Robert Schumann (1810–1856) Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E major Op. 52
Urtext edited by Peter Jost [orch] duration: 17'
220.127.116.11. – 18.104.22.168. – timp – str
Urtext of Schumanns Sinfonietta
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That Schumann truly dug his heels into symphonic creation becomes clear at the latest when we look not only at his four well-known symphonies, but also at the works between the genres, such as the Overture, Scherzo and Finale. Unlike the traditional symphonic form, this work has no slow movement. Schumann spoke of it as a suite which hints at a loose connection of movements and as a sinfonietta. Ultimately, he decided to name it after the headings of the three movements which also share common traits among one another. Overture, Scherzo and Finale is being published here for the first time with an Urtext score and parts. The genesis of the work was marked by corrections and revisions. Schumann subjected the work to a thorough revision after the premiere performance and, after the publication of the orchestral parts in 1846, made more changes for the first edition of the score seven years later.
For Robert Schumann, the success of the world premiere of his First Symphony in B flat major op. 38 in Leipzig on 31 March 1841 meant the breakthrough in public life that he had long been eagerly awaiting; until then, he had been perceived solely as a composer of piano pieces and songs. It is thus hardly surprising that he felt encouraged to pursue his endeavor to obtain widespread recognition in larger forms as well, and began to sketch an overture in E major shortly thereafter, on 12 April; it was already completed the following day. The fact that he orchestrated the overture immediately afterwards, from 14 to 17 April, suggests that he had initially planned to write a concert overture in one movement. Schumann was apparently trying to prove himself in a further genre of orchestral music after his successful contribution to the symphonic form. The articles he wrote at that time as a music critic testify to his special interest in the form of the overture. As early as 1835 he had labeled the overture a “symphony in a smaller circle” and specifically mentioned the overtures of Mendelssohn as his models, which hold high the symphonic idea as a bypath to the symphony. Schumann was undoubtedly aware of the historical relationship between these two genres, which were terminologically still widely considered as synonymous in the 18th century. This awareness is underscored by the term he used when referring to the completion of the two movements he subsequently added to the Overture, namely the Scherzo and Finale (sketched from 19 to 21 April and orchestrated from 25 April to 3 May, and from 6 to 8 May 1841): “Finished with the ‘Suite’.” Schumann was alluding here to the French overture as part of the Baroque suite whose title is derived from the heading of the first movement (e.g., such as J. S. Bach’s Overtures BWV 1066–1069).
Schumann put the work aside at first, since he had new projects that demanded his attention, including the Phantasie for piano and orchestra (the future opening movement of the Piano Concerto in A minor op. 54) and the Symphony in D minor (which was later published in a revised form as Fourth Symphony op. 120). It was not until 23 and 24 August that he found the time to revise it. A few weeks later, he commissioned a copyist to write out the parts in view of the first performance, which took place along with the premiere of the aforementioned D-minor Symphony at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 6 December 1841, under the direction of Ferdinand David. Schumann was anticipating an echo of the success he had obtained with the B-flat major Symphony from the public and the press; his hopes, however, were mercilessly dashed. Not only the new symphony, but also the Overture, Scherzo and Finale was greeted with a coolness that seemed to remain engraved in people’s minds, for Schumann met with renewed defeat in November 1842, when he attempted to have the work published by Hofmeister of Leipzig. Further endeavors to publish at least a four-hand piano arrangement in the following years were also in vain. Schumann accepted the consequences, and submitted the work to a revision in 1845. Looking back, he stated: “I made alterations in the Overture, Scherzo and Finale and entirely reworked the latter piece – I think it’s much better now.” While he presumably entered the corrections of the first two movements directly into the autograph of the score in late summer, those of the Finale were so substantial that he preferred to write out the piece afresh, a task he carried out from 9 to 20 October. He was apparently influenced by the negative press he had obtained at the Leipzig premiere, which criticized the orchestration and motivic development, particularly in the final movement. Since only the first page of the original version of the Finale has survived, it is impossible to determine precisely the extent of the revision. The second version of the work was given its first performance on 4 December 1845 together with the piano concerto. Once again, the composer was unable to beguile the audience with this work. Nevertheless, the work was performed occasionally during the following years, and, more importantly, was published by Kistner in Leipzig as op. 52, even if only the orchestral parts were printed at first (in October 1846) and followed by a four-hand piano reduction (in October 1847). A few years later, Schumann managed to convince the publisher to print the score. Just as he did before the publication of the orchestral parts, the composer once again used this opportunity to make some minor corrections. The score was ultimately published together with a two-hand piano reduction in November 1853. It was dedicated to the Dutch composer and conductor Johann Josephus Hermanus Verhulst, who, as head of the Leipzig music society Euterpe (1838–1842), was a close friend of the Schumanns. Robert Schumann had hailed Verhulst’s overture to Giesbrecht van Aemstel in 1839 as an “overture for everyone – the public, the musicians and the critics,” and its concept – in particular its immediate appeal and accessibility – apparently served as a model for the Overture, Scherzo and Finale.
