Robert Schumann (1810–1856) Symphony No. 4 in D minor Op. 120
Version of 1851 – Urtext edited by Joachim Draheim [orch] duration: 29'
126.96.36.199. – 188.8.131.52. – timp – str
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Robert Schumann composed his D-minor Symphony in 1841, just after completing his Symphony No. 1 in B flat major op. 38. This version remained unpublished during the composers lifetime. After a thorough revision in late 1851, the work was given its first performance in Düsseldorf on 3 March 1853 under the composers direction. It was published that same year by Breitkopf & Härtel under the opus number 120 as Symphony No. 4.
Joachim Draheims Urtext edition presents Schumanns Fourth Symphony in the 1851 version. The primary source is the first edition overseen by Schumann and practically free of errors.
|1. Ziemlich langsam – Lebhaft|
|2. Romance: Ziemlich langsam|
|3. Scherzo: Lebhaft – Trio|
|4. Langsam – Lebhaft – Presto|
After the success of his “Spring Symphony”, which was rapidly sketched and orchestrated in early 1841 and given its triumphant first performance under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 31 March of that year, Robert Schumann dedicated himself almost exclusively to the composition of orchestral works until the end of 1841, with that obsessive concentration on one specific genre that was unique to him. In April and May 1841, for instance, he worked on his “second large orchestral piece – we still don’t know what to call it. It consists of an Overture, Scherzo and Finale”, as Clara Schumann noted in her Ehetagebuch (marriage diary). Later called “suite”, “symphonette” or “sinfonietta” by the composer, the work was published in 1846 after a thorough revision as op. 52 under the title mentioned by Clara Schumann. In May 1841, Schumann composed a “Fantasy” for piano and orchestra, which, however, did not acquire its definitive shape until 1845, when it was supplied with an Intermezzo and Allegro vivace, and revised, thus becoming the Piano Concerto in A minor op. 54. Next to sketches for a symphony in C minor1, a third orchestral work was also completed and even premiered in 1841, the Symphony in D minor. And it is certainly not by chance that this work was only published more than ten years later and in a revised version. Schumann was busy most of the year with the publication of his First Symphony, and took great pains to oversee the printing. He had neither the time nor the peace to attend to his other orchestral works and give them – they all bore experimental traits to some extent – the final form that would meet his high and steadily growing standards.
On 31 May Clara noted in her Ehetagebuch: “The holidays are wonderful! Robert’s mind is very creative now, and he began a symphony yesterday which is to consist of one movement, but with an Adagio and Finale. I have heard nothing of it as yet, but from seeing Robert’s doings, and from hearing a D minor echoing wildly in the distance, I know in advance that this will be another work that is emerging from the depths of his soul.” Although the autograph score bears the date “7 June 1841” on the first page, Schumann wrote in his Haushaltbuch (household accounts) on 9 June: “laid the symphony aside, but have not abandoned it.” On 14 June Schumann resumed the orchestration, and shortly thereafter Clara remarked in the Ehetagebuch, which she was generally keeping on her own at this time: “Robert has completed the new symphony in one movement, i.e. the sketch; he has already begun to orchestrate it, but other chores have kept him away from it and he will now no doubt have to finish it only after our little trip.” Because of health problems and this trip to Dresden, Schumann could not report about the “happy completion” of the work and the “joy in my symphony” in his Haushaltbuch until 1 and 2 August 1841. Once again, however, he had to interrupt his work in order to devote himself to the rehearsal of the “Fantasy” for piano and orchestra on 13 August and the publication of the “Spring Symphony”. It was only on 31 August that he had “the first movement ready.” In his Haushaltbuch, the composer meticulously documented the final phase of the work on the symphony and the subsequent polishing of details; on 4 October, Schumann had “finished polishing the symphony.”2
The work was given its first performance under the title “Second Symphony” at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 6 December 1841, along with the Overture, Scherzo and Finale op. 52. The concert was conducted by Ferdinand David, since Mendelssohn’s duties in Berlin kept him from making more than occasional guest appearances as conductor. The two orchestral pieces got off to an inauspicious start, since the program was too long, the new pieces apparently not rehearsed sufficiently and the public totally absorbed with Franz Liszt who, as a token of his friendship, played the dazzlingly virtuoso Hexameron for two pianos (variations on a theme from Bellini’s I Puritani by various composers) with Clara Schumann. Schumann himself stayed calmly, as we can see in his letter of 8 January 1842 to Carl Koßmaly: “The two orchestral works, a second Symphony and an Overture, Scherzo and Finale [...] were not as successful as the first. It was really too much for one time, I think, and then Mendelssohn was not there to conduct. But it doesn’t matter. I know they are not at all inferior to the first, and must succeed sooner or later.” The few reviews of the concert show that his optimism was not totally misplaced. In the Korrespondent von und für Deutschland, one could read: “[…] this poetic and spiritual composer will no doubt soon become one of our most celebrated masters if our nation does not forget the joy that can be had in genuinely spiritual creations. He offers no Philistine trivialities or petty bourgeois forms; within him is a deep, effervescent and invigorating fountain that pours out of him in a thousand noble and magnificent streams. The audience was visibly surprised by his second symphony in particular […], since he linked the movements together, thus confusing many concert-goers. Some of them, in their musical devotion, believed that the entire symphony was one rather long movement.” Schumann offered it to the Leipzig publishing house Peters as his “Second Symphony in D minor op. 50” on 6 October 1843, but without success. He then forgot it for a while because of other chores, relocations and illnesses.
