notes from the past: the letters between robert and clara

robertclaraschumann“Sometimes (but only very rarely) I’m overcome with a terrible fear that with all the honors which you will receive as an artist, you will forget the poor, simple artist who cannot adorn you with titles and can offer nothing but his love. But when I consider the depth of your heart, the truthfulness of your entire being and your character, too, which has always been so firm and honorable, I feel so happy and secure that I’m ashamed of my little fear….Clara, if only I could tell you how happy your love makes me; it fills me so completely that there isn’t any part of my whole being that doesn’t quiver with it. But then language and sounds become incomprehensible; I see only two figures embracing, and everything around me fades away. You’re my dear Clara.” – Robert Schumann, to Clara Wieck, February 1838

Source: The Complete Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann, edited by Eva Weissweiler (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1994).

musical excerpt: fuga from Bach’s sonata no. 2 in a minor

Bach can be one of the most difficult musical giants to grapple with. His works go beyond those of many other composers’ in their demands on mental acuity and musical finesse, and it’s no secret that many students struggle to find an appreciation for Bach, particularly when Baroque aesthetics and conventions seem so far removed from the modern world. For some, a love for Bach has to develop slowly over a longer time, with accumulated exposure to the expressiveness of his musical lines and the grand purity of his harmonies–and the growing realization of how deeply his music is steeped in the vibrant colors of his society, of dance or church or court.

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“Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”

Bob Landry, Fred Astaire in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1945) (source)

The quote in the title of this post is probably one you’ve heard before–it was supposedly said about Fred Astaire in one of his early screen tests for RKO Radio Pictures. Little did RKO know at the time that Astaire’s career as a Hollywood star would soon skyrocket.

Music is like any other art: if you’re putting yourself out there, you will likely face rejection and elimination far more often than you will face acceptance letters and first prizes. But this list of rejection letters–to artists, musicians, and writers whose works are now known worldwide–may boost your morale by providing behind-the-scenes perspective to modern success stories. This isn’t an unrealistic, feel-good, overblown motivational speech with the message of, “Keep trying! You could be the next Evgeny Kissin/Meryl Streep/Joshua Bell/Jackson Pollock!” But it should encourage you to know that even the best of the best face rejection and failure. It should motivate you to know that, despite the fact that some people may not appreciate what you have to offer, you can make it work for yourself in your field, with enough determination, creativity, and flexibility.

Fall seven times, get up eight.