ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 2 (1846)
Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony is linked to a time of recovery after his nervous breakdown in 1844. Frequently tormented by bouts of depression, exhaustion, the physical distress of painful tinnitus, even attempted suicide, his creativity had suffered. The following year, he and his wife Clara decided to leave Leipzig’s hustle and bustle and move to quieter Dresden. This symphony, though long in coming, was the first large-scale piece to follow his breakdown, and its creation had a salubrious effect on him, as he confided, “I wrote the symphony…when I was still half sick; it seems to me that one must hear this in it. Not until the last movement did I begin to feel myself again; actually, after finishing the entire work my health did improve. Still…it reminds me of a dark time.” In 1846 his friend and champion Felix Mendelssohn premiered the Symphony in Leipzig with the legendary Gewandhaus Orchestra. One of its most noticeable features is its thematic unity; for example, all movements are in the key of C. And there is a slow brass fanfare that makes its first appearance at the heroic opening of the work and recurs in the three other movements. Schumann lived up to his reputation as a musical maverick in conservative Dresden when he broke with tradition and placed an energetic Scherzo, instead of the expected slow movement, in second place. In addition to a reappearance of the brass fanfare, you’ll hear a tribute to Bach, with a motif created from the notes B-A-C-H (“H” being German notation for B natural). In a gorgeous, utterly Romantic third movement—Adagio espressivo—the strings sing of great yearning. Another return of the brass fanfare brings this symphony to its triumphant close.