Eugene Drucker, First Violin of the Emersons, writes that “rarely has mental instability created such a rich aesthetic harvest” as in the music of Robert Schumann, especially in the three string quartets, composed in a matter of weeks during 1842. While I agree with this observation, I’ve always suspected that the conjecture that these works convey incipient symptoms of bi-polarity is more an example of what psychiatrists term “narcissistic projection” – people foisting or “reading” their own neuroses onto others – than genuine analysis or insight.

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That said, they are suffused with emotional volatility and undeniably intermittently febrile passages. Furthermore, Jed Distler, a reviewer whom I always admire, especially for his acerbic wit, wrote that the First Quartet (A Minor) is...