The Music Column

The Carnaval Prank Was On Me

Sometimes the best things come in distorting packages, no matter how good they are.  And sometimes that good is itself misleading when it has great appeal, or even particularly then.

I was not yet a teenager when I stumbled into the discovery of a recording of tremendous command—an LP with Schumann’s Carnaval, Op. 9, on one side and Chopin’s B-flat minor Sonata, Op. 35 (the one with the famous Funeral March), on the other, both performed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the first in 1929, and the second in 1930.  I was quite overwhelmed by the performances; it didn’t quite dawn on me then that such music had its own inherent authority, a charisma that did not depend even on such grand pianism.  Later on, I heard many recordings of these great compositions, and even a few (such as those by Alfred Cortot) that gave Rachmaninoff some competition.

A certain implication in the pairing of Schumann and Chopin was subconsciously misleading.  There was the possibility that Schumann and Chopin had something in common as composers for the piano, but that was only superficially so.  Though Schumann hailed Chopin as a genius, Chopin did not like Schumann’s music at all, so these pianistic creators of the Romantic era did not match up.  Schumann did also characterize “Chopin” in an episode of Carnaval, but there the pairing breaks down.  The difference...

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