TERRY GROSS, host:
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Robert Schumann. Our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz thinks one of the most interesting new Schumann commemorative items is a DVD of a British music and theater piece called "Twin Spirits" about the intense relationship between Schumann and his wife Clara. Another famous couple, Sting and Trudie Styler read the Schumann's actual letters and diary entries.
(Soundbite of "Twin Spirits")
STING (Singer, Songwriter): (as Robert Schumann) That even when all my prayers were turned into scorn and derision, you, would spring into my mind - you, alone, my beloved girl child. I would find myself asking the question: Will she one day become my wife? Then, every day between us lay far into the future. Who made me love you? Who made you love me? And from whom can one demand and explanation?
LLOYD SCHWARTZ: One of the most moving love stories in the world of music is the relationship between Robert and Clara Schumann. In 2007, the British producer David Caird put together a music theater piece called "Twin Spirits" at London's Covent Garden, in which Derek Jacoby narrated the romantic and tragic story, with Sting and his wife Trudie Styler reading passages from Robert and Clara's letters and the remarkable diary they kept together in the first years of their marriage. Some excellent chamber musicians and singers punctuate the readings with excerpts from the works of both Robert and Clara.
(Soundbite of music)
SCHWARTZ: "Twin Spirits" tells the story of Robert Schumann coming to Leipzig to study with the renowned music teacher Friedrich Wieck. His daughter Clara was a piano prodigy, by far the most talented of his six children. Robert was nine years older than her. He lived with the Wiecks for a year. By the time Clara was in her mid teens, they had fallen in love.
Here's one sweet story.
(Soundbite of "Twin Spirits")
STING: (as Robert Schumann) Dear, kind, Clara, I have a mystical proposal that you must grant. Tomorrow night at exactly 11 o'clock, I shall play the adagio from Chopin's "Variations on 'La ci darem," and will think intently, exclusively of you. If you do the same thing at exactly the same time, our twin spirits will meet each other as we play. Your doppelganger and mine will play together by the light of the full moon, somewhere over the little gate into Saint Thomas's churchyard. If I dont hear from you and you hear a string breaking at midnight tomorrow, that'll be my heart.
SCHWARTZ: Wieck was violently opposed to this romance. Clara's career came first. He refused to permit the marriage and ultimately the two lovers went to court for permission. Clara was 21, Robert 30. Wieck eventually relented when the couple had the first of their eight children, only four of whom outlived their parents.
Clara was much more famous than Robert, and traveled extensively giving recitals, which were admired by the greatest musical figures of the time. She inspired Robert the year before they were married, he wrote more than 100 of his greatest songs. And she helped further his career by playing his compositions.
Here are the well-known British baritone Simon Keenlyside and the expressive soprano Rebecca Evans in a lesser known but beautiful love duet "Er und Sie" - "He and She."
(Soundbite of song, "Er und Sie")
SCHWARTZ: Schumann suffered from periodic mental breakdowns, and tragedy struck when he tried to drown himself. He was institutionalized, but Clara was forbidden to see him for more than two years, until he was actually dying. She spent the rest of her life giving concerts and performing Schumann's music.
In his musical selection, producer/director David Caird is less concerned with chronology than with finding something appropriate for each part of the story. Purists might object to the way Caird has rearranged some of the original music for the production. But in this dramatic context, I find these new arrangements both tasteful and effective. Sting, we've come to know, has a serious interest in classical music. He's also a coolly expressive actor and reader. Trudie Styler is particularly affecting reading what Clara wrote during her final visits to Schumann.
The most disappointing element of "Twin Spirits" is the rather artificial narration by Derek Jacobi, an actor I usually admire. But the whole enterprise is a compelling and poignant retelling of the story, and the well-chosen and well-performed music make this an outstanding addition to the year celebration of Robert Schumann's bicentennial.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix and teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He reviewed the DVD of "Twin Spirits," You'll find a trailer at our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
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