Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trios: Nos. 1–2
Munich Pn Trio
CPO 777712 (71:42)
True to its mission, the German label cpo has resurrected yet another long-forgotten composer from obscurity. Georg Schumann (1866–1952), no relation to the famous composer of the same name, lived a long life—86 years—for a man with so short a biography. We learn that he studied in Leipzig under Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn and that he received the Beethoven prize in 1887. From 1896 to 1899 he conducted the Bremen Philharmonic, after which he settled in Berlin, where he was appointed conductor of the Singakademie. In 1913, he took up a post teaching master classes in composition at the Akademie der Künste, a position he remained in for the next 32 years until he retired in 1945. And that about sums up the life of Georg Schumann.
Cpo’s booklet note tells us that he composed two violin sonatas, a cello sonata, two piano quintets, one piano quartet, and the two piano trios heard on the present disc. Not mentioned is the fact, discovered in the course of my Internet research, that Schumann also wrote two symphonies, an oratorio, and other choral works with orchestra. It only stands to reason that Schumann must have written a lot more music than is cited in this short list; in fact, an ArkivMusic listing of a Guild recording containing a number of the composer’s motets includes a blurb to the effect that the bulk of his output was written for the Berlin Singakademie, with which Schumann maintained ties for 50 years. As far as I can tell, the motet CD, reviewed by David Denton in
24:4, and this new cpo release of Schumann’s piano trios are the only recordings of his music currently available.
As can be seen from his dates, Schumann lived more of his years in the 20th century than he did in the 19th, and indeed, by the time he died in 1952, he would have witnessed two world wars, been at ground zero for the rise and fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, and surely been aware of the modernist and avant-garde movements that shook the music and art worlds to their foundations. We might therefore have reason to expect something rather different from the music of such a composer than what we get. To sum it up, how many ways can you say Brahms?
Many composers from around Brahms’s time and later—Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Waldemar Bargiel, and Charles Villiers Stanford, to name just three—were enamored enough of Brahms’s music to attempt to emulate his style. But Georg Schumann seems to have succeeded at it to a degree that’s almost frighteningly freakish. The long-spanning, arching melodies, the harmonic progressions, the rhythmic counterpoint, and the general gestural language are of a Brahmsian cast uncannily close to the real deal. Here then is another potential candidate for the anonymous composer that might have written the A-Major Piano Trio posthumously attributed to Brahms.
There’s not much else to say. If you love Brahms as much as I do, you will welcome Schumann’s two piano trios into your life without asking for a DNA test. They’re smart, adorable, beautiful children, no matter who fathered them.
The Munich Piano Trio has made a number of recordings I’m pleased to have in my collection, including an Orfeo CD of piano trios by Théodore Gouvy (1819–98), another composer who has been sorely neglected. The ensemble does these two Georg Schumann trios more than justice with really impassioned performances. Once word gets out about how gorgeous this music is, more recordings may follow, but for now, this is it, and you needn’t wait because this one is top-notch in every way. I know I promised to resist the temptation, but I feel a 2012 Want List urge coming on.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins