Podcast: Schumann’s Cipher

featuring cellist Carmine Miranda. Listen here or find it in iTunes.

I’m interested in interesting things. Aren’t you? Codes and ciphers are interesting. Is there something secretive in Schumann’s sole cello concerto?

While not a performer of any kind, I agreed with what pianist Clipper Erickson said in an earlier episode about just going and performing another Beethoven or Mozart album, that it’d all been done before, and he wants to leave something special behind. Finding something to say that hadn’t been said already can be difficult, and I find this to be the case with some of the articles I write (with whatever small audience I have), and have noticed that articles on pieces by, say, Babbitt or Dutilleux  have been more successful than those of Beethoven or Mozart. I may not be able to find much new to say about them either, but there’s far less that’s been said or heard already.

Carmine Miranda has plenty to say in defense of a work he is passionate about and knows intimately. But before we’d chatted, when the chance came around to speak with him about an upcoming release of the Dvorak and Schumann cello concertos, I wasn’t terribly sure what there was to talk about. They’re not premieres of any kind; how many performers have laid these two pieces down on record in the past? That being said, I didn’t actually own any of these recordings, but had heard them (Du Pre), so I was wondering what angle there might be in speaking with a young, talented cellist, and what there was to say about these works.

Miranda has experience with recording already. He recorded the six Bach cello suites, each one a single full take, he tells me, as well as the twelve Piatti caprices for solo cello, but his newest release is different. It’s here, by the way, available for pre-order to be released on June 10, 2016. I was eager to look into this project of his, with the allusion to a cipher in this perhaps mildly-disparaged, misunderstood of cello concertos, one which apparently contains a(n at least somewhat hidden) program that runs through the entire work.

I was kindly offered a listen to Miranda’s recording of the two works, and I must say, despite at least a tinge of skepticism that the world needs another recording of one of the most famous cello concerti in the repertoire, I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly, both the Dvorak and the Schumann. They are memorably fantastic. But there’s more to it than just a virtuosic, crystal-clear recording.

After a refresher with the Schumann I cracked into Miranda’s article Decoding Schumann’s Cello Concerto in the Spring 2016 issue of The Musical Times. I was glad there were score excerpts included, because the kind of analysis done here, be it with solfege, the English key, or anything else, is a bit beyond the kind I tend to do, although it isn’t hard to follow. 20-something pages later, I was intrigued, but also surprised that this somehow wasn’t common knowledge.

Could it be that the vast majority of people have misunderstood or ignored this work for 166 years, and that some determined digging could show the seemingly-idiosyncratic work to be a masterpiece we hadn’t recognized? That was intriguing, and in this week’s (belated) episode, I talk about that very thing with an outstandingly knowledgeable and passionate cellist.

As typical with most episodes, we didn’t stop our conversation at only 40-50 minutes. This episode features the first half of my discussion with cellist Carmine Miranda, focusing on ‘decoding’ this work that Miranda is so passionate about. Have a listen from the top of the article, or find the podcast (and subscribe) in iTunes. Stay tuned for part 2.


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