Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in a moll оp.54

“Reason might sometimes be wrong, but feelings – never is” says Robert Schumann. He followed this maximum in all his works. His piano concerto in A minor opus 54, is one of the most significant works in all German music of the 19th century. The composer himself conceived of it as “something in between a symphony, a fantasy and a concert” (like all romantics, he felt entrapped in whatever classical genre). The story behind the creation of the concert is quite unusual. In 1841, Schumann wrote his Fantasie in A minor  and tried unsuccessfully to sell this one-movement piece to publishers. Four years later, the composer developed this fantasy and turned it into the first part (Allegro affettuoso) of his three-part piano concerto. The complete three-movement version was premiered in Dresden on 4 December 1845 with the dedicatee Ferdinand Hiller as the conductor. Less than a month later, on 1 January 1846, the concerto was performed in the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus. It was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn – Bartholdy, and the piano was, of course, entrusted to the invariable Clara Schumann.

Schumann had worked on several piano concertos earlier: he began one in E-flat major in 1828, from 1829–31 he worked on one in F major, and in 1839, he wrote one movement of a concerto in D minor. But none of these works were completed. The A minor concerto, opus 34, remains the only piano and orchestra concerto completed by the composer. Despite the fact that formally it looks completely traditional, the similarity between it and the classic patterns is limited only by the form. Despite the classical canons, Schumann does not divide the parts by content and an idea runs through the whole work. Interestingly, there are very few technical effects in the concert aiming to capture the listener’s imagination. Schumann deliberately abandoned virtuoso passages in order to expose the artistic idea (or the feeling, to be more precise!) on which the work was based to the utmost. The nearly intimate lyricism that permeated the entire concert was ambiguously perceived by his contemporaries (it seemed a bit excessive) and only later did the lyrical line in the concert genre find its bold successor in Grieg’s face.

Subsequently, Schumann turned to the genre of instrumental concerto twice, creating two works: Konzertstück (1849) and Introduction and Concert Allegro (1853), but these works could not reach the heights of his minor concerto.

Schumann’s concerto consists of three movements, the second and third performed without interruption. The most interesting and significant of them is THE FIRST movement, the “Fantasy” in question, which in a unique way combines sonata allegro and variation form. The piece starts with an emotional, energetic strike by strings and timpani, followed by a fierce, descending attack by the piano. Only then, the main, dreamlike theme is introduced combining the lyrical immediacy of a heartfelt song and noble restraint and depth of feeling. The second theme is cycle of variations on the main theme, which passes into the orchestra and receives various incarnations.

THE SECOND movement of the concert was named “Intermezzo” by Schumann . Its calm, refined contemplation is like a rest after the dramatic vicissitudes of the first movement. Exquisite phrases are now being performed by the soloist, and then – by the orchestra. What follows is a bright orchestral theme, adorned with an intricate tangle of passages in the panel. Before the end of the movement, a motif from the first part , which seems to fluctuate between the minor and the major, but in the end confirms the major beginning sounds. THE FINAL, which follows without interruption, immerses us in the element of ballroom dancing. Its brightest part is the second theme, in a graceful waltz rhythm.

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