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Thread: Schumann's Violin Concerto

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    Member Dimboukas's Avatar
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    Default Schumann's Violin Concerto

    I was wondering if you have heard the Schumann's violin concerto and if you like it! There is a great discussion about Schumann's mental state when he composed it and whether this can be seen (listened) in his concerto or not.

    Even more interesting is the tempo of the concerto. There is no consensus about the tempo -especially of the third part- at which the concerto should be played. Schumann has metronome notations, but they are either deemed to be signs of his mental state or to be extremely slow.

    Listen to this recording by Harnoncourt and Kremer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ou6...eature=related) which follows Schumann's instructions and another recording by Joshua Bell (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWSms...eature=related) and Cleveland Orchestra and say which one you prefer and if you like the concerto.
    Last edited by Dimboukas; Nov-24-2011 at 00:33. Reason: forgot URL

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    I have the recording by Henryk Szeryng. I'm not versed in music theory, so I'm not sure if there's any issue with the structure which hints at problems about his mental state, but I love the concerto. I think the 1st is my favorite movement, the 2nd is really beautiful, but my favorite part of the concerto is probably near the end of the 3rd.

    The bit starting at 8:25 is great, especially when it reaches 8:44. This is fantastic, no matter what anyone else says.
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    This is really fantastic!

    To be honest, I find no sign of mental illness! I think it was just Joseph Joachim's actions and influence which hid this concerto. However, I find Schumann's tempo markings very slow.

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    I like a tempo between the two, personally.

    I've never heard any signs of mental illness encroaching on his music, either.
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    Wow,...I was not at all familiar with this version and must say that it is lovely and exquisite and while I don't even know this work all that well,...I can tell that they totally get it and have done it in a very beautiful and 'correct' way. Thanks for sharing!

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    IMO, it's the weakest of his concerti. I found it boring and un-violinistic. Have it on historicals by Menuhin and Kulemkampf, very well played, but a good interpretation can't save a bad work.

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    Contrary to the view expressed above, the Schumann VC is one of my favourite works.

    This is one of those thread topics that pops up every now and then. I'm sure the subject has been raised here on T-C at least once before but I can't find it. I have certainly seen several discussions about it on other Boards. One thing about this work which seems almost certain is that it can generally be relied upon to generate mixed responses in terms of the assessment of its quality, with some loving it, others hating, and others not too sure. Lots of people haven't appear not to have heard it probably becuase it doesn't generally get very high up "ranked" lists of the "best" or greatest" classical music, etc. I think all that is rubbish and it should be much higher rated.

    The work was written in 1853, shortly before Schumann's final mental collapse. Following Schumann's death in a mental institution a short while later, it was decided by Clara Schumann, with the agreement of Brahms and Joachim, that this VC should be put away and not performed or given any publicity lest it attract the criticism of it being the result of a demented mind, into which state Schumann had fallen at this time. It was Schumann's last completed orchestral work.

    Thus, the VC - in fact Schumann's one and only VC - was effectively forgotten about completely, and it wasn't even given an Opus number, and its catalogue name is now WoO 23. It didn't re-appear until the late 1930's when it was re-discovered in the Prussian State Library, following some strange prior goings-on involving the intermediation of a psychic, which I won't discuss any further.

    Since its re-discovery in the late 1930's, there have been questions raised about its compositional quality, given that it contains some repetitive writing in the first movement,and has had to fight prejudice for a long time. However it has gained more and favour over the intervening period. Violinists, I gather, find it difficult to play as it was probably written from the viewpoint of a pianist.

    The work is quite unlike any of the better-known violin concertos by the likes of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky. It’s a complex work quite involving an emotional mixture of joy and sadness. Tinged with possible traces of madness or not, I find it a beautiful and fascinating work and I really do love it. It is well worth making the effort to get to know it. Don't judge on just one listen if it doesn't appeal immediately. Give it few goes. As I mentioned above, be prepared for something different from all the rest …

    There aren't many recordings of it. The commercially available versions I have are by Menuhin (recorded in 1938), Szerying, Zehetmair, Kremer. I also have a couple of live recordings I have taped off the radio. Of all of these, my favourite is the version by Gidon Kremer performing with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Ricardo Muti.


