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These 18 essays are grouped into four parts – The Political sphere, Popular Influences, Analytical Approaches and Twentieth-Century interpretations. In the preface the editors explain how they have ‘tried to introduce themes and topics that have received rather less attention over the years’. Broadly interdisciplinary, this 430-page book incorporates many themes relating to literature, art, ballet and politics.

Part One includes essays on the composer’s involvement with complex issues of nationalism and its social institutions. Susan Youens finds political symbolism in a study of Schumann’s late song Warnung. Lily E Hirsch exposes the Third Reich’s ludicrously ambivalent stance on Schumann. His friendship with the Jewish Mendelssohn counted against him, yet ironically his violin concerto was welcomed as a ‘replacement’ for Mendelssohn’s own concerto.

The essays of Part Two generally show how popular culture informed Schumann’s music more than previously thought. For instance, the Mary Stuart settings reflect ‘European sentimentality at Midcentury’, while contemporary improvisational practices influenced some of the piano works.

In Part Three, Schumann’s use of hypermetrical devices for expressive effect, especially in the late works, is studied by both Harald Krebs and William Benjamin. elsewhere Schumann’s highly original treatment of sonata form is underlined by Peter H Smith. Previously this aspect has met with strangely blinkered appraisal, even from such scholars as Charles Rosen – the strikingly experimental qualities of the three string quartets remain under-appreciated. Julie Hedges Brown contributes a fascinating piece on the Hungarian style in Schumann’s music, though I wonder whether the connection between wandering tonality and the gypsies’ nomadic life is a little facile.

In Part Four, in ‘The Fictional lives of the Schumanns’, David Ferris examines novels by Janice Galloway and JD Landis, emphasising how intelligent fiction, when closely based on biographical facts, can be both rewarding and enlightening.

This wholly recommendable book is almost error-free, but someone should have spotted ‘John McCormick’ (also in the index).

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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