BRAHMS: Double Concerto / SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A Minor
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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Concerto in A minor for violin and cello, Op. 102
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature, and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, a journal launched in 1834.
After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother, while still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whose energies had been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. The romance that led in 1840 to their marriage, in spite of the bitter opposition of Wieck, was followed by a period in which Clara's career as a pianist had, in some way, to be reconciled with her husband's ambitions and the demands of a growing family. A weakness in the fingers had caused Schumann to give up the idea of becoming a virtuoso pianist, but he drew attention as a writer on musical matters and, increasingly, as a composer. His final position in Düsseldorf as director of music was not successful, however, and culminated in an attempt at suicide, insanity and death in 1856.
Schurnann wrote his Cello Concerto in 1850, describing it in his own list of compositions as a Konzerlstuck It came, therefore, during the first period of his appointment in Düsseldorf. at the time of composition of his Third Symphony, the Rhenish. He already had some knowledge of the cello, having played it in the 18305, when he was forced to turn his attention away from the piano, at least as a professional performer. The lower register of the cello poses certain problems to composers, since it may all too easily be obscured by the orchestra This is avoided by Schumann's scoring, which, nevertheless, has been criticized, leading some to re-orchestrate the concerto in ways that are often interesting, if idiosyncratic.
Woodwind chords, with pizzicato strings, open the concerto, the soloist entering after a brief accompanying figure in the violins. The strongly romantic first theme is proclaimed by the cello, which continues in prominence until the first orchestral tutti, answered by a further solo The rhapsodic material is developed, the solo theme re-appearing in F sharp minor before the recapitulation in the original key, with the secondary theme now in the tonic major. There is an expressive F major slow movement and brief reminiscences of the principal themes of both movements before the launching of the finale, with arpeggios that form part of the cello theme, the basis of the movement, which leads to an accompanied cadenza and an emphatic conclusion.
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but his interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income by playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in Düsseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions of his own Brahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Düsseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music-drama of Wagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahms finally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the real successor to Beethoven, particularly after his first symphony, and winning a similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact. He died in 1897.
The association of Brahms with Schumann and for so many years with his widow and champion, Clara Schumann, had an overwhelming effect on his career as a composer. It was Schumann who had publicly expressed his prophetic expectations of the younger composer and his wife whose approval was constantly sought. In 1887, staying for the summer by Lake Thun in Switzerland, Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann about the new concerto he was writing for violin and cello, an unusual combination. In his letter he expressed regret that he did not have a more intimate knowledge of the two solo instruments, as he had of the piano, but found the prospect of handling the two instruments amusing. Clara Schumann, in her reply, gave Brahms every encouragement and was present when the work was first rehearsed in Baden-Baden by Joseph Joachim and the cellist of the Joachim Quartet, Robert Hausmann, accompanied by the composer. From the beginning Brahms had had Joachim and Hausmann in mind. In particular he needed to make some gesture to Joachim, whom he had known for some thirty-four years but with whom there had been a breach when Brahms wrote a letter of support to Joachim's wife Amalie, used by her in court to defeat Joachim's petition for a divorce. The letter was couched in such terms that no complete reconciliation could result, but at least some semblance of friendship was restored by the composition of the Double Concerto and the affection and admiration that lay behind it. Joachim made a number of suggestions for the revision of the solo parts, which suggested, at least, revisions made subsequently by the composer, and the reminiscence of a Viotti concerto, a favourite of Joachim, in a passage in the first movement was a clear sign of the composer's intentions.
The concerto starts with four bars for the orchestra, the opening of the principal theme of the first movement. There follows a passage in modo d'un recitativo for the cello, followed, after a brief intervention from the woodwind, by the violin and the two instruments together, leading to the first major orchestral tutti with the main and secondary themes. This material is treated in various ways by the soloists, with the full orchestral texture that is characteristic of Brahms. A rising fourth from the French horns, echoed by the woodwind, opens the D major Andante, allowing the theme to unwind with violin and cello together. A second theme is introduced by pairs of flutes, clarinets and bassoons, to be developed by the soloists. A brief cadenza-like passage leads to the return of both themes. The cello opens the Hungarian rondo finale,