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Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Symphony No.1 in B flat major, Op. 38 "Spring"
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op. 68
Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of August Schumann, abookseller, writer and publisher, and it was perhaps from his father that heacquired his interest and ability in literature as well as a tendency to nervousinstability. In childhood and adolescence he showed both in his compositions andin his work for the Neue Leipziger Zeitschrift f??r Musik, a periodicalwhich he was instrumental in founding in 1834 and which he later edited.
Schumann enjoyed a good general education. His father died in 1826, and whenhe left school in 1828 it was his mother's wish that he should go on touniversity. There followed a period of intermittent study in Leipzig and inHeidelberg, where, in the society of his friends, he was able to indulge hisgifts as a musician and as a writer. In 1831 he eventually persuaded his motherto 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 justifiablereservations 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 Schumannsoon abandoned, and demanded restraint in personal habits of excessive drinkingand cigar-smoking which proved impossible to achieve. Further, Schumann'sambitions as a pianist were brought to an end by a weakness in two fingers ofthe right hand, possibly the result of mercury poisoning after an attempt tocure syphilis. He continued, however, to write music, chiefly for the piano, andto serve as a contributor and later as editor for the Neue Zeitschrift.
A brief infatuation and secret betrothal to a pupil of Wieck, Ernestine vonFricken, resulted in the composition of Carnaval, but ended when Schumanndiscovered that the girl was illegitimate and not the true daughter of the richBohemian Baron who had adopted her. The affair that followed was of much greatersignificance. Wieck, divorced from his wife, had concentrated his attentionlargely on his young daughter Clara, who had embarked on a remarkable career asa pianist under her father's guidance. Schumann and Clara Wieck, nine years hisjunior, 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 wrotesome 130 in 1840, but there were now adjustments to be made on both sides, aseach tried to pursue a separate career, Schumann's achievement very muchovershadowed by the fame of his wife, a fact that contributed to his periods ofdepression. In 1844 the couple moved to Dresden, after Schumann failed to secureappointment as director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in succession toMendelssohn. It was only in 1850 that he received his first officialappointment, as director of music in D??sseldorf. The experience was not a happyone. Schumann was not a good conductor and his relationship with his newemployers and with his musicians was poor. There were intermittent periods ofnervous illness, leading to an attempt at suicide in February, 1854, when hethrew himself into the Rhine. His final years were spent in a private asylum atEndenich, where he died in 1856.
The Symphony No.1 in B flat major, Opus 38, scored for pairs offlutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, two trumpets, threetrombones, three timpani, triangle and strings, is still generally known by thetitle Schumann first proposed for it, Spring. He drew some inspirationfrom a poem by the Leipzig writer Adolf Bottger and originally suggested titlesfor each movement. Spring's Awakening was followed by Evening, HappyPlayfellows and Spring's Farewell. No literary assistance, however, isrequired for an understanding of the optimistic mood of the work and its clearclassical form, the score written, the composer claimed, with a steel pen foundlying near Beethoven's grave in Vienna. The whole work was sketched in four daysand sleepless nights and scored during the following three weeks. It was givenits first performance under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 31st March,1841, and was an immediate success.
Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. His father was a musician, a double bassplayer, and his mother a seamstress some seventeen years older than her husband.
The family was poor, and as a boy Brahms earned money by playing the piano indockside taverns for the entertainment of sailors. Nevertheless his talentbrought him support, and teaching from Eduard Marxsen, to whom he laterdedicated his B Flat Piano Concerto, although claiming to have learnednothing from him.
After a period earning a living in Hamburg as a teacher and as a dance saloonpianist, Brahms first emerged as a pianist and as a composer in 1853, when hewent on a brief tour with the refugee Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi, later tobe appointed solo violinist to Queen Victoria. In Hanover he met the alreadyfamous young virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim and with the latter'sintroduction visited Liszt in Weimar. The later visit to Schumann inD??sseldorf, again brought about through Joachim, had more far-reaching results.
Schumann was soon to suffer a mental break-down, leading to his death in 1856 inan asylum. Brahms became a firm friend of Clara Schumann and remained so untilher death in 1896.
The greater part of Brahms's career was to be spent in Vienna, where hefinally settled in 1863, after earlier seasonal employment at the small court ofDetmold and intermittent periods spent in Hamburg. In Vienna he established apattern of life that was to continue until his death in 1897. He appeared as apianist, principally in his own compositions, played with more insight thanaccuracy, and impressed the public with a series of compositions of strength,originality and technical perfection. Here was a demonstration that, contrary tothe view of Wagner or Liszt, there was still much to be said in the traditionalforms of music. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was not the last word.
Critics, indeed, hailed Brahms's First Symphony in 1876 as Beethoven's Tenth.
Brahms came to occupy a unique position in Vienna, his eccentricities andgruff tactlessness tolerated as Beethoven's had been, his musical achievementunquestioned, except by the fanatical supporters of Wagner.
By 1854, encouraged by Schumann, Brahms had started work on a symphony,writing material that was later to form part of the first of the two pianoconcertos. The first inklings of the C minor Symphony appear in 1862 in aletter from Clara Schumann to Joachim. Brahms had sent her the first movement ofthe symphony, which had delighted her.
The following years brought anxious enquiries from Joachim and from theconductors Hermann Levi and Albert Dietrich about the completed symphony. It wasnot unti11876, however, that Brahms completed the work to his own satisfaction.
The first performance was given the same year at Karlsruhe under the directionof Otto Dessoff, and three days later at Mannheim with the composer conducting.
The symphony was at once accepted as all that the admirers of Brahms had hopedfor, hailed by the critic Hanslick as an inexhaustible fountain of sincerepleasure and fruitful study and seen by many contemporarie