Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Schumann - Symphony No. 4 In D Minor

The 4 symphonies of Robert Schumann were written from 1841 to 1851, and have been just outside the standard orchestral repertoire. The reasons for this are many. Schumann's technical knowledge of some of  the instruments of the orchestra, especially the brass section, wasn't the best. He was in the process of learning more and polishing his technical handling of the orchestra, but his progress was cut short by mental illness that left him unable to compose. But there were other issues as well.  Problems with form and balance (real and imagined) many times were corrected by conductors and resulted in performances of Schumann's symphonies that contained much that he did not write.

One of his problematic symphonies was the one written shortly after the Symphony No. 1. This symphony was originally Symphony No. 2, but after a very unsuccessful premiere the work was shelved until Schumann revised the work in 1851. By that time he had completed two other symphonies, so the symphony was numbered Symphony No. 4.

Schumann's revision of the symphony did not change the unique form of the symphony; all four movements are played without a break. He made the transitions between movements smoother, made the overall orchestration richer, and other technical changes that reflect the knowledge he had gained since writing his first symphony ten years previous.

Schumann's wife Clara was as devoted to her husband after he died in 1856 as she was when he was alive. She promoted his work and his memory and acted as editor for his collected works that were published in 1882. She used the revised version of 1851 in the edition as this was the one she preferred, going so far as to say that the first version of 1841 survived only as sketches. Johannes Brahms on the other hand, knew better and preferred the first edition of 1841 and acted as editor when he published it in 1892, much to the objections of Clara. But it is the revised version of 1851 that has become the standard and is most often performed.

I. Ziemlich langsam - Lebhaft -  The movement begins with a slow introduction that contains the seed for many of the other themes heard in the work. Schumann took the hints at cyclic form from Beethoven and expanded them into one of the first symphonies composed in the form. Slowly, the introduction gives way to the first lively theme built loosely on the theme within the introduction. Other themes are heard in the exposition, but these are not as well formed as the first one. The exposition is repeated. The development section initially concerns itself with the working out of the first theme. Other themes are heard and expanded, until Schumann begins the development section again in a different key. After this second development has played through, a truncated recapitulation is played which leads to a coda and a segue to the second movement

II.  Romanze: Ziemlich langsam -  A solo cello and solo oboe play a sweet melody that vaguely resembles material heard in the introduction of the first movement, after which a short orchestral interlude leads to a middle section where a solo violin laces its way through the orchestra. The solo cello and oboe return with the opening theme of the movement, which ends with a quiet segue to the third movement.

III. Scherzo: Lebhaft -  Primitive and accented off the beat, the scherzo changes the mood immediately. After the scherzo, the trio contains music for the violins that is similar to the middle section of the second movement. In all, the scherzo and trio are played twice. After the trio, the music slows down into a mysterious segue to the last movement that contains a reference to the primary theme of the first movement.

IV. Langsam; Lebhaft -  A slow crescendo grows as the violins play the same reference to the primary theme of the first movement until the orchestra comes to a short pause, after which the primary theme of the finale, which is related to first movement material, is played. This fragment which was originally in D minor has been transformed to D major. Secondary themes are played and Schumann develops them in free fashion. A final new theme is played near the end, after which the music scurries to a close in D major.

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