Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Robert Schumann: Symphony No.2, C major, Op.61

The third of Schumann's Symphonies, in C major, Op.61, was finished in 1846, five years after the composition of the first and second. For reasons pointed out in the message Robert Schumann: Symphony No.4, D minor, Op.120, this C major Symphony is listed as the Second.

It is the longest of his Symphonies---large in conception and dimensions. The hearer is enveloped in an atmosphere of grandeur; and one is also confronted at every turn by musical images of delightful originality and beauty. The Themes are magnificent, imposing in melody, harmony, and rhythm.

The first Movement opens with an impressive Introduction, based at first upon an independent motive which is in conception is akin to the Introduction to his D minor Symphony, but assumes a radically different character through the incisive bugle-calls of the brass that set the lines of the form; the later Sections of the Introduction allude to Themes of the coming Allegro, and lead into the latter. The design is sonata-allegro; the Exposition is exceptionally concise. The Development is long, and diffuse, but is thematically consistent and interesting in every detail; its third Section is derived from Part Two of the principal Theme, and contains as effective reference to the first measure of the Introduction (but without the bugle-calls); and the final Section, leading back to the beginning (over an obstinate Dominant organ-point) is finely delineated, and, at its climax, tremendously powerful and stirring. But, as a whole, and likewise the long-drawn Coda, lacks that gathering momentum which can result from nothing less than a straightforward, clearly defined, unwavering structural purpose---in the manner so gloriously accomplished by Beethoven. The cause of this defect may be inferred from a remark of Schumann's in reference to this Symphony: "I sketched it while still physically very ill." But we should no doubt be more concerned with simple facts than with causes.

The succeeding Scherzo here appears as second Movement. It is uncommonly long, containing two Trios. The principal Division is a brilliant perpetuum mobile in the first violins---that is, the violins run in an uninterrupted rhythm (of sixteenth-notes) throughout. In the vivacious first Trio the meter is changed to 6/8 measure ( in effect, though not so marked), while the second Trio falls back upon a quiet rhythm of quarter- notes, and is more subdued and lyric in quality; thus both Trios stand out in marked contrast to the principal Division. The Coda is a rushing, impetuous continuation of the sixteenth-note rhythm.

The third Movement is an Adagio; an inspiration of profoundly moving character and indescribable beauty, doubtless the most masterly and impressive of Schumann's symphonic slow Movements. The design is sonata-allegro; but in place of the conventional "Development" an entirely new Motive (in staccato sixteenths) is inserted and treated briefly in polyphonic Imitations, as fugato; this same staccato motive is then carried along through the first Periodprincipalrnicipal Theme which follows as Recapitulation, thus vindicating its presence in the Movement. Particularly noteworthy is the Codetta---the last fourteen measures of the Exposition---which rises to a climax of thrilling power, restrained at its peak and turned back into a gentle cadence.

The Finale is a tremendously vigorous, resplendent hymn of Triumph; at least, it is chiefly this, but relieved by a few episodes of quieter, more sustained melodious character. From the classic point of view this Movement is "formless;" there is but little in nature of tangible, distinguishable "Themes" in it; the general structural impression seems to be effected by a number of affiliated thematic fragments, into which., however, the opening figure of the preceding Adagio-Movement is most ingeniously and effectively interwoven, quite extensively. Hence the design can be defined no more accurately than as an arbitrary, fantastic series of Episodes, twelve in number.

There was one technical element that Schumann never quite mastered, and that was the scoring of his concept; his orchestration is for the greater part too thick, opaque, and very often ineffective. For this reason we will, in many cases, obtain a clearer impression of the musical conception, and derive more satisfaction and enjoyment from it through the medium of a good piano arrangement (preferably for four hands), than from an orchestral performance.

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