Der Corsar

Ed. Joachim Draheim. Breitkopf


The 1981 world premiere of this 20-page fragment excited a critic to call it “an amazing piece”. On the printed page, most of it looks more like a mirror of poor Schumann's extreme melancholia during his 1844 Russian tour with Clara, when people kept on asking him if he too was musical. On return, perhaps by way of compensation, he became obsessed with Byron's dominant and virile pirate-hero (“who dare question aught that he decides?”) and the idea of a German opera on that theme. The surviving pages show how Schumann's own poetic depth hampered the dramatic time-dimension; the music is all feeling and no happening. After a few lacklustre yo-heave-hos the curiously mixed chorus of SATB pirates dozes off, as the sun goes down through 30 slow bars of tonic pedal. Through the twilight we hear the sound of the Nachtsignal. The kindly corsair praises his comatose crew and stammers out a few filtering phrases about his own unshakable determination; the rest is silence.

     Yet Schumann's sketched scenario, reproduced here, shows that his powerful structuring intellect remained unimpaired, even in the darkest depressive phase. The dull libretto, perhaps his own, also derives from a close study of the source. His feelings of affinity with isolated heroes or heroines (Genoveva and the Peri, as well as Hamlet, Manfred and finally Faust) were profound and genuine; the syphilitic Schumann was a suffering outcast in real life too. If only this music could have matched his emotional intensity, “amazing” would have been the word: and no doubt it is all well worth a hearing, especially the D major sunset music with its typically motivic flattened 7th.

      So the score deserves study. The miniature for­mat also finds room for reproduction of the last autograph page, an informative preface and tex­tual notes. I think space should have been found for some mention of the Byron song-settings and the influence of Schumann's father August, who was among the first German translators and publishers of Byron. Shaw on Genoveva should have been cited from the primary source, not a modern American anthology. But otherwise the four pages of foreword are exemplary in their attention to relevant background detail, and so is the final page of Revisionsbericht. All serious Schumannians will welcome this publication, and the initiative that produced it.


The Musical Times, Sept. 1984 (p. 509) © the estate of eric sams