SCHUMANN, R.: Overtures (Beata Jankowska/ Johannes Wildner/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550608)
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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Robert Schumannmust seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of theprincipal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in1810, the son of a book seller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest inliterature and later made a name for himself as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift f??r Musik, a journal launched in1834. After a period at university to satisfy the ambitions of his widowed mother, butstill showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann was able to turn more fully tomusic under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher, whose energies had beenlargely directed towards the training of his beloved daughter Clara, a pianist ofprodigious early talent.
Schumann's ownambitions as a pianist were to be frustrated by a weakness of the fingers, the result, itis supposed, of mercury treatment for syphilis, which he perhaps had contracted from aservant-girl in Wieck's employment. Nevertheless he wrote a great deal of music for thepiano during the 1830s, much of it in the form of shorter genre pieces, often enough withsome extra-musical, literary or autobiographical association. The end of the decadebrought a prolonged quarrel with Wieck, who did his utmost, through the courts, to preventhis daughter from marrying Schumann, bringing in support evidence of the latter'sallegedly dissolute way of life. He might have considered, too, a certain mentalinstability, perhaps in part inherited, which brought periods of intense depression.
In 1840 Schumannand Clara married, with the permission of the court. The year brought the composition of alarge number of songs and was followed by a period during which Clara encouraged herhusband to tackle larger forms of orchestral music, while both of them had to makeadjustments in their own lives to accommodate their differing professional requirementsand the birth of children. A relatively short period in Leipzig was followed, in 1844, byresidence in Dresden, where Wagner was now installed at the Court Theatre, his conversation causingSchumann to retire early to bed with a headache in 1850 the couple moved to D??sseldorf,where Schumann had been appointed director of music, a position the demands of which hewas unable to meet, a fact that contributed to his suicidal depression and finalbreak-down in 1854, leading to his death in the asylum at Endenich two years later Schumanncompleted his first symphony early in 1841 and it was performed on 31st March that year bythe Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Mendelssohn In April he set to work on anOverture, intended as part of an orchestral suite, to which he added a Scherzo and aFinale, to be performed in Leipzig on 6th December. The Finale
was later revised by the composer. The Overture
opens with a brief introduction, marked Andante con moto, based on a brief motif ofdramatic implication. An Allegro follows, with an initial theme that might well havesounded familiar to Mendelssohn, although Schumann never had quite the lightness of touchof that composer. The Scherzo and its Trio are scored more heavily than might have beenexpected, the woodwind assuming some prominence in the latter section, before theinsistent rhythm of the Scherzo reasserts itself. The Trio makes a brief re-appearancebefore the final bars, in which the opening rhythm is recalled. The Finale has an imposingfugal opening, in a movement that seems to justify the composer's own reference to thework as a symphonette. There is an imposing cheerfulness about the music and a coherenceof structure that enables it, as Schumann intended, to stand on its own, if this were tobe required.
The opera Genoveva and the incidental music for Manfred belongto the Dresden period of Schumann's life in 1843 Friedrich Hebbel had published hisfive-act blank verse tragedy Genoveva, basedon the Volksbuch von der Pfalzgrafin Genoveva
and later French and German sources. The young knight Golo is left by the crusaderPfalzgraf Siegfried to guard his wife Genoveva. In his lord's absence Golo seeks the loveof Genoveva, who rejects him and is then imprisoned on a false charge of adultery with theloyal knight Drago, whom he has put to death Genoveva, in prison, gives birth toSiegfried's son, and is finally saved when the murderer, hired to kill her as she is ledinto the forest at Golo's command, is himself killed by a madman, der tolle KlausSiegfried, returning, believes that Genoveva has been false to him and rejects her childas anothers. Golo finally repents and has himself blinded by his companion to beleft to die in the forest where Genoveva and her child now live. The opera itself endshappily with the reconciliation of Siegfried and Genoveva.
Schumann made avery poor impression on Hebbel, when they met briefly at the composer's suggestion, andwas eventually left to devise his own opera libretto based on the work of Hebbel and aplay on the same subject by Ludwig Tieck, after rejecting a version prepared for him bythe poet and painter Robert Reinick, who had settled in Dresden in 1844. The opera wasfirst staged in Leipzig in June 1851 before a distinguished audience that included Lisztand the violinist Joachim but its reception was lukewarm. The Overture, however has hadmore success, written in the space of five days at the beginning of ApriI 1847, aneffective orchestral composition.
Immediatelyafter the completion of Genoveva Schumann set to work on Manfred, based on the dramatic poem by Lord Byron,whose work Schumanns father had published in translation. A hero with whom Schumann himself might haveidentified as Hebbel had identified in some measure with his villain Golo, Manfred seeksoblivion for some mysterious crime wandering as an outcast in the Alps, attempting deathand summoning spirits to his aid, finally to deny the power of evil demons over him beforedeath takes him. The Byronic hero and the Caspar Friedrich landscape exercised fascinationover a number of nineteenth century composers, of whom the most distinguished was to beTchaikovsky. Schumann devised a librettobased on the German translation of Manfred
by the Silesian pastor Karl von Suckow, a series of fifteen scenes, preceded by anOverture, the last again more effective and hence more often heard than the work that itintroduces. The first complete performance ofManfred was in Weimar in 1852 under thedirection of Liszt who included, as an intermezzo, Wagners Faust Overture, this in the absence of the composer,who felt unable to undertake the Journey from D??sseldorf. The Overture, however had been given earlier concertperformances in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Schumann and in Weimar.
In 1844 Schumann began to consider thepossibility of setting Goethes Faust to music. Rejecting the possibility of doing justice to the work in operatic form, hechose instead to concentrate on a series of scenes, starting with the final apotheosis,which was eventually given a public performance in 1849, as part of the celebrationsmarking the centenary of Goethe's birth. Atthis period Schumann added six further scenes and finally in 1853, an Overture, writtenduring a period of five days in August. The whole work was first performed in Cologneeight years later at the insistence of the baritone Julius Stockhausen.
The young writerRichard Pohl had approached Schumann in 1850 with the proposal of an opera based onSchillers play Die Braut von Messina.
Pohl, a philosophy student from Dresden, later provid