Explore the Score- Schumann, Genoveva Overture

Schumann’s fate as an opera composer seemed to mirror that of his hero Beethoven, and not always in positive ways. Both men sought to reform the genre, stripping it of frivolity and artifice, eradicate virtuoso display and create an idiomatic, German approach to music drama liberated from Italian and French influence. Both Beethoven and Schumann doted on their operatic only-children, but neither Beethoven’s Fidelio nor Schumann’s Genoveva has ever been among their most loved or best understood works. Schumann chose the tale of Genoveva with great care, after considering operas on such well-known German stories as Till Eulenspiegel and the Niebelungeng myth. For Schumann, Genoveva became a once-in-a-lifetime labour of love- he wrote the libretto himself (not surprising, as Schumann remains one of the few composers equally famous in his lifetime as writer and composer) and worked tirelessly on the score, which features Schumann’s own distinctive take on the Leitmotiv technique most often associated with Wagner.

It was with Wagner that the problems began for Genoveva. Schumann had been highly critical of Tanhauser in 1945, and for Wagner, Genoveva was payback time. Wagner and his colleagues briefed and lobbied endlessly against the piece, criticizing both the libretto and the music. Gradually, Wagner’s criticisms became accepted as fact by a generation of musicologists who had never heard a live performance of the piece, nor ever opened the score. Only in recent years has the opera begun to return to the repertoire. Happily, the glorious Overture has always remained popular, and it is a remarkably complete summing up of Schumann’s gifts as a composer.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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1 comment on “Explore the Score- Schumann, Genoveva Overture”

  1. J.

    Hate to say that, but I slightly agree with Wagner & Co. that libretto might not the be the most robust creation ever. The music, though… just splendid. I remember being quite amazed looking at the amount of colours, details and ideas that Schumann managed to come up with in this score.

    So, when can we expect Kenneth Woods’ take on Genoveva? 😉

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