12 Nov 2020

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto In A Minor Op 54

From Music Alive, 8:02 pm on 12 November 2020

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Performed by Michael Endres and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Giordano Bellincampi

Prof. Michael Endres, geboren 1961 in Sonthofen,

Photo: Supplied

In 1839, six years before the premiere of this work, Schumann penned an essay on the state of the piano concerto in which he wrote: "The separation of the piano from the orchestra is something we have seen coming for some time. . . . We must await the genius who will show us in a newer and more brilliant way how orchestra and piano may be combined, how the soloist, dominant at the keyboard, may unfold the wealth of his instrument and his art, while the orchestra, no longer a mere spectator, may interweave its manifold facets into the scene."

In short order, Schumann would answer his own call with a work he described as "...a compromise between a symphony, a concerto, and a huge sonata", adding: "I see I cannot write a concerto for the virtuosos - I must write something else."

Schumann's ability to champion his own piano works had ended in 1830 through a combination of excessive practice and the use of a chiroplast – a mechanism designed for pianists to equalise the strength in their fingers. All it gave Schumann was numbness and muscular damage. Despite various efforts to rehabilitate his digits, including electric shock treatment and dietary experiments, he declared his virtuoso days done.

Lucky then that the talented Clara Wieck, whom he'd marry in 1840, could be the standard bearer for his works through her successful piano-playing career.

The pair were not only gifted musically but prodigious breeders: by 1845 they were 3 children in to the 8 that they'd finish with. Money was tight, piano concerti popular. Schumann reworked a one-movement piano Fantasy that had sunk without a ripple four years before. He expanded it to three movements and also embodied his ideas on the concerto form in the work's design.

On June the 27th of 1845, Clara wrote in her diary: "Robert has added a beautiful last movement to his Phantasie in A minor so that it has become a concerto, which I mean to play next winter. I am very glad about it, for I always wanted a great bravura piece from him."

However the concerto was out of step with the contemporary expectation of virtuosic fireworks and though Clara continued to promote it, even as late as 1856 (the year of Schumann's death), a London critic commended Clara for her loyalty in continuing to play the work, praising her "...noteworthy efforts to make her husband’s curious rhapsody pass for music."

It wasn't until the 1960s that the concerto really began to get its dues and become a core part of the concert repertoire.

Recorded by RNZ Concert, Auckland Town Hall, 12 November 2020
Producer: Tim Dodd; Engineers: Rangi Powick, Adrian Hollay

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes