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

Country Life Every Week - - Performing Arts -

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.ox­

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

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