Review: The Erotic Etudes-Opus VI by E.L. van Hine

Robert Schumann, the Romantic composer, was a vibrant and complex man. Schumann’s public biography was carefully cleansed by his wife, his survivors, and his friends, but his own letters and diaries give indication of a series of passionate affairs with both sexes that sparked the creative outpouring of music that defined his artistic life. It is from these sources that author E. L. van Hine has imagined an erotic and inspired story of a remarkable, talented man. The Erotic Études Opus VI recreates many of Schumann’s intimate relationships in a series of 18 interlocking stories that span 40 years of his life, beginning in 1834 when he was at the center of both controversy and publicity in Leipzig, Germany. Arranged thematically and told in the first person, The Erotic Études Opus VI parallels the 18 section piano work, ‘The Symphonic Etudes,’ which was published in 1837 and dedicated to one of Schumann’s intimate friends.

Review by Erastes

Etudes: an instrumental musical composition, most commonly of considerable difficulty, usually designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular technical skill.

I admit that I don’t know much about Schumann, and perhaps I should have learned a little bit about him before launching into this book, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it. However as a reviewer I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend that the reader at least know a little of him and his life before reading it, even though many (although not all) of the characters are fictional imaginings of the author.

It’s a clever little novella, split into eighteen ficlets, echoing Schmann’s Symphonic Etudes, eighteen studies as it were, following Schumann’s life from his life in his home town through his struggles to free himself from his family’s ambitions, to become recognised to gradual fame and fortune – but never – or so it seems, to find happiness.

Being “Erotic Etudes” gives a clue to what we are in for, and indeed most of the little studies are erotic in tone, and quite beautifully rendered, layered with an obvious knowledge of time and place. Some of the writing is at times heartbreakingly beautiful, and quite fitting for the story is heartbreaking too. Some books of this type (having small erotic vignettes strung together) are often not terribly interesting, but van Hine strings you along with Schumann’s life, dipping backwards and forwards in time which keeps the reader hooked and wanting to know more. The sex doesn’t jar, and the plot doesn’t intrude; there is a nice balance of each.

At first I was a little confused with the timeline, and the way it jumped from the time as a young man to his boyhood days and then back again, but this makes more sense as you progress through, and you see all the losses and grief that he suffers – and how this affects him and his mental processes.

As an imagined biographical account of Schumann, I think it reads very well although Schumann scholars argue long and hard to this day as to whether he was homosexual or not, and I enjoyed it greatly, and it works nicely as a portrayal of passion, too, of the need for physical desire, for love and for very great music. It inspired me enough to go and research Robert Schumann after reading it, so that can’t be all bad.

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