Sunday, January 24, 2010

The "Other" Bicentennial?

Perhaps it was just a shortcoming in my reading habits, but I found it interesting that The New York Times was already revving itself up for the bicentennial of the birth of Frédéric Chopin on January 2, while the first notice that Chopin shared this bicentennial with Robert Schumann only appeared today in a comparative evaluation piece by Anthony Tommasini. Personally, I suspect that the "Brace Yourselves!" post I wrote in response to the first Times piece is more applicable to Chopin than it is to Schumann. This is because I anticipate that we are less likely to be flooded by bad performances of Schumann this year, simply because those who do not play very well tend to shy away from him. Those who think nothing of having their way with Chopin still tend to be easily intimated by much of the Schumann repertoire.

Nevertheless, I wish to emphasize a point that I just made in an piece, which is that, when properly performed, both of these composers do best when taken in moderation. Both Chopin and Schumann hold up equally well under serious listening, but serious listening is reflective listening. When the performance is a good one, it will provide more than enough over which to reflect, rather than creating an urge to "move on to the next thing," whatever that "thing" may be. So the injunction still holds. We shall probably have to brace ourselves even more for the excesses of a double bicentennial. On the other hand, if we do well in filtering out the mediocrities, we are all likely to be very busy in our serious listening activities. However, as a former resident of Palo Alto who took advantage of the opportunities to hear recitals by Stanford University faculty, including those not in the Music Department, all I ask is that I be spared having to endure yet another attempt by Condoleeza Rice to take on the piano part of Schumann's Opus 44 piano quintet!

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