SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 (Antoni Wit/ Beata Jankowska/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550923)
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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Symphony No.2 in C Major, Op. 61
Symphony No.4 in D Minor, Op. 120
Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of August Schumann, a bookseller, writer and publisher, and it was perhaps from his father that he acquired his interest and ability in literature as well as a tendency to nervous instability. In childhood and adolescence he showed both literary and musical talents, the former to be reflected both in his compositions and in his work for the Neue Leipziger Zeitschrift für Musika periodical which he was instrumental in founding in 1834 and which he later edited.
Schumann enjoyed a good general education. His father died in 1826, and when he left school in 1828 it was his mother's wish that he should go on to university. There followed a period of intermittent study in Leipzig and in Heidelberg, where, in the society of his friends, he was able to indulge his gifts as a musician and as a writer. In 1831 he eventually persuaded his mother to allow him to leave the university and to study the piano with Friedrich Wieck, a well known teacher, who accepted his new pupil with some justifiable reservations about his steadiness of purpose.
The relationship with Wieck was to change the course of Schumann's life. Wieck insisted on the study of formal harmony and counterpoint, which Schumann soon abandoned, and demanded restraint in personal habits of excessive drinking and cigar-smoking which proved impossible to achieve. Further, Schumann's ambitions as a pianist were brought to an end by a weakness in two fingers of the right hand, possibly the result of mercury poisoning after an attempt to cure syphilis. He continued, however, to write music, chiefly for the piano, and to serve as a contributor and later as editor for the Neue Zeitschrift.
A brief infatuation and secret betrothal to a pupil of Wieck, Ernestine von Fricken, resulted in the composition of Carnaval, but ended when Schumann discovered that the girl was illegitimate and not the true daughter of the rich Bohemian Baron who had adopted her. The affair that followed was of much greater significance. Wieck, divorced from his wife, had concentrated his attention largely on his young daughter Clara, who had embarked on a remarkable career as a pianist under her father's guidance. Schumann and Clara Wieck, nine years his junior, were to marry in 1840, but only after her father had made every attempt, through the courts, to prevent a match that seemed to him thoroughly unsuitable.
The year of Schumann's marriage was also a year of song, of which he wrote some 130 in 1840, but there were now adjustments to be made on both sides, as each tried to pursue a separate career, Schumann's achievement very much overshadowed by the fame of his wife, a fact that contributed to his periods of depression. In 1844 the couple moved to Dresden, after Schumann failed to secure appointment as director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in succession to Mendelssohn. It was only in 1850 that he received his first official appointment, as director of music in Düsseldorf. The experience was not a happy one. Schumann was not a good conductor and his relationship with his new employers and with his musicians was poor. There were intermittent periods of nervous illness, leading to an attempt at suicide in February, 1854, when he threw himself into the Rhine. His final years were spent in a private asylum at Endenich, where he died in 1856.
It seemed necessary to both Clara and Robert Schumann that he should turn his attention to the symphony, the inevitable ambition of any composer. In 1826 Schumann had started such a work, but wrote only 25 pages before abandoning it. Four years later he had the first movement of a new Symphony in G minor performed at a concert in Zwickau, when it was eclipsed by the performance of Clara in the same programme. Three movements of the work were completed, and the fourth sketched. It was after his marriage, however, that Schumann began to tackle larger musical forms in earnest, discarding a Symphony in C minor sketched out in 1840, but completing in the following twelve years four symphonies, as well as the so-called Symphonette, the Overture, Scherzo and Finale.
Schumann's Symphony No.2 in C major, Opus 61, followed four years after he had for the moment put aside his second mature attempt at the form, later to be revised as Symphony No.4 in D minor. The work was sketched within a fortnight in December, 1845, bringing to an end a period in which the composer's depression had hardly been improved by the move to Dresden. He completed the orchestration during the following year, scoring it as for the Spring Symphony, but with only two horns and two timpani and at first without trombones, his task prolonged by the recurrence of nervous exhaustion. It was performed at the Gewandhaus under Mendelssohn on 5th November, 1846, and received more warmly at its second performance there eleven days later in a slightly revised version, with the addition of three trombones to the scoring of the outer movements. The Symphony is less programmatic than much of Schumann's work, without perceptible literary references, although it reflects to some extent his psychological state and his struggle against melancholy. The introduction to the first movement contains elements developed symphonically in what follows. There is a busy Scherzo with two contrasting Trios and a movingly sombre Adagio, followed by a final answer to despair, ending this, the most symphonic of Schumann's symphonies.
Schumann wrote the first version of his Symphony in D minor in Leipzig during the early months of his marriage, calling it his Clara Symphony, but put it aside after the cool reception accorded the work at its first performance in December, 1841, in a programme shared by Liszt, who dazzled and overwhelmed the audience to the exclusion of all else. He revised it in December, 1851, and conducted the first performance of this second version in Düsseldorf on 30th December, 1852, rejecting his first title of Symphonic Fantasy in favour of orthodoxy. The work is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, two timpani and strings. There is a certain thematic unity in the symphony, deriving largely from the first theme of the first movement, which reappears in the slow movement and in the Trio of the Scherzo. The opening movement has no recapitulation, but moves after the development, with its new theme, to the Romance. The Scherzo has two Trios and is linked to the slow introduction to the final movement with its initial dark-hued reminiscences of the opening of the work giving way to the cheerful variety of its energetic conclusion.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was founded in 1935 in Warsaw through the Initiative of well-known Polish conductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked till the outbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestra was resurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagrania and many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO will record the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and