Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/435

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


visit became an annual one up to 1882, interrupted only in 1878, 1879, 1880, when health and other circumstances did not permit her to travel. In 1866 she again visited Austria, and gave six concerts at Vienna; and any coldness that the Viennese may have previously shown towards her husband's compositions was then amply atoned for.

In 1878 she accepted the post of principal teacher of the pianoforte in the Conservatoire founded by Dr. Hoch at Frankfort, where she is now (1882) living and working with great success.

This is not the place or the time to speak of the charm of Madame Schumann's personality, of the atmosphere of noble and earnest simplicity which surrounds her in private life no less than in her public performance. Those who have the privilege of her acquaintance do not need such description, and for those who have not it is un- necessary to make the attempt. She is deeply and widely beloved, and a few years ago, when there appeared to be a prospect of her being compelled by ill health to abandon her public appearances, the esteem and affection of her numerous friends took the practical form of a subscription, and a considerable sum of money was raised in Germany and England for her use.

I am indebted to Mr. Franklin Taylor for the following characterisation of Madame Schumann's style and works.

As an artist, Madame Schumann's place is indubitably in the first rank of living pianists ; indeed she may perhaps be considered to stand higher than any of her contemporaries, if not as regards the possession of natural or acquired gifts, yet in the use she makes of them. Her playing is characterised by an entire absence of personal display, a keen perception of the composer's meaning, and an unfailing power of setting it forth in perfectly intelligible form. These qualities would lead one to pronounce her one of the most intellectual of players, were it not that that term has come to imply a certain coldness or want of feeling, which is never per- ceived in her playing. But just such a use of the intellectual powers as serves the purposes of true art, ensuring perfect accuracy in all respects, no liberties being taken with the text, even when playing from memory, and above all securing an interpretation of the composer's work which is at once intelligible to the listener this certainly forms an essential element of her playing, and it is worth while insisting on this, since the absence of that strict accuracy and perspicuity is too often mistaken for evidence of deep emotional intention. With all this, however, Madame Schumann's playing evinces great warmth of feeling, and a true poet's appreciation of absolute beauty, so that nothing ever sounds harsh or ugly in her hands ; indeed it may fairly be said that after hearing her play a fine work (she never plays what is not good), one always be- comes aware that it contains beauties undis- covered before. This is no doubt partly due to the peculiarly beautiful quality of the tone she



���produces, which is rich and vigorous without

he slightest harshness, and is obtained, even in

the loudest passages, by pressure with the fingers, rather than by percussion. Indeed, her playing s particularly free from violent movement of any kind ; in passages, the fingers keep close to ihe keys and squeeze instead of striking them, while chords are grasped from the wrist rather than struck from the elbow. She founds her technique upon the principle laid down by her father, F. Wieck, who was also her instructor, that 'the touch (i. e. the blow of the finger upon the key) should never be audible, but only the musical sound,' an axiom the truth of which there is some danger of overlooking, in the en- deavour to compass the extreme difficulties of certain kinds of modern pianoforte music.

Madame Schumann's repertoire is very large, extending from Scarlatti and Bach to Mendels- sohn, Chopin, and Brahms, and it would be difficult to say that she excels in her rendering of any one composer's works rather than an- other's, unless it be in her interpretation of her husband's music. And even here, if she is pro- nounced by general opinion to be greatest in her playing of Schumann, it is probably because it is to her inimitable performances that we owe, in this country at least, the appreciation and love of his music now happily become universal, and thus the player shares in the acknowledgement she has won for the composer.

Madame Schumann's compositions, though not very numerous, evince that earnestness of purpose which distinguishes her work in general. Even her earliest essays, which are short pianoforte- pieces written for the most part in dance-form, are redeemed from any approach to triviality by their interesting rhythms, and in particular by the freshness of their modulations, the latter being indeed in some cases original even to abruptness. Their general characteristic is that of delicacy rather than force, their frequent staccato passages and the many skipping grace- notes which are constantly met with requiring for their performance a touch of the daintiest lightness ; although qualities of an opposite kind are occasionally shown, as in the ' Souvenir de Vienne,' op. 9, which is a set of variations in bravura style on Haydn's Austrian Hymn. Amon her more serious compositions of later date are a Trio in G minor for pianoforte, violin and violon- cello, op. 17, which is thoroughly musicianlike and interesting, three charming Cadences to Beethoven's Concertos, ops. 37 and 58, and a set of three Preludes and Fugues, op. 16, which deserve mention not only on account of their ex- cellent construction, but as forming a most valu- able study in legato part-playing. There is also a Piano Concerto, op. 7, dedicated to Spohr, of which the passages (though not the modulations) remind one of Hummel ; but it is a short work and not well balanced, the first movement being reduced to a single solo, which ends on the dominant, and leads at once to the Andante.

In the later works, as might naturally be ex- pected, there are many movements which bear

�� �