July 25, 2021

Schumann and his symphony «half ill»

Schumann and his symphony «half ill»

I wrote this symphony in December 1845 when I was half ill; I have the impression that this fact can be perceived when it is heard. Already in the last movement I began to feel better. Although I did not enjoy complete health until I finished it. "How is it possible that composing a piece of music becomes something capable of killing you mentally little by little? And it is not much of an exaggeration: Schumann wrote the phrase that heads these lines with 35 years after crawling for months working on the composition of his second symphony, beset by frightful attacks of melancholy and nervous depression accompanied by acoustic hallucinations.These same symptoms are the ones that, eight years later, managed to definitively break his mind and drive him to a failed suicide attempt, which, after two years of convalescence in a psychiatric sanatorium, took him to his lonely tomb, bringing the second symphony of the air regions where he lived between this world and the Hereafter cost Schumann the health and, finally, life, a certainty on which to reflect to all of us that next Friday we have the opportunity Listening to it at the National Music Auditorium performed by the Radio Televisión Española Orchestra conducted by Diego Martín-Etxebarría.

Schumann had been studying, in a more or less obsessive way, the magical Bach polyphonies during the year that preceded his agonizing composition of the second symphony. This "Fugenpassion", as he called it, culminated with his Six Fugues on BACH for organ Op. 60 that gravitate thematically and structurally on his Op. 61. Although it is often said that it was Bach's study that took him out of his well of depression and anguish, one can not help but suspect that maybe it was the other way around, that they were precisely the mysterious counterpoints, canons and fugues of Bach – who also suffered a dreadful death – those who stuck in mansions of the soul that should be kept virgins This seems to point to the fact that the anguish disappeared precisely as the work was ending. This music "has given me many headaches and I spent more than one night redoing with agitation from beginning to end certain passages up to five or six times", he also confessed to a friend our ill-fated composer.

There is also another similar episode in which the Saxon composer damaged his health forever by letting himself be carried away by his musical passion. His piano teacher and mentor Friedrich Wieck (father of Clara Schumann and, therefore, future son-in-law of the musician) recounts in a book published in 1853 that the young Schumann designed and manufactured with a few wires and an empty cigar box a device to strengthen some fingers of his right hand with the idea of ​​perfecting his piano technique. The composer was then 20 years old and promised to become one of the best pianists in Europe but his tragic idea of ​​the "tormentor of fingers" -the expression is Wieck- truncated his career forever: his right hand was damaged for life. Schumann referred to what happened as a "strange misfortune" in a letter to his mother and, accompanied by his teacher, he went to Leipzig to be treated by a Dr. Khül, who recommended nothing less than "animal baths" (Thierbäder), a practice consisting of introducing the affected area (in this case, the entire right arm) into the interior of a recently slaughtered animal and leaving it there until the body heat dissipates so that the "halitus animalis" strengthens the damaged limb. It's all very strange.

Knowing the mental storm that Schumann had to ride to write his Opus 61 surprises the impression of serenity and balance that this symphony leaves in the senses. Although perhaps we should speak of a "first impression of serenity" because, as the successive concentric layers guarding its nucleus in the depths of the soul are let loose, one realizes that this second symphony is a sea of ​​very deep

And it was precisely this disguised complexity, which came to round off Schumann's misfortune: the premiere of the work was quite disastrous. It took place on November 5, 1846 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and the conductor, Felix Mendelssohn, programmed the second symphony at the end of a long concert. The spectators, tired at the moment in which the initial mournful rhythms of the first movement sounded, did not react with enthusiasm and the success of the first symphony was not repeated. That is why it is convenient to arrive at the Auditorium rested this Friday: Opus 61 by Robert Schumann will start at the edge of 0 o'clock, that is, with the sound of the twelve chimes that, traditionally, all the spells vanish.

PS: The program of the concert also includes the operetta of the operetta by Leonard Bernstein "Candide", based on the novel by the infamous Voltaire and, much more interesting, the world premiere of "Kaleidoscope", concert for percussion and orchestra of the promising director and Spanish composer Saül Gómez Soler.

P. S. S .: A small postscript after the concert is imposed to praise the release of the work of Gómez Soler and the spectacular performance offered by the percussionist José Luis González Sanchis. Even leaving out the impressive passages in which the Hang (a curious white flying saucer instrument of the family of ideophones developed by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in Bern at the beginning of the century) is the protagonist, the balanced and score of Gómez Soler has passages with a bewitching texture and a truly memorable evocative power. The enthusiasm of the public with the work was immediate and very remarkable, as the composer himself, present in the Auditorium, could verify. The opposite of what happened to the unfortunate Schumann in 1846.


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