The tortured romantic composer is the subject of two new books
The Cambridge Companion to Schumann (Cambridge Companions to Music)
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As I write this, I’m humming the opening bars of Schumann’s Papillons (1829–31), one of his earliest compositions for piano, a piece I haven’t played, let alone heard, in at least six years. I can recall these notes because I remember the visceral pleasure of playing an ascending scale in octaves, the sense of expansiveness—like a butterfly’s wings unfolding—and of flight. Papillons was one of many pieces I learned as a competent (but undisciplined) amateur, yet it was one of the few I returned to again and again, even as I moved on to the Beethoven sonatas and Rachmaninoff preludes that were considered more sophisticated, challenging work.
In the 1830s, it was Schumann’s music that was considered challenging, its structures experimental and fragmented. His wife, Clara Wieck, a virtuoso pianist whose reputation
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