The Lure of Schumann – Music Between “The No-longer and the Not-yet”

"Portrait of Robert Schumann" by August Weger.

The following is a guest post by Susan Clermont, Senior Music Specialist.

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”

Robert Schumann

Beginning with the 1925-26 inaugural season of the Library of Congress’s annual Festival of Chamber Music, the music of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) has flooded the magical milieu of the Coolidge Auditorium on hundreds of occasions.  Season after season, his music has observably lifted and lightened the hearts of tens of thousands of Washington’s concert- goers. With each performance of Schumann’s works, audiences find themselves lured into a unique musical domain that has been described as unapologetically fanciful and emotionally naked, both classic and romantic, intimate, evocative, poetic, etc, … a musical domain that has defied conventional definition, but rather “hovers between the no-longer and the not-yet, between the youthful bloom of Weber and the autumnal reflection of Brahms.” (John Daverio)

The lure of Schumann’s music has intensified over the past few decades thanks to a body of superb Schumann scholarship providing us with a deeper and more objective understanding of his works, and to the extraordinary artists who have incorporated these new insights into their performances and recordings.  Because of them, music lovers today solidly rank Schumann among their top desert island composers.  In his blog on the greatness of Schumann , pianist Jeremy Denk describes his ‘Schumann moments,’ occasions when he senses, via the music, an uncanny personal connection with the composer, “…like he’s staring at you the whole time…. like: Schumann knows me? Akin to the spellbound listener sitting in the Coolidge Auditorium, Denk acknowledges the capacity of Schumann’s music to persuade his listeners that “[a]mid all the people in the hall, who peel away like movie extras, he is speaking only to you.”  Among those sharing these same sentiments have been Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Berg, etc., composers who have seized the magic of their ‘Schumann moments’ and converted it into inspiration for their own compositions.

The Library of Congress joins the musical community in celebrating the 200th birthday of Robert Schumann by offering a unique glimpse into his creative output – a presentation of digital images for all of Schumann’s musical and literary manuscripts held in the collections of the Music Division. The ten music manuscripts span from the 1830s when his attention was primarily devoted to composing works for piano (e.g., Burla in G Minor or sketches of the Opus 15, Kinderscenen) up to the early 1850s when he returned to solo vocal and choral composition (e.g., the crown jewel of Schumann’s second Year of Song, Sechs Gedichte von N. Lenau und Requiem [altkatholisches Gedicht], Opus 90).

Without question, the most valuable and spectacular among the Library’s Schumann manuscripts is the holograph full score of the Symphony no. 1 Op. 38, in B-flat Major (Frühlingssymphonie). The score is prefixed by twenty pages of pencil sketches for this work; and, the astonishing timeline of Schumann’s progress in composing the symphony is highlighted by multiple inscriptions throughout the document. The dates written on the opening and end pages of each movement confirm that he conceived the entire symphony in four days and completed the scoring of it in less than four weeks!  To view this manuscript and all of our Schumann treasures online, visit the Music Division’s Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

3 Comments

  1. Eileen Rattner
    August 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Thank you for such an informative 200th birthday tribute to one of our great composers. How refreshing to emphasize his capacity to pierce the dark corners in our hearts with the light of his inspired music. . . music that transcends time and place and transports us to a piece of heaven (vs the often quoted madness and Clara themes). The library provides a great service to have a collection of his manuscripts preserved and available in the music devision!

  2. P.B.Unger
    August 28, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    what is the origin of the phrase “no longer not yet”?

  3. Susan Clermont
    September 1, 2010 at 10:46 am

    The late John Daverio, in his book Robert Schumann: Herald of a “New Poetic Age,” begins with an introductory chapter on Schumann Today. In this eloquent and insightful overview, John talks about the problems of writing Schumann’s biography – for example, pinning down a cogent periodization of the composer’s output or defining this composer’s historical position. The full quotation including your phrase of interest is:

    p. 12: “Schumann’s music neither accords neatly with his time nor withdraws decisively from it, but rather hovers between the no-longer and the not-yet, between the youthful bloom of Weber and the autumnal reflection of Brahms. This transitional quality can be read in the network of allusions and foreshadowings in a composition such as the First Symphony…”

    I find Daverio’s writings to be both scholarly and beautifully crafted –

    SC

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