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Judith Chernaik

A groundbreaking account of Schumann, a major composer whose music is becoming increasingly popular over the years.

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Schumann: The Faces and the Masks is a groundbreaking account of a major composer whose life and works have been the subject of intense controversy ever since his attempted suicide and early death in an insane asylum. Schumann was a key figure in the Romanticism which swept Europe and America in the 19th century, inspiring writers, musicians and painters, delighting their enthralled audiences, and reaching to the furthest corners of the world. All the contradictions of his age enter Schumann’s works, from the fantastic disguises of his carnival masquerades and his passionate love songs to his great ‘Spring’ and ‘Rhenish’ Symphonies. He was intensely original and imaginative, but he also worshipped the past—especially Shakespeare and Byron, Raphael and Michelangelo, Beethoven and Bach. He believed in political, personal and artistic freedom but struggled with the constraints of artistic form. He turned his tumultuous life into music that speaks directly to the heart, losing none of its power with the passage of time.
Drawing on hitherto unpublished archive material, Chernaik sheds new light on Schumann’s life and music, his sexual escapades, his fathering of an illegitimate child, the true facts behind his courtship of his wife Clara and the opposition of her monstrous father, and the ways in which the crises of his life, his dreams and fantasies, entered his music. Schumann’s troubled relations with his fellow-Romantic composers Mendelssohn and Chopin are freshly explored, and the full medical diary kept at Endenich Asylum, long withheld, enables Chernaik to look again at the mystery of Schumann’s final illness. Using her wide experience as a scholar of Romanticism and a novelist, Chernaik vividly brings Schumann’s world and his extraordinary artistic achievement to life in all its rich complexity.

Critic Reviews

Chernaik tells Schumann’s tragic story in a book full of fresh, thoughtful writing. The “masks” are the multiple personalities in his music; and his courtship of Clara Wieck, her father’s determination to separate them, and their eventual marriage are brought convincingly to life. But the crunch point is his mental collapse and incarceration in an asylum: Chernaik presents many details from the medical records, to heartbreaking effect.

Jessica Duchen, Sunday Times, Classical Music Books of the Year
Critic Reviews

‘The most readable and penetrating biography of this wonderful composer whose life touches modern sensibilities at so many points.’

Stephen Walsh, The Oldie
Critic Reviews

'An eloquent biography ... Schumann's personality emerges vividly ... A deeply moving read.'

Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine
Critic Reviews

It's a most touching and moving story, beautifully told.

Critic Reviews

‘Chernaik has chosen, shrewdly, to tell [this story] through the music, since Schumann’s life is, to a unique degree, incorporated into it … [His] is perhaps the most pitiful of all the many blighted lives of the composers of the Romantic era, and it would be a strong woman or man who was not shaken by Chernaik’s account of what this sweetest and most vulnerable of men, purveyor of the loveliest, most fantastical and tender of all musical inventions, endured.’

Simon Callow, Sunday Times
Critic Reviews

‘Chernaik pays close attention to the music, and summons its inimitable combination of romantic ardour, eccentricity and classical craftsmanship in deft prose … [An] affecting and moving biography.’

Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph

Born in New York, Judith Chernaik now lives in London. She is best known for founding London’s popular Poems on the Underground, which offers poetry of all times and places to a mass audience, a programme which has taken off in cities worldwide.She is the co-editor of anthologies of Poems on the Underground and her other publications include The Lyrics…

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