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Clara's Karma?

150 years' postponement in publication of Clara Schumann's piano sonata -
investigated by

'... Karen Kushner brings welcomed light ...'

Karen Kushner, piano. Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann. © 2005 Palatine Recordings

Germany had just been reunited (3 October 1990) and the First Persian Gulf War began the New Year 1991. Ballet lost Margot Fonteyn (born 1919) and Martha Graham (born 1894) within its first few months. In mid-April, thieves stole twenty paintings (then valued at a puny US$500 million) from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Less than an hour later, they were unexpectedly discovered in an abandoned car close by. That summer, Tim Berners-Lee began to install the World Wide Web on the Internet. Shortly afterwards, the Dead Sea Scrolls were made available to the public by the Huntington Library. Consequently, a real communication push-me-pull-you of consciousness helter-skeltered before The Enlightened Few (British author Hugh John Lofting [1889-1947], had kindly invented Dr Dolittle's 'Pushmi-Pullyu' in 1920: an African antelope with two heads capable of looking both for and aft simultaneously; most helpful to my narrative, if little else).

This was one year before the making of 'Sister Act', in which Whoopi Goldberg achieved far more for the awareness of musical performance in churches than Paul McCartney with this year's CD release of his composition, Liverpool Oratorio.

Ten years before this, in 1981, the first (!) woman had been elected to the Supreme Court in the USA, and there had been unsuccessful assassination attempts made upon a President who had been an actor in B movies, and the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. For your Eyes Only had ranked amongst the most popular films.

Ten years later, in 2001, Rudi Giuliani was to be made Time's 'Person of The Year' for reasons we shall never forget. By this point, women held a far more equal share of The Cards, but not enough to warrant absolute equality, anywhere. The Liberté, egalité, fraternité of the French Revolution (1789-1799) remains a male call and leitmotif; in some places with a Basso ostinato more sempre molto burkhoso, than others.

So what was it about 1991 (during which the film Pretty Woman ranked in the most popular listings) that hauntingly hints of musical score settling?

Was Clara Schumann (1819-1896) a pretty woman? She was certainly an outstanding pianist -- one of the most eminent in Europe, and highly intelligent. She bore Schumann eight children, which, given the constraints of her century, made it miraculous that she managed to continue a career and fascinate (even bewitch) a chain of talented young men. One such was Joseph Joachim, who, together with Ferdinand David, had encouraged Robert Schumann to write the latter's Violin Concerto in D minor (WoO 23) around three years before his early death.

Although Clara had originally sought to publish the work, after her husband's demise, she and Joachim appear to have appended 'For Your Eyes Only' as a subtitle. Joachim was a mere 22 years old when Robert completed the beautiful concerto (1853) and he and Clara went on to sentence it to a century of silence [see A Sleeping Beauty]. If we (justifiably) discard the highly edited arrangements that were performed and recorded on both sides of the Atlantic in late 1937, and (rightly) consider Peter Rybar's authentic recording of 1951 as being the bona fide birth of the concerto as Schumann had composed it, we see that the imposed century of silence was all but complete.

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Copyright © 19 September 2006 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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