Thursday 19 September 2019

A curious journey from Mendelssohn to Morris

Road to recovery: Corinne Morris. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega
Road to recovery: Corinne Morris. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

George Hamilton

I do love a thickening plot. Regular visitors to this neck of the woods will know I have a fascination with historical resonance. So the fact that this day, in 1809, was Felix Mendelssohn's birthday, sent me off on a hunt.

Mendelssohn was highly regarded. He was appointed director of the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig at the age of just 26. He was instrumental in putting the city on the map, founding the conservatory there in 1843.

Robert Schumann was a year younger than Mendelssohn, a composer who'd decided another way to get his ideas across was to set himself up as a critic.

By this stage, Schumann, in digs with his piano teacher in the city, had got involved with the teacher's teenage daughter.

This was Clara Wieck, who would eventually marry Schumann, much against her father's wishes. Clara would go on to become the world's first female concert pianist, and a formidable composer, just like Mendelssohn's elder sister, Fanny. The two women became close friends.

Into this mix came another sibling. Clara's mother had divorced and remarried. Woldemar Bargiel was her half-brother.

Encouraged by the Schumanns, Mendelssohn took the 16-year-old Bargiel on at his new conservatory in Leipzig. Woldemar proved a talented musician, and went on to hold down positions at several prestigious schools, including Cologne and Berlin.

His compositions were well received, and rightly so. There's one magnificent symphony that doffs its cap to Beethoven, and a wondrous work for cello and orchestra that pops up from time to time.

It was this cello composition that rolled my researches on to another serendipitous discovery. Trying to find it online, I chanced upon the name of Corinne Morris. And there's quite a story behind her version of the Bargiel 'Adagio'.

Corinne was a promising player whose talent propelled her to international prominence. And then, like the star forward whose hamstring becomes the principal issue, she fell victim to injury.

Yes, musicians suffer, too. Corinne had asked too much of her body. Her shoulder could take no more.

You can just imagine how awful that must have been. Surgery was suggested. She wouldn't have been the first to dismiss such drastic intervention. Five years of inactivity followed.

In the depths of despair, she sought another way out. As she puts it herself, she stumbled upon sports medicine.

She found a therapist, she got treatment. And after 18 months, she was able to play properly again. Still, it was no easy route back.

But determination and a dedicated fundraising programme secured a recording session with the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra, themselves hardly in the front line of names to note. Together they could get themselves noticed.

The CD that resulted - The Macedonian Sessions - has led to another. Chrysalis - how appropriate - featuring cello music by Haydn, and two lesser-known, but well worth hearing composers for the instrument, François Couperin and Georg Monn, was released last October.

I think it's brilliant. And I'm so glad Mendelssohn led me there, by the fact that he was born, 209 years ago, on this very day.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.

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