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June 8, 2010

Saluting Robert Schumann's birthday with one of his most exquisite creations

Came up for air from several writing assignments and noticed that Tuesday is Robert Schumann's 200th birthday. I felt I just had to do something to acknowledge that.

I've always had a soft spot for Schumann's music, especially the songs and piano music. His brand of romanticism, so personal and distinctive, always strikes me as extraordinarily powerful. If I had to choose one example of that power, it would be the third movement from his Piano Quartet, one of my favorite moments in all of music.

His Piano Quintet gets much more attention, and it's a masterpiece, to be sure. But the Quartet deserves to be heard more often, if only for Schumann's musical poetry in that third movement, the Andante cantabile, a kind of exquisite song without words that invariably burrows under my skin.

This is especially so when performers take their time with it, a practice that was more common decades ago than in our faster-paced world. I found an old-style performance and a newer, brisker one to help illustrate my point. I'm putting my preferred version first -- a very spacious eight minutes. The second example is a couple minutes faster and, IMHO, nowhere near as affecting as a result. Let me know which tempo you prefer.

At any speed, I hope you'll agree with me that this really is a disarmingly sublime example of Schumann's melodic gift:

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:05 PM | | Comments (1)


Well thanks Tim.

The quartet happened to be on the same CD as the quintet and I haven't listened to it for years. You are absolutely right about it.

Thanks for the tip.

Glad to be of service. I don't think musicians could resist performing that quartet more often if they heard that slow movement. Cheers. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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