1. I think there have been quite a few programmes about Wagner on BBC Radio 3, although I’ve missed most of them, unfortunately. Of course, he’s in competition with the other birthday boy this year, Verdi. I really love Wagner but I’ve never been able to crack Verdi. In this I am out of sync with officially sanctioned 21st-century good taste.

    I don’t remember too many celebrations for Schumann in 2010. He’s a composer I like quite a bit but he doesn’t inspire the same level of passion in me as Wagner. Some of the byways of Schumann are very interesting (“Scenes from Goethe’s ‘Faust'”, for instance) and from what I’ve read recently it seems people are coming round to the idea his late-period, allegedly “mad and bad” music isn’t so mad and bad after all. I’ve got Harnoncourt’s recording of Schumann’s opera “Genoveva” but I’ve never given it the attention it deserves. Harnoncourt is a hopping-mad anti-Wagnerian; in the booklet notes he rants on about “Genoveva” being vastly superior to “Lohengrin”. It isn’t, of course, but I remember being quite taken by some of the music.

    • I am very fond of Schumann’s song cycles and Second Symphony. The two oratories are quite touching. The Faust music, I agree, is very interesting. Much of Genoveva is very good although I have listened through the whole opera only once. Then there’s the long-hidden violin concerto. The Elisabeth Kulmann songs, I’m not so sure, but Kulmann is worth reading (about) in her own right.

      I’ve just finished Martin Geck’s biography of Schumann. He’s good at explaining some of the man’s work, his connection to and interplay with Jean-Paul, but at times makes superfluous swipes at Wagner and Liszt and starts quoting Julia Kristeva. Geck is extremely enthusicastic about the Manfred music, especially the ouverture. To think that Schumann was already hearing voices when he completed it…

      I think Schumann remains underappreciated and will always have detractors, like Mikhail Kuzmin, one of my favorite Russian poets. Kuzmin was a talented amateur musician much into Mozart and Rossini but later in his life, in the 1920s, also a fan of Tristan und Isolde (that much is clear from his later masterwork, “The Trout Are Breaking the Ice”). When Kuzmin was growing up in Saratov, a Lutheran pastor lived next door with his family. The minister’s daughters would play Schumann on the piano, and from that time on, Kuzmin always felt Schumann’s was music for pastors’ daughters.

  2. “I am very fond of Schumann’s song cycles and Second Symphony.”

    Yes, “Dichterliebe” particularly and songs like “Mondnacht”. I like the way he sometimes lets the piano part wander on after the singer has stopped. “Mein Wagen rollet langsam” is a haunting example of this.

    Never read any Kuzmin, I’m afraid.

    “I’ve just finished Martin Geck’s biography of Schumann”

    I could just about handle the Wagner swipes but the Kristeva quotes would probably be a dealbreaker for me. My knowledge of Schumann’s life comes from vague memories of reading the Master Musicians book on him back in the 1990s. There was a lot about Jean-Paul in there (a very odd writer judging by what I’ve sampled of him). Also, a 1980s German biopic called “Fruehlingssinfonnie”, with Nastassja Kinski as Clara Wieck. I don’t remember much about it but I certainly prefer Nastassja to Julia Kristeva!

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