1845: Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, age 35a

(It’s another amazing recording and video. Klaus here was 23, and Martin Helmchen was an old man of 37. Schumann was 34 when he wrote this, and Mendelssohn was 35. We forget how young these Romantic geniuses were when the composed and performed, so it’s great to see young people playing the music that young people once performed and premiered. The audience still looks awfully old to me, but my hope is that YouTube will reach new generations of of music lovers. I myself prefer to listen at home, in my own privacy, and you chances of hearing this kind of performance in this area is about as likely as walking on the moon.)

Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, age 34

First movement:

  • I. Allegro affettuoso (A minor): It’s sonata form, and the short intro is an idea that Grieg later copied, along with the key.
  • Cadenza: It’s one of the most effective and well written cadenzas in all of piano literature.

Second movement:

Last movement:

  • III. Allegro vivace (A major): Is it major or minor? At first you don’t know. It’s major, then minor, then finally back to major. There is no break, something that Schumann and other composers often did.

Instrumentation:

  • solo piano
  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns, 2 trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

This is Schumann’s only piano concerto…

The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, by the German Romantic composer Robert Schumann was completed in 1845 and is the composer’s only piano concerto. The complete work was premiered in Dresden on December 4th of 1845. It is one of the most widely performed and recorded piano concertos from the Romantic period.

Famous for 174 years…

It was an immediate success and has been popular every since. It was the first of three concertos written in A major or A minor by Schumann, Liszt and Grieg.

It took a long time…

Schumann talked about his ideas with his future wife, Clara, when he was still in his teens. To get from that point to completion took almost a decade. Once again we can see how long it took for these geniuses to complete major works. The process is not usually quick.

It started out with a different name and form…

In his early 20s Schumann wrote a fantasy for piano and orchestra called Phantasie in A minor. He could not sell it to publishers. Later he revised it, but it still was not a success. Clara suggested that he expand it to a full concerto. In December of 1845 it was performed by his wife.

Then Mendelssohn conducted it…

Less than a month later on January 1st, 1846, the concerto was performed in Leipzig, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn and again with Clara performing. This is a good example of how composers supported each other.

Great balance between orchestra and piano…

This is what the concertos by Schumann, Liszt and Grieg have in common. In all three the orchestra and piano complement each other.

Did Grieg copy Schumann?

Many people think Grieg modeled his concerto on Schumann’s, also in A minor. Grieg’s concerto, like Schumann’s, opens with short introduction by the piano, followed by the first theme played in the orchestra. Rachmaninoff also used Grieg’s concerto as a model for his first Piano Concerto.

Schumann and Grieg are often paired…

The two concertos often have been on a single recordings, due also to the length of each. On records each concerto fitted conveniently on each side. This is how I initially heard both.

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