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Young Love In Ithaca, With Schumann's Help

A piece by Robert Schumann, the German composer and musician, helped spark Alice and Burt Swersey's relationship 53 years ago.
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A piece by Robert Schumann, the German composer and musician, helped spark Alice and Burt Swersey's relationship 53 years ago.

All Things Considered has been asking listeners for their memories of winter musical moments. Tuesday's story stretches back to the winter of 1958, when Alice Swersey was a freshman at Ithaca College.

"I was dating a guy from up the hill, from Cornell," she says. "On my birthday, Dec. 2, I received at my dorm a dozen sweetheart roses and an album of Rudolf Serkin and the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Schumann's Piano Concerto — which I was totally in love with. And I think I'd casually mentioned that to my date a few weeks before."

Her date was her now-husband, Burt Swersey, who says he'd taken careful note of the remark.

"I think I remembered everything about Alice at that time," he says. "I was just smitten with her, so whatever she told me, I think I remembered very well."

"A piano concerto is a conversation between a soloist and the orchestra, and this is just the most romantic piece," Alice says. "There's something about Schumann, the emotion that he conveys. ... It's very lush, with swelling passages and then the most delicate little piano responses."

Burt says he and Alice had only been dating for a few months when he sent her the record — but that it expressed something he'd known from the moment they met.

"The first time I saw her, my heart really skipped a beat. She bounded down the stairs with her ponytail swinging, and with her little skirt and little sweater and so on, and I just took a deep breath," he says. "I had to find some magic to capture this incredible young woman. I guess it worked."

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