Sentimental Beauty: Aleksey Igudesman’s Reverence for Schumann’s Piano Quartet

by Madonna

In the realm of classical music, Aleksey Igudesman, the renowned violinist, harbors a profound admiration for the slow movement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet, op.47. This exquisite composition, he believes, stands as one of the most breathtaking pieces in the classical repertoire. Its inherent melancholic quality is nothing short of awe-inspiring, its harmonies resonating deep emotions.

“The interplay of major and minor keys,” Igudesman notes, “creates a poignant dance between hope and despair, making it one of the most sentimentally charged pieces, in my opinion.”

Reflecting on the Past:

Igudesman’s connection to this masterful piece extends back to his youth when he first encountered the third movement. Even then, he was captivated by its allure. Yet, the music’s spellbinding beauty invokes a particular memory for him – a time when he found himself in Vienna with his close friend, Julian Rachlin. This reunion occurred shortly after their graduation from music college.

In Vienna, a cherished haunt named the Broadway Bar held a special place in their hearts. It was a musical haven where, before 11 p.m., musicians gathered to play together, even if the audience was sparse. Post 11 p.m., the place would come alive. Igudesman recalls that anyone they knew, from Joshua Bell to Billy Joel, would make their way to the Broadway Bar at some point. A cherished memory resided in a tipsy evening when four friends, including Igudesman and Rachlin, found themselves immersed in the Andante cantabile from Schumann’s Piano Quartet. In that moment, a magical atmosphere enveloped them – it was as if they were transported to the heartland of 19th-century classical music culture, reliving the essence of Schumann’s time when he mingled with luminaries like Brahms and Clara. The music allowed them to experience a profound connection that could never be replicated. Sadly, the Broadway Bar shuttered its doors around 20 years ago, leaving Igudesman to ponder whether such a moment could ever be resurrected.

A Powerful Message:

In 2010, Aleksey Igudesman crafted a show entitled “The Music Critic,” where he gathered and narrated scathing reviews of some of classical music’s greatest compositions. During their US tour, renowned actor John Malkovich takes on the role of an acerbic critic who deems the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, and others as tiresome and uninspiring. Schumann’s music is not spared in the critique, and in the show, John quotes a contemporary article that portrays Schumann as a composer who, despite self-doubt, ventured to create his own music. This transformation in Schumann’s life is framed in the context of his self-perceived inadequacy, contrasting himself with the towering figure of Wagner. The article concludes with a devastating line: ‘The mental institution in Dusseldorf can tell the rest.’

The impact of this line on the audience is palpable, and it’s followed immediately by the Andante cantabile, a piece that underscores the depth of Schumann’s emotional turmoil and inner pain. In these moments, the audience often gasps in astonishment, struck by the beauty of the music juxtaposed with the harshness of public perception. For John Malkovich, this segment of the show consistently stirs him to the brink of tears.

Musical Advice:

In parting, Aleksey Igudesman imparts his wisdom to students: “Let the music speak for itself.” The Piano Quartet’s haunting beauty can tempt one to overindulge in sentimentality, using exaggerated vibrato or other embellishments. Igudesman’s advice is simple – follow the music’s lead, adhere to its longer phrases, and its intrinsic strength will guide you in the end.

Schumann’s Piano Quartet, op.47, remains a sentimental masterpiece that continues to captivate Aleksey Igudesman and countless others, preserving the legacy of the great composer and the emotions he infused into his compositions.

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