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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Symphony No. 1 / BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1
"Rahbari brings admirable sweep and dramatic fervour"
"the orchestral playing is impressive throughout"
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, 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
Bohemian 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.
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 Bottger 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.
Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. His father was a musician, a double bass
player, 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 in
dockside taverns for the entertainment of sailors. Nevertheless his talent
brought him support, and teaching from Eduard Marxsen, to whom he later
dedicated his B Flat Piano Concerto, although claiming to have learned
nothing from him.
After a period earning a living in Hamburg as a teacher and as a dance saloon
pianist, Brahms first emerged as a pianist and as a composer in 1853, when he
went on a brief tour with the refugee Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi, later to
be appointed solo violinist to Queen Victoria. In Hanover he met the already
famous young virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim and with the latter's
introduction visited Liszt in Weimar. The later visit to Schumann in
Düsseldorf, 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 in
an asylum. Brahms became a firm friend of Clara Schumann and remained so until
her death in 1896.
The greater part of Brahms's career was to be spent in Vienna, where he
finally settled in 1863, after earlier seasonal employment at the small court of
Detmold and intermittent periods spent in Hamburg. In Vienna he established a
pattern of life that was to continue until his death in 1897. He appeared as a
pianist, principally in his own compositions, played with more insight than
accuracy, and impressed the public with a series of compositions of strength,
originality and technical perfection. Here was a demonstration that, contrary to
the view of Wagner or Liszt, there was still much to be said in the traditional
forms 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 and
gruff tactlessness tolerated as Beethoven's had been, his musical achievement
unquestioned, 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 piano
concertos. The first inklings of the C minor Symphony appear in 1862 in a
letter from Clara Schumann to Joachim. Brahms had sent her the first movement of
the symphony, which had delighted her.
The following years brought anxious enquiries from Joachim and from the
conductors Hermann Levi and Albert Dietrich about the completed symphony. It was
not unti11876, however, that Brahms completed the work to his own satisfaction.
The first performance was given the same year at Karlsruhe under the direction
of 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 hoped
for, hailed by the critic Hanslick as an inexhaustible fountain of sincere
pleasure and fruitful study and seen by many contemporaries as a continuation of
the achievement of Beethoven, to the expressed indignation of Wagner.
Hanslick drew attention to the Faustian conflict of the massive opening
movement, expressed musically in the great chords with which the symphony opens
and their chromatic implications. The movement goes on to an Allegro in
which hope and despair seem to strive together. The E major slow movement is
entrusted principally to the strings, with a solo oboe adding its own serene
element. The third movement moves a third higher again, to the key of A flat
major. The clarinet, accompanied by the plucked notes of the cellos, opens the
movement, which has a central contrasting section in B Major. The final
movement, a major creation of power and intensity, with its contrapuntal
complexity, mastery of orchestration and incredible control of form, opens with
a dramatic slow introduction, the French horn and then the flute leading to a
calmer mood. The horn appears again to bring us to the final Allegro, a
clear successor to the finale of Beethoven's last symphony, providing the
l1ecessary triumphant optimism that had earlier seemed impossible.
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goes back to the
birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930s. After the well-known musicologist and
promoter of contemporary music, Paul Collaer, had become head of the Music
Department of Belgian Radio, the orchestra, under its conductor Franz André,
gained a world-wide reputation for its interpretations of the latest
compositions of Stravinsky, Berg, Bartók, Hindemith and other twentieth century
composers. The orchestra gave the first European performance of Bart6k's
Concerto for Orchestra in Paris and the first West European performance of the
Fourth Symphony by Shostakovich, and has, over the years, worked with many
leading conductors, from Pierre Boulez, Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud to
Lorin Maazel and Zubin Mehta.
In 1978 the Radio Symphony Orchestra was dissolved and both the Flemish and
the French Radio divisions set up their own symphony orchestras. The Flemish
network soon had a new orchestra, the BRT Philharmonic, with some ninety
musicians and Fernand Terby became its principal conductor from 1978 to 1988.
Since 1988, Alexander Rahbari has been the principal conductor and musical
director of the new BRT Philharmonic Orchestra.
Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as a conductor
at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky and
Österreicher. On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the Teheran
Conservatory of Music and took a leading position in the cultural development of
his country. In 1977 he moved to Europe, winning first prize in the Besançon
International Conductors' Competition and the Geneva silver medal. In the
1986-87 season he appeared for the first time with the BRT Philharmonic and in
September 1988, accepted appointment as principal conductor.
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