September 2011

Renaissance Man Robert Schumann

Nineteenth century German composer Robert Schumann was something of a Renaissance man and he wanted to encourage others to be Renaissance men, too. He created compositions that evoked a certain mood and had beautiful passages in them so that even players with only moderate skills could feel good about themselves and about playing the piano. He wrote etudes that still served their original purpose—to develop a specific technique—but they also had great artistic content, which caused his etudes to develop the genre of the concert etude. In addition, he himself was influenced by a number of sources in creating his compositions. Here are some of Schumann’s most famous compositions and the sources by which he was inspired to compose:

Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique"

Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is one of my favorite pieces. Written and performed at the Paris Conservetoire in 1830 and finished in 1845, the French composer’s piece was one of the earliest and still best examples of representative music, or music that was designed to sound like the scene or action that it represented. Each of the five movements sounds like what it is supposed to represent: the first movement, “Reveries-Passions,” the second, “A Ball,” the third, “Scene in the Fields,” the fourth, “March to the Scaffold” and the final, “Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath.”

Shostakovich and his revolutionary tendencies

New musical ideas are a road to free-thinking and new thoughts. The music of the past is so linked with the thinking of the path—the forms, the connections with the old world masters—that it also keeps the thinking of the masses to expect that all music is traditional and old and that nothing new can be created because their genius is the end of the road. This same idea can be applied to thinking—an idea that the Nazis probably clung to because so much of their ideology was historically based. Music is a means for sympathizing and understanding its composer, perhaps why Jewish music was banned. If a person likes a piece of music, he probably likes, or at least respects, that piece of music’s composer and thinks he has some merit in his contributions to society. Therefore, the Nazis didn’t want any sympathy for Jews in their de-humanizing campaign against them. Finally, music is a means for propaganda. Old music—with its recognizable and repeatable melodies- was a way to link the glory of the state with a glorious piece of music that would be easily linkable in the peoples’ heads if they heard it again, linked with another nationalist type of activity.