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8.553228 - SCHUMANN, R.: Symphony No. 1 / BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of August Schumann, a bookseller, writer and publisher, and it was perhaps from his father that he acquired his interest and ability in literature as well as a tendency to nervous instability. In childhood and adolescence he showed both in his compositions and in his work for the Neue Leipziger Zeitschrift für Musik, a periodical which he was instrumental in founding in 1834 and which he later edited.
Schumann enjoyed a good general education. His father died in 1826, and when he left school in 1828 it was his mother's wish that he should go on to university. There followed a period of intermittent study in Leipzig and in Heidelberg, where, in the society of his friends, he was able to indulge his gifts as a musician and as a writer. In 1831 he eventually persuaded his mother to allow him to leave the university and to study the piano with Friedrich Wieck, a well known teacher, who accepted his new pupil with some justifiable reservations about his steadiness of purpose.
The relationship with Wieck was to change the course of Schumann's life. Wieck insisted on the study of formal harmony and counterpoint, which Schumann soon abandoned, and demanded restraint in personal habits of excessive drinking and cigar-smoking which proved impossible to achieve. Further, Schumann's ambitions as a pianist were brought to an end by a weakness in two fingers of the right hand, possibly the result of mercury poisoning after an attempt to cure syphilis. He continued, however, to write music, chiefly for the piano, and to serve as a contributor and later as editor for the Neue Zeitschrift.
A brief infatuation and secret betrothal to a pupil of Wieck, Ernestine von Fricken, resulted in the composition of Carnaval, but ended when Schumann discovered that the girl was illegitimate and not the true daughter of the rich Bohemian Baron who had adopted her. The affair that followed was of much greater significance. Wieck, divorced from his wife, had concentrated his attention largely on his young daughter Clara, who had embarked on a remarkable career as a pianist under her father's guidance. Schumann and Clara Wieck, nine years his junior, were to marry in 1840, but only after her father had made every attempt, through the courts, to prevent a match that seemed to him thoroughly unsuitable.
The year of Schumann's marriage was also a year of song, of which he wrote some 130 in 1840, but there were now adjustments to be made on both sides, as each tried to pursue a separate career, Schumann's achievement very much overshadowed by the fame of his wife, a fact that contributed to his periods of depression. In 1844 the couple moved to Dresden, after Schumann failed to secure appointment as director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in succession to Mendelssohn. It was only in 1850 that he received his first official appointment, as director of music in Düsseldorf. The experience was not a happy one. Schumann was not a good conductor and his relationship with his new employers and with his musicians was poor. There were intermittent periods of nervous illness, leading to an attempt at suicide in February, 1854, when he threw himself into the Rhine. His final years were spent in a private asylum at Endenich, where he died in 1856.
The Symphony No.1 in B flat major, Opus 38, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, three timpani, triangle and strings, is still generally known by the title Schumann first proposed for it, Spring. He drew some inspiration from a poem by the Leipzig writer Adolf Bottger and originally suggested titles for each movement. Spring's Awakening was followed by Evening, Happy Playfellows and Spring's Farewell. No literary assistance, however, is required for an understanding of the optimistic mood of the work and its clear classical form, the score written, the composer claimed, with a steel pen found lying near Beethoven's grave in Vienna. The whole work was sketched in four days and sleepless nights and scored during the following three weeks. It was given its first performance under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 31st March, 1841, and was an immediate success.
Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. His father was a musician, a double bass player, and his mother a seamstress some seventeen years older than her husband. The family was poor, and as a boy Brahms earned money by playing the piano in dockside taverns for the entertainment of sailors. Nevertheless his talent brought him support, and teaching from Eduard Marxsen, to whom he later dedicated his B Flat Piano Concerto, although claiming to have learned nothing from him.
After a period earning a living in Hamburg as a teacher and as a dance saloon pianist, Brahms first emerged as a pianist and as a composer in 1853, when he went on a brief tour with the refugee Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi, later to be appointed solo violinist to Queen Victoria. In Hanover he met the already famous young virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim and with the latter's introduction visited Liszt in Weimar. The later visit to Schumann in Düsseldorf, again brought about through Joachim, had more far-reaching results. Schumann was soon to suffer a mental break-down, leading to his death in 1856 in an asylum. Brahms became a firm friend of Clara Schumann and remained so until her death in 1896.
The greater part of Brahms's career was to be spent in Vienna, where he finally settled in 1863, after earlier seasonal employment at the small court of Detmold and intermittent periods spent in Hamburg. In Vienna he established a pattern of life that was to continue until his death in 1897. He appeared as a pianist, principally in his own compositions, played with more insight than accuracy, and impressed the public with a series of compositions of strength, originality and technical perfection. Here was a demonstration that, contrary to the view of Wagner or Liszt, there was still much to be said in the traditional forms of music. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was not the last word. Critics, indeed, hailed Brahms's First Symphony in 1876 as Beethoven's Tenth. Brahms came to occupy a unique position in Vienna, his eccentricities and gruff tactlessness tolerated as Beethoven's had been, his musical achievement unquestioned, except by the fanatical supporters of Wagner.
By 1854, encouraged by Schumann, Brahms had started work on a symphony, writing material that was later to form part of the first of the two piano concertos. The first inklings of the C minor Symphony appear in 1862 in a letter from Clara Schumann to Joachim. Brahms had sent her the first movement of the symphony, which had delighted her.
The following years brought anxious enquiries from Joachim and from the conductors Hermann Levi and Albert Dietrich about the completed symphony. It was not unti11876, however, that Brahms completed the work to his own satisfaction. The first performance was given the same year at Karlsruhe under the direction of Otto Dessoff, and three days later at Mannheim with the composer conducting. The symphony was at once accepted as all that the admirers of Brahms had hoped for, hailed by the critic Hanslick as an inexhaustible fountain of sincere pleasure and fruitful study and seen by many contemporaries as a continuation of the achievement of Beethoven, to the expressed indignation of Wagner.
Hanslick drew attention to the Faustian conflict of the massive opening movement, expressed musically in the great chords with which the symphony opens and their chromatic implications. The movement goes on to an Allegro in which hope and despair seem to strive together. The E major slow movement is entrusted principally to the strings, with a solo oboe adding its own serene element. The third movement moves a third higher again, to the key of A flat major. The clarinet, accompanied by the plucked notes of the cellos, opens the movement, which has a central contrasting section in B Major. The final movement, a major creation of power and intensity, with its contrapuntal complexity, mastery of orchestration and incredible control of form, opens with a dramatic slow introduction, the French horn and then the flute leading to a calmer mood. The horn appears again to bring us to the final Allegro, a clear successor to the finale of Beethoven's last symphony, providing the l1ecessary triumphant optimism that had earlier seemed impossible.
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
In 1978 the Radio Symphony Orchestra was dissolved and both the Flemish and the French Radio divisions set up their own symphony orchestras. The Flemish network soon had a new orchestra, the BRT Philharmonic, with some ninety musicians and Fernand Terby became its principal conductor from 1978 to 1988. Since 1988, Alexander Rahbari has been the principal conductor and musical director of the new BRT Philharmonic Orchestra.
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