“There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major”, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev once remarked. So true. Schubert’s piano piece “Wanderer Fantasy” in C major, Op. 15 D.760 for example. Take the opening: Massive accords gradually diluted in a lovely melody for the right hand… beautiful! If you care to look at the score, you may wonder how many fingers the pianist needs to play all those notes in any given time! To put it mildly, it requires a certain degree of virtuosity… of which I can just dream!
When I was at college, our German teacher made us read a curious text. It was about a guy called Bruckner playing a fugue on the organ. I had never heard of Bruckner and I had no idea what a fugue was. Actually I didn’t care about any of the two! It was just another boring German text I had to read so that I could write an essay. The essay did not go well… Much later I realized that the text was actually about Man’s fear of failure. Bruckner and his fear not to be able to play that complex fugue to its end was merely an example.
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.
What is it that draws me to the Romantic song? What is it that compels me to listen again and again to Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Robert Schumann and to read poems and novels written almost 200 years ago? It is the tension between what poets and composers deemed an ideal world and the real world they faced. A tension I feel too. It is the sublime emotional message of their works and the occasional ironic twist that helps them bridging the gap between the two extremes and overcoming their pain. Romanticism soothes the Weltschmerz*.