25 Feb 2011

C. Schumann – Piano Concerto in A Minor

Written by Jeff Counts

Clara Schumann (then Clara Wieck) began to compose her 1835 Piano Concerto at the tender age of 13. She premiered it three years later with the Leipzig Gewandhaus under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn. Even at this early point in her sixty-year career, Clara was already establishing a reputation as a world class performer, one many thought would someday rival the mighty Franz Liszt himself.   

Schumann composed many works during her youth but the Piano Concerto stands out as the most impressive and lasting among them. It shows the innovative mind of a virtuoso musician at work and the piece displays remarkable consistency and ingenuity for someone so young. The writing for the soloist, particularly in the first movement, gives us a very clear indication of the sort of performing talent Clara possessed and the operatic duet with the solo cello in the Romanze is an especially lovely example of her lyrical voice as a composer. It is interesting to note that Clara got some orchestration assistance from her father’s student (and her future husband) Robert Schumann which offers history a glimpse of his earliest thoughts on the use of orchestral instruments. It is also fascinating and a bit disappointing to read Clara’s own words on the prospect of life as a female composer in the 19th century. “A woman must not wish to compose,” she said, “there never was one able to do it.” This opinion, especially from a musician who certainly could do it, says much about her environment but does little to credit her achievements as a creator of music in spite of it all, music which by any standards remains quite worthy.      

1835 saw the death of the last Holy Roman Emperor Franz II. Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, arrived in the Galapagos Islands that year. The first passenger railroad line on the European continent opened in May. Alexis de Tocqueville published his seminal “Democracy in America” after nine months spent travelling trough Canada and the United States.  

Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto has only been performed one previous time on the Utah Symphony Masterworks Series. The year was 1990 and then Music Director Joseph Silverstein collaborated with pianist Veronica Jochum on the concert.