Friday, May 16, 2014

Robert Schumann: Violin Concerto

By Anne-Marie Minhall

The mysterious story of the discovery of Schumann's only violin concerto. Full Works Concert Highlight of the Week, 16 May 2014

In March 1933, one Baron Erik Kule Palmstierna – Sweden’s ambassador to London and an avid psychic researcher – was hosting a séance with his intimate circle of friends. Among them were two flamboyant violinists: the succulently-named Jelly d’Arányi and her sister, Adila Fachiri, great-nieces of the legendary Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim.

Adila was Baron Palmstierna’s medium of choice. She communicated with the departed using an ouija board with a glass as a pointer. It was placed in the centre of the table and very lightly touched by her and a couple of the other participants.
On this particular occasion, as the glass began to move, the disembodied scribe told the gathering he wanted Jelly to find and play his unpublished violin concerto. They asked his name. The reply? Robert Schumann .
Two weeks later, the group received another mysterious communication, directing them towards the noted music scholar, Sir Donald Francis Tovey. He had seen the work mentioned in Joachim’s biography – a Violin Concerto that had remained hidden away and mostly unheard of for eight decades.
Schumann wrote the Concerto for Joachim between 11 September and 3 October 1853. By then the mentally disturbed composer was suffering serious delusions, saying the spirits of Schubert andMendelssohn were dictating music to him. After Schumann’s death in 1856, Joachim told the composer’s wife Clara that the Violin Concerto was the inferior product of an unstable mind. It possessed 'a certain exhaustion,' the violinist wrote, 'which attempts to wring out the last resources of spiritual energy'.
With Clara's blessing, Joachim refused to publicly perform the work and kept a tight rein on it for the rest of his life. After his death, the manuscript was sold by his son to the Prussian State Library in Berlin. Joachim had stated in his will that the Concerto should be neither played nor published until 100 years after Schumann’s death.
At a further séance, when Joachim’s great-nieces received contact from their illustrious ancestor, he told them the piece was in the Hochschule Museum in Berlin. They wrote to the museum but received no reply. Schumann's ghost later communicated to them that the man to whom they had written was on holiday! 
Another psychic message urged them to write to Baron Palmstierna, then in Sweden, and ask him to seek the work in Berlin on his return. At the Hochschule, the Baron was shown a folder labelled 'Schumann' but it contained only works by other composers. A visitor, however, overheard his enquiries and advised him to visit the archives in the Prussian State Library. There, a reluctant official showed the Baron a file which contained the concerto with Joachim’s name on the label. Although the manuscript seen by Palmstierna was marked ‘unfinished’, Schumann’s ghost was adamant at subsequent séances that the work was complete, 'though it might need some arranging'.
Thrilled at the discovery, Jelly d’Arányi claimed the right of first performance on the basis of the psychic interventions that she said had guided her to it. But the Nazi government intervened - they were on the look out for a new German violin concerto to replace the Mendelssohn which, because of the composer’s Jewish roots, now no longer officially existed. Rejecting the 100-year no-play rule slapped on the Concerto by Joachim, they insisted that a German must give the first a performance. The violinist Georg Kulenkampff played it in front of Goebbels on 26 November 1937 with the Berlin Philharmonic, and recorded it soon after the première. The young Yehudi Menuhin gave the second performance – in a violin and piano version – at Carnegie Hall on 6 December 1937 and Jelly d'Aranyi had to be satisfied with giving the first London performance.

It was not an overnight success. Critics initially agreed with Joachim’s opinion of the work - the New York Times described it as 'very weak' showing 'a failing inspiration and lack of strength.' A British commentator said, 'Of this dismal fiasco, the less said the better.'
Today, the Concerto has firmly become part of the mainstream of the violin repertoire and is considered an important late Schumann work. Menuhin hailed it as the 'missing link' between Beethoven andBrahms , with the 'same human warmth, caressing softness, bold manly rhythms, the same lovely arabesque treatment of the violin, the same rich and noble themes and harmonies'.
Naturally the authenticity of the ghostly messages that led to the Concerto's discovery has been called into question many times over the years. It is possible that the violinist and her medium sister may have been aware that the Concerto's first movement had actually been performed three years before their famous séance. Being young women at the time of Joachim’s death, they could also have been well aware of the provisions of his will, asking for the work to be kept under lock and key for 100 years. 
Whatever the truth, Jelly d’Arányi and Baron Palmstierna’s version of events in uncovering this important concerto certainly contributed an added degree of mystery to its emergence from obscurity.


