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8.557547 - SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Concerto, Op. 54 / Introduction and Allegro appassionato
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Robert Schumann (1810-1856): Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92 • Introduction and Allegro, Op. 134

As a young man Schumann had diffuse interests, but in music his ambitions centred chiefly on the piano. After leaving school he had enrolled as a law student at the University of Leipzig, moving the following year to Heidelberg, which seemed more to his social and musical taste. Here he continued to try his hand as a composer, and it was in these years that he attempted the composition of his first piano concertos, which were never finished. His teacher and future reluctant fatherin- law Friedrich Wieck, however, promised Schumann’s widowed mother that her son could become one of the foremost pianists of the day, if he were to apply himself assiduously to technical practice and to the kind of theoretical study that seemed foreign to the young man’s temperament, a course of action that he attempted to pursue, before abandoning performance for composition.

It was only after his marriage to Clara Wieck in 1840, an alliance that had been the subject of protracted litigation on the part of her father, that he seemed to find that degree of security and encouragement that enabled him to tackle larger instrumental forms. Much of his music in the 1830s had been for the piano, often in those smaller forms of which he was such a master. While 1840 itself was a year of song, with many compositions in this form, the encouragement of his wife, by now established as a pianist, led, much to her delight, to Schumann’s first symphony, followed by his Overture, Scherzo and Finale that he was to describe later as a symphonette. In the spring of the same year he completed a Fantasie in A minor for piano and orchestra, which Clara was able to play in rehearsal with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig in August, shortly before the birth of the first of the Schumann children. The Fantasie found no favour with publishers, and it was not until 1845 that Schumann added an Intermezzo and a Finale to make of it a complete concerto, a work that Clara Schumann immediately took into her repertoire, playing it on New Year’s Day 1846 in a Gewandhaus concert.

The concerto opens with a flourish from the pianist, followed by the principal theme, entering like a lamb, but to assume greater proportions as the work progresses. Clara Schumann perceptively remarked, of the first movement, that the piano part is skilfully interwoven with the orchestra, so that it is impossible to think of one without the other. The Allegro affettuoso is in traditional sonata form, but handled with considerable freedom, particularly in the central development. The Intermezzo must remind us of Schumann’s mastery of those shorter forms which he had used to such effect in his earlier piano music, while the Finale, originally conceived as a separate Concerto Rondo, has all the excitement that we expect of a virtuoso concerto, and a clear thematic connection with the first movement.

In 1844 the Schumanns moved from Leipzig to the city of Dresden. Robert Schumann had suffered intermittently from depression, accentuated by the fact that he had now become the consort of a pianist of considerable fame, his own rôle a decidedly secondary one during the concert tour of Russia that had occupied the earlier months of the year. Dresden, where Wagner had recently become conductor at the opera, was, in spite of this, relatively conservative. Here Schumann set about the task of teaching his young wife counterpoint, while he returned to his work as a composer with a certain renewal of energy. The Introduction and Allegro appassionato for piano, with orchestral accompaniment, was a product of the eventful year 1849, the period that brought a republican uprising in Dresden, the hurried departure of Wagner, who had been involved openly with more extreme factions, and general disturbance, as the unrest was suppressed with Prussian help. Throughout the months of tumult, during which the Schumanns had taken refuge outside the city, Robert Schumann continued to write music, completing the present work during the later part of September, a month that brought songs and piano pieces. The gentle Introduction to Opus 92 allows orchestral melodies to appear through the evocative piano arpeggios, first from the clarinet, then from the French horn, before the piano too assumes a melodic role. The Allegro appassionato is dominated by the opening figure from the orchestra, but largely justifies its descriptive title, a work for piano with orchestral accompaniment.

For the greater part of his career Schumann had held no official musical position. In 1850, however, he moved to Düsseldorf as director of music in succession to his friend from Dresden Ferdinand Hiller, who was to take up a similar position in Cologne. Here he hoped to establish himself, but events were to bring frustration and disappointment, with inadequacies in performance and disagreements with musicians and administrators. The year further affected Schumann’s variable health, bringing insomnia and depression, and, in 1854, a break-down from which he was never to recover, dying in 1856 in a private asylum at Endenich, near Sonn. The last of Schumann’s works for piano and orchestra, the Concert-Allegro with Introduction, for piano with orchestral accompaniment, was written in 1853, intended for his wedding anniversary on 12th September, but later dedicated to the young Johannes Brahms, who visited the Schumanns for the first time later that month. This tribute to Brahms was followed by a similar homage to his friend Joachim, the brilliant young violinist, for whom Schumann wrote a violin Fantasie and a concerto. The Introduction and Allegro is, like its predecessor, primarily a vehicle for the solo pianist, with relatively light scoring for the orchestra and piano writing that never sacrifices music to mere bravura.

Keith Anderson

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