Schumann: The Faces and the Masks by Judith Chernaik - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

Sick Notes

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks


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In the most commonplace sense, Robert Schumann fits the Romantic stereotype: impatient of rules and conventions, a votary of liberal ideals, motivated by instincts, dreams and passions but beset by melancholy, he ended up in the madhouse and died an early death.

He is Romantic in a more specific aesthetic sense too: standing between Beethoven and Wagner, his music stretches classical form beyond its limits and explores new ground in harmony and rhythm, especially in the fields of solo piano and song. Much of his oeuvre secretes an achingly personal programme, to the point of encoding messages in the notes. Restless, discontented and needy, he dramatised his inner conflicts through the contrasting fictional figures of ‘active’ Florestan and ‘passive’ Eusebius. His life was a struggle with himself as much as with the philistinism of a hostile world.

Such a man might seem a gift to a great biographer, but this, oddly, is not someone Schumann has ever found. Perhaps the complexity of his psychology is just too dense to be unravelled, though many have tried.

To the list of those who have recently grappled with

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