The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Robert Schumann is the best composer to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Can you name another? | February 14, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate romantic love. Maybe you can even send this special posting as an email to your Valentine.

In any case, if you are looking for pieces of classical music to play or listen to that are appropriate to celebrate Valentine’s Day, you have a lot of choices.

The Ear can think of specific pieces by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Faure and Poulenc, to name just a few of my favorites.

Many of them composed “romances” or pieces that could easily pass as a romance, some embodying requited love and some embodying unrequited love.

But I still think that the one composer who should be most identified with Valentine’s Day is Robert Schumann (1810-1856 and below in a photo from around 1850).

His deep and endless longing for Clara Wieck (with him, below), the young concert pianist who eventually became his wife — and after his death his champion — against the vociferous objections of her father, is palpable so much of his music in just about every form or genre including solo piano music, songs, chamber music and symphonic works.

In fact, I think one can argue that Schumann’s uncanny ability to capture love and passion in memorable and great sound makes him THE central Romantic composer of them all. Love and longing infuse his works.

I offer the following favorite Schumann moments as evidence, examples or case studies:

First, the slow movement from Schumann’s Piano Quartet:

Now, the second movement from his piano suite “Kreisleriana”:

Then there is the second of his Three Romances, the one in F-sharp major, for solo piano:

And from the song cycle “A Woman’s Life and Loves,” “Du, Ring an Meinem Finger” (You, Ring on My Finger):

And from the song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Loves), “Ich grolle nicht” (I won’t complain):

And then there is the magnificently poetic Piano Concerto, which is filled throughout its three movements with great moments of longing.

Here is a short but touching and memorable story about the role that the Schumann Piano Concerto played in two college students’ romance, courtship and love life:

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/31/146151332/winter-songs-young-love-in-ithaca-with-schumanns-help

And here is the opening of the first movement of that same Piano Concerto, dedicated to my own Valentine: I love you. Always have and always will.


6 Comments »

  1. Thanks to the Ear for the Valentine post. I think Franz Liszt is another romantic composer, e.g., his Liebestraum (dreams of love) are very popular. I was at a piano master class at UW-Madison last night and heard Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in b minor – a story of lover trying to reach his love in the midst of a storm at sea – very touching and beautiful.

    Comment by Sandy Tabachnick — February 14, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    • Hi Sandy,
      Well, you had meet the challenge I posed with great success.
      I have to agree with you about Liszt, even though he ranks quite a bit below Schumann in my book.
      I would also add the three “Love Sonnets” of Petrarch that Liszt composed in his “Years of Pilgrimage.” And the Sonata in B minor has a terrific thee filled with passion and yearning.
      Overall, I am less taken with his Ballades and prefer Chopin’s both of music and love or desire.
      A lot of Liszt strikes me as more sexy than romantic. But he certainly has his romantic moments.
      Thanks for reading and responding with such a great suggestion.
      I am sorry I missed the master class. I’ll bet it was both informative and entertaining or involving.I would drove to hear about it if you care to write about it. What did you think of the Taubman Method as he explained it and demonstrated it?
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 14, 2012 @ 9:22 am

      • Hi Jake – I couldn’t stay for the entire master class, unfortunately (missed the last performer). While I was there, Robert didn’t talk about the Taubman method by name, but his suggestions to the players (like, think about playing up instead down into the key, and aim for the point of sound instead of the bottom of key) were definitely Taubman principles. I thought the performers caught on to it well, too.

        All in all it was a great master class. Robert has a gentle and encouraging approach, much nicer than the master class I attended with Vladimir Feltsman – a great performer, but rough as a pedagogue.

        All the best,
        Sandy

        Comment by Sandy Tabachnick — March 2, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

      • Hi Sandy,
        Thanks so much for filling me in on the master class.
        Your description mades me both glad and sad.
        I am glad that I didn’t miss as much as I feared I might.
        But I am sad that I didn’t hear his points and his general manner with the students. A successful master class is not as easy to conduct as it seems. It can leave students feeling almost humiliated and unable to satisfy the professional with even the smallest phrase.
        I wonder: What is meant by aiming for the center of the sound rather than the key?
        I get the lifting up form the key rather than pressing down on it.
        But the other point same skins of mysterious to me.
        Once again thank you for being my eyes and ears that night.
        I love to hear student play and improve under really good and helpful or even empathetic professional coaching. But I still think they should often prepare smaller and shorter pieces since so often they get to go beyond a single page, or even phrase, that the teacher really dwells on for 30 or 45 minutes.
        I would also love to know what pieces the students played for him.
        Anyway, you have helped me and, I suspect, many other readers and piano students and piano fans.
        Best,
        Jake

        Comment by welltemperedear — March 3, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  2. Although I agree with all your Schumann choices, I think you missed the finest of all (IMO, of course) — the 3rd Movement of his Fantasy in C, Op 17. For romance and yearning, that one just knocks it out of the ballpark!

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — February 14, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    • Hi Tim,
      You picked one of my own favorite moments in all of Schumann.
      The movement even stands alone quite well.
      But I think of it as sadder, as almost funereal, though sublime, which is why I once recommended that a pianist play it at the memorial service for a colleague.
      And it is the conclusion to the work that was written to raise money for a Beethoven memorial.
      But whatever we associate with the Fantasy’s final movement, it is absolutely sublime music.
      On that score, we are in complete agreement.
      Thank you for reading and replying with such discerning taste.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 14, 2012 @ 9:18 am


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