05 Feb 2013

Schumann – Concerto for Piano in A Minor, op. 54

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings.

Duration: 31 minutes in three movements.

THE COMPOSER – ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856) – Schumann often composed in exclusive genre blocks. Like the singular focus of the 1840 “Year of Song,” 1842 is often called his “Chamber Music Year” and 1841 was the year he first began to focus solely on orchestral music. What preceded this new creative cycle in addition to the famous Liederjahr was the infamous legal battle to wrest his beloved Clara’s hand from her intractable father.

THE MUSIC – One of the nearly forgotten results of the 1841 symphonic emphasis was the Fantasie in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra. This Fantasie, as originally conceived, has been largely forgotten in the piano repertoire. Schumann almost certainly wrote this affectionate music for his new wife Clara and though he tried to have it published under various titles, his efforts came to nothing. Only temporarily daunted, Schumann put the Fantasie to much better use in 1845 as the first movement of his one and only Piano Concerto. Also created with Clara in mind, the concerto fulfilled the promise of Schumann’s first concerto intentions in the years before they married. Schumann was always loath to compose empty, showy music. He had declared himself incapable of writing for “the virtuosos” and stated that he must craft a “compromise” between the genres of concerto, symphony and solo sonata. His would be work of great structural integrity and thematic connection and not a simple technical thriller. This is not to say that the 1845 fruition of these efforts did not include some very difficult passagework but in Clara’s capable hands at the premiere, the solo music was all in service to the finely tuned symphonic whole. It is surprising, given his highly capable and highly inspiring muse, that Schumann never wrote another piano concerto. This sole endeavor survives fittingly as an exemplar of compositional intention and deep personal devotion, one Clara would champion throughout her long life.   

THE WORLD – 1845 was the beginning of the Great Famine in Ireland and the year Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on Walden Pond. Also in 1845, the United States annexed Texas and incited war with neighboring Mexico.  

THE CONNECTION – The most recent Utah Symphony Masterworks Series performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto was in 2004. Keith Lockhart conducted and Olga Kern was soloist.