Trio by Boman Desai
USA, 1stBooks, 2004
Book One
629 pages, softbound

In 1996, when the Davidsbündler site first appeared on the internet, one of the first visitors to volunteer for service was Boman Desai, who offered an excerpt from Trio under the Bündler name of Hansi. Now, almost eight years later, Book One of his novel has appeared in print.

The love story of Robert and Clara Schumann is so dramatic, that it practically leaps off the page of the dryest history text. Seldom have a man and a woman been blessed with such an exalted spiritual communion, as the marriage of great composer and great performing artist -- and seldom has such an ideal union been subjected to such trials, including the fanatic, demented opposition of Clara's father (the piano pedagogue Friedrich Wieck), and then, once that obstacle had been surmounted, the painful descent of Robert into madness and death. Add to this, the fascinating context of the Schumanns' circle of friends and collaborators, comprised of the leading lights of European and American art and politics -- including, most significantly, the young composer whose career they fostered, and who loved them both, Johannes Brahms -- and you have a tale which is both captivating and instructive.

Mr. Desai has chosen to tell this tale in the form a novel. As he emphasizes in his "Author's Note," he "wanted to combine the veracity of a biography with the dramatic impact of a novel, but nothing happens in the book that might not have happened historically."

In a recent address to the Russian Academy of Sciences, Lyndon LaRouche said the following: "Turn back to the relationship between the tragic principle and the sublime in the composition and performance of Classical forms of tragedy, such as the Classical Greek, Shakespeare, and Schiller. These are not to be considered as mere fiction, but as scientific studies of the principles of history." Novels, as well, can serve as a scientific study of the principles of history: take, as an example, James Fennimore Cooper's The Bravo, which, while not based on a specific historical incident, provides an uncanny depth of insight into the inner workings of the Venetian "serene republic."

Likewise, Desai's novel should be considered a fully truthful and scientific account of the historical figures and conflicts he depicts. Even in those cases where he consciously deviates from the historical record -- dutifully noted in his "Author's Note" -- he remains faithful to the ideas of the protagonists, and his portrayal of the battle of ideas during the period he depicts, just as in Shakespeare's Histories, is truthful in a more profound sense than a merely accurate record of historical events could be.

It is also the case that his novel provides a wealth of detail about the actual historical events. For example, the reader learns that Clara's close friend from childhood, Emilie List, was in fact the daughter of the great German-American economist and republican, Friedrich List. Other historical figures appear, often in scenes known to historians: the author recounts famous episodes, such as the visit of Felix Mendelssohn to the young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were talented amateur singers, with Albert being a capable organist as well; the dinner party at the Schumanns', shortly after the death of Mendelssohn, where Robert and Liszt almost came to blows, after Liszt made a remark deprecating Mendelssohn; the famous first visit of Brahms to the Schumanns, where Robert stopped him from playing after only a few measures of his first piano sonata, so that Robert might run and bring Clara to hear it as well. Dozens of other historically important moments are brought to life, involving a cast of characters which includes Chopin, Jenny Lind, Joseph Joachim, many other famous musicians, and numerous monarchs.

However, the most striking achievement of this novel, is to provide a compelling glimpse into the emotional world of the artists, the quality of passion required to create and interpret real art, and the world-historical sense of identity that arises from that passion. Desai shows us how this sense of identity varies with different philosophies of art, contrasting the Schumanns and their allies, with their factional opponents, the "futurists" such as Liszt and Wagner. These latter might be viewed as useful clinical studies, in contrast with the paradoxical Robert Schumann, who went mad, but was philosophically the sanest of them all.

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