NAC Orchestra

2020-01-15 20:00 2020-01-16 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Montero & Schumann

Join us for an intimate evening of romance with music by German composer Emilie Mayer, and by Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, one of history’s first and most enduring musical partnerships! Nineteenth-century composer Emilie Mayer created musical works in a wide range of forms, resulting in a comprehensive œuvre unrivalled by other female composers of the Romantic era. Her Faust Overture conjures the idealism of Beethoven and the invention of Liszt and Mendelssohn, while...

Read more

Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
January 15 - 16, 2020

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

Our programs have gone digital.

Scan the QR code at the venue's entrance to read the program notes before the show begins.

Last updated: December 30, 2019

Central to our continuing recording cycle of the Brahms and Schumann symphonies is the extraordinary figure who exerted such influence on (and held such fascination for) both of those men: Clara Schumann. Renowned across Europe for her skill as a piano soloist and improvisor, as a passionate champion of new music, and as a composer of note, her music will glue together our recording cycle, featuring today’s concerto as a crown jewel. I can think of no more perfect a pianist for this project than Gabriela Montero – a unique artist with an equally breathtaking array of gifts, talents and passions. And tonight’s performance shines a light not just on Clara Schumann, but also on her prodigiously talented contemporary Emilie Mayer. A feast of 19th-century Romantics. Enjoy!

I’m delighted to finally have Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in my repertoire. It is thanks to this project with Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra that I’ve come to play and love this piece. As a woman, I can sense the urge of the young and precocious Clara to want to express her intimate inner thoughts and feelings in a work that is deeply romantic and sensitive – sometimes unabashedly so, but never falling prey to banality or cliché.

As a composer myself, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that both Clara Schumann and I premiered our first concerto at the Leipzig Gewandhaus! I only wish Clara had lived at a time when she could have fully developed her gifts and not been constrained by the times she lived in. She certainly deserves to be rightfully acknowledged as one of musical history’s great talents.

This is the first time the NAC Orchestra has performed Emilie Mayer’s Faust-Overture.

This is the first time the NAC Orchestra has performed Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor in full.

In 1975, Mario Bernardi was on the podium for the NAC Orchestra’s first interpretation of Robert Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. The Orchestra’s most recent performance of this work took place in 2016, with Alexander Shelley conducting.



Faust-Overture, Op. 46

Many concertgoers can cite Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann as representative women composers of the 19th century. Another name to add to this list is that of Emilie Mayer (1812–1883), whose life spanned almost exactly that of Richard Wagner. Mayer was born in a small town in the extreme northeast of Germany, went to neighbouring Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) to study with Carl Loewe, and in 1847 moved to Berlin to study with Adolf Bernhard Marx and Wilhelm Wieprecht.

Her music was played and published throughout her lifetime, though often at her own expense. What sets Mayer apart from most other women composers of the time is the sheer size and breadth of her catalogue: eight symphonies, 15 concert overtures, 12 cello sonatas, nine violin sonatas, seven piano trios, an opera, songs, piano music, and more. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians calls her “the most prolific German woman composer of the Romantic period.” Following her death, Mayer’s music fell into obscurity; only in recent years has some of it resurfaced and been recorded.

Mayer’s Faust-Overture was published in Stettin in 1880. In mood and style it much resembles Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture, whose subject is a restless, troubled soul. The slow introduction (Adagio) probably is meant to depict Faust alone in his study. The score’s sole programmatic indication comes near the end, where the words “Sie ist gerettet” (She [Margaret] is saved) appear at the point where the music moves from B minor to B major. Formally the main Allegro section of the 12-minute Overture is laid out in modified sonata form, with a first subject in the minor mode and a secondary one in the major. There is no development section to speak of. The coda returns to the minor mode up to the point where Margaret is “saved,” where B major once again prevails to the triumphant end.