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    I heard it live a few weeks ago, my first hearing of the work. Upon this live performance, I was intrigued but couldn't get really involved with it. After that I heard a recording of it that was far superior to the live performance, and I was floored at how different it sounded. The work sounds like Schumann, but with a curious undercurrent of sadness. It really does sound like a departure sort of work to me. The recording referenced by Llyranor is the one I heard.
    Last edited by clavichorder; Nov-24-2011 at 15:09.

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    The point I wish to emphasize - expressed by Artemis, is that the work is unlike any other violin concerto from the Romantic period. If you approach it expecting to hear music 'in the vein of' Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms... you will be disappointed. That was my youthful experience.

    I take the work's emotional expression as very much Schumann - but with the 'Schumanness' no longer clothed in 'proper' attire. I don't have the words - maybe there aren't any - to elucidate 'Schumanness'; the listener hears it or doesn't.

    I have wondered why he chose to make the solo instrument anything other than a piano many of the phrases sound piano-ish to me. Some of the phrases would be less effective from a piano too, so...
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    Can you guys elaborate on the 'unviolinist/piano-ish' aspect of it? I can't seem to recognize it (but again, I'm not versed in composition/music theory, so maybe it's just the untrained ear). Is it the way the notes are ordered to make it extra difficult to play on the violin? Is it the flow? Is it the sound it makes?

    What I do know, though, is that I fell in love with it the moment I heard the first notes of the solo violin in the first movement (1:47).


    TC doesn't think too badly of it, either. It ranked 32nd in our 'Top50 TC String Concerti' list).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    The point I wish to emphasize - expressed by Artemis, is that the work is unlike any other violin concerto from the Romantic period. If you approach it expecting to hear music 'in the vein of' Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms... you will be disappointed. That was my youthful experience.

    I take the work's emotional expression as very much Schumann - but with the 'Schumanness' no longer clothed in 'proper' attire. I don't have the words - maybe there aren't any - to elucidate 'Schumanness'; the listener hears it or doesn't.

    I have wondered why he chose to make the solo instrument anything other than a piano many of the phrases sound piano-ish to me. Some of the phrases would be less effective from a piano too, so...
    Absolutely. Thanks for re-emphasising this important point.

    Maybe this is why some people don’t like it, because it doesn’t fit their expectations of what a 19th C romantic composer’s violin concerto should sound like. I would say that it’s well ahead of its time and sounds like it could have been written some 50+ years later, but by whom I do not know as there is a definite uniqueness about Schumann’s music which you have pointed out. It does sound vaguely Elgarian but that's about as close as I can get.

    I’m actually quite bowled over by it. I love its complexity, its beautiful melodic lines, its many twists and turns, variations in pace, its skilful variations between minor and major modes, its mood swings blending imperceptibly from joy to to deep sadness. It wouldn’t surprise me if the real reason why Clara decided to bury this work was not only because she thought certain aspects of it might reflect badly on her late husband’s reputation but partly because it reminded her too much of the personality of her deceased husband which she probably saw contained within it.

    Perhaps like you, when I first heard the work quite a few years ago now, I wasn't that impressed with it. It seemed like a poor second-rater compared with the likes of the Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky efforts in the same genre. But in those days I was still quite firmly of the view that if i
    t's not that highly rated in the various "greatest" lists that I was fond of consulting then it can't be much good. I've now left all that kind of thinking behind, taken what I consider to be the useful lessons from those "greatest" lists, and basically now have my own my priorities which bear only a vague resemblance to the kind of material that tends to get thrown up by such ranking exercises. Learning all that standard musical "canon" was fun while it lasted (expensive fun, mind you), but I'm now left with a very large collection of the "best" works by composers from A to Z but much of which sits idly on the shelf or in boxes collecting dust.


    Last edited by Artemis; Nov-24-2011 at 18:05.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Artemis View Post
    Absolutely. Thanks for re-emphasising this important point.

