlit radiance.  Then Einsamkeit, where the mood darkens. Under the densely overgrown spruce trees, "Still hier der Geist der Liebe", deep, hopeless love. Thus we're prepared for Requiem, the seventh and last song in Schumann's op 90.  The Requiem sets a text by an anonymous poet, which is rather apt since the poem deals with the annihilation of personality that is death.  The piano part is soothing, the lines long and sedate, but Goerne's artistry brings out the undercurrent of tragedy that lies beneath the conventional,piety the text. We remain in the pensive solitude of Der Einsledler op 83/3 (Eichendorff) , also from 1850, before looking back on the past with a few songs from Myrthen (Heine) op 24 from 1840, the glorious Liederjahre in which Schumann's genius for vocal music suddenly blossomed, inspired, perhaps by his marriage to Clara.  Die Lotousblume and Du bist wie eine blume are sensuous, Goerne's voice imparting tenderness as well as desire.  Provocatively, though Goerne and Hinterhäuser interrupt the floral reverie two Rückert songs, Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint op 37/1 and Mein schöner Stern !"  op,101/4 from Minnespeil, a collection from 1849 for different combinations of voices, reminding us of Schumann's interests in larger vocal forms.  It feels as though a chill has descended upon the spring blooms, just as Schumann himself would experience disruption. Nachtlied op 96/1, to the famous text by Goethe, is in Schumann's setting, much more haunted than Schubert's.   Wifried von der NeunGoerne and Hinterhäuser then return to 1850, with the complete set of Sechs 6 Gesänge op 89 to poems by a strange man who used the pen name of Wilfried von der Neun,  "Wilfred of The Nine", meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote "the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change....It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one."  The songs aren't premier cru : Schumann with his exquisite taste in poetry must have had a bad day.  Nonetheless,  Goerne and Hinterhäuser give such a fine performance that definitely justifies the prominence given to therm on this disc.  Lesser musicians beware. Though not ideal, these songs are worth knowing because they demonstrate Schumann's willingness to explore new directions.  ams is the source to go for studying these songs, for he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör' ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe.  Sams said "Schumann's memory is playing him tricks". Moreover, this set was written close to the time Schumann wrote the superb Lenau set op 90 with which Goerne and Hinterhäuser began this recording.  This shows that Schumann's powers were not failing. Like most creative people he wasn't afraid to take risks.  It may be significant, though, that Lenau had some kind of mental breakdown in 1844, aged only 42, and spent the rest of his life incarcerated in an asylum.  this recording ends with Abendlied op 107/6 from Sechs Gesänge (1851–52) to a poem by Gottfried Kinkel.  The song is dignified, an exercise in balance and  refinement. Listen to how Goerne shapes the lines, flowing smoothly from very high notes to very low. The song demonstrates his range and technical ability, but even more impressively his grasp of emotional subtlety.  As night falls, the world sinks into darkness. But the stars appear "in Majestät". The poet hears "the footsteps of angels" and the advance of a golden, celestial chariot "in gleichen, festem gleise".  No wonder the song ends, not with gloom but firm resolve."Wirf ab, Herz, was dich kränket und was dir bange macht". Definitely not "alone" in Einsamkeit.   



Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 5

Frontline report: A pianist in Caracas

From Elena Riu, special to Slipped Disc: Two weeks ago, on a trip to visit my elderly mother and family in Caracas I revisited Schuman’s extraordinary ‘Kinderszenen’ as preparation for a concert in London, where I live. On my rickety, old, out of tune and humidity-stricken upright, neglected for months, I returned once more to this familiar score and to the faded stage of my Caracas childhood. Seen through Schumann’s world, I remembered the sunny ease of life in my country before my departure. The plentiful mangos beckoning from generous trees, the ‘patinatas’ ( roller skating parties) in the streets of Altamira, where I lived (now a war zone). The sun shining in the eyes of people, always ready for a joke, ready to step in to help a passer by, an old person. The Perfect Happiness of a day in the Parque del Este, the all pervading feeling that everything good was awaiting and possible. Abundance. No more. After years of lies, corruption and embezzlement by a dictatorship, what I revisited and witnessed last month were scenes which could have come straight out of Guernica or indeed, Goya’s Disasters of War. I would have never described myself as particularly patriotic. The daughter of an exiled Catalan philosopher and an Italian immigrant living in the UK my identity’s net is cast wide and far. Then, in 2014, something changed. Massive but peaceful protests were met by brutal repression and killings of young people, almost children, by government officials. If you have never been to Venezuela you might find it difficult to imagine the gentleness and charm of its people. Their beautiful voices, their sense of humour, their concern for their elders, their love of children. My outrage grew as I watched videos depicting woundings and murder and heard from friends and relatives. This government has turned my country into one of the most dangerous and violent places in the world. This is a place were, if something happens to you, the last person to call is a policeman. Last August, my mother was ill and I went out. There was a chill in the air. The stale smell of fear prevailed upon the city. In ordinary neighbourhoods, I saw people looking for food inside the rubbish bags lining the street. Shock and disbelief lingered for weeks. Now I am back and what I see is utter misery and destruction. Much worse. At first one only notices the coverings, the ravaged surfaces. The demoralization of architecture. Then, you look deeper, you take in the detail. Eyes too tired and scared to see, mouths without smiles, the holes in the clothes. The people. The victims. To see what really goes on in a country one must use public transport. A tricky one in my country…Let me tell you. One does not use public transport lightly in Caracas if one can help it. It is far too dangerous. But then, a car does not guarantee safety either. So many of my friends have been held at gunpoint at traffic lights….Forced by airport authorities to get some official documents I ventured out on the only march-free day since our arrival. Having to cross the city from one government office to another, it was a toss-up between hailing a cab on my own (probably far more dodgy than taking the tube) or tubing it, as at least , if I got kidnapped, robbed or murdered someone would see it. So I decided, against everyone’s advice, to opt for the latter. The underground was packed. It is 10 am and I am scared. A mugging is taking place as I arrive on the platform. People are shouting. I run in. I look around and then I feel it. This unusual, eerie presence. The silence. The staring. The downcast faces. The hunger games. These are the real hunger games. The government has done it homework. This is no rookie dictatorship. Maduro and his retinue have mastered starvation as a form of warfare. Its corroding denial has debilitated, scared and infiltrated the minds, hearts and souls of Venezuelans. People joke that Maduro’s supporters have been bought out with a ‘bozal de arepa’ : a bread muzzle. Not surprising. You can see why. Finding food is an epic endeavour. If you are a tourist, or have access to foreign currency you can walk into any supermarket and buy at hugely inflated European prices but if, like most people, you earn a minimum wage of $40 a month the only way is to queue for subsidized goods. This takes most of the day and consumes most of your energy and it is usually futile. The people I sat with in the tube, in government buildings and offices, were beaten into submission by hunger. Parents paraded their sick children in the carriages for money. Rage and sadness flooded my heart. In Yoga philosophy, Prana, the life force, is sustained by a number of things, one of them being food. These men, women and children had only one though in their minds:’ where am I going to find my next meal?’. Marching is hard on an empty stomach. And what marches. Imagine the M25 lined with people. How can they carry on? Who will help them? Where will they find the strength to continue ? But against all odds, their spirit is not beaten yet. A thirst for justice , but most of all, love and the truth keeps them going. I walk down my street and join them for a while and feel immense pride but I also feel the fear. Anything can happen , because the President has armed hordes of thugs and instructed them to go out and use knifes, guns and baseball bats on anyone they fancy . Anyone can be a killer here. I remember that I need to stay alive to bring my daughter back to safety, so I relent and go back to Schumann. For years, I held a small, anonymous protest. I would not perform in Venezuela if it meant receiving money which was in any way tainted by officialdom. Social media protest isn’t my thing. I read and admired the posts by Gabriela Montero , one of our finest artists. I have signed petitions, gone to marches in London and told everyone I meet what is going on but I haven’t publicly pronounced. I have decided to speak up now because I wanted to set the record straight regarding the way in which news from my country is presented. The accounts are mostly incorrect and misinterpreted. It is very difficult, for a non-Venezuelan, to access and interpret live videos from social media in an accurate way. It is important that you understand the gravity of the situation. We need the support of the UK government. We need help. Human rights are violated . Innocent people are being killed every day. After the events of this week, flooded by feelings of guilt, impotence and worry for my close ones and unable to offer my support in person I have obtained a twitter account. To bridge the gap between the now and then. The here and there. Between the two disparate sets of childhood memories. The scenes from this trip elicited a very different response and the titles of each piece in the cycle evoqued recent events. Schuman’s lens is now distorted. This is indeed a ‘Foreign land’ Down the road, in Plaza Altamira , an opposition stronghold, there are no children playing or pushing prams like I am used to. The sound of tear gas and bullets mingles with that of people shouting, running and screaming. We run inside for cover. All the children – at least the ones lucky enough to have a home with walls – are indoors. These days, a grand event for most families is to have two meals a day ( the equivalent of winning the lottery), or to make it home safely, or even better, to make it home at all! The bakery next door, once famous for its cakes displays a ghostly array of empty shelves. I become the family’s chief bread hunter. My duties involve going down at strategically timed intervals in case they manage to bring out a few trays. Imagine trying to hold down a job and raising three kids whilst having to hunt around the city for bread, soap, toilet paper (a luxury item). ‘A begging child’ is now an all too familiar sight in most streets with gangs of children running around looking for food in any way they can get it. My street is no exception. Hundreds of people of all ages take to the streets. What can anyone say to the parents and family of Armando Canyizales, a child of 17 killed today by the very people who should have been protecting him. And all the other children, parents, grand parents that have been murdered? Elena Riu, London, May 4, 2017 Elena Riu will play Kinderszenen at Trinity Laban on May 10. Details here.

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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