Stephanie Hanson


    If you were a movie mogul and had to choose between funding a documentary on the history of twentieth-century classical music and one on rock, which would you select? The average businessperson would probably opt for the latter. Me, I’d wager on classical without a second thought. The history of classical music in the twentieth century, though most wouldn’t suspect it, has all the elements of a blockbuster: sex, violence, scandal, war (of ideologies and of nations), personal struggle, even, dare I say it, humor. The rise and drug-addled fall of the rock musician is by now a familiar story, but


    As I write this, I’m humming the opening bars of Schumann’s Papillons (1829–31), one of his earliest compositions for piano, a piece I haven’t played, let alone heard, in at least six years. I can recall these notes because I remember the visceral pleasure of playing an ascending scale in octaves, the sense of expansiveness—like a butterfly’s wings unfolding—and of flight. Papillons was one of many pieces I learned as a competent (but undisciplined) amateur, yet it was one of the few I returned to again and again, even as I moved on to the Beethoven sonatas and Rachmaninoff preludes that were