ROBERT SCHUMANN: His Life and Work by Ronald Taylor

ROBERT SCHUMANN: His Life and Work

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Mixing a rather impersonal biographical approach with journeyman analyses of musical compositions, Taylor (The Romantic Tradition in Germany, Richard Wagner) offers a competent yet verbosely, repetitiously unilluminating study of composer Schumann--one that sees both personality and music in terms of ""the dichotomy in Schumann between the principles of classicism and romanticism."" Reasonably enough, Taylor stresses Schumann's literary family-background, his debt to romantic/fantastic writers like E. T. A. Hoffman and Jean Paul, his parallel urges toward literature and music--which combined in his writing/editing for the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik. In work-by-work discussions Taylor relentlessly offers his (far from unique) view of Schumann's achievements and limitations: masterful in ""the intimate lyrical world of his romantic piano music and his songs"" (peaking with the ""Liederjahr' of 1840), but astray in his later attempts at larger works in the classical forms--where he ""sacrificed almost his entire spontaneity and originality."" And, most persuasively, he examines the creation of Schumann's songs in detail--the relationship between text and music, the imaginative shaping and alteration of the poems by the composer. (""Can one any longer describe such songs as 'poems set to music'?"") But, despite a few effortful attempts, Taylor fails to integrate these analyses with Schumann's sad life-story, which emerges in undramatic dibs and dabs here: the mysterious hand injury (the assorted explanations don't include recent ones suggested by the Leon Fleisher case); the ""manic-depressive syndrome that runs through his whole life"" (noted but not explored); the long, embattled courtship of overprotected piano-prodigy Clara; and the mid-life decline into illness and madness--with syphilis as a possible cause. (Taylor worries over the conflicting evidence at regular intervals, finally seeming to favor the syphilis explanation.) Despite solid research and considerable erudition, then: a dullish life-and-work combination--but respectable enough to serve where an up-to-date, all-in-one Schumann study is needed.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1982
Publisher: Universe