Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort - piano
A drop of music from the deepest source
The course of life of quite a few composers of the 19th century has a continuous appeal to people's imagination. That also counts for Robert Schumann (Zwickau, 1810 - Endenich, 1856).
Being the son of a bookseller, he has literary ambitions, but Schumann says about this: "how strange it is that I, there where my feelings prevail, I have to stop being a poet". He interrupts his law studies (in Leipzig and Heidelberg) - a wish of his mother's inspired by material concern - to start a career as a pianist. He takes lessons with Friedrich Wieck in Leipzig, one of the best but also most notorious piano teachers of that time. Before there can be talk of a pianist career, his right hand becomes partly paralysed (while studying he would have fixated his third finger to make the fourth more independent and powerful). In the meantime he has fallen madly in love with Clara Wieck, a celebrated piano player and the daughter of his teacher. Father Wieck implacably exercises his veto against their relationship, causing years of psychological warfare between them. In the end, only a legal procedure makes it possible for them to marry.
Schumann completely fails as a conductor. He constantly knows periods of restlessness, despair, dejection and heavy depressions. A suicide attempt - during the depths of winter, he jumps into the Rhine river in Düsseldorf - results in Schumann ending up in a psychiatric institution, where he dies two and a half years later.
Until 1839, roughly speaking during the first ten years of his life as a composer, Schumann almost exclusively wrote for ‘his' and Clara's instrument: the piano. Many of those compositions are directly or indirectly inspired by the ‘distant beloved'. In miniatures, often compiled into bigger cycles, he seemed to be able to express best his thoughts and changing states of mind.
In the Klaviersonate opus 11, Clara zugeeignet, Schumann pours out his emotions and ideas so spontaneously and with so much zest, that this piece, in which a motif from a piece of Clara's functions as a thread, seems rather improvised than composed. Although the sonata is in its whole composed of monumental dimensions, it also contains two lovely miniatures (Aria and Scherzo e Intermezzo). Its score was the only thing that Clara secretly kept behind when her father summoned her to send Schumann's love letters back immediately and claim hers again. It was that score, which Schumann later described as ‘a cry from the heart to you', that kept their relationship alive: on 13 August 1837 Clara - hardly 18 years old - played the sonata in Leipzig. Without using any words and across all barriers put up by her father, it was Clara's way to assure Schumann of her love for him. The day after, they got engaged secretly.
"...I worked on those 30 small, funny pieces, from which I have chosen twelve which I have called Kinderszenen. You'll love playing them, but not as a virtuoso...", Schumann wrote to his beloved in 1838. Eventually it were thirteen of them. Thirteen short pieces which he afterwards all gave a title. They are thirteen jewels, and every one of them belongs to the absolute top of what has ever been written in the instrumental, monothematic miniature genre. They are disarming and intensely poetic, free of all external bravura, but as far as the composition technique is concerned, they are constructed in a particularly ingenious way. "A drop of music from the deepest source", Hans Pfitzer wrote about number 7, Träumerei; this comment applies for every piece of the Kinderszenen.
Tired of all the secret meetings, Schumann planned to ‘flee' to Vienna together with Clara. She had gained success as a pianist there and she would be able to earn more money playing concerts there than in Leipzig, as father Wieck's resistance had increasingly more to do with material objections. For his own interest, Schumann hoped to find a new publisher in Vienna for his ‘Neue Zeitschrift für Musik'. In the autumn of 1838 he went to Vienna to explore the scene. In April 1839 he returned to Leipzig,
disappointed. Because of the dictatorial regime of Metternich, press censure was incredibly strong; he couldn't find anybody willing to publish his obstinate magazine. The Viennese music industry seemed to be a bundle of mediocrity to him, as they were only interested in Rossini and Johann Strauss, meanwhile nipping in the bud every composing talent. Disappointed as his journey was, after months of silence his stay in Vienna produced some compositions among which the elegant, tender, dreamy Arabeske opus 18, written "to make myself popular among the Viennese ladies". The ‘great romantic sonata' which Schumann later called Faschingsschwank aus Wien, opus 26, was also largely created in Vienna. In this composition he uses a last provoking taunt - a short quote of the Marseillaise, a politically incorrect and prohibited piece in Vienna. It is a flamboyant, high-spirited composition with which he definitively broke with the Austrian capital city.
Jaak van Holen