(K. Brent Tomer),
SHOULD people know the story behind the creation of a piece of music, or should they let it speak for itself? Steven Isserlis, a British cellist, poses this question in a note to a CD he has just recorded with an American violinist, Joshua Bell. The question is pertinent because the works they play, by Schumann and Brahms, are full of implicit messages from (or about) the composers. Brahms’s first Piano Trio reflected his admiration for Robert Schumann and his adoration of Clara Schumann. The theme of the slow movement in Schumann’s Violin Concerto was a melody revealed to him by Schubert in a dream. Knowing these things changes the way people listen.
But Mr Isserlis, who has just republished Schumann’s “Advice to Young Musicians” (including some new advice of his own) is much more than a musicological sleuth: he is an acclaimed and a much-sought-after soloist. He also runs festivals, is artistic director of the International Musicians’ Seminar in Cornwall and champions music he regards as underrated. His children’s books about composers reflect a passionate commitment to music education. Few classical musicians can match his influence.