The Schumann Requiem, op.148: Some Works are Ignored for Convenience

One of the greatest benefits of being a music teacher is that the teacher (if he cares about his classes) is compelled to explore obscure repertory in the interests of “due diligence”. You can’t just put on the best known works and point out how great they are, although there are occasionally inexperienced or unimaginative students who prefer such an approach, albeit very few in my classes after 13 years of steady attention to neglected repertory. I freely admit to sometimes eccentric choices; It’s probably more useful to go out on a limb than play it safe…so in studying the symphonies of Carl Nielsen recently, we concentrated on the Third and the Sixth at the expense of the better known Fourth and Fifth.  My reasoning was that the later two works didn’t need the help, they are very clear conceptions, whereas the other two are wonderfully enigmatic.

In attempting to at least listen to as much of the oeuvreof Mendelssohn and Schumann as possible, I realize that it is naturally not possible to analyze the scores of such a vast amount of work. For deeper analysis I need to pick and choose a suitable cross-section. And for the most part, the truly obscure works are unknown for pretty good reasons; they either are purely practical works, designed to provide for a need or generate income, or they’re unsuccessful in some way.  Some “unsucessful” pieces are fascinating, and deserve attention, such as Schumann’s Genoveva or Mendelssohn’s “Lobgesang” symphony.

I’ve pawed through my extensive collection of books about Schumann, and I’ve found that nobody but nobody seems to care about the Requiem, op. 148.  Not much, anyway. Schauffler simply says “… these (the late choral) works need not detain us.” Jensen merely notes the elegiac character of the Requiem, and comments that it has more contrast than the Mass. Carl Dahlhaus, in his arrogant and controversial book, Nineteenth Century Music interestingly comments that the Requiem reflects an era in which the Catholic Requiem text could be seen merely as an elegiac poem, and compares the Schumann work to the Brahms Requiem, which misses an important point.  Schumann’s work is an elegant and gentle acceptance of death, and is about death, while Brahms’ incalculably great work is about the living, the mourners, and is the world’s most sublime work of consolation in any artistic field.

Schumann’s late works may show a slackening of originality (but whether they are lesser than the early works is debatable!) and it’s tough to be a sheep among goats, so to speak, and to appropriate an image from the text concerning the Last Judgement.  Probably some Vivaldi concertos are better than others, and some Kirnberger fugues are better than others, for instance. I sort of hope I don’t have to find out, however, any time soon!

Schumann’s Requiem is a masterpiece. Just listen to it. Just listen to it with an open mind (don’t expect to hear traces of Carnaval or Dichterliebe). Schumann said, “one writes a requiem for oneself”, and those who want to can surely find premonitions of madness and death in the resignation of the piece.  That’s not the approach I’d take, however….there are more interesting and less obvious approaches.  The piece is in D-flat major, which in Schumann’s time is almost exclusively a piano key, not an orchestral key, which indicates something about its dreamy otherworldliness.  If a reader of this blog listens to the piece and finds it a waste of time, he can dangle me upside down out of a window and I’ll apologise “unreservedly” ala John Cleese in “A Fish Called Wanda”.

The cd conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch for Eurodisc is excellent, although I can’t promise its availability.

Schumann: Requiem Op.148, Requiem For Mignon

Schumann: Requiem Op.148,

Requiem For Mignon

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