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Although relatively brief, with only 179 pages of text, this biography contains a wealth of information. There is no trace of superficiality. Many considerably longer biographies seem to contain less material and are less engaging. Musgrave’s research has been extensive, while his judgment is admirably balanced. The many extracts from letters, often including Schumann’s comments on his own works, provide invaluable background. All the essential aspects of the composer’s life – the battle with Clara’s father, Schumann’s relationship with his wife and their financial ups and downs, his friendships or encounters with such composers or musicians as Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Joachim, Ferdinand Hiller, etc, contemporary political events, his disastrous conducting – are covered in some depth. Most important of all are the composer’s health and its effect on his work. Here Musgrave is typically fair in his assessment. He rigorously examines the syphilis question, reiterating the crucial fact that Schumann’s depressive phases began when he was still a teenager – clearly before any infection. As the author asserts, ‘Schumann’s was a complex personality with many eccentricities’. Furthermore, ‘it seems inconceivable that he could have achieved all this [vast amount of time-consuming work] in the mental state often attributed to him’. As Musgrave makes clear, the matter of Schumann’s mental health should on no account be simplified.

Unfortunately, this book is flawed. CUP’s Life of Haydn, which i reviewed in 2009, was seriously marred by its sub-standard editing and proof-reading. Many of those faults similarly disfigure Michael Musgrave’s new book. Sentence construction and grammar are often poor. Some bracketed material would have been better presented in a new, less overloaded sentence. There are typos – ‘lead’ instead of ‘led’, ‘though’ instead of ‘through’, ‘increasingly’ instead of ‘increasing’ (twice), ‘musical’s’ instead of ‘musical’. As before, one cannot escape a strange feeling of haste in both the writing and the production. Why should this be? Why do the people at CUP select outstanding writers, only to undermine their work scandalously and then charge the reader £50 a time?

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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