No doubt the admirers of Schumann were disappointed by the performance of his concerto by Madame [Sophie] Menter at the Crystal Palace on Saturday. But what could they expect? To the superb Sophie, solid, robust, healthy, with her mere self-consciousness an example and sufficient delight to her, playing Schumann was like bringing a sensitive invalid into the fields on a sunshiny day and making him play football for the good of his liver. You could hear Schumann plaintively remonstrating in the orchestra, and the piano coming down on him irresistibly, echoing his words with good-natured mockery, and whirling him off in an endless race that took him clean out of himself and left him panting. Never were the quick movements finished with less regard for poor Schumann’s lungs.
The intermezzo delighted me beyond measure. Ordinarily, no man can put into words those hushed confidences that pass in it between piano and orchestra, as between a poet and a mistress. But I can give you what passed on Saturday, word for word. Here it is:
SOPHIE: Now, then, Bob, are you ready for another turn?
SCHUMANN: Yes. Just half a moment, if you dont mind. I havnt quite got my wind yet.
SOPHIE: Come! You feel all the better for it, dont you?
SCHUMANN: No doubt, no doubt. The weather is certainly very fine.
SOPHIE: I should think so. Better than sticking indoors at that old piano of yours and sentimentalizing, anyhow.
SCHUMANN: Yes: I know I should take more exercise.
SOPHIE: Well, you have got enough wind by this time. Come along, old man: hurry up.
SCHUMANN: If you wouldnt mind going a bit slower—
SOPHIE: Oh, bother going slow. You just stick to me and I’ll pull you through. You’ll be all right in a brace of shakes. Now: one, two, three, and—
(attacca subito l’allegro).
And it really did Schumann good.
—Corno di Bassetto, The Star, 25 April 1890
Nothing turns a lousy day around faster than a good shot of G.B.S.