- The Schumann Encounter
The Schumann Encounter is a 52-minute chamber drama that, despite its modest budget, presents much that is unusual and significant in the growing corpus of Schumann-related films. Originally produced for television in 2000 under the title Robert’s Rescue, it is now available for the first time on DVD format. Not only does it boast the talents of one of England’s most acclaimed actors, Simon Callow, and the esteemed orchestra conductor, Sir Roger Norrington, but it also is the only film that incorporates the characters of Schumann’s alter-egos—“Florestan,” “Eusebius,” and “Meister Raro—into the dramatic action.
The action is quickly described: Sir Roger Norrington has finished rehearsing the Camerata Academica Salzburg for a performance of Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony, Opus 61. Seeking some rest before the evening concert, he checks into his hotel for a quick nap before his 7:30 call. [End Page 69] While asleep, he dreams that he’s visited by two characters in the adjoining room who identify themselves as Florestan and Eusebius. Florestan is a noisy, antic fellow wrapped in a broad red scarf. Eusebius wears a nightshirt, chain-smokes, and bitterly scowls at the world from behind a sinister pair of shades. Apart from those details, they seem to be identical twins. Both are bickering over how best to complete Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony, Opus 61. Three movements are completed, but the fourth movement has stalled halfway through. So bitter are their disputes that Florestan angrily loads a revolver and threatens to shoot Eusebius. Eusebius, meanwhile, threatens suicide. Interposed between the two is the hapless Norrington. They call him “Meister Raro” and ask him to mediate their conflicts. At story’s end, having accomplished a temporary creative truce between the two, Norrington wakes up and departs to the concert hall, where the performance of the Second Symphony is about to begin. . .
The Schumann Encounter is a curiosity, to say the least. Generalists will be baffled, but Schumann specialists and enthusiasts will have a jolly time with this brief but pungent psychodrama. Schumann did indeed frequently refer to these three characters, both in his music criticism and in his own music. As early as 1831 they “speak” out, as it were, in his early music criticism, and vent their opposing views about the so-called “New Music” of Germany. Likewise, their names appear inscribed in many of Schumann’s musical works, their antic rebellion and melancholy reflection infusing, by turns, the restlessly shifting moods of the music. Meister Raro serves as a conciliator between the two in his attempts to restore order.
The film is structured in four parts, each corresponding to a movement of the Symphony. In the first movement, Florestan and Eusebius make their initial appearances. Their conflicts are musically apparent: Eusebius’s tangled musings find expression in the Symphony’s somber, winding introduction, and Florestan’s manic obsession is reflected in the main subject’s vigorous outburst in dotted rhythms.
The second movement introduces us to the second Trio, a chorale and two variants. Norrington sits down at the keyboard and reveals to Eusebius that the Trio is based on the four notes corresponding to the name B-A-C-H. Eusebius quietly muses on the quiet stillness that Bach’s music brings to his troubled, “muddied” thoughts.
The third movement, the celebrated Adagio, elicits Eusebius’ suicidal thoughts. He dreams of plunging from a bridge into the cold, wintry waters of the Rhine. Deeper and deeper he goes, cradled in the embrace of a great peace. Abruptly, Florestan interrupts the soliloquy. Excitedly, he describes plunging in after Eusebius to rescue him. It’s an exhilarating moment. Norrington, meanwhile, urges them to reconcile their differences.
Finally, in the fourth movement, all seems well, at first. The opening’s bright declamations seem to banish the shadows that have come before. But then, it stalls. At the height of a peroration, it sticks, the notes repeating [End Page 70] themselves like a broken record. To the rescue come both Florestan...