Robert Schumann ComposerRobert Schumann

Discover Schumann: full biography, news, features and music to play and download.

A Poem by Huchel

Peter Huchel--German

Peter Huchel

Huchel was born near Berlin in 1903. He studied literature and philosophy in Germany and in Vienna. His early poetry spoke mostly to the culture and nature of the Brandenburg, Germany area. From 1934-40 he wrote plays for German radio. During the war he was a pilot in the Luftwaffe and taken prisoner by the Russians in 1945. After the war he worked for East German radio, and in 1949 became editor of Sinn und Form, an influential poetry magazine. Soon after the Berlin Wall was built, Huchel came under attack for his views. He was forced into isolation, but was permitted to leave the German Democratic Republic for Rome. He later returned to Germany where he died in 1980.
The Ammonite
For Axel Vieregg

Tired of the gods and of their fires,
I lived without laws
in the dip of the valley of Hinnon.
My old companions left me,
the balance of earth and sky,
only the ram, trailing its footrot limp
across the stars, remained loyal.
Under its horns of stone
that shone without smoke, I slept by night,
every day baked urns
that I shattered against the rock
in face of the setting sun.
In the cedars I did not see
the cats' twilight, the rising of birds,
the splendor of water
flowing over my arms
when in my bucket I mixed the clay.
The smell of death made me blind.

Hölderlin, by Aleksander Wat

Aleksander Wat: Truth on a Toilet Wall

During his last 36 years Friedrich Hölderlin, mentally ill, lived in the
house of a carpenter named Zimmer in Tübingen. He addressed visitors
as "Altesse Royale" and always answered questions with "No." His last
poems are signed, "avec humilité, Scardanelli." The fragments "the Road
from the Alps," "the cities on the Euphrates," and "poetry tends to the
land" ("dichterich wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde") are taken from
his poems. The quatrine in quotation marks reads in the original, "De
Angernehme dieser Welt hab' ich genossen,/Die Jugendstunden sind, wie
lang! wie lang! verflossen,/April und Mai und Julius sind ferne./Ich bin
nichts mehr, ich lebe nicht mehr gerne!" [Wat's footnote]


I lift the black lid of the harpsichord
And break the strings—until there are two.
With them I play my last song—
One plays YES! While the other NO!

YES—I sing in awe to the Unchanging She
While for you I have—Nein, Altesse.
A serpent watches me from a grove.
What am I? Scardanelli, avec humilité.

The model for me was Empedocles
Though not his royal wisdom or seer's vanity—
Like he into Mount Etna, into insanity
I jump to affirm my singularity.

Into the wildest mountains and ravines
And to the farthest crossings of entangled roads!
How to escape the Hunter, how to join the Hunt.
Where to be the ruler or the last of the ruled?

—Poetry tends to the land, therefore we too
Shall humbly tend without delusions.
Down is the Neckar, take walks in the summer,
In the winter listen to the songs of Lotta Zimmer.

He must be insane who all his thoughts and heart
Puts into chasing Chimeric meanings and shapes.
Empty are the cities on the Euphrates, the road from the Alps,
And no heavenly dwellers In the carpenter's house.

"I have enjoyed this agreeable world,
The youthful hours, how long! how long! are gone,
Distant are the Aprils, Mays and Junes,
I am nothing now, I wish I lived no more!"

Birds depart in weary keys
When the bell of gold announces their time.
Everywhere I see ominous signs,
All the roads are wrong, the night comes down to a rhyme.

The garlands of owls garnish the pines and the wind
Wrinkles your face in the water mirror, Diotima,
Mountain campfire smoke enwraps me.
Fifers call me for a long night's march.

(translated from the Polish by Frank L. Vigoda)