Composed in Delirious Time

Schumann Der Zeit interviews the Swiss oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger on Schumann's labyrinthine imagination, in Sign and Sight:

Die Zeit: Herr Holliger, you reference Robert Schumann in all your compositions. You conduct Schumann and you have devoted huge amount of your time to his life and his work. You don't seem to be able to tear yourself away from this composer.

Heinz Holliger: I readily admit that it is a little obsessive.

How did your passion for Schumann begin?

I was 14 or 15 years old, when I heard the Violin Sonata No. 2 and the Trio in G Minor at a concert in Berlin. These are considered difficult late works which turn most people off Schumann. It was just the opposite for me. It was like being set on fire.

And the flame has never gone out?

On the contrary. It burnss more intensely as I get older.

What is it that keeps it burning?

You never reach a dead end with Schumann and his analytical observations. New doors are always opening up. One door opens onto the next and there is another one behind that, and another and another. In his work, speculative thinking collides head on with a vast, labyrinthine imagination. Schumann was an extremely erudite man. He translated Sophocles at 17. He had considerable literary talents and he was probably one the greatest writers among the composers, up there with Berlioz and Debussy. This makes him an encyclopaedic character. A cosmic figure without limits. The same applies to his music. Although Beethoven was a great role model for him, he never wanted to realise linear trains of thought in his compositions. He was not interested in going from A to B. He starts with a primal cell of a motif, he sets spiralling movements in motion, which exponentiate to create vast edifices. I admire his associative thinking process, his ability to draw out ever new circles of speculation. Schumann's music is all about dislocation. The bar line is a coffin for him. He almost always shifts the emphasis of the weightier notes. He syncopates the primary accents or overlays various layers of time. What emerges is a sort of delirious time. You no longer feel the passing of time.