The Schumann Syndrome

For my friend and colleague Peter Schwind
Pages: 38-41
Year: 2007
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 35 – Nº 4

Volume: 35
For my friend and colleague Peter Schwind

I am not sure when I first told my friend Hal about a favorite musical quote, but I suspect it was several decades ago. This lifelong friend is an exceptional jazz musician and teacher who unapologetically detests all critics as talentless parasites. Therefore, he had wanted to use this infamous vulgarism in his recent jazz book as a condemnation of such a slimy subspecies of homunculus detestus. Since I erroneously attributed the quote to Brahms and was later (erroneously also) informed that its source was Beethoven, tracking it down proved a bit harder than anticipated. What I was sure of was that it lay concealed in a wickedly humorous collection of negative music reviews by the prolific musicologist, Nicolas Slonimsky – his Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time. After some additional research, the proper author of the passage was finally located.

In any case, here is this gem correctly attributed to a lesser known late Romantic German composer, Max Reger (1873-1916), who is described in one resource as “myopic, fat, blubber-lipped, rumpled, foulmouthed, aggressive, neurotic, and alcoholic.”1 What a tribute. The passage in question is actually a scatological note written by Reger to the critic Rudolf Louis in 1906. “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.”2 I know many fellow musicians and creative individuals who not only share Reger’s sentiments but would also heartily wish to come up with this pithy retort.

I infer that the reason my friend wished to employ this quote in his jazz improvisation book is a symptom of the general contempt that the creatives have for critics and, by extension, academics. What artists find particularly objectionable are those “commentators who have no respect for the object of their comments; (who) feel no compunction about showing off their incendiary wit at the expense of their hapless and more-or-less defenseless victims; (since) they know that responding in print to a negative review, except to correct factual errors, is almost always a no-win proposition.”3 In other words, all artists find this brandishing of vitriolic brilliance at their expense exasperatingly despicable. The fact that these critics generate reviews whose point seems to have little to do with the work being lampooned adds additional unwelcome salt to the wound. Therefore, those attacked justifiably despise any critic’s inexhaustible capacity for incendiary flights of literary fancy particularly since such writing acts as a mere pretext for cruel humor.

There is, however, a less polarizing aspect of this rather ribaldly presaged discussion that will serve as the underpinning of our rather different musical metaphor. Where we choose to go is the realm of the composer-critic, showing the value of this individual not only for the creative arts but also the art form we call “structural integration” (SI). Sidestepping the issue of Rolfing® as science, a difficult notion that has generated much debate, I choose, as I so often do, a softer more literary approach to my argument and leave scientific discourse to the scientists.4

Not surprisingly, this course will involve a more elaborate metaphor, the one to which our ambiguous title alludes. The Schumann to whom I refer is the brilliant and ultimately insane composer who, unlike the critic Rudolf Louis, dedicated much of his career to promoting contemporary artists including the young Brahms whom he “adopted” and nurtured for several years before Schumann’s premature death in a mental hospital. The syndrome is in truth no syndrome per se but rather a subversive construct that adds a deceptive patina of medical seriousness to this divertissement.

What I love about Schumann, besides his glorious piano quartet and the exquisite Fantasie, is that he represents what is best in the world of the creative – an artist of influence and exceptional talent who devoted much of his career to promoting the ideals of Romanticism as well as the compositions of others, in language both beautiful and potent. He was a true artist- critic, one who used his fame and considerable reputation to educate and assist, not attack and disparage. He epitomizes to me the antidote to those who excoriate the critic and rally behind the victimized artist. He also offers a model that can be generalized to our field with surprising ease.

Curiously, why I like the Schumann example is as much for its aptness as for its (and the artist’s) limitations. Our Schumann metaphor applies to a number of current and former authors and practitioners including Dr. Rolf because their successful marriage of creative work and critical commentary have enriched both our body of literature as well as the bodies with whom they interacted. This metaphor also works because many artist-critics (Ida Rolf being our most beloved artist qua iconoclast) in our field open themselves up to criticism by advancing their ideas: ideas at variance with the conventional wisdom, ideas that have taken the work in new directions, directions resisted both by traditionalists and those who fail to grasp the underlying beauty of seemingly unfamiliar aesthetics. Schumann himself was not afraid of advancing progressive ideas and writing highly idiosyncratic and personal music. He too was often criticized, yet it seemed not to deter him from his personal mission one iota.

