- Twin Spirits: Portraying the Love of Robert & Clara Schumann in Words
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In the last fifteen years, scholars, musicians, and classical music fans alike have grown increasingly interested in the passionate and tragic relationship of Robert and Clara (née Wieck) Schumann. Musicologists Nancy B. Reich, Christopher A. Reynolds, and John Daverio, among others, have offered exceptional studies of their personal lives and rich epistolary and musical exchanges, while a growing catalog of excellent recordings has brought Clara's long-neglected oeuvre to the public's attention. In his dramatized retelling of this well-known story, English playwright and director, John Caird depicts the arc of the Schumanns' relationship by placing their extensive correspondence (read by Sting and his wife, actress Trudie Styler) in counterpoint with their own compositions and their favorite contemporary works, resulting in a breathtakingly intimate portrait of the profound emotions that tied the two together. In a particularly adventurous move, Caird extends Clara and Robert's epistolary dialogue into the realm of musical performance by creating two ensembles to represent their respective musical correspondence: Robert is portrayed musically by baritone Simon Keenlyside, pianist Iain Burnside, and violinist Sergej Krylov, while Clara's thoughts are given voice by soprano Rebecca Evans, pianist Natasha Paremski, and cellist Natalie Clein.
In addition to the stellar (if occasionally abridged or rearranged) performances presented in the production of Twin Spirits, which encompasses the first disc of this two-disc set, the second disc offers several extra features that might prove to be quite valuable for use in the music history classroom and the applied studio. Caird hosts a one-hour cast talk with small groups of instrumentalists, singers, actors, and musicologist Daniel Gallager that provides insight into the musical and dramatic challenges involved in the performance itself, as well as overviews of some of the issues that arise from Robert's and Clara's biographies and music. Occasionally, some viewers might find the cast's seemingly endless debate about the relative merits of Clara's work as both a composer and a pianist vis-à-vis Robert's to be at best tedious and at worst misogynistic, as when pianist Paremski suggests that Clara's virtuosity had more to do with the size of the keys on her piano than with her talent and work ethic. A more objective chronological exploration of the Schumanns' biographies is presented in One Heart, One Soul, a additional thirty-minute-plus interview (in German with subtitles) with Gerd Neuhaus, director of the Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau, whose commentary bestows much insight into Clara's personal and professional life, especially following Robert's death in 1856. Finally, a color-coded timeline supplies a useful resource that further augments our understanding of Clara and Robert's respective creative lives and their passionate, if troubled, love affair and marriage. The excessive genius mythology that surrounds discussions of Robert's life and work in the Twin Spirits package will certainly require deconstruction within the classroom setting and offers the potential for lively and valuable discussions about gender norms in the Schumanns' time and our own, as well as the need for what Renée Cox Lorraine has described as a "feminist aesthetics" of music (Renée Cox Lorraine, "Recovering Jouissance : Feminist Aesthetics and Music," in Women & Music: A History, ed. Karin Pendle [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001]: 3–18). Twin Spirits is, therefore, a flawed yet powerful production that offers instructors a variety of potential classroom uses, and, as such, it would be a valuable addition to any university music or fine arts library.