Celebrating Schumann

Rebecca Franks tracks down the five best places to hear Robert Schumann's music in his 200th anniversary year

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Last year Purcell, Haydn, Handel and Mendelssohn took over the Radio 3 airwaves, and concert halls around the country, as their various anniversaries were celebrated. This year Chopin and Mahler are doing a good double act, and – it’s a safe bet – next year it’ll be hard to move for piano virtuosos thundering out Liszt. Mahler even gets a second look-in, born as he was in 1860, dying as he did in 1911. But where’s Schumann?

Perhaps it’s as a result of the often-rehearsed explanation of why his music tends to be overlooked, or at the least fall into the shadows – too cosy, too bourgeois, too eccentric, too clumsy an orchestrator, too obsessive, too mad.

Yet for every critic, there’s an ardent fan. Enthusiasts love his passion and originality, his penchant for cryptic cyphers and codes, the countless musical allusions and references to literature and his own life. So maybe the reason that we haven't heard much Schumann so far this year is simply down to a question of timing, with concert organisers wanting to tie in neatly with anniversary dates. For whatever reason, the Schumann forecast is brighter for the rest of the year, and with his birthday just days away, here's a handy guide to five of the best places to hear his music in the next few months.

 

1. Radio 3's 'Schumann 200'
5-12 June 2010

With this Sunday, 6 June, dedicated to Schumann's music, Radio 3's celebrations of the German Romantic get underway. A Schumann Salon opens the day with performances from pianist Lucy Parham, and an overview of his life from biographer John Worthen. Broadcasts from around Europe continue throughout the day; listen out for Christoph Pregardien and Michael Gees's Dichterliebe and the Second Symphony, in a performance by the St Paul Chamber Orchestra and Roberto Abbado.

 

2. Cheltenham Festival
2-17 July 2010

Schumann’s late music,suppressed after Robert’s death by his widow Clara and belittled ever since, is unjustly neglected, believes cellist Steven Isserlis. Proving this music’s worth is something of a mission for Isserlis, and this year’s Cheltenham Festival provides a willing home. He’ll be performing the Cello Concerto of 1850, written a few years before Schumann’s death; you can also hear Isserlis and friends in the earlier chamber masterpieces, including the Piano Quintet in E flat.

 

3. Kings Place, London
27 September-2 October 2010

Pianist Lucy Parham curates this week-long Schumann festival in London’s Kings Place. Highlights include ‘Beloved Clara’, an evening of music and narration exploring the complicated relationships between Robert, Clara and Brahms, and the ‘Schumann and Children’ concert. For this, 13 celebrity amateur pianists including comedian Sue Perkins and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, not to mention BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy, take the stage to perform Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15.

 

4. BBC Proms
16 July-11 September 2010 

The world's largest classical music festival makes Schumann a key thread in this year's programme, with a complete symphony cycle running throughout the season. Christian Zacharias stars in the Piano Concerto, while pianist Finghin Collins takes on the less well-known Introduction and Allegro appassionato. Plus there's chamber music aplenty, and a musical tribute in the form of a new commission from Robin Holloway. Reliquary, inspired by Schumann's Gedichte der K├Ânigin Maria Stuart, gets its world premiere on 9 September with the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda.

 

5. Southern Cathedrals Festival
15-18 July 2010

Schumann and Samuel Wesley are the two bicentenary composers remembered in this year's Southern Cathedrals Festival, hosted by Chichester Cathedral. Amanda Holden has provided a new English translation of the song cycle Dichterliebe, performed here by pianist David Owen Norris and tenor Mark Wilde. You can dip into Schumann's musical world in a concert given by singers from Salisbury, Winchester and Chichester Cathedrals exploring the music that inspired him, and the music he inspired, including Bach, Buxtehude, Brahms and Clara Schumann.

 

Rebecca Franks is online editor and staff writer for BBC Music Magazine