This year's Oxford Lieder Festival is an immersion in Robert Schumann, but any intensive focus on Schumann would feature his music for piano, and his wife, Clara Schumann, one of the first celebrity pianists, and a pioneer in her own right. Thus the "Carnival of Pianos" on Friday, 14th October with all-day performances and talks, focusing on the music Schumann wrote before the Liederjahre of 1840. Stuart Jackson, highly regarded and much loved, sings the earliest of Schumann's songs for voice and piano at the Holywell Music Room, followed by the piano works Schumann concentrated upon at this time in his career : the virtuosic Piano Sonata no 1, the Etudes symphoniques, the Kreisleriana, Carneval, Faschingsschwank aus Wien, culminating in an evening recital at the Sheldonian Theatre with Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber in an all-Schumann programme.
Graham Johnson is giving two Study Days into Schumann, extending the focus bneyond Schumann himself, and into the composers and writers who so inspired him: Bach, Mendelssohn, Heine, Eichendorff, part of the canon now but relatively new in Schumann's time. This aspect of Schumann's work is important for it places what he did in context. Although nearly all Schumann's songs will be included in this year's Oxford Lieder festival, performed by great singers like Wolfgang Holzmair, Christoph Prégardien, Mark Stone, Juliane Banse, Benjamin Appl, Roderick Williams, Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, Bo Skovhus, Mark Padmore and others, there will be more esoteric fare, like the Der Rose Pilgerfahrt, the Pilgrimage of the Rose, (26/10) Schumann's cantata for full orchestra, heard here in the original scoring for piano and voices. There's also a talk on Schumann and opera, and another, with concert, on Schumann's late style, which is often under-rated.
The Oxford Lieder festival, now in its 15th year is unique in that it is far more than just a series of concerts. It's total immersion : detailed focus on the subject and its wider background: concerts complemented by talks, films, art exhibitioins, and this year a play. Lieder is, as Mark Stone and Sholto Kynoch have often said, an art of the mind as well as of the ear. Read Mark Stone's interview on the differences between opera and Lieder HERE in Opera Today, and Julius Drake also HERE in Opera Today. Furthermore, a key tenet of the Oxford Lieder philosophy is its emphasis on performance experience, with its masterclasses and innovative performance workshops, young artist schemes and engagement with the singing public. Oxford Lieder represents the best. It's a beacon of excellence this country should cherish.