Thursday, February 9, 2012

Schumann - Piano Concerto In A Minor

Robert Schumann was a multi-talented man who was not only a fine composer and pianist, but a writer and poet as well. He began studying law but soon dropped it in favor of pursuing a career as a concert pianist.  He used some sort of a contraption that spread his fingers that was supposed to give him more of a span and better finger strength and agility, but it did the opposite and gave him a permanent hand injury.  At least that's how the story has come down. His teacher Friedrich Wieck told him he had the talent to become the greatest virtuoso in Europe,  but modern scholarship has thrown doubt as to Schumann's actual desire to be a concert pianist. Whether the injury was real, imagined, or a story devised by Schumann to forgo the arduous training and devote his energies to composing instead, is open to conjecture.

Schumann's compositional output in the beginning was for the piano exclusively until about 1840.  In his early works he composed pieces that were some of the first examples of program music, music that was inspired and influenced by literary or other outside forces. He also became a music critic and was instrumental in promoting the music of Chopin, Brahms and other composers.

Schumann eventually ventured into composing for orchestra, chamber music and voice. He wrote many songs, four symphonies and a few pieces for piano and orchestra, of which his only piano concerto, in A minor, is the most notable. This concerto influenced many composers, from Brahms to Grieg, and remains one of Schumann's most popular and well-written pieces. It was premiered in 1846 with his wife Clara as soloist and his friend (and dedicatee) Ferdinand Hiller conducting.

The work is in three movements:
I. Allegro affetuoso - After a call to order by the orchestra and the piano, the first theme is heard in the oboe and winds. This theme (and pieces of it) is played through different guises throughout the movement. The piano plays a cadenza near the end and the movement draws to an exciting finish.
II.Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso - This is the movement that in some ways foreshadows Brahms and influenced him greatly. Near the end of this gentle song there is a reference to the theme from the first movement, and the second movement segues directly into the last movement.
III. Allegro vivace - The theme of this movement is first heard in the piano after a rushing run for the strings. It is one of Schumann's most successful pieces of music as it is full of variety and orchestral color.

Schumann is in many ways the ultimate Romantic. He did help usher in the Romantic era with his compositions and musical critiques. His life was one that was filled with mental brilliance offset by periods of mental imbalance and depression. He would compose at white-hot inspiration at times and have difficulty composing anything at others. His life was a life of excess, a life of fantasy, a life of creativity and ultimately a life that ended in an insane asylum when he was but 46 years old.  But he left a legacy of fine compositions, of which the piano concerto is arguably the best of them all.

1 comment:

  1. Nice commentary on Schumann and the beautiful A Minor Piano Concerto. I have heard the concerto. It is a crisp rendition by Alfred Brendel and London Symphony with Claudio Abbado. Yu are most welcome to my blogsite at to witness the definituve reading of this great concerto by the great Artur Rubinstein with the RCA Victor Symphony and William Steinberg performed in 1947 .. to this day.. I don't think, anyone has performed better. My next in line reading is by Wilhelm Backhaus with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Klemens Crauss.