Even after the disappointing premieres of the first version of the Overture, Scherzo and Finale and of the D-minor Symphony, Schumann still remained convinced that their concepts were solid: “I know that the pieces are in no way inferior to the 1st [symphony].” He sought the reason for the works’ lack of success in external circumstances. His prediction that both works would “sooner or later come into their own way” only came true, however, after extensive revisions that led to second versions of each work. What both works have in common is their unconventional structure – one a symphony with an innovative, uninterrupted dovetailing of the movements, the other a work with three relatively independent sections and lacking a slow movement – which proved too demanding on audiences that, upon being promised two symphonic works, apparently expected the classical four-movement model. In the case of op. 52, the lack of an unequivocal designation of its genre no doubt played a considerable role in hindering the acceptance of the work and limiting the frequency of its performance. Even today, op. 52 continues to languish in the shadows of Schumann’s other symphonic works in several movements. The composer himself had begun with an autonomous overture, to which he then added two further movements which, judging from their titles Scherzo and Finale, were absolutely in keeping with a symphony. But then he called the work a “Suite.” During Schumann’s work on the orchestration, a somewhat perturbed Clara commented in her marriage diary on her husband’s “2nd large orchestral work” that “we still don’t know what to call it; it consists of an overture, a scherzo and a finale.” The denomination of the individual movements later served as a makeshift title, even though, between the Schumanns, the terms “Symphonette,” “Sinfonietta” and “Novelle für Orchester” were still long in use. With respect to the “large symphony,” these terms no doubt express the more subdued, modest claim of being a loosely woven symphonic work with three movements that was aiming less at producing contrast than a characteristic and joyful sense of music-making. This is why, in his letter to the publisher Hofmeister, Schumann hastened to explain the title he proposed in his letter, which was basically a contradiction in itself: “2te Symphonie (Ouvertüre, Scherzo und Finale)”: “[The orchestral work] distinguishes itself from the symphonic form through the fact that the individual movements can also be played separately. I am expecting a particular success from the Overture. On the whole, the work has a light and friendly character; I wrote it in a rather cheerful mood.” It is hardly surprising that, as previously mentioned, the publisher declined to acquire the work. What was he to do with a symphony that, even in the words of the composer himself, was not really a symphony at all, since a fundamental aspect of the genre – cyclical unity – was absent? The possibility of performing the sections separately, as suggested by the composer, was unable to gain any ground, however, since it was all too obvious that it had only been made to render the work more palatable to the publisher. This suggestion clearly stands in contradiction with the structure and character of the Overture, Scherzo and Finale. For in spite of the loose structure, there are indeed motivic and rhythmic relations among the three movements, which are undeniably unifying and thus demand a consecutive performance of the pieces as one work which, through its ambiguous position between overture (in the sense of an orchestral suite) and symphony, still continues to represent a delightful challenge to interpreters and listeners alike.
Buchloe, Spring 2012
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