Program note by Robert Markow

C. Schumann

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7

Born in Leipzig, September 13, 1819
Died in Frankfurt, May 20, 1896

By any standard, Clara Schumann must be ranked as one of the most remarkable women in the history of music. In an age and land (mid-19th-century Germany) so inhospitable to the creative ambitions of women, she mustered the courage and determination to be both a composer and a traveling virtuoso. In the latter capacity she was the woman pianist of the century.

Taught by her father, she joined Mozart, Mendelssohn and a handful of others in the ranks of child prodigies, giving her first public performance at the age of nine in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, and two years later her first complete recital in the same hall (complete recitals by a single artist were still rare events). Already as a teenager she had begun her lifetime career of touring the length and breadth of Europe. Her admirers included Goethe, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Paganini and Berlioz.

Clara Schumann’s technical abilities were matched by depth of interpretive insight, poetic feeling and respect for the composer's performance directions. She was also a champion of new music, and gave the first performances in Germany of many works by Chopin, Brahms and especially her husband Robert, whom she married in 1840.

But her career as a pianist was only one aspect of Clara Schumann’s life. She also achieved renown as a composer, with her first works appearing at the age of 11. As testimony to her precocity, the concerto we hear tonight was written while she was between 13 and 15 years old. Her catalogue includes 23 opus numbers plus another 30 or so unnumbered works. Like Chopin, everything she wrote was either for or with piano. Clara Wieck gave the first complete performance of her Piano Concerto in A minor on November 9, 1835 in the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Mendelssohn conducting.

The Piano Concerto Op. 7 was a strikingly bold statement from the young pianist-composer. Its third movement (Allegro non troppo) was composed first and was initially conceived as a standalone work, a Conzertsatz allowing the 14-year-old Clara Wieck to display both her virtuosity and her mastery of large-scale form. She enlisted Robert Schumann – her father’s former piano student, an emerging composer, and as yet only a good family friend – to orchestrate the Conzertsatz, though she later orchestrated herself the other two movements. The Allegro non troppo features energetic themes relieved by lyrical cascading gestures in the piano solo, and includes the many virtuosic episodes that an audience hungry for pianistic pyrotechnics demanded from Europe’s favourite Wunderkind.

When she decided to use the Concertsatz as the last movement of a fully-fledged concerto, Clara Wieck tackled the challenge of integrating a self-contained work into a coherent large-scale design. She did so not only through subtle thematic connections – the first movement sounds indeed as though it had been the original source for melodic ideas across the work – but also through a unique overarching design. Perhaps inspired by Mendelssohn’s G-minor Concerto, there are no breaks between movements; unlike Mendelssohn, however, the opening Allegro Maestoso is an abbreviated sonata form that dispenses with a recapitulation and defers any sense of closure to the end of the Finale.

The evocative, lyrical middle movement is scored for piano and solo cello, an intimate duet between the heftier outer movements. Its title, Romanze, was closely linked to a vocal genre, perhaps a nod to one of her father’s favourite pedagogical principles, namely that the art of singing was a necessary foundation for piano-playing—and indeed the Romanze foregrounds tone and touch rather than fiery virtuosity.

Unbeknownst to her, with this concerto, Clara Wieck was at the forefront of many innovative techniques which later Romantic composers continued to develop. She attempted only one other piano concerto in 1847, which remained unfinished.

– Program note by Robert Markow and Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers


Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, “Rhenish”

I. Lebhaft 
II. Scherzo: Sehr mässig  
III. Nicht schnell  
IV. Feierlich  
V. Lebhaft  

In early September 1850, Robert and Clara Schumann moved to Düsseldorf, in the Rhineland, so Robert (1810–1856) could take up his position as the music director of the orchestra and chorus of the Allgemeiner Musikverein. Not long after they arrived, they went to Cologne where they visited the city’s monumental Cathedral, which in 1850, about 600 years after the laying of its foundation, was being completed to its original Gothic design. It made a significant impression on Robert, and, as confirmed by Josef von Waiselewski, the violinist and concertmaster of Schumann’s orchestra, became a source of inspiration for his Third Symphony (the fourth he would write). Soon after returning to Düsseldorf, Robert set to work on it. A few months later, on February 6, 1851, he led the premiere at the Musikverein there to warm reception, successful enough to merit a repeat performance within a month.

