The Cambridge Companion to Schumann

Paul Driver writes:

It is a shame to go from Worthen’s lucid, journalistic (but rarely clichéd) prose to the cumbersome erudition of Beate Perrey’s preface, actually more of a puff: the non-specialist contributors have ‘new and perceptive things to say precisely because the perspective from which to view Schumann’s work is different from the set of values within which Schumann studies may sometimes have found themselves enclosed’. Her own chapter, ‘Schumann’s Lives and Afterlives: An Introduction’, is nonetheless a good overview. She quickly makes Worthen’s point about biographers with ‘a particular investment in Schumann’s madness’ who ‘inevitably ended up reading Schumann’s life backwards’, and cites his ‘lifelong inclination to silence’, as well as his fondness for generic composition (piano music, songs, symphonic works, chamber music, oratorio, in successive periods). But the suggestion that his use of quotations from other people’s music as well as his own indicates that once in a while he ‘enjoys taking a break from himself’ seems oddly naive; and the claim that the extensive and innovative use of literary allusion in his music is that of ‘an outsider to his art’ overlooks the fact that in his piano masterpieces of the 1830s he turned the art of music inside out.

(LRB 21 February 2008)