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January 29, 2010

Chopin and Schumann: Different!


Check out this New York Times article on Chopin and Schumann. First: I'm not entirely sure why this is news. I mean, it isn't news. I guess the tie-in is that this year is the 200th anniversary of their births, and Emanuel Ax is doing recitals comprised of their music. Okay then.

The main thesis: Chopin and Schumann were not as similar as you (supposedly) thought. Really, do people assume they're similar just because they were contemporaries? "Two people who became famous had very different lives!" Do people assume this about all contemporaries? Why? The following people were all born in 1947: David Bowie, Laura Schlessinger, Dan Quayle, Edward James Olmos, Mitt Romney, Elton John, Camille Paglia, Tom DeLay, Tom Clancy, Iggy Pop, Salman Rushdie, Meat Loaf, Kevin Kline, Hillary Clinton, David Mamet, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Also my dad and my friend Kate's mom. Do we assume that all of these people have had similar lives or careers? No, of course not. (Many people do, however, say that my dad and Kevin Kline look alike.)

Here's where I think the premise of the article breaks down: Tommasini thinks he had scores of readers who were thinking, until this moment, that because Chopin and Schumann were both Romantic composers born in 1810, they probably had a lot in common. But I believe most people will never have given a thought to the question at all. And I think anyone who cared enough to think about it for thirty seconds immediately realized that no, their lives were pretty different. And most people who are reading classical music coverage in the Times likely fall into that second category.

The article doesn't actually say anything shocking. They moved in different social circles! Their family situations were different! George Sand and Clara Schumann: also pretty different! The really odd thing is the tone. It's in the first person, and Tommasini seems really . . . invested in the whole thing. It's like he's telling us about his personal emotional journey when he found out this supposedly shocking news. It ends with this one-sentence paragraph:

I find it touching that on good days during this period in the asylum, Schumann was allowed to walk into Bonn, where he made a point of visiting the monument to Beethoven.
Um, okay. That was abrupt. And vaguely creepy.

Posted by Kat at January 29, 2010 03:00 PM
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