Anticipating nostalgia with Robert Schumann

The summer is going by. © Charles Thibo

So typically Schumann! The summer hasn’t reached its climax yet, but I am thinking about autumn already. No, Robert Schumann does that, and I am just his eager follower. Never really in the present, always somewhere else, always ahead of the rest of the world and looking back with nostalgic feelings – if there’s a way to inflict suffering upon oneself, Schumann is sure to find it. His Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor (op. 105) works exactly this way. How sweet it is to imagine myself remembering in September the warm summer evenings, the lush colours of nature, the particular smell of dry grass, the play of the fireflies.How delicious it is to anticipate the coming melancholia.

The composer wrote this duo within a few days in September 1851. Ferdinand David, the Konzermeister of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig had suggested to Schumann a year before a piece for violin and piano. “[The world] lacks intelligent, new pieces, and I would know of nobody better suited than you.” Schumann had it published in January 1852, and two months later David and Schumann’s wife, Clara Wieck, performed the premiere in Leipzig. The public showed little enthusiasm, and I can understand why.

First of all, the sonata is an intellectual work, stimulating, but not necessarily pleasing. The thematic links between the three movements give it an overall coherence, but this unity is overshadowed by that peculiar Schumannesque sound, marked by hard contrasts in terms of volume, tempo and harmony. Not the typical Romantic sonata the audience would expect. Innovative in its form, daring in its expressivity, closer to Beethoven than to Schubert. Difficult. Exquisite. Amazing.

Secondly, I think this is a work written rather for the performing musicians and less for the audience. The violinist and the pianist will find it challenging and imaginative and they will love it for those reasons. This “hands on” experience is denied to the audience unless it has the score under its eyes. Which it usually hasn’t. The duo form as such suggest already an intimacy that excludes the outsider. Schumann’s specific musical language makes it even more difficult to convey the beauty of the sonata to the listener.

Two musicians however succeed in this endeavour: Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich on a recording for the label Deutsche Grammophon.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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