Delicacies with Schumann

Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 2011
Muzica Viva Collection1

Valentina Sandu-Dediu, Robert Schumann


          “What’s the use of a new monographic study on Schumann, when the best one was written by the composer himself”? – it’s a question Valentina Sandu-Dediu heard from European and American musicologists, who interpreted – more or less creatively – the journals and writings of the German musician. Some American biographers have gone all the way to interpreting Schumann’s friendships in an erotic manner, emphasizing potential homosexual episodes. These approaches seem to completely ignore the spirit of German romanticism which “spoke freely of close friendships between men, without any erotic connotation whatsoever!” – the author of this monography observes.
          Valentina Sandu-Dediu’s volume focuses on a contextualization that offers the reader a nuanced perception of every biographical or composing detail. The subtlety of style observations – whether we’re dealing with nineteenth century music, seen from a global perspective or Schumann’s work – creates an image of the composer imbued with Romanticism.
          The author doesn’t conceive the mechanical separation of biography and work, especially since “the correspondences between life and art are, in this case, more eloquent than those of any other nineteenth century composer”. Valentina Sandu-Dediu establishes, in an ingenious puzzle, numerous connections between moments, events and periods in Schumann’s life and reflections of these in his music. Thus, “the game” of the letter as a double sign – the letter and its sonic counterpart in German literal notation -, which the composer uses in some piano works, is no stranger to his emotional course: for example, the melogram of Abegg Variations, op. 1 was inspired by a fleeting love, while the complex “code” from Carnival, op. 9 also has strong autobiographical connotations. Regarding the latter opus, refined analysis emphasizes the relation between mannerist procedures, sonic “masks” that cover even Schumann’s musical signature and certain “characters” of his life. Sometimes, the connections between biography and composing gestures are so strong that the musical transfiguration of life events can be more suggestive than biography itself. For instance, the intensity of the love between Schumann and pianist Clara Wieck, who became his wife after a prolonged psychological war with her father, is reflected in the composing “responses” between the two: “The Sonata in F Sharp Minor, op. 11 […] is dedicated to [Clara] by «Florestan and Eusebius» [Schumann’s alter egos] and contains a subtle network of motifs referring to the connection between the two. […] The Sonata develops a theme in one of Clara’s works, Scène fantastique: Ballet de revenants, evoking in turn the dactile rhythm of Schumann’s Fandango”.
          Another guiding line of the volume is traced around the concept of Romantic irony, which Schumann, equally open to music and literature, brilliantly translates it in his lieder. What is more, Schumann’s obsession for particular genres, developed in certain periods, largely configures the structure of Valentina Sandu-Dediu’s musicological discourse: fantasy and narrative in piano music; lieder; new musical poetics in symphonies, chamber music, oratorio; musical opera as literature: Genoveva, Manfred, Faust; etc.
          The book also aims at demolishing some myths on Schumann, on rehabilitating some genres or works undeservedly ignored. The interest of modern and contemporary composers towards Schumann’s music – from Berg, Kurtág or Widmann – indicates its inexhaustible resources. And if a monographer of the composer, John Daverio, said the taste for Schumman is slowly discovered, like caviar, Valentina Sandu-Dediu’s volume offers a generous serving of delicacies for refined people.

1 Review published in Romanian, in Dilemateca, no. 62, July 2011

Florinela Popa
(English Version by Simina Neagu)