Robert Schumann: Herald of a "New Poetic Age"

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Forced by a hand injury to abandon a career as a pianist, Robert Schumann went on to become one of the world's great composers. Among many works, his Spring Symphony (1841), Piano Concerto in A Minor (1841/1845), and the Third, or Rhenish, Symphony (1850) exemplify his infusion of classical forms with intense, personal emotion. His musical influence continues today and has inspired many other famous composers in the century since his death. Indeed Brahms, in a letter of January 1873, wrote: "The remembrance of Schumann is sacred to me. I will always take this noble pure artist as my model."
Now, in Robert Schumann: Herald of a "New Poetic Age," John Daverio presents the first comprehensive study of the composer's life and works to appear in nearly a century. Long regarded as a quintessentially romantic figure, Schumann also has been portrayed as a profoundly tragic one: a composer who began his career as a genius and ended it as a mere talent. Daverio takes issue with this Schumann myth, arguing instead that the composer's entire creative life was guided by the desire to imbue music with the intellectual substance of literature. A close analysis of the interdependence among Schumann's activities as reader, diarist, critic, and musician reveals the depth of his literary sensibility. Drawing on documents only recently brought to light, the author also provides a fresh outlook on the relationship between Schumann's mental illness—which brought on an extended sanitarium stay and eventual death in 1856—and his musical creativity. Schumann's character as man and artist thus emerges in all its complexity. The book concludes with an analysis of the late works and a postlude on Schumann's influence on successors from Brahms to Berg.
This well-researched study of Schumann interprets the composer's creative legacy in the context of his life and times, combining nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual history with a fascinating analysis of the works themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In place of the usual pathograpy, Daverio offers a finely integrated account of the life and the work of a composer whose life and work were inwardly interconnected as only a true Romantic's could be. One of the special rewards of Daverio's approach is a more sypathetic and insightful treatment of the later, lesser-known portion of Schumann's output, including all of his largest works, than can be found in any other comprehensive study."—Richard Taruskin, Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley

"What a godsend John Daverio's book is for those who need something on Schumann in English. Daverio's account is informed, sensitive, and delivered in an inviting style. Reading this book, I found myself especially grateful for its much-needed correctives: for the emphasis on Schumann's skill with large forms, sweeping away the old cliche that he was successful only in miniatures and character pieces; for the persuasive discussion of the late works against the mindless repetition by critics that they are feeble; and for the committed, indeed impassioned, discussion of such neglected masterpieces as Das Paradies und die Peri, Genoveva, and the Scenes from Goethe's Faust."—Michael Steinberg, Program Annotator, San Francisco Symphony, New York Philharmonic

"For a long time, we have needed a new and freshly researched biography of Schumann. Anyone who tries dipping into John Daverio's new study will soon be captured by his lively and absorbing writing and the depth of context that illuminates his discussion of the music."—Stanley Sadie, Editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

"This is a cogent and sensitive biography of a pioneering composer who sought to and did capture poetry in his music."—Booklist

"This Schumann biography is a big read. Beneath its maroon-and-cream dust cover lies an embarrassment of musical riches.... Schumann has a perceptive interpreter and champion here. No better book on the composer is likely to emerge."— Michael Pollard,Financial Times

"A scholarly but entertaining history of the quintessential Romantic composer."—Library Journal

"Not content merely to recycle the sloppy cliches that have so damaged Shumann's reputation, [Daverio] assesses every work on its own terms, thus helping us to appreciate the amazing bredth of Schumann's inspiration.... This is an inspired book which should gladden the hearts and minds of Schumann lovers."—Steven Isserlis, Music Magazine

"Robert Schumann is precisely the kind of book that we need about each of the composers who form the core of our musical lives....[Daverio] offers musical analyses that will intrigue the reader about many works rarely or never heard and at the same time brings a new understanding to the best-loved pieces....This most welcome volume is likely to be the standard biography of Schumann for many years to come."—Steven Ledbetter, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Misha Donat
No other composer so assiduously compartmentalized his output, setting out systematically to master and exhaust one form of composition before embarking on the next....The notion of the tormented genius is one that continues to exert a spell on us at the end of the 20th century...
London Review of Books
Misha Donat
No other composer so assiduously compartmentalized his output, setting out systematically to master and exhaust one form of composition before embarking on the next....The notion of the tormented genius is one that continues to exert a spell on us at the end of the 20th century...
London Review of Books
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195091809
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 624
  • Lexile: 1610L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.79 (d)

Meet the Author

John Daverio is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Musicology Department at the Boston University School for the Arts. He is the author of Nineteenth-Century Music and the German Romantic Ideology, and has published on the music of Schumann, Brahms, and Wagner in a number of professional journals.

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