Symphony No.4 in d moll, op.20

It was this, chronologically second of the Schumann symphonies, that subsequently ended up published as his FOURTH SYMPHONY. By October 4, Schumann had completed the orchestration of the symphony and the work premiered on December 6, again in performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, under the baton of Ferdinand David. To help draw attention to the concert, Franz Liszt, the most famous piano virtuoso of the day, agreed to appear and play a duet with Clara, who was already an established pianist herself. But the audience remained reserved, failing to apprehend the unusual form of the work, in which the traditional four movements fused seamlessly into an undivided flow of music. His publisher declined to publish it, preferring to promote Schumann’s First Symphony and the composer shelved it for nearly 10 years. Meanwhile, he produced his next two symphonies and it was not until the early 1850s, when he was the Musical Director of the Düsseldorf Orchestra, that he decided to revise and completely re-orchestrate the early D-minor symphony. The new version was performed under the direction of the author with resounding success at the Lower Rhine Music Festival on 15 May 1853 and was published soon afterwards as Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Although the original version was preferred by some musicians such as Johannes Brahms (who assisted in its 1891 publication), the revised version is the one most frequently performed today.

A vivid emanation of its composer’s romantic spirit, the Fourth Symphony is one of the eminently innovative treatments of this genre within German symphonism from the first half of the nineteenth century. The idea of the movements following in continuous succession one after the other, as an integrated whole, seems to anticipate the future fragmentation of the symphonic cycle in the music of composers from the later decades, as well as the emergence of the new genre of the symphonic poem. United by common but continually evolving themes, the separate sections carry their distinct figurative individuality and flow in a singular consequential gradation – from the subdued elegiac introduction to the agitated motion of the opening sonata allegro, through the melancholic poetics of the Romanza, followed by the forceful, vigorous Scherzo and to the vehement, dynamic finale.

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