Composer Robert Schumann struggles to compose his symphonies while his loving wife Clara offers her support. Also helping the Schumanns is their lifelong friend, composer Johannes Brahms.
Katharine Hepburn ... Clara Wieck Schumann
Paul Henreid ... Robert Schumann
Robert Walker ... Johannes Brahms
Henry Daniell ... Franz Liszt
Leo G. Carroll ... Professor Wieck
Elsa Janssen ... Bertha (as Else Janssen)
Gigi Perreau ... Julie
'Tinker' Furlong ... Felix
Ann Carter ... Marie
Janine Perreau ... Eugenie
Jimmy Hunt ... Ludwig
Anthony Sydes ... Ferdinand
Eilene Janssen ... Elise
Considering this screenplay was for a major film studio and geared for the general public, rather than professional musicians or scholars, the five writers who contributed to the script did a decent job.
Centered in the enactment is that of Clara Wieck, played fervently by Katherine Hepburn, who enjoyed a full life of commitment to her composer husband Robert Schumann, large family and artistic ideals.
Clara's strength held the household together, which included border composer Johannes Brahms, played earnestly by Robert Walker.
Paul Henried has the difficult assignment of portraying Robert, a musical genius suffering from depression. Whereas today medication easily placates these symptoms, in the 19th century, people just had to suffer from the ailment, which affected all those around. Henried manages the role with sensitivity.
Clara was known to eschew technical "brilliance" that was the earmark of Franz Liszt, and in one telling scene she conveys her embodiment of "loving simplicity" over Lisztian "show." It's a provoking moment that conjures relevance today, where "young piano whiz kids" often may play up a storm technically, while seldom penetrating the spiritual heart of the score.
Clara apparently was one of the strongest women of the 19th century, in a male-dominated society, successfully surmounting a father's legal challenge of her marriage, the deaths of a number of her children, and a husband who constantly needed attention--all the while composing, arranging, and giving concerts.
In a touching scene Walker's Jonannes admits to his love for Hepburn's Clara. It's not a far-fetched scene, according to musicologists, though there's hardly concrete proof for substantiation.
The film is rich in the works of Brahms, Schumann and Liszt, and Hepburn and Henry Danielle (as Liszt) do commendable physical renderings of mock piano playing to sublime recordings of Artur Rubenstein. Clarence Brown directs with his usual sure hand.
Why this film is not better regarded by critics I cannot fathom. It features truly sublime direction by Clarence Brown (Orson Welles would be proud of some of those tracking shots), and four brilliant performances by Katharine Hepburn, Robert Walker, Paul Henreid and Henry Daniell. The plot is simple, even slight, but the film is really about music, and is soaked in the exquisite sounds of Schumann and Brahms (played I believe by Arthur Rubinstein). Hepburn and Daniell play piano with utter conviction - surely both actors had some knowledge of the instrument. Excellent art direction and superb cinematography make the film glow visually as well as aurally.
It's all about love - between people and for music. This is a unique film for its time - a true mood piece, in which the divine music allows you to experience the love felt by the characters. Don't sit back and think - allow the images and the sounds to take you away. Clarence Brown was a brilliant director - one of the best Hollywood ever produced. He knows exactly how to move an audience with the sheer beauty of his images and the power of music. Never has this ability been more evident than in SONG OF LOVE, which I venture to describe as a masterpiece.
This was produced as a sincere attempt to tell the story of the relationship between composer Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and an up-and-coming youngster, Johannes Brahms.
The story is largely a fictionalized version of the true tale. According to their letters, Clara's feelings for the young Brahms were more of a motherly than a romantic nature. Brahms did indeed feel a great deal for Clara, but he knew the parameters of their relationship and accepted them. The portrayal of Robert in this film is the worst written and least accurate, probably accounting for Henreid's pallid performance. Brahms was only one of the young male talents that Robert befriended and aided, while Clara looked the other way. We now know too that Robert's illness and cause of death was most likely the ravages of syphilis. The picture skirts the issue and never really makes clear what is wrong with him.
The portrayal of the resourceful and strong-willed Clara is more accurate, and Hepburn is a good casting choice, though on the surface an unlikely one, and the best part of the picture is the portrayal of the boisterous Schumann household, which she essentially heads, leaving her husband free to pursue his own interests and talents. And after Robert's death, the real Clara did indeed devote her life to preserving his legacy.
This film is not a bad one, though the reverential way these three people are treated, and the stilted dialogue written for them, gets in the way. Walker looks so much like the portraits of the young Brahms, especially Brahms in his thirties, that it's uncanny.
The choice of Artur Rubenstein to play all of the solo piano pieces on the soundtrack is a puzzling one, as he makes little attempt to differentiate between the styles of playing of the different characters. And Rubenstein was never a particularly strong player of Brahms and Schumann. His playing of Liszt is much better.
SONG OF LOVE is a tastefully romanticized biography of the Schumanns (Clara and Robert), as portrayed by KATHARINE HEPBURN and PAUL HENRIED, in a glossy tribute to their classical music. Their life changes when they take in a boarder/student by the name of Brahms, ROBERT WALKER, who immediately falls in love with Clara.
While she makes a successful career as a pianist, her husband is less successful in pursuing his serious work as a composer. The story chronicles the highs and lows of their marriage as they struggle to raise seven or eight children while juggling their professional lives. Whether the romantic angle with Brahms falling deeply in love with Clara is accurate or not, I don't know. I'll have to read more about them to get the full picture, but it makes for an interesting romantic drama with lots of classical music, courtesy of Rubenstein at the piano.
An unusual film for Katharine Hepburn, who does beautifully at the keyboard looking as though she's really playing the instrument, as well as Henry Daniell as Franz Liszt who is quite adept at the fingering.
Good performances throughout, but I suspect that it's a film for classical music lovers only.