Another reason I chose this particular composer-critic is somewhat surprising: it is precisely because I am not a fan of all of Schumann’s compositions, any more than I love every session I’ve seen or SI-related article I’ve read. Few would argue that Schumann represents the apogee of his era, but most would agree that he was an important voice during a fascinating time in cultural and intellectual history. While his symphonic music may sometimes fail to “sing,” his best compositions scintillate with emotional depth, searing passion, and exquisite lyricism. It is the very unevenness of his opera omnia (collected complete works) that intrigues me. His work’s blatant inconsistencies remind me of the unevenness of the ideas we encounter and find ourselves having to clarify and even defend in our discussions with new and prospective clients as well as others in related fields (even with other members of our diverse SI community).

The works of Schumann, like those of all composers of his era, are a mix of traditional form (the Beethoven symphony as structural paradigm) and progressive experimentation (the tone poems of Berlioz and Liszt). Similarly, our art form in its current incarnation represents at its best a sincerely reverential reconfiguration of Rolf’s work and the desire of her progeny to explore alternative formal and technical languages in order to enrich the moveable feast that is structural integration. Whatever our thoughts about the current direction of our work, we can no more halt its progress than we can recompose Liszt’s piano sonata in the hope that it might somehow sound like one by Haydn or Clemente. Some may dismiss the whole purist vs. progressive (read classicist vs. romanticist) dialectic as nothing more than new bottles for old wine, while others might arrogantly argue that they have reinvented the entire fermentation process. Who is right, who is wrong? No matter.

Here is another important notion that deepens our metaphor. All students of art history know that there are regular and predictable cycles of romantic expansion and counteracting movements of return to “classical purity.” However, since we are such a new discipline, applying this broad cyclic historical model to our current state of flux seems a bit premature; but, should we endure, our future patterns of growth and contraction may well fall within this pattern. Yet, were we to speculate, we might say that we have moved from a period of classical purity, if such a thing ever existed (and we can certainly debate that one for many unhappy hours), to a state of fragmentation and growth matched by a strong simultaneous reactionary desire to return to pure form. Wherever we actually are in the early stages of a transitional cycle, we certainly cannot predict where we will emerge, nor should we fixate on this.

Broad cyclical oscillations between complexity and simplicity are always accompanied by a wealth of tracts espousing elaborate rationales for the return to a simpler style, attacks on more complex forms, or countering polemical rejoinders that erupt with fantastical praise for much-needed innovative richness, complexity, and experimentation. Such a view of the arts and history more accurately reflects the realities of what students of history see. It contradicts the more prevalent linear evolutionary model that eschews rhythmic dilations and contractions in the name of some misguided perception of the inexorable progress of man and his creations, like the naïve distortions that have occurred in discussions of social Darwinism.

In our discipline, we see both explanations of the new and an expanded vision of the work and an equally vocal defense of the old as if each represented polar opposites. Such views, whether progressive or reactionary, tell us as much about their proponents as the work they do; they make, I believe, too much of our differences. When in the midst of a transition, as our work certainly is, you cannot possibly see what will endure and what will fall by the wayside any more than 20th century critics could predict whose art and music will emerge as the enduring masterpieces of the past century. This begs the question, why choose one course over the other since Romantic and Classical approaches need not be mutually exclusive?

While I know that passionate attachment to tradition has great appeal for many, we have so often seen how in other disciplines elaborately defended neo-classical revivals have proven no more durable than Romantic reactions. It is as if we had to choose whether Brahms is a more important composer than Wagner or whether the exquisitely refined portraiture of Ingres is eclipsed by the drama of Delacroix. While such discussions appeal to absolutists and academics whose careers are based on carving out and defending narrow territories, we need not fall prey to the same kinds of separatist thinking. A willingness to see the larger picture, to appreciate the elegant simplicity as well as the technical complexity of varying approaches to the work (as long as they represent a logical extension consistent with Rolf’s fundamental integrative thought) has a potentially liberating effect on the practitioner. Intellectual curiosity, an interest in alternate ways of thinking, a capacity to entertain an aesthetic view at variance with our own, these are keys to appreciating the full range of great art and evolving a richer understanding of seemingly contradictory aesthetics. Such things are found in the works and writings of Schumann (and of course Rolf), which is again why we have selected dear Schumann as the cornerstone of our argument.

Yet, there is more to this than initially occurred to me. This insight came quite unexpectedly during the revision process of this essay. When working on a particular idea such as this one, serendipitous events often appear that serve to strengthen evolving arguments or (less often) open another door through which new ideas magically pass. Such a one occurred this past week as I was listening to a local classical radio station. A musician who was planning a lecture and performance on the works of Schumann was talking about “Schumann’s love letters,” a code phrase he employed for selected works he would perform and discuss. The artist’s perspective was that no music was as charged with passion and explicit sexuality as that of Schumann. The literature is in fact ripe with not only the passionate love letters Schumann wrote to his beloved Clara, the greatest female piano virtuoso of her era, but also considerations of the numerous references to her in his occasionally subtly programmatic piano works and lieder. I was frankly entranced by this idea, which certainly matched my understanding of Schumann the man and Schumann the artist.

I do not think that such a personal art should be dismissed as an aberration of an obsessive psyche, particularly when mediated through the genius of a creative mind such as Schumann’s. I feel such works might more accurately be viewed as a highly embodied art form, compositions where musical motifs and harmonies serve as evocations of the powerful emotions of a complex artist who worked out many of his personal demons and wide-ranging passions in his rich body of work. The nuances of Schumann’s emotional fragility and the incongruities between his best art and his increasingly destabilizing grasp of reality serve, I believe, as both cautionary tale and useful somatic metaphor. But, how does this all tie together in a useful and instructive way?

Here is my current best answer. What we might say about our work is that at its best it transcends structure and embraces emotion. Certainly not the idealized or frenetic kaleidoscopes of Romantic excess, but a well-modulated embodied movement capable of expressing a full range of feeling. What we wish to consider here is titrated emotion, integrated yet responsive. Such emotional resiliency is only possible in a healthy adaptable system, and helping create such a system remains for many of us one of the most potent of our goals.

An embodied and adaptable system is one that experiences mutable psychic states, one that has an over-arching meta-order that prevents the individual from becoming fixated on any discrete moment. It is also one that has the skills to navigate new situations with clarity and curiosity.5 Whether we see emotion as primary or secondary in our work, we cannot but concede that it so totally permeates all we do that we have little choice but to surrender to its inevitability. Ideally, we will become more mindful of emotional nuance in proportion to our improving ability to sense and direct a system’s fascial reconfigurations. Just as we may well enjoy the music of Schumann without the emotional subtext, so we can certainly work in a satisfactory way by focusing on memorized protocols and a clearly defined list of objective goals. Yet, we soon realize that such mechanistic thinking misses too much of the experience in the moment, the richness of the underlying pulsations and messages hidden yet calling to us as we work. Whether we embrace neoclassical purity or Romantic experimentation, subtlety of structure and implicit meaning readily offer themselves for our consideration, if only we learn to fully attend to them.

I have often heard it argued that such an approach as the one I take here makes too much of the work, superimposing on it a level of complexity that offers little to the quotidian realities of a functioning practice. I reply, “point well taken.” However, I for one find that seeking unusual relationships and metaphors enhances my normal experience of the work and helps me “grow the work as I grow myself.” I enjoy the introspective opportunities provided by my “routine experiences” with all my diverse sessions. I also relish the opportunities of playing with the written word, as this exercise helps me construct and refine arguments and concepts, the application of which may seem abstruse to many. Since I consciously choose to be more concerned about the ideas than reactions to them, this difficulty causes me less concern over time. I adapt here the implicit position of my friend Schumann.

