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8.550608 - SCHUMANN, R.: Overtures
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a book seller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature and later made a name for himself as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. After a period at university to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother, but still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann was able to turn more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher, whose energies had been largely directed towards the training of his beloved daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent.
Schumann's own ambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by a weakness of the fingers, the result, it is supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis, which he perhaps had contracted from a servant-girl in Wieck's employment. Nevertheless he wrote a great deal of music for the piano during the 1830s, much of it in the form of shorter genre pieces, often enough with some extra-musical, literary or autobiographical association. The end of the decade brought a prolonged quarrel with Wieck, who did his utmost, through the courts, to prevent his daughter from marrying Schumann, bringing in support evidence of the latter's allegedly dissolute way of life. He might have considered, too, a certain mental instability, perhaps in part inherited, which brought periods of intense depression.
In 1840 Schumann and Clara married, with the permission of the court. The year brought the composition of a large number of songs and was followed by a period during which Clara encouraged her husband to tackle larger forms of orchestral music, while both of them had to make adjustments in their own lives to accommodate their differing professional requirements and the birth of children. A relatively short period in Leipzig was followed, in 1844, by residence in Dresden, where Wagner was now installed at the Court Theatre, his conversation causing Schumann to retire early to bed with a headache in 1850 the couple moved to Düsseldorf, where Schumann had been appointed director of music, a position the demands of which he was unable to meet, a fact that contributed to his suicidal depression and final break-down in 1854, leading to his death in the asylum at Endenich two years later Schumann completed his first symphony early in 1841 and it was performed on 31st March that year by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Mendelssohn In April he set to work on an Overture, intended as part of an orchestral suite, to which he added a Scherzo and a Finale, to be performed in Leipzig on 6th December. The Finale was later revised by the composer. The Overture opens with a brief introduction, marked Andante con moto, based on a brief motif of dramatic implication. An Allegro follows, with an initial theme that might well have sounded familiar to Mendelssohn, although Schumann never had quite the lightness of touch of that composer. The Scherzo and its Trio are scored more heavily than might have been expected, the woodwind assuming some prominence in the latter section, before the insistent rhythm of the Scherzo reasserts itself. The Trio makes a brief re-appearance before the final bars, in which the opening rhythm is recalled. The Finale has an imposing fugal opening, in a movement that seems to justify the composer's own reference to the work as a symphonette. There is an imposing cheerfulness about the music and a coherence of structure that enables it, as Schumann intended, to stand on its own, if this were to be required.
The opera Genoveva and the incidental music for Manfred belong to the Dresden period of Schumann's life in 1843 Friedrich Hebbel had published his five-act blank verse tragedy Genoveva, based on the Volksbuch von der Pfalzgräfin Genoveva and later French and German sources. The young knight Golo is left by the crusader Pfalzgraf Siegfried to guard his wife Genoveva. In his lord's absence Golo seeks the love of Genoveva, who rejects him and is then imprisoned on a false charge of adultery with the loyal knight Drago, whom he has put to death Genoveva, in prison, gives birth to Siegfried's son, and is finally saved when the murderer, hired to kill her as she is led into the forest at Golo's command, is himself killed by a madman, der tolle Klaus Siegfried, returning, believes that Genoveva has been false to him and rejects her child as anothers. Golo finally repents and has himself blinded by his companion to be left to die in the forest where Genoveva and her child now live. The opera itself ends happily with the reconciliation of Siegfried and Genoveva.
Schumann made a very poor impression on Hebbel, when they met briefly at the composer's suggestion, and was eventually left to devise his own opera libretto based on the work of Hebbel and a play on the same subject by Ludwig Tieck, after rejecting a version prepared for him by the poet and painter Robert Reinick, who had settled in Dresden in 1844. The opera was first staged in Leipzig in June 1851 before a distinguished audience that included Liszt and the violinist Joachim but its reception was lukewarm. The Overture, however has had more success, written in the space of five days at the beginning of ApriI 1847, an effective orchestral composition.
Immediately after the completion of Genoveva Schumann set to work on Manfred, based on the dramatic poem by Lord Byron, whose work Schumanns father had published in translation. A hero with whom Schumann himself might have identified as Hebbel had identified in some measure with his villain Golo, Manfred seeks oblivion for some mysterious crime wandering as an outcast in the Alps, attempting death and summoning spirits to his aid, finally to deny the power of evil demons over him before death takes him. The Byronic hero and the Caspar Friedrich landscape exercised fascination over a number of nineteenth century composers, of whom the most distinguished was to be Tchaikovsky. Schumann devised a libretto based on the German translation of Manfred by the Silesian pastor Karl von Suckow, a series of fifteen scenes, preceded by an Overture, the last again more effective and hence more often heard than the work that it introduces. The first complete performance of Manfred was in Weimar in 1852 under the direction of Liszt who included, as an intermezzo, Wagners Faust Overture, this in the absence of the composer, who felt unable to undertake the Journey from Düsseldorf. The Overture, however had been given earlier concert performances in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Schumann and in Weimar.
In 1844 Schumann began to consider the possibility of setting Goethes Faust to music. Rejecting the possibility of doing justice to the work in operatic form, he chose instead to concentrate on a series of scenes, starting with the final apotheosis, which was eventually given a public performance in 1849, as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of Goethe's birth. At this period Schumann added six further scenes and finally in 1853, an Overture, written during a period of five days in August. The whole work was first performed in Cologne eight years later at the insistence of the baritone Julius Stockhausen.
The young writer Richard Pohl had approached Schumann in 1850 with the proposal of an opera based on Schillers play Die Braut von Messina. Pohl, a philosophy student from Dresden, later provided Schumann with a libretto for his projected oratorio Martin Luther, a work that came to nothing. Die Braut von Messina, The Bride of Messina, inspired only a concert overture, completed in 1851 and first performed in Düsseldorf on 13th March that year in a programme that also included Schumanns work for chorus and orchestra Nachtlied, a setting of a poem by Hebbel, and the Rhenish Symphony. Schillers tragedy, an attempted recreation of Greek drama, deals with the fatal rivalry of two brothers, sons of the ruling prince of Messina, and their love for a girl who turns out to be their sister. The drama ends with the death of the two brothers, one killed by the other, who then takes his own life. Schumanns sonata-form Overture is dominated by a motif representing the curse on the family and seemed to him quite straightforward, although he found the Düsseldorf audience unenthusiastic in its response.
The same year 1851, brought the composition of two further concert overtures, the first to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and the second inspired by Goethes epic poem Hermann und Dorothea, its nine books each bearing the name of one of the nine Muses. Hermann, the son of a Rhineland inn-keeper, falls in love with Dorothea, a penniless girl making her escape from the disturbances consequent on the French Revolution. In spite of parental opposition and misunderstandings the couple are eventually betrothed. The Oveture makes use of phrases from the Marseillaise, in an attempt to suggest the period and events described in Goethe's poem, and was intended, it seems to introduce a Singspiel on the subject, a project that the composer had had long in mind. The Roman general Julius Caesar and the drama of his assassination are less aptly evoked.
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
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