Schumann Uprooted for a Society in Uproar

State of oppression. © Charles Thibo

A few weeks ago I met several hundreds of “gilets jaunes”. Protesters in yellow warning jackets marching through the streets of a French town. Angry faces, frustrated faces. Men and women of all ages. Violence was in the air, policemen were taking up their positions. “La France en colère” – France in anger. Initially the marchers protested against rising petrol prices. Through its tax increase the government however released all the frustration of France’s struggling middle class and the aggressivity of the working class. The victims – real or presumed – of a deregulated and destabilised economy feel ignored by the ruling elites in Paris. It’s about us and them and the feeling of alienation.

Fear, social dislocation, estrangement, violence – all this I find in Wolfgang Rihm’s piece “Fremde Szenen” (Foreign/strange scenes), performed and recorded by the Beethoven Trio. The longing for light, transparency, lightness, deceleration – all this I find in this particular piece of Rihm. Stopping the clock, evading one’s fate, giving history a new direction before it is too late, a paradigmatic shift before death… quite a message!

“Fremde Szenen” is a truly fascinating piece. Through the three parts you will discover Romantic ideas transposed into modernity. The idea as such is challenging, the execution remarkable. The piece expresses radically opposed feelings, the known and the unknown, the past and the future, fear and assurance, despair and hope, roughness and gentleness. Rihm wrote it between 1982 and 1984 and Robert Schumann’s music, rich in contrasts, with discomforting and comforting elements was on Rihm’s mind.

Michael Oliver writes in a piece for the magazine “Gramophone” that Rihm aims at music “that at one and the same time evokes Schumann as one of the composers he feels closest to, but also recaptures the wildness, the unpredictability, that must have disconcerted Schumann’s first audiences.” Rihm would therefore have to handle Schumannesque material with the boldness of a Schumann who had experienced the 20th century – Schumann uprooted, familiar and close and at the same time alien and estranged.

This said, you are free to dislike this piece. But you must have listened to it first, at least one time. I am free not to share the ideas and the strategy of the “gilets jaunes”. As a matter of fact I reject them as much as I reject popular revolutions in general and their tendency to turn into anarchy and violence. But I owe the “gilets jaunes” to listen to their complaints and to acknowledge their fear.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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