≈ 90 minutes · No intermission
Last updated: October 7, 2021
This concert pairs Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 4, both of which had their compositional origins in the year 1841, though he eventually revised them—in 1845 and 1851, respectively—to the final versions you’ll hear performed tonight. This bears mentioning, because these works shed light on some of Schumann’s aesthetic preoccupations in writing for the orchestral medium. Like many composers in the generation after Beethoven, Schumann was concerned with the future directions of the symphony and the concerto genres, and how he could make his own creative contribution. For these two works, it seems the idea of “fantasy” was at the core. Notably, Schumann himself referred to his Fourth Symphony as a “symphonic fantasy”, and his Piano Concerto originated as a Phantasie for piano and orchestra.
I. Allegro affettuoso
II. Intermezzo: Andante grazioso –
III. Allegro vivace
In May 1841, around the time he was also sketching his D minor symphony, Robert Schumann drafted a Phantasie in A minor for piano and orchestra. On August 13, his wife, the virtuoso pianist and composer Clara Schumann (née Wieck) gave two trial performances of this one-movement concert piece at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. She was keen about the work, commenting that “the piano is interwoven with the orchestra in the most subtle way—one cannot imagine the one without the other.” This would have encouraged Robert, who thought the future direction of the concerto laid, in part, in creating a new equal and more integrated relationship between soloist and orchestra.
Lack of interest from publishers and concert organizers led Robert to put the Phantasie aside. However, he picked it up again in the summer of 1845, when he reworked it into a concerto, adding a Rondo finale and an Intermezzo to come before, while the Phantasie, revised, became the first movement. In December, Clara, as the soloist, gave the first performance of the Concerto in Dresden, then in Leipzig a month later, to positive reviews. Since the late 19th century, it continues to be one of the most frequently performed and admired concertos.
The Concerto begins as a dramatic intrusion by orchestra and piano; the oboe then sings the tender first theme, to which the piano immediately responds. Soloist and orchestra continue in dialogue—subtly at first, more impassioned as the movement progresses, to finally, exuberance. The “fantasy” element is clearly borne by the piano part, with its rippling arpeggios and constantly evolving melodies.
The brief Intermezzo has a gracious elegance. There’s a gentle theme on tiptoe but the middle section is the movement’s emotional heart, with a luscious cello melody of yearning leaps, around which the piano weaves embellishments. The tiptoe theme returns but seems to lose its way. As if a summons, the opening theme from the first movement, in a brighter version, is recalled by clarinets and bassoons; the piano responds with delicately falling chords. Suddenly, the tempo rushes forward into the finale’s exuberant rondo theme (in fact a variant of the opening melody). Lively episodes ensue, including a playful use of metres and orchestral counterpoint. In the final minutes, the piano part becomes its most fantastical and virtuosic, driving the Concerto to an exhilarating conclusion.
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Robert Schumann was a German composer and music critic. Many of his works—including piano pieces, art song (lieder), symphonies, chamber music, oratorio, opera, dramatic music, and church music—are considered major contributions to their respective genres and significantly influenced subsequent generations of European composers, such as Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, and Gustav Mahler. Stylistically, Schumann’s lifelong love of literature frequently shaped his musical compositions, with traditional structures infused with narrative techniques drawn from literary models, leading to often bold and innovative conceptions. He also developed a new kind of music criticism, which took a historically informed, multi-perspective approach to describing musical processes that involved close analyses of works.
Born in Zwickau, Saxony on June 8, 1810, the youngest of five children, Schumann showed a talent for music at an early age—initially in singing, then on piano; his first compositions included piano miniatures and songs. To fulfill his family’s wishes, he went to Leipzig in 1828 for a course in law, though he left a year later to devote himself to composition lessons and studying piano with Friedrich Wieck.
During the 1830s, after hopes of being a concert pianist were dashed by a weakened middle finger on his right hand, Schumann sought a full-time career as a composer. While it progressed in starts and stops, he carved another intellectual and creative path as a music journalist, eventually founding the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, for which he was editor from 1835 to 1844. Meanwhile, he and Wieck’s daughter, Clara, already a highly lauded, touring concert pianist and composer, had fallen in love. After a protracted battle with Wieck who had forbidden them to marry, they were finally granted legal permission to do so and wedded in September 1840.
The 1840s were artistically fruitful years for Robert as he and Clara settled into family life while also continuing their respective professional careers. With Clara as muse and with her encouragement, Schumann composed numerous songs and completed major works for orchestra during this period, as well as made forays into other genres, such as his opera Genoveva. In 1850, he became Düsseldorf’s municipal music director; in this role, he made his début as a conductor and led the orchestra and the chorus of the Allgemeiner Musikverein in subscription concerts. He continued to compose prolifically, completing close to 100 new works between 1849 and 1854.
Throughout his adult life, Schumann suffered progressively worsening episodes of depression. Eventually, his mental condition deteriorated to the point that on February 27, 1854, he threw himself into the Rhine river, but he was rescued by local fishermen. To protect Clara and his children, he insisted on being placed in an asylum, and was admitted to a private sanitorium at Endenich, near Bonn. He died there on July 29, 1856.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Soo Gyeong Lee*
Rachel Mercer (principal / solo)
Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Charles Hamann (principal)
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Christopher Millard (principal)
Lawrence Vine (principal) (Symphony)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal) (Concerto)
Olivier Brisson* (Symphony)
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
Donald Renshaw (principal)
Feza Zweifel (principal)