The story has been told from various perspectives, psychoanalytical, cultural, historical. Chernaik has chosen, shrewdly, to tell it through the music, since Schumann’s life is, to a unique degree, incorporated into it — in coded references to himself, to Beethoven, to Bach, to his contemporaries Chopin and Mendelssohn, above all to Clara, over and over again. He invented two figures, Florestan and Eusebius, who represented, respectively, the impulsive and the reflective side of his nature; he imagined a Band of David, friends gathered together to defeat and slay the Philistines. All of this is ingeniousy embedded in his music, even at its most apparently spontaneous and passionate, and Chernaik, a one-woman musical Bletchley Park, has brilliantly decoded it.
It’s a most touching and moving story, beautifully told by Judith Chernaik, the woman who first came up with the inspired idea of Poems On The Underground.
She understands the poetry of Schumann’s soul and she communicates with quiet urgency the pity of his story and the beauty of his music. If her intention was that by reading this, we’d be inspired to go back to his music with a deeper appreciation, it has worked for me.
The story of their relationship has become one of the great legends of music, and Chernaik retells it engagingly... Chernaik makes a brave case against the accepted position that the music Schumann wrote in middle age demonstrates failing powers... Whether this was the result of an exhaustion of his early inspiration or the effect of a move away from composing at the piano towards working ideas out in his head must remain moot. But what cannot be disputed is his increasingly fragile state of mind: always subject to melancholia and panic attacks, Schumann became increasingly withdrawn and irritable in his forties, as the fatal tertiary phase of syphilis – contracted in the course of one of several premarital liaisons – took a dreadful grip on his sanity.