    Maybe this is why some people don’t like it, because it doesn’t fit their expectations of what a 19th C romantic composer’s violin concerto should sound like. I would say that it’s well ahead of its time and sounds like it could have been written some 50+ years later, but by whom I do not know as there is a definite uniqueness about Schumann’s music which you have pointed out. It does sound vaguely Elgarian but that's about as close as I can get.

    I’m actually quite bowled over by it. I love its complexity, its beautiful melodic lines, its many twists and turns, variations in pace, its skilful variations between minor and major modes, its mood swings blending imperceptibly from joy to to deep sadness. It wouldn’t surprise me if the real reason why Clara decided to bury this work was not only because she thought certain aspects of it might reflect badly on her late husband’s reputation but partly because it reminded her too much of the personality of her deceased husband which she probably saw contained within it.

    Perhaps like you, when I first heard the work quite a few years ago now, I wasn't that impressed with it. It seemed like a poor second-rater compared with the likes of the Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky efforts in the same genre. But in those days I was still quite firmly of the view that if i
    t's not that highly rated in the various "greatest" lists that I was fond of consulting then it can't be much good. I've now left all that kind of thinking behind, taken what I consider to be the useful lessons from those "greatest" lists, and basically now have my own my priorities which bear only a vague resemblance to the kind of material that tends to get thrown up by such ranking exercises. Learning all that standard musical "canon" was fun while it lasted (expensive fun, mind you), but I'm now left with a very large collection of the "best" works by composers from A to Z but much of which sits idly on the shelf or in boxes collecting dust.


    I absolutely agree with you; this is something I wanted to say too. The concerto sounds like it was written in the beginning of the 20th century.

    I don't know how to express my feelings about the concerto. First of all, I think it a perfect sample of Schumann's music. Initially, it sounds strange, but as you listen to it more and more it is fascinating. What I like very much is the structure of the third part. The music 'flows' and when it seems that you are lost in this current of music, the main theme or motif appears again to help you recapitulate! Really, the third part can be characterized as repetitive but I find it very well organized. Schumann must have had a structure in his mind but somehow he has hidden it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dimboukas View Post
    I absolutely agree with you; this is something I wanted to say too. The concerto sounds like it was written in the beginning of the 20th century.

    I don't know how to express my feelings about the concerto. First of all, I think it a perfect sample of Schumann's music. Initially, it sounds strange, but as you listen to it more and more it is fascinating. What I like very much is the structure of the third part. The music 'flows' and when it seems that you are lost in this current of music, the main theme or motif appears again to help you recapitulate! Really, the third part can be characterized as repetitive but I find it very well organized. Schumann must have had a structure in his mind but somehow he has hidden it.
    The VC couldn't have been written by anyone but Schumann who had a unique style. This work is the final portrayal of the two characters "Eusebius" (melancholic side) and "Florestan" (passionate side) whom Schumann invented as representatuions of the two sides of his own character. The music alternates subtley between between these moods throughout the three movements. No other work by Schumann, in my opinion, illustrates just how prone he was to life's up and downs.

    The opening movement begins with the very dominant violin almost dragging along the orchestra. It slowly gives way to a more sad and melancholic flavour in a minor key mid section, and culminates in a very joyous and triumphant conclusion (in D Major). The second movement begins with a beautifully slow melancholic cello-led first theme before giving way to a rather more dominant violin section. There is a good deal of inter-weaving here, and maybe a little rather peculiar repetition in this movement, just as there is in the first and third movements, but it's not too troubling. The finale of the VC switches to the Florestan mode and this gets more and more dominating as it progresses.

    The whole thing provides an exhilarating emotional ride. It might almost be described as "X" rated classical material and not for light-heated. Any orchestration glitches there might be in the work don't worry me in the slightest.
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    From the moment I heard this concerto I have loved it. I was aware of its past and the decidedly different views of its value. I also understand, as some have mentioned, that its repetitive nature might turn some off. For me it is simply beautiful from beginning to end.

    The Kremer is interesting, but I do not enjoy his transition from the second to third movement. For me the second movement is slow and tranquil giving me the sense of floating effortlessly in pure beauty. The tempo as the movement closes "should" become faster bringing in the third with a more upbeat and joyful sense. I have a recording by Ilya Kaler and the Bournemouth Symphony. I might want to explore a few others.
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