Usually I am glad to be at home. A calm, reassuring environment, a place to rest, a place to enjoy the company of friendly people, good music and books, excellent food, a wonderful garden and silent moments if there is a need for such moments. My life is neither too boring, nor marked by permanent dramas or excitements. It is exactly what I want it to be. Sometimes, however, sometimes a painful urge to get away knocks me out of my routine. From one second to the next I feel the desire to pack, to board a plane and to discover new worlds, disregarding my responsibilities as a husband and father. They call it the travel bug, apparently.
German Romanticists knew that feeling. They called it wanderlust. It became part of their way of life. Italy, the Antique – composer’s like Felix Mendelssohn, Franz List or Robert Schumann got itchy feet and went to Italy. Later composer’s followed suit: Pyotr Tchaikovsky toured Italy and Central Europe, he stayed in Paris, met colleagues in the United Kingdom. Other Russian composers of the 19th century visited Central Asia, the outposts of the Russian Empire, again others travelled to the United States to perform and to look for inspirations.
Feeling the travel bug
The first movement of Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 does not unleash the travel bug in me, but the way Schumann arranged the thematic material reminds me of that peculiar tension between staying and going. And since I don’t want to neglect my duties, I just listen to the recording by the Staatskappelle Berlin, I close my eyes and I daydream about the blue sky, the plane I boarding, the place I am flying to.
Lithuania, Vietnam, the Orkneys, the Drakensberge, Afghanistan – places that have inspired me, places where I have met fascinating people. India, Patagonia, Serbia, Russia, Iran – places I would love to travel to, places that I want to discover on my own.
“For some days I have been feeling timpani and trumpets inside myself, I don’t yet know what I will make of”, Schumann wrote in December 1845 to his friend Felix Mendelssohn. The melodies were to become Op. 61, a work Schumann finished in October 1846. Mendelssohn conducted the premiere in December, which did not go well, possibly because the concert program was just too ambitious. When Schumann wrote to Mendelssohn, he most likely alluded to the last movement, a beautiful, energetic, optimistic movement. Tatendrang! The German language has such wonderful words. The strong wish and energy to do something, anything!
Schumann’s metaphysical wanderlust
Schumann described the first movement as an act of rebellion. He knew he had contracted syhillis and wanted to overcome his weakness, his occasional dizzyness and depressive moments, he looked for a way, well to get away from vis illness and misery. A metaphysical wanderlust? Tom Service wrote some time ago for “The Guardian” that additionally “the inspirations […] sidestepped symphonic grandiosity. Instead, Schumann found in Bach’s counterpoint the bracing intellectual challenge he felt he needed after years of living on his compositional instincts…” Schumann also felt the urge to discover new musical realms, and if you compare his first symphony, discussed in an earlier post, with the second – what a difference! Schumann has grown mature – and daring. To quote Schumann’s favourite poet and writer Jean Paul: “Nur Reisen ist Leben, wie umgekehrt das Leben Reisen ist.”
Be inspired! Escape with Schumann!
© Charles Thibo