Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thanks to Clara

Clara and Robert
...from Berkeley

The lives of Romantic era composers Robert (1810-1856) and Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)
seem eternally fascinating... Such biographical riches to mine and contemplate! As I've been continuing to think about this musical couple ever since blogging about Clara last week, I was reminded about Robert and specifically his marvelous Spring Symphony.

We can thank Clara for its genesis and composition.

Clara was a strong proponent of Robert's works--and not simply out of love for her spouse, as despite a few blind spots, she was a savvy performer and a canny judge of talent, In today's music-making world, we think of him mostly for his small forms and miniatures, i.e., his songs (Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, the ever-sexist but eternally beloved Frauenliebe und -leben, and more) and piano works (Papillons, Carnaval, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, etc.).  If those were all he'd written, his place in the annals of Western music history (to wax pompous for a moment) would be guaranteed, for Robert was, indeed, a brilliant composer.

But, in fact, he wrote beautifully in large forms and for large ensembles as well. And his Spring Symphony is a case in point.

Last week, I was listening to the radio in the car (yes, Virginia, actual, real radio--KDFC, and the station can thank me for that free plug--although I do often listen to Spotify, SoundCloud, Sirius, et al, as well), I tuned into the middle of a familiar symphonic piece on the radio, one that I couldn't initially identify. It was somewhat Beethovenian, but, of course, it wasn't Beethoven; its orchestral language in the first movement was so muscular and its second so lyrical; it sound so very familiar.  What was it?  Not Haydn, Beethoven, not Schubert, and certainly not Mozart. After a long, big duh moment of potential senioritis, I realized I was listening to Robert's wonderful Spring Symphony.

After years of my not having heard this work--really not since I was a graduate student, a lacuna that plan to avoid in the future, as the piece doesn't deserve my or anyone else's neglect--Robert's Spring Symphony has come up twice in two months for me, first at an excellent SF Symphony performance about a month ago and now last week. What a fabulous piece!

And the back story (which James Keller's excellent program notes for the Symphony in November had also reminded me of)...

As of 1838, Robert had dabbled a bit with writing for orchestra and for larger forms, but not with great success and conviction.  Then in 1839, Clara wrote, "...don't take it amiss if I tell you that I've been seized by the desire to encourage you to write for orchestra. Your imagination and your spirit are too great for the weak piano."  Robert took the hint, with his 1841 Symphony No. 1 (Op. 38, in Bb).  

Clara was quite right. He did have the right stuff for writing for orchestra.  

Do you agree or disagree? 

What I'm listening to: Debussy's Cello Sonata, Handel's Tolomeo, Schumann Spring Symphony

What I'm reading: Before I Fall, The Tsar of Love and Techno, A Share in Death

What I'm working on: Tailleferre, Handel, Poulenc, and Delage, all for performances later this month.
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