Midnight. This specific time, this specific mood. The house is calm, everyone has gone to bed except the cat and me. A specific constellation. It is one of the moments that inspiration strikes me. I started to read a biography about the German pianist Grete Sultan (1906-2005) tonight while I was listening to Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, performed by Grete Sultan. The urgent need to penetrate the music, to dream and drift, to write. Now.
Pictures form in my head: Berlin, Vienna, the 19th century, bourgeois families, the paramount importance of music education. Grete Sultan’s family, assimilated Jews from the Rhineland and Prussia, grew up in this environment. Many of them were excellent musicians. A glorious time. Schumann’s fantasy sets my mind free, and I feel intimately connected to the Schumanns, the Mendelssohns, Clara, Fanny, the gifted Grete. At the same time Schumann’s music brings me back once more to the link between books and composition. Passion. Fantasy. Emotions. Books make us dream. Romantic writers captured Schumann’s fantasy, and he translated into music what he felt and what images his mind would conjure.
The impossible love, Clara and Robert, the obstacles raised by Clara’s father – a Romantic subject par excellence. “The first movement probably is the most passionate piece I wrote”, Schumann says about the fantasy in a letter to Clara in March 1838. “It is a powerful lamentation about you. Above all I love its melody. Isn’t it you the real sound of the theme? I believe it is.” And he quotes a few lines from a poem by Friedrich Schlegel, a Romantic writer, about the sound of love, hidden among all others sounds of the universe.
Schumann confessed that hearing the first movement moved him profoundly and so do I. Confiteor. Good night.
© Charles Thibo