Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The unsung Schumann

Yesterday was the birthday of Robert Schumann, and it was his 200th. I am not the first person to point out, but point it out I must, that Schumann has been shoved aside this year in favor of Frederic Chopin, born the same year and also turning 200.

Why is that? Why is Chopin getting all the glory?

I think Chopin is more popular that Schumann, who can be kind of introverted and complicated. Not that Chopin is not complicated but I think for many people he is easier to get a handle on.

Also Chopin has that Polish thing going on. Let us not be naive: Being Polish is chic and being German is not.

Also portraits of Chopin tend to be romantic ...

... while Schumann ...

... was not exactly photogenic, or whatever you would call it when you are talking about paintings as well as photographs. Again we have to be honest here.

When I think of Schumann pieces that I love I think of his songs. Off the top of my head I am going to horse with naming my top five.

1.) "Widmung" ("Dedication"), the opening song of his song cycle "Myrthen." I love the ardor of the song and its ending quote from Schubert's "Ave Maria," giving it that reverent twist. Can you say that, "reverent twist"? Well, I just did. It is a very, very popular song. Here it is with Elly Ameling and here is Lang Lang playing the flowery Liszt arrangement.

2.) I love "Frauenliebe und -Leben." Got to get that hyphen in there! And one song I love is the song about the wedding, when she goes down the aisle. He really nails it, the excitement, the scariness, the to-do -- and then all of a sudden at the end of the song it all smooths out and you hear a hint of a wedding march and that's it, down the aisle you go. It is time to jump and you jump.

3.) Oh, there are so many of these Schumann songs I love. I am getting nowhere. "Mignon," I will mention that one, here sung by Anne Murray. "Kennst du das Land?" I think they mention that Goethe poem in "Little Women." Schumann knew how women thought. He was good at getting into the mind of a woman. Mozart was good at that too.

4.) I love the Kerner lieder, this set of songs Schumann wrote to poetry by Justinus Kerner. They are all great -- "Erstes Grun," about the first green of spring, is famous. But I like this lesser-heard number, "Wer machte dich so krank." "Who did that to you?" the song is asking. It is so intimate. It is in this set.

5.)  "Die Rose." I like how sensuous this song is. Schumann could do sensuous.

I could think of many more. I wish I could sit here all day, staring into space and thinking of songs that I love.

That would be a very Robert Schumann thing to do!

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