Robert Schumann: A Romantic Hero Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth, Morning Edition commentator Miles Hoffman takes the measure of Schumann, the man and his music.
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Robert Schumann: A Romantic Hero

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Robert Schumann: A Romantic Hero

Robert Schumann: A Romantic Hero

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

As the occasion approached, commentator Miles Hoffman sat down with our own Renee Montagne.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And, Miles, happy 200th birthday to Robert Schumann from both of us, I guess.

MILES HOFFMAN: From us, from all us, to all of us.

MONTAGNE: We all know, of course - there's Mozart, there's Beethoven. Give us a little musical perspective here. Where does Robert Schumann fit in.?

HOFFMAN: But my question is supposed they're not available and the only person whose music is available is Schumann's music. Would that be enough? Would that make a good impression on aliens? And would it present a complete picture of what humans have been able to accomplish with music? And I think the answer is yes.

MONTAGNE: That's an, you know, an interesting image, but I mean that's a powerful image.

HOFFMAN: But what am I talking about? What?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOFFMAN: Why do I say that? Yeah.

MONTAGNE: So it would be enough and why?

HOFFMAN: Because of so many things, Renee. Because of the depth, because of how well Schumann was able to capture the human spirit, and also in a vast range of works - all sorts of combinations per instruments per voice, for large forces, for small forces. There is an encyclopedic body of work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PIANO QUINTET IN EB MAJOR: SCHERZO MOLTO VIVACE")

MONTAGNE: Why though, Miles, did he branch out so much? Why was his breadth so wide? I mean was it just because he could? Or...

HOFFMAN: All of his initial compositions were for piano. But then he did start branching out. And in fact, the first area where he branched out was in song. In the year 1840, he wrote I believe it was 168 songs.

MONTAGNE: Did he need to write songs? I mean, did he need to write different kinds of music because it would be a better way to make a living?

HOFFMAN: Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WIDMUNG")

HOFFMAN: Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WIDMUNG")

MONTAGNE: We have spoken of the romance and his life with Clara in other conversations at other times. It's one of the great musical love stories.

HOFFMAN: On the other hand, she was Schumann's wife. Schumann wanted her around - he hated it when she traveled. But she was very much his great muse and inspiration. And virtually everything he wrote for the piano, Clara would have been the first one to play. And there are things that he wrote specifically to show Clara off. I think, for example, of his piano quintet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PIANO QUINTET IN EB MAJOR: SCHERZO MOLTO VIVACE")

MONTAGNE: Is it possible to say that if there had been no Clara, his muse, that we would not have as much of this music?

HOFFMAN: Oh, I think it's probable. And undoubtedly music would have been of a different character. I mean, he was inspired by this great love. Now, that's not to say that all his music was sweet, lovely love music. She inspired him on many, many levels. And I think she also encouraged him to expand his range. There is an entry in her diary where she wrote: It would be best if he composed for orchestra. His imagination cannot find sufficient scope on the piano. And she was very pleased that he did work at learning orchestration, and then he did write for orchestra and wrote very well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: We've been talking about Schumann's life as being full of beauty and this great love for his wife. But he was also tormented and had psychological problems.

HOFFMAN: The truth is that Schumann composed despite his illness, and that's the true heroism. He was able - when he was lucid - to compose and to work very rapidly and to work magnificently.

MONTAGNE: Miles, it's been a pleasure having you guide us through just even a few minutes of Schumann's beautiful music.

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is violist of the American Chamber Players and author of the NPR Classical Music Companion.

DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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