Ecstasy created from the depths of despair
Geoffrey Smith wallows in the emotion of Schumann’s feverish devotion and Tchaikovsky’s unrequited love plus, on a lighter note, recommends a Shostakovich opera about a runaway nose
IT’S said that music is the purest of the arts because it expresses only itself. Many people, however, feel that a composer’s work is bound to reflect his life and personality.
Devotees of Robert Schumann would certainly link the passionate originality of his music to the romantic intensity of his character, epitomised by his lengthy courtship of his adored Clara Wieck, despite the unyielding opposition of her father. The couple’s marriage, in 1840, inspired one of the most extraordinary outpourings in the history of song, an annus mirabilis of creativity in which Schumann produced 140 lieder in a fever of devotion and love.
That remarkable sequence will be one of the glories of The Schumann Project, the Oxford Lieder Festival’s lavish tribute to the composer, comprising all his songs as well as other music by him, his contemporaries, his revered master, Bach, and Clara herself. Over a fortnight, a cast of eminent singers, including Christian Gerhaher, Sarah Connolly, Felicity Lott and Bo Skovhus, will trace the composer’s life and art from the ecstasies of 1840 to the desolation of his final mental breakdown (October 14–29, 01865 591276; www.oxfordlieder.co.uk).
Another composer whose creativity was inseparable from his inner turmoil was Tchaikovsky a set of concerts at the Barbican, London EC2 (October 16–28), exploring the effect of his relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, the wealthy patroness who supported him for 15 years in the prime of his artistic life. Her only condition was that they should never meet, but Tchaikovsky opened his heart to her in a long series of letters. When she abruptly broke off their arrangement, he was shattered.
Beloved Friend begins with a ‘dramatised recital’ written by Ronald Harwood, depicting their affair-manque, but the meat of the series is the three concerts given by Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Including the Second and Third Piano Concertos, with Kirill Gerstein, plus the Manfred symphony, it culminnates in Tchaikovsky’s tragic swan song, his Sixth symphony Pathétique, which had its premiere just over
Left: Robert Schumann with his wife, Clara Wieck. Right: Felicity Lott will appear at the Oxford Lieder Festival’s Schumann tribute
A series of concerts at the Barbican explores Tchaikovsky’s (above) relationship with Nadezhda von Meck