Clara Schumann at 200

Composing gives me great pleasure. There is nothing which surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound. – Clara Schumann (a diary entry from June, 1853) Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann (1819-1896). This week, we have explored Clara’s influence on the music of her husband, Robert Schumann, and close friend, Johannes …

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Schumann’s Fourth Symphony: A Continuous Drama in Cyclic Form

Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor begins with a bold announcement in the form of a single, multi-octave-deep “A”. It’s a musical “call to order” which seems to establish the blank, open-ended canvas on which the Symphony will develop. The first brushstroke to fall on this canvas is a descending motif which is the seed out of which the entire Symphony grows. This is the famous “Clara Theme” we explored in …

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Schumann and Brahms: Musical Depictions of Clara

This Friday marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Clara Wieck Schumann looms large in music history. With a concert career spanning 61 years, she was one of the greatest pianists of the Romantic period. She is credited with elevating the repertoire of the piano recital, replacing bravura showpieces with substantial, mature works. She was an influential teacher at Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatory. As a composer, she contributed piano …

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New Release: Renée Fleming’s “Lieder”

Renée Fleming’s newest album features songs by Brahms, Schumann, and Mahler. Released on June 14, this is the four-time Grammy winning soprano’s first full-length Lieder album for almost two decades. The recording opens with a beautiful and hypnotic performance of Brahms’ famous Lullaby, Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4. Here are three additional excerpts: Brahms: 4 Lieder, Op. 43 – 2. Die Mainacht “The May Night” describes a shadowy scene of lonely wandering, endless …

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Musical Cryptograms: Five Scores that Contain Hidden Messages

Imagine transmitting a secret message by using the pitches (from A to G) that are embedded in a musical score. It’s been the subject of mystery novels and television shows as well as Philip Thicknesse’s 1772 book, A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: with an Harmonic Alphabet. During the Second World War, codebreakers considered the possibility that German and Japanese spies might use musical notes as a …

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Schumann’s Second Symphony: A Journey Towards Triumph

For several days drums and trumpets in the key of C have been sounding in my mind. I have no idea what will come of it. Robert Schumann wrote these words to his friend, Felix Mendelssohn, in September, 1845. We know now that the musical voices playing in Schumann’s mind were the first echoes of the Symphony No. 2 in C Major. (Actually, it would be Schumann’s third completed symphony. The D minor Symphony, completed …

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“To the Distant Beloved”: Schumann’s Obsession with a Beethoven Song

In the final movement of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major, an unassuming but persistent motivic cell emerges which propels the Symphony towards its majestic and triumphant culmination. Around three minutes in, all of the music’s forward momentum comes to a halt on a somber C minor cadence. Then, this motive is introduced by the woodwinds. It repeats in other voices throughout the orchestra and develops into an exalted and joyful proclamation. …

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