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Week of 16 January 1998

Vol. I, No. 16


Schumann's biographer creates a celebration of his music

by Judith Sandler

When Phyllis Hoffman approached John Daverio with the idea of constructing a series celebrating the works of Robert Schumann, Daverio remembers, "she asked me to let my imagination run wild. She wanted me to give the series a focus. So I came up with three basic ideas to organize the series and gave her a list of potential pieces."

Had she scoured the country, it's unlikely that Hoffman, director of the School for the Arts music division, could have found anyone better qualified to design a Schumann series than the SFA associate professor. Daverio's scholarship in the field is well-known, and his recently published biography Robert Schumann: Herald of a New Poetic Age has received rave reviews from the musical press. The London Financial Times calls it "an embarrassment of musical riches," and Boston Book Review finds it "an absorbing and meticulous offering." Boston Symphony Orchestra program annotator Steven Ledbetter considers it "precisely the kind of book that we need about each of the composers who form the core of our musical lives." In addition, being asked to write the Schumann article for The New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the definitive English language music reference publication, confers on Daverio the ultimate voice of authority on Schumann.

John Daverio

SFA Associate Professor John Daverio, whose biography of Robert Schumann has been widely acclaimed. Photo by Fred Sway

"John Daverio has risen to preeminence as a scholar of 19th-century German romanticism," says Hoffman. "This series of concerts is a fitting recognition of John's latest achievement, his biography of Robert Schumann, and coincides with its recent publication. Performances by SFA faculty and student ensembles of works Daverio has chosen and will introduce in preconcert lectures gives us a special opportunity to integrate before the public the music division's strong disciplines of scholarship and performance."

The series begins January 21 at the Tsai Peformance Center with a concert Daverio calls "Uttering Clara in Tones." He has selected works inspired by one of the great romances of the 19th-century musical world: the love story of Robert Schumann and his wife, brilliant pianist and gifted composer Clara Wieck Schumann. "So many of Robert's pieces were inspired by Clara in some way -- he even quotes from some of her music, and sometimes they collaborated on pieces," Daverio says.

In crafting the second concert of the series, "Exploring the Psyche," which will be presented on February 23, Daverio selected music demonstrating what Schumann termed "unusual states of the soul" -- music that reflects extraordinary states and extreme moods. The emotional range of the music in this concert extends from a rhapsody based on a child's fairy tale to the depiction of a half-crazed character inspired by the work of the inventor of the modern horror story, E. T. A. Hoffman. "But it is very important to clarify that just because Schumann wrote crazy-sounding music doesn't mean he was crazy," says Daverio. In constructing this concert, Daverio sought "to show the tremendous range and variety of mood in his music."

The last concert, "Festive and Solemn Ceremonies," to be performed on April 7, displays the public Schumann. Although many may be familiar with his introverted and esoteric works, Schumann also wrote music intended for a broad public. An orchestral and choral conductor, he wrote accessible music for both ensembles that continues to have wide appeal.

In assembling this festival, Daverio says, his aim was to reveal the many facets of Schumann. "I think that though he's not a neglected composer," he says, "there are pieces we tend to hear over and over again which come from certain parts of his output, but they don't give a sense of the whole composer. So I wanted to show the entire scope of that variety. Schumann wrote every kind of musical piece. He was a jack-of-all-trades with an expressive and emotional range that is immense."

Recipient of the 1997 Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, Daverio is chairman of the department of music history and literature as well as a professional violinist. "We have been performing together for a number of years, and I'm very, very happy to be his colleague," says pianist and Associate Professor Maria Clodes Jaguaribe. "He's such an extraordinary and intelligent musician. I think it's remarkable that a musicologist is such a wonderful player and performer."

Fellow colleague Gerald Weale, associate professor and chairman of the music education department, has enjoyed an association with Daverio reaching back to their student days as doctoral students at SFA. "In addition to being a superb performing musician who could have made his living playing the violin," says Weale, "John is a fabulous scholar and wonderful teacher, so his students get the benefit of the scholarship and musicianship -- the best of both worlds."

The first concert of the series, on Wednesday, January 21, at 8 p.m., will feature William Hite, tenor, David Deveau, piano, Sheila Kibbe, piano, Robert Merfeld, piano, Bayla Keyes, violin, and Andrés Díaz, cello, performing Fantasie, Op. 17, Dichterliebe, Op. 48, and Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63. The second concert will be on Monday, February 23, and the third on Tuesday, April 7. Daverio will give a preconcert lecture at each concert beginning at 7 p.m. All performances will be at 8 p.m. in the Tsai Performance Center.