Title page of Paradies und die Peri, Op. 50
After devoting himself to songs in 1840, orchestral music in 1841, and chamber music in 1842, Schumann turned to oratorio in 1843. Paradies und die Peri tells the story of a Peri—a figure from Persian mythology who is the daughter of a fallen angel and a mortal—and her efforts to enter Heaven. The Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779–1852) incorporated this tale into his poem Lalla Rookh, which was then translated into German by Schumann’s old friend Emil Flechsig. Working with the assistance of the poet Adolf Böttger, Schumann assembled his own libretto from Flechsig’s text. Schumann conducted the premiere, in Leipzig on December 4, 1843. It was such a triumph that the performance had to be repeated a week later. Published in 1844, Paradies und die Peri was quickly recognized as a major addition to the choral repertoire. Perhaps more than any other work, it earned Schumann his place among the leading composers of his era. Its popularity faded in the twentieth century, however, and today it is no longer widely known.
The principal manuscript sources of Paradies und die Peri are found at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin and the Heine Institute in Düsseldorf, but the Gilmore Music Library holds a title page from one of Schumann’s manuscripts. It came to us as part of the Opochinsky Collection, an extraordinary group of about 300 musical manuscripts, letters, and other documents written by prominent musicians. They were acquired by David Opochinsky, an engineer whose company, Titra-Film, provides subtitles and dubbing for the movie industry. Opochinsky, who was born in the Polish city of Lódz in 1900, was trained as a violinist at the Moscow Conservatory. (His success in business eventually enabled him to purchase violins by Stradivari and Guarneri.) He also played the piano; in fact, he got his start in the movie business as a pianist for silent films. Opochinsky moved to the United States in 1942, and he began collecting rare music documents in 1950. He died in 1974, and in 1986 his heirs generously donated his collection to Yale University. It also includes the letter from Schumann to Dr. Arnold seen in this exhibit, as well as compositions, letters, or autographs by C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Grieg, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Casals, Bartók, Stokowski, Stravinsky, Berg, Prokofiev, Copland, and many other eminent composers and performers.