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Should You Watch This Documentary About Schumann’s Mental Illness? – Lyric Say

In April 2023, PBS’s long-running tv sequence Nice Performances launched a brand new documentary known as “Schumann: Genius and Madness.”

Robert Schumann, 1850

Robert Schumann, 1850 ©

This documentary is a part of the miniseries Now Hear This, hosted by violinist and conductor Scott Yoo. Every episode options performances by Yoo and his musician buddies as he learns extra in regards to the nice composers.

Schumann is among the most attention-grabbing composers in classical music historical past, and this documentary was thought-provoking. I knew as quickly as I watched it that I needed to share what I assumed. Perhaps you’ll need to test it out your self.

Official Preview | Now Hear This “Schumann: Genius and Madness”

Listed below are my takeaways from “Schumann: Genius and Madness.”

1. It’s a deal with to see such a superbly shot music historical past documentary.

Over the course of an hour, we see footage from Leipzig, Scotland, and the south of France.

Extra music documentaries ought to embrace the fantastic thing about the geographic places related to the music they’re overlaying!

2. It was nice to see buddy of the positioning Benjamin Appl, German baritone extraordinaire, who makes an look within the early a part of the movie.

3. The documentary introduces us to professor Richard Kogan in an enticing manner. Initially he discusses neuroanatomy and the historical past of psychiatry, in addition to the likelihood that Schumann may need had bipolar dysfunction. He looks as if the right visitor for this material…then the documentary reveals that, along with being a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Heart, he’s additionally a wonderful Juilliard-trained pianist!

Dr. Kogan returns all through the documentary, to nice impact. It’s a pleasure to listen to from geniuses like this with such a hyper-specific experience.

Did Schumann Have Bipolar Dysfunction?

4. The make-up of this documentary is intriguing. It’s not strictly a documentary, however it’s additionally not a live performance movie, both. This hybrid format suggests attention-grabbing methods to inform tales about music historical past.

5. A portion of the documentary follows Scott Yoo and cellist Bion Tsang as they put together to make a brand new recording of the Schumann cello concerto.

Tsang mentions that he’s working off a brand new model of the rating that discards markings that weren’t initially in Schumann’s hand. The cameras then comply with Tsang and Yoo as they rehearse their reimagined interpretation. A few of these conversations appear to be re-enactments staged for the cameras, however they had been attention-grabbing anyway. I’d like to study extra about these variations.

How Different Composers Modified Schumann’s Work

6. It was fantastic to see the filmmakers discover the connections between the humanities. Yoo visits the power in Arles, France, the place van Gogh lived earlier than his demise, after which Glasgow to study extra about how Robert Burns’s struggles with psychological well being are mirrored in his poetry.

The go to to Arles feels a bit shoehorned in, since Schumann and van Gogh had no direct connection.

However the Burns dialogue with Dr. Moira Hansen in Scotland was very related. Hansen factors out Schumann’s deep connection to Burns’s work, mentioning that he wrote settings of his poetry as a marriage reward. To then hear how Burns grappled with related psychological well being points to Schumann was thought-provoking.

7. In Leipzig, Yoo, Kogan, and different musicians collect on the College of Leipzig’s Instrument Museum to look at a piano from Schumann’s lifetime constructed by a maker named Johann Nepomuk Tröndlin.

It was fascinating to watch issues just like the instrument’s tone high quality, the noise that the damper pedal made, and to listen to suggestions from Kogan and one other musician about how troublesome – or at the very least totally different! – this instrument is to play, in comparison with a contemporary grand piano.

Schumann’s 78 Key Piano

8. It was deeply shifting to listen to the piano quartet carried out within the Schumanns’ Leipzig lodgings, in the identical room the place Clara Schumann and Mendelssohn and so many others visited.

Once more, I’d like to see extra documentaries that function the places the place authentic performances passed off.

9. Now for a few downsides. Sadly, I felt an undercurrent of “othering” folks with psychological sickness all through the documentary.

Host and company theorize a number of occasions that Schumann may need had bipolar dysfunction. However no one with bipolar dysfunction was interviewed, and not one of the musicians spoke about their very own psychological well being struggles, in the event that they’ve ever had any.

Failing to speak to folks within the arts with firsthand expertise of psychological sickness would possibly proceed the stigma of overtly discussing it.

10. I additionally suppose the documentary skirts the sting of a harmful takeaway: that struggling is fascinating and even essential to create good work. Writers, musicians, and artists of all types ought to by no means be made to really feel like they’ll solely fulfill their potential after they’re sad or sick.

To be truthful, no one ever comes out and says that individuals with psychological sickness are extra inventive than others, or {that a} composer’s struggling is a essential ingredient for excellent artwork. However at occasions the documentary appears to insinuate it.

That stated, all in all, I’d suggest testing “Schumann: Genius and Madness.” It’s superbly shot, thoughtfully constructed, and there are some actually attention-grabbing concepts in it that can keep on with you the following time you hearken to Schumann’s music.

Right here’s the web page for Now Hear This on Amazon, the place you should purchase the episode.

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