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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3
"...the Katowice orchestra plays well and with lots of energy...the details are clear and balance good...crisp, well detailed performances from Wit on Naxos."
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony No.1 in B Hat major, Op. 38 "Spring"
Symphony No.3 in E Hat major, Op. 97 "Rhenish"
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 in his compositions and in his work for the Neue Leipziger Zeitschrift für Musik, a 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 Boheroian 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 1828 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 played 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.
The Symphony No.1 in B flat major, Opus 38, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, three timpani, triangle and strings, is still generally known by the title Schumann first proposed for it, Spring. He drew some inspiration from a poem by the Leipzig writer Adolf Böttger and originally suggested titles for each movement. Spring's Awakening was followed by Evening, Happy Playfellows and Spring's Farewell. No literary assistance, however, is required for an understanding of the optimistic mood of the work and its clear classical form, the score written, the composer claimed, with a steel pen found lying near Beethoven's grave in Vienna. The whole work was sketched in four days and sleepless nights and scored during the following three weeks. It was given its first performance under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 31st March, 1841, and was an immediate success.
The arrival of Schumann in Düsseldorf in September, 1850, was immediately followed by a visit to Cologne for the enthronement of the Cardinal-Archbishop in a ceremony that proved deeply impressive. On his return he set to work on his Cello Concerto, following this with the so-called Rhenish Symphony, the Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Opus 97, which he sketched and orchestrated in the space of five weeks, starting at the beginning of November. The first performance was given at a subscription concert in Düsseldorf on 6th February, 1851, when the symphony won considerable success. The work, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, two timpani and strings, opens with a theme from which the principal substance of the energetic first movement is derived. The second movement Scherzo is unusual in form, consisting of three variations on a C major melody, the second taking the place of the expected Trio. The third movement is one of calm lyricism, giving way to the ceremonial interlude of the fourth, inspired by the archiepiscopal enthronement in Cologne. The final movement is one of continued contentment and delight.
The Polish National Radio Syrnphony 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 retumed 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 Mahler.
Antoni Wit was born in Cracow in 1944 and studied there, before becoming assistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsawin 1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in 1971 was a prize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study at Tanglewood with Skrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by appointment as Principal Conductor first of the Pomeranian Philharmonic and then of the Cracow Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1983 he took up the position of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Antoni Wit has undertaken many engagements abroad with major orchestras, ranging from the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Welsh and Scottish Symphony Orchestras to the Kusatsu Festival Orchestra in Japan.
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SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3