The Mercy of God
GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to
Robert Schumann's oratorio
'Das Paradies und die Peri'
God is merciful. This is the conclusion of Das Paradies und die Peri, a 'profane oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra' by Robert Schumann, completed in 1843, and published as Schumann's Op 50.
The work is based on a German translation (by Schumann and his friend Emil Flechsig) of a tale from Lalla Rookh by Thomas Moore. The Peri, a creature from Persian mythology, is the focus of the story: having been expelled from Paradise, she tries to regain entrance by giving the gift that is most dear to Heaven. Eventually the Peri is re-admitted after bringing a tear from the cheek of a repentant sinner touched by the sight of a praying child.
Peter Ostwald, in his biography Schumann: The Inner Voices of a Musical Genius, records that Schumann confided to a friend that 'while writing Paradise and the Peri a voice occasionally whispered to me what you are doing is not done completely in vain'. Even Richard Wagner praised this work. The oratorio is generally held to be a significant achievement by Schumann, but it perhaps appeals less than it might otherwise to modern audiences due to the flowery, Eastern-inspired verbiage of the libretto, which represents a vogue for orientalism that was in full swing in the nineteenth century, but which has receded considerably today. This is one of the reasons why it is seldom played in Rome: the last performance was in 1974 under Wolfgang Sawallisch's baton. Moreover, it requires an enormous cast: eleven soloists, a huge orchestra and a double chorus. It is often performed for the inauguration of a symphony season. The symphony orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia played it three times on 8-10 February 2017. I attended the first performance.