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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Inner torment fueled genius

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

Remembered today for his daring creative genius, Robert Schumann was one of the first of the 19th-century Romantics.

Less well remembered is the fact that Schumann was also one of the era's most tortured souls. Apparently manic depressive, the composer attempted suicide early on in his life. He spent his last years in an insane asylum.

Schumann's psychological and musical thought will be brought to light this evening when Harvard University-trained pianist and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Kogan gives a lecture recital as part of a 6:30 p.m. dinner sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) of Greater Toledo.

Kogan's presentation will explore some of the complexities of Schumann's illness by showing how the composer's often tormented inner life was expressed in his music.

“The fact of the matter is that genius works by its own set of laws. I plan to introduce Schumann's music by showing his life from a psychological perspective. I will look at how the mental illness informed Schumann's creative process,” Kogan said by phone last week from New York City.

In fact, it appears that a disproportionate number of the great composers battled deep-seated emotional problems, many of which would be diagnosed today as mental illness. For these composers, their disease was often a double-edged sword, he said.

“Obviously, there are huge detractions in the quality and stability of life. But there are also moments of intense genius.

“Schumann had auditory hallucinations. He heard music that angels were singing to him. When he was manic, he composed with great intensity. When he was depressed, he couldn't compose at all.

“Schumann's music doesn't sound that daring to us today, but at the time its was incomprehensible to many of his peers. For him, music was simply an expression of what was being experienced as an inner state of mind. His music is so fragmented because he didn't adhere to the basic rules of composition,” he said.

If Schumann had not been bipolar he might also have been a minor musical figure, hardly remembered today.

Seen in this light, notions surrounding mental illness need to be de-stigmatized, said Kogan. Moreover, treatments need to be broad-based.

Expressive endeavors can be healing in their own right, he said. “It was clearly highly therapeutic for Schumann to write music. Most likely it was part of his survival strategy.

“Tchaikovsky wrote that he would go insane without music. Many creative people have said similar things.”

Interestingly, when speaking of his own professional life, Kogan says that his work as a pianist is not that different from his work as a psychiatrist.

“Ultimately, when you are playing the piano you are really trying to advocate for the intentions of the composer. In my medical profession I work as an advocate for the well being of the patient. In both fields, issues regarding creativity come up constantly,” he said.

Dr. Richard Kogan will present a lecture recital on Robert Schumann and his piano music tonight in the Courtyard of the Navy Bistro in International Park. The event, which is sponsored by NAMI of Greater Toledo, begins at 6:30 and includes dinner. Tickets are $75. Information: 419-243-1119.



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