Our work is in many ways a very internal and perhaps even selfish act. The same I believe holds true for the experience of all great art. Deep explorations with clients may lead to intense engagement with other; a creating that is ostensibly about them more than us. Yet, most who “live the work” do so as much for the internal experience that such meditative work creates in them as their desire to communicate their skill with others. To offer another analogy, that the compositions of Schumann or the interpretation of them by say a Horowitz or Kempf move us is, I think, totally independent of the internal experience of the composer or the artist interpreting them.6 I believe that Horowitz’s subjective experience (for instance) of playing a given composition as he carefully communicates the printed page to us has much in common with how we bring the abstract basic series to life as we play it with and on our clients, even if our selfish internal reality is concealed from others for obvious reasons.7

The inner world of SI from the perspective of the practitioner is rarely explored, largely I suspect because it is easier to look externally than to dissect and verbalize the complex internal experiences of sophisticated practitioners of this discipline. Also, admitting that there exists a large selfish component to what we do hardly resonates with the humanitarian and lofty goals most of us espouse. This conflict is a subtle reality for many, yet I must admit I have never heard anyone describe exactly what I am suggesting here.

How well I have succeeded in convincing others of my message must be, if I have any hope of consistency, of less concern to me than the process I have followed to explore my themes. Otherwise, external concerns distract from the creative process itself. Yet, just as any good artist reveals cohesion and unity through structural devices, so I must do the same both in my writing and in my sessions. An interesting conundrum, to say the least.

However, the variety of means employed by us to accomplish these goals is part of what makes the work so interesting, our subjective choices of said tools predisposing each of us to choose for a time a given permutation of this creative process, be it classical, romantic, or aleatoric (random). Unlike Schumann and his best interpreters, we can simply write or play the notes competently. Or, we may bravely choose to seek deeper connections and willingly go within in order to aid others in their personal journeys. I choose the latter route and enjoy observing how others define their own aesthetic: following widely divergent paths, or stopping along the way so they can fully enjoy their very different vantage points. All this is, after all, nothing but blobs of ink; how we combine and reorganize them, that is where things become really interesting.




  1. Greene, David Mason, Greene’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers, “Reger, Max” (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), pp. 924-925.


  1. Slonimsky, Nicolas, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (New York: Norton, 2000). Originally published 1953 by Ross-Coleman, p. 139. “Ich sitze in dem kleinsten Zimmer in meinen Hause. Ich habe Ihre Kritik vor mir. Im nächsten Augenblick wird sie hinter mir sein.” Translation by Slonimsky.


  1. Schickele, Peter, “If You Can’t Think of Something Nice to Say, Come Sit Next to Me”, his forward to Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective; (New York: Norton, 2000), x. Some minor editorial changes were made to this wonderful quote to accommodate the surrounding grammatical structures.


  1. A friend of mine, Judith Roberts, once said to me: “Raymond, Rolfing® isn’t science it’s art”. I fear that if I wholeheartedly embrace her impassioned and very appealing view, I run the risk of offending those in our community who study the scientific underpinnings of our work. The academic in me rebels against repudiating interesting research, and I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly support and am engaged by their potentially very valuable studies. Therefore, I live to deepen my ability to work more intuitively in the artistic realm as I simultaneously enrich my understanding of anatomy and science. Here is an interesting contradiction that may confuse many but which is essential to my approach to the work and this essay.


  1. I wish to acknowledge that this and other references to state come both from lectures by Jan Sultan and ideas that have their origin with Bill Smythe.


  1. I choose these two performers deliberately because Horowitz is mostly known as a consummate virtuoso in the grand Romantic tradition while Kempf is loved for his restrained and elegant interpretations. That I prefer Kempf to Horowitz belies my closeted love for the daring Romantic excesses of highly individual and creative artists who are willing to sacrifice clarity and precision for dazzling brilliance or overarching dramatic effect. I love both for very different reasons, and it is this fundamental contradiction in my taste that drives much of this paper, and helps explain my curious marriage of art and science.


  1. Although I have told this story elsewhere, it bears repeating. This notion of “playing” my clients as an instrument came from my gifted movement teacher Vivian Jaye, who used this image to help me settle into the work during a very difficult period in my training. It is a wonderful idea and proved transformative in my ability to sense others and myself more fully as I worked.

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