Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Leonard Bernstein, conductor **********************************************
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The Symphony in C major by German composerRobert Schumann was published in 1847 as his Symphony No. 2, Op. 61, although it was the third symphony he had completed, counting the B-flat major symphony published as No. 1 in 1841, and the original version of his D minor symphony of 1841 (later revised and published as No. 4).
Schumann began to sketch the symphony on December 12, 1845, and had a robust draft of the entire work by December 28. He spent most of the next year orchestrating, beginning February 12, 1846. His depression and poor health, including ringing in his ears, prevented him finishing the work until October 19. Publication followed in 1847.
The uplifting tone of the symphony is remarkable in the face of Schumann’s health problems—the work can be seen as a Beethovenian triumph over fate/pessimism. It is written in the traditional four-movement form, and as often in the nineteenth century the Scherzo precedes the Adagio. All four movements are in C major, except the first part of the slow movement (in C minor); the work is thus homotonal:
The first movement begins with a slow brasschorale, elements of which recur through the piece. (Schumann wrote the Six Organ Fugues on B-A-C-H, Op. 60, just before this symphony, and this preoccupation with Bach suggests a chorale prelude, a quintessential Bachian genre, in the texture and feeling of the symphony’s opening.) The following Sonata-Allegro is dramatic and turbulent. It is characterized by sharp rhythmic formulae (double-dotted rhythms) and by the masterly transformation of the material of the Introduction. The second movement is a scherzo in C major with two trios, whose main portion strongly emphasizes the diminished chord—its characteristic gesture being a rapid and playful resolution of this chord over unstable harmony. The second trio employs the B-A-C-H motif in the context of flowing eighth notes reminiscent of the Baroque, further suggesting that Bach remained on Schumann’s mind after the completion of his Op. 60. The Adagio espressivo is a sonata movement in C minor, with the character of an elegy, its middle section strongly contrapuntal in texture. The finale is in a very freely treated sonata form, its second theme related to the opening theme of the Adagio. Later in the movement, a new theme appears: this theme has, as its sources of inspiration, the last song from Beethoven’s cycle “An die ferne Geliebte” (cf. also Schumann’s Piano Fantasy in C, Op. 17), and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The coda of the Finale recalls the material from the Introduction, thereby thematically spanning the entire work.
The symphony was first performed on November 5, 1846, at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig with Felix Mendelssohn. It was better received after a second performance some ten days later. The nineteenth century ultimately admired the work for its “perceived metaphysical content”, but the symphony’s popularity waned in the twentieth, owing to its unusual structure.