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Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO23
27 September to 3 October 1853; published by Schott posthumously; first performed by Georg Kulenkampff, the Berlin Philharmonic and Karl Böhm on 26 November 1937

'Schumann: Violin Concertos' (CDA67847)
Schumann: Violin Concertos
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Movement 1: In kräftigem, nicht zu schnellem Tempo
Movement 2: Langsam –
Movement 3: Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell

Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO23
As with the Phantasie, Schumann sent the score of the Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO23 (composed between 27 September and 3 October 1853) to Joachim for advice, but this time the violinist was less enthusiastic. While he praised the melody of the slow movement, for the most part he found the solo part unidiomatic (Schumann’s extensive use of arpeggiated figures perhaps reflected his recent immersion in the Sonatas and Partitas of J S Bach, for which he had devised piano accompaniments). Joachim later admitted that he thought the music showed signs of exhaustion. It was to be Schumann’s last orchestral work.

The Violin Concerto is a grandiose, minor-key counterpart to Beethoven’s example. It opens with a brooding theme played by full orchestra; the lyrical second subject then makes a brief appearance before the violin enters. The form of this movement and the relationship between soloist and orchestra is much more conventional than that of the Cello Concerto but, again, the second and third movements are connected. Here, though, it is music from the slow movement that reappears in the finale: the syncopated orchestral theme. It is somewhat surprising that Schumann did not choose to recall the soloist’s melody instead, for it had a habit of turning up in other places: it resembles the opening vocal line of Frühlings Ankunft, Op 79 No 19, the middle section of ‘Vogel as Prophet’ from Waldszenen, and the Allegro of Norbert Burgmüller’s Second Symphony, which Schumann had recently orchestrated. The melody is also strikingly similar to the one he claimed was dictated to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn during hallucinations he experienced in February 1854, on which he wrote piano variations (commonly referred to, with some poetic licence, as the Geistervariationen).

Joachim found the finale of the Violin Concerto overly repetitious, a criticism often levelled at Schumann’s late music. Occasionally, the impression of repetitiveness resulted from the composer focusing on a limited number of thematic motifs. On other occasions, it indicates an ill-chosen tempo. In the case of the Violin Concerto, until a new edition appeared in the 1980s, performers tended to take the second movement more slowly than the autograph suggested, while pushing the finale’s polonaise forward.

Despite rehearsing the work with Hannover’s Court Orchestra, Joachim never performed the Concerto in public and recommended that it should not be published until one hundred years after Schumann’s death (a view with which his fellow-executors of the composer’s musical estate, Clara and Brahms, concurred). However, in 1933 Joachim’s great-nieces, the violinists Jelly d’Arányi and Adila Fachiri, claimed to have received instructions from beyond the grave that they should seek out Schumann’s concerto. (On a more prosaic level, they may have been aware that the first movement had been played at the tenth anniversary of the Schumann Gesellschaft in Zwickau three years earlier.) The score was located in the Prussian State Library and, against the wishes of Schumann’s daughter Eugenie, was prepared for publication by Schott, with the assistance of composer Paul Hindemith. The Violin Concerto was premiered before Nazi luminaries Robert Ley and Joseph Goebbels on 26 November 1937, played by Georg Kulenkampff and the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Karl Böhm. What for decades had been considered a failure was now, for political reasons, heralded as a masterpiece—even as a replacement for Mendelssohn’s popular Violin Concerto (which was barred from performance because of the composer’s Jewish roots). Ten days later Yehudi Menuhin—who as a Russian-American Jew had not been allowed to give the premiere in Germany—performed the concerto with piano accompaniment at New York’s Carnegie Hall; he subsequently played the full version with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Menuhin recognized Schumann’s Violin Concerto as the ‘missing link’ between Beethoven and Brahms. He claimed it has the ‘same human warmth, caressing softness, bold manly rhythms, the same lovely arabesque treatment of the violin, the same rich and noble themes and harmonies’. Schumann’s debt to Beethoven can be detected in the way he embeds the solo violin within the orchestra; they work as partners, sharing material. Brahms is forecast in the way Schumann makes motivic connections between movements. We can thus hear these works for violin and orchestra less as marking the end of Schumann’s career, than as a bridge between generations.

from notes by Laura Tunbridge © 2012

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