O fortuna… Luck has been on my side more than once, and quite often I have wondered why some people tumble from one disaster to the next while other people’s luck seems to never run out. The fact that I confront you with two posts on Schumann back to back is due to a wonderful coincidence. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was in Zurich yesterday evening. And guess what: The Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes was scheduled to perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 in the prestigious Tonhalle. I was not going to miss that, oh no.
Schumann wrote the first elements of this piece, the Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, in 1841, shortly after the premiere of his first symphony, that I presented in an earlier post. His wife Clara performed the fantasy in Leipzig under the conductor Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. However, Schumann’s publishers insisted on the traditional form of three movements. So Schumann rearranged that fantasy in 1845 and it became the first movement of the piano concerto.
Notes floating by
The German musicologist Martin Geck speaks about the floating character that singles out this piece. Sich treiben lassen… the notes are floating by, randomly, effortlessly. Schumann carefully constructed this piece, leaving no room for randomness, but its secret and beauty lies in the fact that it doesn’t show. It is delicate, full of lovely little details, the piano solo parts fragile like silk, the melodies fluttering like a scarf in a light breeze.
Leif Ove Andsnes’ performance yesterday evening was absolutely up to my expectations, no it actually exceeded any expectations I had. He played his parts seemingly without effort. It was clear that it required full concentration and precision, but it didn’t show. Schumann was guiding Andsnes’ hands – or had he simply impersonated the Norwegian?
Andsnes has recorded Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise” with Ian Bostridge, a recording dear to me. This was the first time I heard him playing live. What a pleasure! A beautiful tribute to one of my favourite Romantic composers. And if you want to recreate that experience, I can recommend a recording by Alfred Brendel and the UK-based Philharmonia Orchestra.
A blessing in disguise?
Finally I would like to come back to my initial ideas about luck. Isn’t it a crying injustice that such a first-rate composer of piano works like Schumann had to give up his dream of becoming a composing pianist because of the paralysis of his middle finger? Or must we be grateful to fate, that he actually did not become a pianist and was thus forced to focus on composing (besides publishing).
The lesson I learn from Schumann’s experience is: What fate is reserved for us, we cannot know and however good luck or bad luck may interfere with our plans: Don’t give up! Every problem carries in itself the seed of the solution, and painful moments are an occasion to learn and to grow and to become wiser. Always.
The Tonhalle introduced me yesterday to a lovely innovative idea: Schumann’s piano concerto was the only piece performed – it was an after-work concert of sorts, preceded by 15 minutes of slam poetry with Hazel Brugger reflecting the phenomenon of small talk after concerts and all the notes that Schumann omitted to put into the concerto. Simply hilarious!
© Charles Thibo