Robert Schumann, 1810 - 1856
Robert Schumann's Kreisleriana.
I love so much of Schumann's music. The only things that give me pause are his violin concerto, his piano sonatas (a bit formless...hard to grasp ahold), and his Kreisleriana.
I have the Murray Perahia CD of Kreisleriana. It is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann's eponymous stories from his book Phantasiestücke in Callots Manier (Fantasy Pieces in the Style of Callot), published in 1814. I like Hoffmann. But whenever I listen to that CD, my mind soon begins wandering. This will not do. This must change. I must figure out what the hell is wrong with me and set it to rights. It makes no sense that a Hoffmannesque Schumann piece would cause my head to float off in a state of drowsy incomprehension.
Okay. I'm putting the CD in now. I'm going to listen again. I'm going to subdue this sucker. Make it a part of my soul's texture. The way his symphonies, piano concerto, cello concerto, his Carnaval are such a part of me.
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Now. All right. I listened to it. Hmm. Give me a few moments to collect my thoughts......................................
Okay. This time, I read the "program" in the booklet before listening. I tried to pay good attention to the Hoffmann references revealed in the notes. I wanted the background stuff to be given its due respect and regard.
But as I listened, a new way of listening opened up to me. The Hoffmann story references -- which had caused me trouble in earlier sessions -- began to fade from prominence. It came to me that this composition is less about Hoffmann and his Kreisler creation and more about Schumann himself. This is music from a soul who is very sensitive to musical beauties and its transformative power...to how it can complement so well the way things feel and the way things change. Both flight and abyss...transience and equivocal stasis. It's about coming in and out of light, in and out of darkness. This is music about Schumann and music about music.
Yes, Kreisler the Kappelmeister is also obsessed with and swept away by music. But his eight psychological "adventures" are mere springboards for a Schumannesque adventure. Much less, I think now, about being grist for musical illustration. This piece, in its unfolding and as a whole, is also about how strange it felt to live inside the Romantic era and milieu. It's about how forms of feeling moved in new shapes and onto shadowed surfaces of imagination and emotion, both of which shaded off toward infinite horizons. Schumann merely "breathed in" the spirit of Kreisler as a primer to stimulate his own, similar spirit. At the keyboard, Schumann exhaled this mutuality of complex consciousness: variously mecurial and melancholy.
So...instead of me trying to listen to and process this work as an aural description, I now experience it as a definite overlay of Schumann onto the vague spiritual shenanigans of Kreisler. That fictional Kappelmeister is not an analog to the music; rather, he represents a formal contour around which Schumann traces his own aesthetic, dreamlike trajectory.
Yet true to Hoffmann, there are moments when an opening onto eeriness occurs. The eeriness of a macabre story element maybe or the eeirness of living per se, which sometimes moves across the octaves of each of our souls.
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Perahia's playing on the CD is dynamic, beautiful, perfect.
And here's Mikhail Pletnev performing selections:
Kreisleriana 7 & 8