1841: Schumann: Symphony No. 1 in Bb major (Spring), age 31

Mr. Peabody Says:

No Clara Wieck, no Schumann symphonies… it’s that simple. Soon after he married Clara Wieck he composed his first symphony starting in early 1841. Until then, Schumann was largely known for his works for the piano and for voice. Clara encouraged him to write symphonic music, noting in her diary:

“it would be best if he composed for orchestra; his imagination cannot find sufficient scope on the piano… His compositions are all orchestral in feeling… My highest wish is that he should compose for orchestra—that is his field! May I succeed in bringing him to it!”

And there is more: Clara was the “Martha Argerich” of her day, a hugely respected woman who was in high demand. Brahms had huge admiration for her, which you can read about HERE. The friendship between Clara and Brahms is stunning to read, and through this you see the loyalty and love both Schumann and Clara had Brahms.

Sergiu Celibidache/Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart

  1. Andante poco maestoso – Allegro molto vivace (Bb major) 11:12 (0:00-11:12)
  2. Larghetto – Eb major 7:28 (11:18-18:46)
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace  (D major) – Trio I: Molto piu vivace (D major) – Trio II  (Bb major) – Coda: Come sopra ma un poco più lento – Quasi presto – Meno presto (D major) 5:56 (18:46-24:42)
  4. Allegro animato e grazioso (Bb major) 7:40 (24:42-32:22)

Total time: 32:14

Bernstein

Here the 2nd movement is about the same speed, but for me it has more weight and more depth. I prefer that sound. A perfect performance for me might have some of both performances, the lightness of one, but the depth of this one at the most intimate moments, something Bernstein excelled at. His vision, for me, is more personal, and I feel that there is always joy around the corner in Schumann’s spirit, but the darkness must be shown to complete the picture.

  1. 00: 01 – Andante un poco maestoso – Allegro molto vivace
  2. 11:25 – Larghetto
  3. 19:27 – Scherzo: Molto vivace 
  4. 25:24 – Allegro animato e grazioso (end 34:05)

Wolfgang Sawallisch

The overall time is shorter than Berstein’s but quicker than Nézet-Séguin’s.

I believe that for me this is the best. Sawallisch’s recording of all four symphonies, from almost 50 years ago, is a reference recording and very hard to beat.

  1. Andante poco maestoso – Allegro molto vivace (00:00)
  2. Larghetto (11:30)
  3. Scherzo – Molto Vivace (18:33)
  4. Allegro animato e grazioso (23:58) (End 32:12)

Instruments:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones
  • timpani, triangle
  • strings.

This is the first completed symphonic work composed by Robert Schumann, and there is a great deal of background about a story behind the symphony. It is nicknamed the “Spring Symphony”.

1st Movement:

There is a long introduction, nothing new, but what is fun that is that it’s not mostly in Bb major but rather in D major, then he morphs to Bb major to start the exposition.

2nd Movement:

This is very traditional. Go to the IV chord and settle there. It’s where Bb wants to go, to Eb major. Then at the end of the movement, use Eb major to get back to Bb major. But instead he ends on an D major chord, which flows right into G minor in the next movement.

3rd Movement:

Scherzo: Molto vivace (D minor) – Trio I: Molto piu vivace (D major) – Trio II (B♭ major) – Coda: Come sopra ma un poco più lento – Quasi presto – Meno presto (D major)

The key here is very complicated. He keeps starting in G minor, then right to D minor. But he also moves to Bb major, and at the end to D major. The key relationships are interesting.

4th Movement:

Note that D major to Bb major is a double morph, so by ending on D major he has to slip to Bb without stopping the music.

Now, which is better?

My answer is that both are amazingly convincing in different ways, and that’s what makes listening to different performances so fascinating.

1841…

Schumann was born in June of 1810 just three months later than Chopin, and that means that there was a cluster of incredible genius born almost at the same time – Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Verdi, Wagner. They were all born from 1809 to 1813, and they were all geniuses. There is no much I like about that time. But there has never been a better time for musical geniuses. The important thing is that Schumann was 31 or very nearly 31 when he completed his 1st symphony, and that means he was fully mature. There is no need to explain why his music was not great yet, because it was.

Mendelssohn conducted…

Felix Mendelssohn conducted the premiere on March 31, 1841 in Leipzig, where the symphony was warmly received. Schumann was not quite 31, and Mendelssohn was barely 32. What was it like to live at a time when geniuses supported each other this way? And who know that this young conductor would be dead only six years later.

Three timpani…

Schumann expanded the use of timpani in this symphony, using the unusual tuning of B♭, G♭, and F in the first movement, and D, A, and F in the third, at the suggestion of Schumann’s cousin-in-law, Ernst Pfundt. It was the first major orchestral work of its style to require three timpani. Triangle was a nice addition.

Revised in 1853…

Schumann made revisions before publishing it in 1853.

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