Student resources : Get to know your cello repertoire:

Featured piece: Schumann Cello Concerto

Schumann was one of the most important composers on the 19th century. In addition to composing symphonies and concertos, Schumann is recognized today as one of the great masters of song. In 1840 alone, he wrote more than 130 of them many of which were love songs. Throughout his life, Schumann struggled with his emotions and inner world. In mid-40s, Schumann’s symptoms had progressed to include auditory hallucinations. In 1854, Schumann attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine River. After being rescued, he entered an asylum at his own request, remaining there until his death in 1856 at the age of 46

Before listening to the concerto watch a wonderful short film about Robert Schumann made by one of the greatest cellist today Steven Isserlis. The film has several episodes which you can find online. Here I include part 1 of the film but I encourage you to watch the whole thing. After watching the film , listen to the concerto and follow with a Master Class of Steven Isserlis. Your comments are very encouraged.

Film part 1

Schumann Cello Concert performed by Steven Isserlis ( first mvt)

Master Class with Steven Isserlis on Schumann Cello concert (first mvt)

3 thoughts on “Student resources : Get to know your cello repertoire:”

  1. Overall, this piece is very dreamy, very romantic, with an undertone of anxiety. I enjoyed how Mr. Isserlis took the young musician out of his comfort zone and had him really pay attention to Schumann’s notations to clearly communicate where Schumann was mentally at the time he composed this piece. One particular challenge the student may have had is that he may have been too young to have ever experienced what it was like to be in love, which could go a long way towards helping him properly present this piece. With that said, to be honest, even older people who are not at all romantic would find Schumann, and other composers of the Romantic era, very challenging to present properly without sounding “like a cellist” as Mr. Isserlis put it. That inner poet prefers T.S. Eliot to Lord Byron, alas. Perhaps the best way to deal with playing Schumann’s pieces if you’re too pragmatic for your own good would be to think of fluffy bunnies or kittens. Just a thought.

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  2. Watching the entire short film and masterclass as well as listening to the concerto performance, all featuring Steven Isserlis, showed me how musicians take the time to thoroughly learn about and understand the pieces they are performing. In this case, Isserlis consulted people who have researched about Schumann to learn more about Schumann, and Isserlis also visited some of the places that Schumann had been to deepen his understanding of how Schumann lived his life by, in a sense, seeing it for himself. Isserlis took what he learned from this experience to not only express the music through his cello playing with a deeper understanding of its background, but also to pass his knowledge to other musicians like during the masterclass held at Juilliard. I enjoyed seeing how Isserlis has approached interpreting Schumann’s music because he not only reads what is written on the sheet music, but he is also interested in understanding why it was written the way it was, beyond what the sheet music can communicate. Additionally, I like that Isserlis approaches performing the music by immersing himself more into it, as he explained during the masterclass by suggesting that the student should look up rather than down as well as consider the alter egos of Schumann (the more “extroverted” one versus the more “introverted” one) while playing the music to make the performance more expressive.

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    1. It is also very fascinating to learn about the composer’s life and a study of a score to discover what it is that they are trying to tell us through their music. It is one of the most important things that the performer should do. In a Master Class Isserlis pointed out to a cellist who was technically flawless to do more then just play the notes , to be a poet , to tell a story based on the knowlage of the composer and the score. Your comment was very pertinent . Thank you Alexia !

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