Symphony No. 4

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann


Ziemlich langsam – Lebhaft (D minor)

Romanze: Ziemlich langsam (A minor)

Scherzo: Lebhaft (D minor)

Langsam; Lebhaft (D major)

About the Composer

Robert Schumann, in both style and personal temperament, was the most emblematic of the Romantic Era of composers. His fascinating career included piano performance, composition (mostly songs and chamber music), conducting and co-founding a highly influential musical journal. Tragically, with such talent came the great burden of mental instability.
After early study in music Schumann was sent to law school in Leipzig. Music drew more of his attention and two years later at the age of 20 he tossed off law school to study full-time with his acclaimed piano teacher (and future father-in-law) Friedrich Wieck. Schumann was obsessive in his drive for perfect technique, so much so he damaged his right hand using a self-created exercise device. With the piano no longer a career option his attention turned to composition and to Wieck’s daughter Clara. Clara was an extremely successful concert pianist 10 years his junior. They married in 1840 and her concert career, which flourished for more than 60 years, remained their main source of income.
Schumann’s mental illness began to more clearly manifest itself over the next three years. Likely bipolar and certainly affected by syphilis, he suffered a complete breakdown in 1844 while on tour in Russia with Clara (women then not being permitted to travel alone). For the next six years Schumann suffered bouts of profound depression and manic episodes resulting in equally debilitating overwork. He regained is faculties enough in the early 1850s to recognize and champion the genius (and deep friendship) of Johannes Brahms.
In February of 1854 Schumann began to hear the voices of angels which morphed into the sounds of tigers and hyenas. He attempted suicide but was rescued from the River Rheine and shortly thereafter asked to be committed to an asylum for his own protection. He died there at the age of 46.

About this Piece

The music of the most talented composers rarely exemplifies the typical style of an era. Geniuses like Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms created works which, in their time, were so cutting edge we cannot glean from them what the “typical” style was in their era. If you want to hear what the general (or perhaps more accurately, generic) Classical style sounded like, listen to Salieri, not Mozart; for the Romantic era it’s Schumann, not the more ingenious Johannes Brahms.
Schumann was the most influential composer of his time, not only because his music captured the spirit of the times, but also due to the imprint on German musical culture made by his journal Die Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik. His heroic and so obviously emotional approach to music was admired and copied by garden-variety composers.

This was the second symphony Schumann wrote; it was first completed in 1841. Its premiere was lackluster, likely due more to Schumann’s weak conducting than the music. He revised the symphony in 1851 and published it as his Fourth Symphony. The revision offers a much heavier and complex sound than the first version and was much preferred by Clara, who portrayed the original version as merely a sketch (it wasn’t). We hear the 1851 revision at this concert.

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