Simon Rattle conducts Schumann
Sir Simon Rattle
Symphony No. 4 in D minor (First version from 1841) (00:27:04)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major (00:28:49)
Daishin Kashimoto Violin
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major »Spring« (00:35:25)
Sir Simon Rattle talks about Schumann’s symphonies (00:11:18)
Sergei Prokofiev scored his Violin Concerto in D major op. 19 during the time he was composing the Classical Symphony – avowedly “in the style of Haydn”. No wonder, then, that the nearly contemporaneous concerto, with its ethereally dreamlike beginning, also exhibits a “classical” profile, but in the sense of a “staged return to classical forms and expressive means, whose aspects of caricature and alienation derive microscopically from tiny displacements and inclinations of the harmonic structure” (German musicologist Detlef Gojowy). In the Berlin Philharmonie, the Berliner Philharmoniker’s first Konzertmeister Daishin Kashimoto will explore those anti-Romantic “inclinations” of Prokofiev. The programme also features two symphonies by an out-and-out Romantic: Robert Schumann. In creating the “Spring” Symphony op. 38, he “wrote with a vernal passion that always sways men even into old age and surprises them anew each year”. Following the piece’s brilliant premiere in Leipzig under Mendelssohn’s direction on 31 March 1841, Schumann soon produced a second symphony, the D minor. On account of its late publication in 1853 in revised form, it entered the catalogue of his works as No. 4, op. 120. The question of which version to prefer is still being thrashed out today. Sir Simon Rattle has opted for the seldom-performed original of 1841, which was already favoured by Brahms for its more transparent textures.
Brave New World
Works by Robert Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev
“Look to the sun, my children!” That is the motto with which Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck have freed themselves from the clutches of the young woman’s domineering father. Since 12 September they are finally united before God, the law and the whole world. What else could follow but immediately capturing every detail of their romantic bond? A marriage diary is created, filled and even provided with a commentary on works. It should serve, writes Robert in his first entry, as “a diary for everything that touches us mutually in our household and our marriage... In short, it should be our good and true friend, to whom we entrust everything, and before whom our hearts stand open”.
Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor, op. 38 “Spring”
For posterity it has served as a priceless source of deeper insight into Robert and Clara’s relationship. An example is Clara’s revealing statement from February 1841: “We are enjoying a happiness that I never knew before, a so-called domestic bliss that my father has always mocked.” Does an artist with great ambitions really talk about “domestic bliss”? At first puzzling, the comment becomes understandable in light of the fact that, for Clara, this “domestic bliss” also signifies independence in her decisions. Moreover, she sees at her side a husband who is more than inspired. Within the span of four days, between 23 and 26 January 1841, Schumann produces the sketches for his first symphonic work: a Spring Symphony, “occasioned”, he says, by the Spring Poem penned by the Leipzig lyric poet Adolf Böttger, well-known as a translator of Milton. Never again in the symphonic medium will Schumann (be able to) compose so directly and unproblematically, and never again will his success with the public be as overwhelming as at the symphony’s premiere in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 31 March 1841, with its celebrated house orchestra conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.
Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony comprises four movements, but essentially the work is a large fantasia for orchestra in four sections, connected by a constellation of tonalities that the composer has already set up in the trumpet motif of the opening slow introduction. This cyclical formal idea, incidentally, can be seen in the draft score’s movement headings: the opening movement’s is “Beginning of Spring”, that of the following Larghetto is “Evening”, the Scherzo is “Merry Playmates” and the finale is called “Spring at its Height”. One may take this “programme” as a guideline or disregard it, but there is one thing on which we can agree with certainty: the “Spring” Symphony represents the principle of breakthrough into a brave new world. There was, however, one person who did not endorse its humanistic, idealistic programme: Clara’s father. For Friedrich Wieck, the symphony was the product of a pig-headed eccentric who had stolen his daughter from him.
Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, op. 120
One would like to tell off that old man posthumously: “Fridericus! Errare humanum est!” But even Schumann, after the huge success of his Symphony in B flat, would soon need to keep this remark to himself. The enthusiasm of this work’s reception was matched in intensity by the crushing rejection of his next symphonic composition – not to mention his failed attempt in September 1841 to write a symphony in C minor. Schumann broke off that project to work on the D minor Symphony, which had its first performance in December. But that was of no help. By the beginning of December, at the latest, his spring-time high spirits had given way to a minor depression.
The D minor Symphony’s premiere on 6 December was such a fiasco that Schumann saw the need to withdraw it. Not until ten years later – revised and reorchestrated as his fourth symphonic opus, with the high number of 120 – did he haul it back up into daylight of the musical world. Yet it was a work for which he had special affection: “My next symphony”, Schumann commented in his diary on 31 March 1841, “will be called ‘Clara’ and I will portray her with flutes, oboes and harps.” There can be no doubt that the symphony is dominated by that melodically graceful, romantically idealized “Clara” theme, heard in the introduction to the opening movement (Andante con moto). In all four movements (especially in the Romanza, and there provided with an extra dose of plaintive ornamentation), to a certain extent, it is a compositionally seminal idea – even in its inversion, as in the Scherzo. The result accords with the ideal of a cyclical process, one in which Schumann has connected the four movements by means of structural relationships. Indeed in the D major finale, which concludes with a sparkling – even springlike – coda, he presents the thematic contrasts once again in all purity.
Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 19
The keyword is basically that – “purity”. – When you consider “early” Prokofiev, this quality is striking in his directly acerbic, authentic, sharply etched musical language, in its impetuous, libertarian urge to communicate – however bizarre its melodic forms – and its vital, invigorating, at times even aphrodisiacal rhythms. Add to that a sprightliness and cheekiness that betray his youth: a bit of insouciance and, yes, political impartiality. It was the time leading up to the October Revolution (which then delayed the First Violin Concerto’s premiere for years!), when music (still) possessed an aesthetic significance. Prokofiev’s works from this period breathe the spirit of the freedom he enjoyed as well as that of a boundless talent.
This is reflected in the Opus 19 Violin Concerto. In spite of the sharp division into three movements, it reveals a spiritual freedom that gives it a special place in the genre. For some masters of interpretation it apparently went too far: after several leading soloists had refused to learn it, Marcel Darrieux, leader of a Parisian orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, took on the solo part for the premiere on 18 October 1923. The Paris musical scene gave the new concerto a cool reception. Detractors accused the composer of artificiality and “Mendelssohnism”, an objectively unsupportable reproach. The only thing remotely “Mendelssohnian” about the concerto is its basically lyrical character, but that is combined with late Romantic melancholy and expressionistic energy, which both fill the work and break it apart. Particularly the scherzo, which comes second and clatters by like an express train, can already be called a decidedly modern, furiously virtuosic Russian dance, transformed in the Trio into vehement stamping.
The first movement, in contrast, is poetic. It opens with a wistful, epic statement on the solo violin. The orchestra gradually joins in and then does its best to thwart the wide-spanning melodic line. It succeeds, at least in the middle section with its dissonant intensifications and melodic dissolution into motor rhythm. But as fortune will have it, the first theme eventually regains the upper hand, now garnished with all sorts of lovely decoration and climbing ever higher into the highest heights until it reaches the fields of Arcadia. That is also the apparent goal of the two-section finale, but the inflection has changed. The wistfulness is initially diluted with a drop of brusqueness, even sarcasm, but then the late Romantic manner retakes the field, expanding almost with each bar until it no longer will let go of such a good thing. Thus this violin concerto – in which the last movement’s principal theme returns, but now combined with the principal theme of the opening movement – ultimately still gravitates to celestial, fantastic realms.