Music's debt to Schiller has come to attention repeadly in recent weeks. Verdi's Don Carlos (Swedish Royal Opera) is possibly his finest operatic legacy. The original play (newly adapted by Mike Poulton) is currently in London with Derek Jacobi riveting as King Philip a production which originated in Sheffield; its depth is a salutory reminder of how much has to be jettisoned in converting important plays into libretti. Donizetti's Mary, Queen of Scots makes no serious attempt at truth to the author (let alone factual truth in the central confrontation with Elizabeth). That opera's most recent director (James Conway for ETO, UK) regrets the loss of "the complexity and passion of Schiller's argument, its political argument and clarity of characterisation".
The Royal Academy of Music held a Schiller Fest research event in their Lyric Salon series, celebrating Friedrich Sciller's bicentenary (1759-1805) and his influence on 19 C composers. It was organised by PhD student Briony Williams , with lavish hand-outs including texts and music examples to support the lectures and performances. Dr Lorraine Byrne gave a keynote lecture on Schiller's Musical Aesthetics (his published letters Briefe uber die aesthetische Erziebung des Menchschen the key source) and in a round-table discussion Norbert Meyn discussed Schiller's writings from a native German's perspective. Contributions from the floor were welcomed at all times in the very informal atmosphere created in the pleasant modern David Josefowitz Recital Hall. For non-specialist visitors the high spot of the afternoon was a master class on Schubert's response to Schiller given by baritone Richard Jackson; illuminating thoughts and perceptive suggestions for the student singers and accompanists bubbling out like a fountain, dialogue that was never in the least intimidating (which used to often happen in master classes). We all learnt far more about these lieder (some of them far from over-familiar) than we could pick up from the finest interpreters in recital or on CD.
London's music colleges and academies welcome visitor to numerous daytime teaching events and recitals, generally free of charge, programmes are available through their websites.
For example, this month I plan to spend an afternoon and early evening at RAM at a reseach seminar on Choreographing the quartet in Stravinsky's Three Pieces (2-4pm) and going on to a piano and songs recital marking the Mendelssohn/Fanny Hensel Bicentenary (6.30-8pm).
© Peter Grahame Woolf