I have no idea how long it might last, but yesterday was a productive start to the working year, getting a few administrative matters out of the way and listening with great pleasure once more to Schumann’s Cello Concerto, which is a wonderfully eloquent piece of writing. The received wisdom on the piece and on Schumann in general is that his orchestation is heavy handed and that his imagination tails off as his mind begins to unravel, but while the concerto definitely shows signs of a pianist’s orchestration I have seen no evidence at all that it lacks the creative vigour of Schumann’s earlier years.
Following the music through yesterday with the score in front of me, always one of my greatest pleasures, allowed me to see as well as hear what Schumann was trying to achieve in this piece, and it has several really imaginative touches, as well as being full of the kind of melodic invention that is so characteristic of this writer. I like this piece more and more the closer I get to it, and although it comes from the beginning of the end as far as Schumann is concerned, that appointment to Düsseldorf that was so unhappy for him and for the orchestra, it dates from his first period in the city, when optimism was the order of the day, some time before it got to the stage when he was asked to stand down.
Schumann wandered out of the house in his dressing gown in 1853, threw himself in the river and was eventually committed to an asylum at his own request, where he died in 1856, and the concerto was not performed in his lifetime. It has always struck me as an intensely tragic end to a brilliant mind, and when I hear his music of this period and before I think of him and of Clara, who was advised not to see him, and of the youthful Johannes Brahms who had arived at their house in 1853 and took over the reins.
Some people see signs of obsession in the way that Schumann approached composing, and I have to say that I am one of them – a year of this, a year of that – but one also needs to bear in mind that this was the start of a sensitive age and that Schumann was right at the beginning of that, a literate and literary soul who was deeply moved by music and by words and who had at one point considered becoming a poet rather than a composer. So, yes, the signs of his final decline are probably there if one looks hard enough, but I do not see the Cello Concerto as part of that decline.
I also read yesterday that music streaming has been in something of a boom state since the start of all the lockdowns, which made me think two things. Firstly, it goes to show quite how important the arts and music are in all times if they are what we turn to in times of crisis. Secondly, most of that streaming will have been done via Spotify and I do not know a single musician who earns anything close to a living from those streams, but you can bet your £9.99 a month that Daniel Ek will be getting substantially richer off the back of it, probably thinking again about telling those of us who provide his income that we should be working harder.