Sunday, December 4, 2011

Steven Isserlis: Schumann Cello Concerto

Steven Isserlis performs Schumann Cello Concerto in A minor, opus 129, from the first movement. Here, Isserlis, the British cellist, is accompanied by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

This video clip is taken from a 1996 film directed by Steve Ruggi and produced by Niv Fichman and Rhombus Media, Schumann's Lost Romance, which looks at the relationship between Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara. "Towards the end of his life Schumann composed five romances for cello and piano, which Clara destroyed before they could be published," says one site describing the film.

Robert Schumann [1810-1856] composed this concerto in two weeks just when he was appointed director of music in Dusseldorf, and it was completed October 24, 1850. It was never performed for the public during Schumann's lifetime, and was premiered June 9, 1860 — four years after the composer's death and almost ten years after writing the work — at the at the Leipzig Conservatory. It was the 50th anniversary of the composer's birth.

As to the film it shows Clara in a different not always favorable light, notably during the last two years of Robert Schumann's life, where he had himself committed to a mental asylum:
The cellist Steven Isserlis, a passionate Schumannophile, feels that Clara did her husband substantial harm, not only during his lifetime. "Schumann composed several Romances for cello and piano - Brahms and their violinist friend Joseph Joachim loved them and used to argue over which was their favourite," he recounts. "But after Schumann died, Clara decided the Romances weren't good enough and destroyed them."
He also points to an incident in 1854, when Clara was upstaged by the soprano Jenny Lind in a shared concert. She wrote: "The whole of last winter, with all its torments, did not exact such a sacrifice as this evening when I was forced to humiliate myself from a sense of duty." "That had been the winter in which Schumann attempted suicide," Isserlis exclaims. "She was only interested in her career."
To be fair, Clara Schumann was left with the unenviable and difficult task of raising seven children and knowing that her husband was not well mentally, and was unlikely to ever recover. It is always easy to judge her actions post-facto, but when one has to make decisions as situations unfold, it is in fact more difficult. In many cases, there is no turning back, and events could take an unplanned turn. Such is real life and not a film, documentary or otherwise. It is a tragic story, to say the least.

The music is, however, beautiful, which can be a redeeming effect of tragedy. And Steven Isserlis does Schumann justice.