EXPLORING MUSIC

A Composer • A Conductor

Author

David M. Greene

Publication

MHS Review 217 Vol. II, No. 1 February 13, 1978

Listen

There is a handsome bronze bust of Robert Schumann in the lovely park that surrounds the opera house in Dusseldorf. That opera house was not there in his day. In fact most of present-day Dusseldorf wasn't there, the Allies having gloriously laid it flat during the last Major Unpleasantness. One wonders what it was like then. Today it hums with industry and traffic and bristles with money. A grand esplanade, featuring some fancy water­works, cuts through the center of town, leading, as I recall, to a lake or lagoon or something of the sort overflowing with waterfowl. The downtown streets are lined with banks of incredible magnificence; we ventured into one to cash a traveler's check, got lost in the pile of the carpeting, and had 'to be rescued by a safari of clerks wearing cutaways and diamond stickpins.

 

When Schumann went there in 1850, it must still have been a relatively small and sleepy riverport, though it was already noted for its music festival. (The industrialization did not really get under way for another couple of decades.) Despite the fact that he was being hired as virtual overlord of Dusseldorf musical life, Schumann had misgivings--largely about the presence there of a public looney-bin, whose inmates he preferred not to have to observe. Four years later, after being visited by angels and hyaenas and taking a desperate plunge into the Rhine, he had himself committed to a private asylum where he died at forty-six. Nor had the Dusseldorf experience been any bed of roses. After they had hailed the conquering hero, his choir and orchestra became increasingly dissatisfied with him, and finally refused to play and sing for him at all. Not that you could blame them--the poor man often stood there, baton poised, staring into space, and on one occasion went on obliviously conducting after everyone else had dropped out.

 

Schumann's troubles, both inward and outward, seem not to have seriously impaired his productivity, for he went on turning out music and babies at his usual rate. In fact the creative upswing that we suspect contributed to the emotional collapse began in 1849, the year that Ferdinand Hiller gave up the Dusseldorf conductorship and nominated Schumann his successor. It was in this year that 'the three works on the present record were composed.

 

The ''5 Pieces in Folk-Style'' constitute, so far as we know, the only work that Schumann specifically designated for 'cello and piano, though later he was to turn out a 'cello concerto. Charming and unassuming pieces, they do not show the decrease of spontaneity found in some of the later works. Casals recorded them, as did Rostropovitch (with Benjamin Britten accompanying!), and I figure that's what good enough for those gentlemen must have something going for it. The '' Fantasy Pieces" were written for clarinet, and I am sorry to see that RCA has discontinued Harold Wright's fine version of them in that form; the composer suggested violin or 'cello as possible alternatives. He made the same provision for the Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, which turns up as a space-filler in every recorded horn recital you can name. It's nice to have these second-choice versions available, though if the perpetrators of this record had really wanted to strike a blow they would've unearthed the accompaniments Schumann wrote for the Bach 'cello suites.

 

Jascha Bernstein, who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and was former first 'cellist of the Israel Philhar­monic is one of MHS's growing stable of fine 'cellists, and will be remembered for his record of David Popper's greatest hits. Jorg Demus, Schumanist par excellence, surely needs no further introduction here.

A Composer • A Conductor

Author

David M. Greene

Publication

MHS Review 217 Vol. II, No. 1 February 13, 1978

Listen

There is a handsome bronze bust of Robert Schumann in the lovely park that surrounds the opera house in Dusseldorf. That opera house was not there in his day. In fact most of present-day Dusseldorf wasn't there, the Allies having gloriously laid it flat during the last Major Unpleasantness. One wonders what it was like then. Today it hums with industry and traffic and bristles with money. A grand esplanade, featuring some fancy water­works, cuts through the center of town, leading, as I recall, to a lake or lagoon or something of the sort overflowing with waterfowl. The downtown streets are lined with banks of incredible magnificence; we ventured into one to cash a traveler's check, got lost in the pile of the carpeting, and had 'to be rescued by a safari of clerks wearing cutaways and diamond stickpins.

 

When Schumann went there in 1850, it must still have been a relatively small and sleepy riverport, though it was already noted for its music festival. (The industrialization did not really get under way for another couple of decades.) Despite the fact that he was being hired as virtual overlord of Dusseldorf musical life, Schumann had misgivings--largely about the presence there of a public looney-bin, whose inmates he preferred not to have to observe. Four years later, after being visited by angels and hyaenas and taking a desperate plunge into the Rhine, he had himself committed to a private asylum where he died at forty-six. Nor had the Dusseldorf experience been any bed of roses. After they had hailed the conquering hero, his choir and orchestra became increasingly dissatisfied with him, and finally refused to play and sing for him at all. Not that you could blame them--the poor man often stood there, baton poised, staring into space, and on one occasion went on obliviously conducting after everyone else had dropped out.

 

Schumann's troubles, both inward and outward, seem not to have seriously impaired his productivity, for he went on turning out music and babies at his usual rate. In fact the creative upswing that we suspect contributed to the emotional collapse began in 1849, the year that Ferdinand Hiller gave up the Dusseldorf conductorship and nominated Schumann his successor. It was in this year that 'the three works on the present record were composed.

 

The ''5 Pieces in Folk-Style'' constitute, so far as we know, the only work that Schumann specifically designated for 'cello and piano, though later he was to turn out a 'cello concerto. Charming and unassuming pieces, they do not show the decrease of spontaneity found in some of the later works. Casals recorded them, as did Rostropovitch (with Benjamin Britten accompanying!), and I figure that's what good enough for those gentlemen must have something going for it. The '' Fantasy Pieces" were written for clarinet, and I am sorry to see that RCA has discontinued Harold Wright's fine version of them in that form; the composer suggested violin or 'cello as possible alternatives. He made the same provision for the Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, which turns up as a space-filler in every recorded horn recital you can name. It's nice to have these second-choice versions available, though if the perpetrators of this record had really wanted to strike a blow they would've unearthed the accompaniments Schumann wrote for the Bach 'cello suites.

 

Jascha Bernstein, who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and was former first 'cellist of the Israel Philhar­monic is one of MHS's growing stable of fine 'cellists, and will be remembered for his record of David Popper's greatest hits. Jorg Demus, Schumanist par excellence, surely needs no further introduction here.

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