Among Schumann’s orchestral works, the Third Symphony remains a favourite with audiences for its picturesque qualities, while also admired by academics and critics for Robert’s distinctive approach to symphonic structure and formal process. Its subtitle “Rhenish”, although not the composer’s, does point to the background inspiration that evidently shaped the pictorial aspects of the piece. At the same time, Schumann uses the recall and development of motivic elements to create a sense of coherence through the Symphony’s movements in a purely structural way that was hitherto unprecedented. It would significantly influence the “developing variation” technique that characterizes the symphonies Johannes Brahms wrote three decades later.

The five movements of the “Rhenish” unfold like a series of “sonic pictures”—or as music scholar John Daverio aptly puts it, like a group of paintings in a highly curated exhibition. Each contains dynamic content that is internally unified within the bounds of their “frame” and is connected to the others in the symphonic “gallery” more through motivic allusion than conveying a narrative progression. The opening movement seems to depict the start of a grand adventure—it launches immediately (without a slow introduction) into an exuberantly swinging theme propelled by energetic cross-rhythms. Woodwinds briefly introduce a graceful winding melody, with a touch of melancholy, but the energy dominates. Later, in the middle section, the winding theme develops more of a presence amid vigorous passages. The swinging tune soon returns but it’s not yet the real reprise. Building through a four-horn proclamation of the tune in a broadened version, the music peaks at the true recapitulation. The main themes proceed as before, and the movement, never lagging in energy, reaches a glorious finish. 

Robert initially called the second movement “Morning on the Rhine”; the main melody possibly evokes the river’s flow, which is more like a gently lilting dance than a quicksilver scherzo. Then, a variation in sprightly figuration, after which a mellifluous new idea in the minor mode is presented by the horns, over quiet strings. Additional returns of the lilting theme (in a bright, bold guise) and the sinuous horn tune follow, leading to a full reprise of the scherzo.

A sense of flow continues into the third movement, which features three main elements that first appear in succession: 1) a singing clarinet melody whose leaping intervals allude to the symphony’s opening theme, accompanied by violas with undulating figures; 2) a tiptoe motif with sighing phrases played by violins and horns; and 3) a descending line of devotional character in the violas and bassoons. After the latter two are further developed, the clarinet melody returns, this time combined with the tiptoeing strings. In a neat act of summation, all three elements appear in the coda, which winds down on the tiptoe motif and sighs. 

Before the finale, Schumann inserts a remarkable fourth movement. In November, amidst his work on this symphony, he returned with Clara to Cologne Cathedral to witness the elevation of Archbishop Johannes von Geissel to cardinal. His experience made its way into this movement, which he had originally titled “In the style of a solemn procession”, though he later replaced this with the word “feierlich” (“solemnly”). Bassoons, trombones, and horns intone a contrapuntal chorale, to which woodwinds and strings add their voices. As musicologist Michael Musgrave has described, “The form of the main part…does not as much suggest the drama of a service as the metaphor of a building: its developing sections and overtly contrapuntal working seem to suggest the creation of the successive levels and spans of a great physical structure”—indeed, like that of Cologne Cathedral itself. 

Returning to lightness, the finale is an inventive summary of what came before. Several motifs—the extroverted first theme, the horn fanfare, and a rising arpeggio in the horns—all subtly reference those that have appeared in earlier movements: the slow movement’s tiptoe figure, the leaping first movement melody, and the scherzo’s first theme, respectively. In the recapitulation, a climactic brass fanfare recalls the ones in the fourth movement, after which the music picks up speed and rushes headlong to a joyous close. 

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD 


  • Conductor Alexander Shelley
  • Piano Gabriela Montero
  • bio-orchestra
    Featuring National Arts Centre Orchestra

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees