Robert Schumann’s life seems to be a greater focus of attention at present than his music, which is currently represented on concert programs only by his most popular songs, piano and chamber-ensemble pieces, and a handful of orchestral works. At least part of the explanation for this lies in our deficient understanding of Schumann’s poetry-in-music, whose immediate appeal hides an art of remarkable subtlety. Three recent, Schumann-related books will no doubt add to our understanding of the composer’s life; whether they will lead to a deeper understanding of his music is another question.

Schumann: Music and Madness, by Dr. Peter R Ostwald, is the first full-length case history in English of the greatest of the German Romantic composers.[1] The book is thoroughly researched and documented, but its shortcomings,...


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