related issues, since Tippetts divides the “conversation” into chapters focusing on manageable topics: the concept of Romanticism, the beginning of Schumann’s career, the Florestan/Eusebius business, the piano music, the songs, the symphonies, and so on.
Though it is not intended to serve as a biography, by the end, a reader will have learned a great deal about Schumann. This volume gives voice to the personal points of view that each participant brings to the table. Often Tibbetts’ interlocutors don’t agree with one another, and sometimes they get downright snarky, as academic types can do with magnificent disdain. Consider, for example, psychiatrist Peter F. Ostwald commenting on musicologist Eric Sams (both now deceased): “I never met Eric Sams. He’s not a physician. But he seems to enjoy making the diagnosis of a syphilitic condition in every one that he takes a look at.” (He’s just warming up.) Tibbetts does tolerate occasional longueurs from his contributors, but most of the book is tightly edited into well-focused presentations of a page or two (sometimes just a paragraph). Schumann: A Chorus of Voices will prove addictive to music lovers given to browsing.
The book comes with a CD tucked in, and it’s nice to hear on it some of the voices represented in the transcript. But you’ll want more in the way of listening, and for that you might want to acquire Schumann: The Masterworks, a 35-CD set from Deutsche Grammophon that sells for about $90 (that’s two and a half bucks per disc). It’s not a complete Schumann edition by a long shot, but “the essential Schumann” is pretty much here (though not his oratorio Der Rose Pilgerfahrt or his opera Genoveva, which I do wish were considered essential).
The label has an astonishing recorded archive to draw on (its own, plus those of Philips and Decca, with which the company is now affiliated), and the performances range, for the most part, from fine to superb. Nine discs are given over to lieder, including many classic, eloquent readings by Fischer-Dieskau and Eschenbach ( Dichterliebe among them), and soprano Edith Mathis, often considered a lightweight, makes beautiful, affecting contributions in several song sets. Maurizio Pollini reigns over four of the nine CDs of piano music, including stunning renditions of Kreisleriana and the Symphonic Études. Chamber music is entrusted to the peerless Beaux Arts Trio and the Hagen Quartet, while Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich offer brilliant interpretations of the violin sonatas, works once dismissed but recently rehabilitated.
Deutsche Grammophon owns a teeming back-catalog of Schumann’s symphonies, but rather than going with one of its fine “traditional” versions (conducted by Kubelik, Bernstein, or Solti, for example), the company chose the bracing period-instrument interpretations by John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. And so it goes, from strength to strength, and if you stumble across an interpretation that doesn’t hit the spot (for me, Benjamin Britten conducting the Scenes From Goethe’s Faust or anything sung by tenor Peter Schreier), you can skip ahead without feeling you’ve made a bad investment.
Perhaps after listening to these 34 hours of Schumann you will join me in feeling that, for all his variety, it is a sense of immediacy, of confidentiality, of direct, uncensored communication that marks the most personal strand of his genius. One finds often in Schumann’s scores the marking innig, a German adjective that does not translate easily into English but that touches on earnestness, fervor, tenderness, and affection. Schumann is the most innig of composers, and he gives you no choice but to open your heart to him. I recall a passage from Sir Thomas Beecham’s entertaining and often outrageous memoir, A Mingled Chime (1943), in which he characterizes Schumann’s expression as taking “the form of an intimate approach that salutes us, not so much as an audience to be conquered by rhetorical argument as a friend to be talked over by gentle persuasion. … [Schumann] has accomplished the miraculous feat of clothing exquisite and delicate fancies in subtle and secret phrases that each one of us feels to have been devised for his own special understanding.”