Schumann took up the symphony again in late 1851 in Düsseldorf, where he had been working as Municipal Music Director for over a year already. There are no doubt several reasons to explain his renewed interest. Eduard Hanslick assumed it was due to “Clara’s unflagging encouragement”. The great success of the “Rhenish Symphony”, which was premiered in Düsseldorf on 6 February 1851 and published in October of that year, must have stimulated Schumann to continue cultivating the prestigious genre of the “symphony.” The immediate impulse, however, came from Schumann’s work with the still unprinted Symphony No. 2 in D major op.11 by Norbert Burgmüller (1810–1836). Schumann greatly admired this brilliant composer, who had lived in Düsseldorf. Burgmüller’s second symphony had remained a fragment: only the first and second movements were finished, the Scherzo was partly orchestrated, and the closing movement only partially sketched. Schumann began working on the “symphony by Burgmüller” on 1 December 1851, most likely at the request of the departed’s family and friends, and perhaps also to re-introduce the work to the concert hall in an expanded form (its first movements had already been performed several times). Schumann completed the orchestration of the Scherzo on 2 December. He even attempted to write a new closing movement, whereby he did not make any significant borrowings from the surviving short score and stopped working on it after 100 bars. On 12 December 1851, a few days after his intensive work on Burgmüller’s remarkable fragment, Schumann wrote in the Haushaltbuch: “have begun to re-orchestrate the old second symphony.” On 17 December: “still busy with the ‘Fantasy’.” And on 19 December: “completed the orchestration of the Symphony in D minor.”3 However, owing to the poor state of the composer’s health, the work was not performed the following year. He completed the four-hand piano score on 30 December 1852 – an unerring sign that he considered the piece as finished.
The successful first performance of the second version of the D-minor Symphony took place in Düsseldorf’s “Geislerscher Saal” on 3 March 1853 under the direction of the composer. The concert was the seventh in the season of the “Allgemeiner Musikverein”. But it was the second performance in Düsseldorf, on 15 May 1853, during the 31st Lower Rhine Music Festival, that the work really obtained the attention and esteem which it has been enjoying to this day with a continuity rare for Schumann’s works. The previous week, Schumann had written to his old friend, the Dutch composer and conductor Johann Joseph Hermann Verhulst: “I would never have thought, back when we heard it in Leipzig, that the old symphony which you might remember would come back again for such an occasion. [...] Moreover, I totally re-orchestrated the symphony and, of course, made it better and more effective than it was before.”
The many reviews unanimously confirm the symphony’s triumph. The reporter of the Signale für die Musikalische Welt rhapsodized: “This symphony is a youthfully fresh, flowering and most gracious creation; it delights the senses as much by the clarity of its disposition as by the striking originality of the motifs and their elaboration. The orchestra, consisting of excellent artists, especially in the string section, played this work with veritable rapture in the presence of its creator. This double effect, which was produced by the beauty of the work as well as by its lively execution, could not help but give rise to a sweeping success and stir the audience at the close of the work to express its satisfaction through incessant applause, in which it was joined most heartily by the entire orchestra.”
What with the symphony’s success, it was no problem finding a publisher. In November 1853 Breitkopf & Härtel printed, as was customary then, the parts and four-hand piano score; they were followed in December by the meticulously printed, virtually error-free score. A preliminary note added to a re-issue printed before 1871 was apparently intended to prevent any possible misconception about the date of origin of the work; due to its high opus number, the work could be considered as belonging to Schumann’s late oeuvre, which was hardly performed any longer by this time and was dismissed as weak and uninspired, even in circles well-disposed towards the composer, because of Schumann’s approaching mental illness: “The draft of this symphony was written in 1841, shortly after the first [Symphony] in B-flat major, but was completely orchestrated only in 1851. This observation seems called for since two symphonies bearing the numbers II and III were released later; according to their time of origin, they would thus be Nos. III and IV.” Today, it is no longer necessary to add such a remark to “save the honor” of the work. Since 1853, Schumann’s Fourth Symphony ranks among the composer’s most beloved orchestral works in the final version authorized by the composer.
It was Johannes Brahms who first drew the attention of the musical world to the first version of the D-minor Symphony thirty years after Schumann’s death. Brahms, who had obtained the autograph score from Clara Schumann as a gift, wrote to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg in October 1886: “I have always taken delight in looking at the first score. And it is a real joy to see how the ideas invented so brightly and lightly are given shape just as lightly and naturally. It is (without wanting to push the comparison any further) as with Mozart’s G-minor Symphony, which I also own: everything is so perfectly natural; it seems as if nothing could be any different – nowhere is there a garish color, nothing is willfully strained, etc. In the second version, however, one always feels that the enjoyment does not come so easily, and that the eye and ear are always on the verge of protesting.” He expressed a similar view in a letter of April 1888 to Clara Schumann: “Everyone who sees it shares my opinion that the score was not improved by being revised, and has indeed lost some of its grace, lightness and clarity. Unfortunately, I do not have a place where I can attempt a full rehearsal. [...] Why don’t you speak with Müller4, who is clearly enthusiastic about the work and has obvious problems studying it. In the new (old) version, he should have no trouble at all, only enjoyment, and I would be so delighted if you could hear it once in this version – and then, as a contrast and evidence to the contrary, in its usual orchestration.”
Clara Schumann initially followed Brahms’s endeavors with benevolent interest, but then informed him on 11 July 1888: “I found the double score extraordinarily interesting. Müller went through it with me bar by bar, and although I was able to convince myself that he had studied it very carefully, he himself felt that the second instrumentation was more brilliant, more effective, and he found only a few passages in the Andante and Scherzo that were more appealing in the earlier version. Although he was not in favor of a performance of the first version, he would – if I had the parts – like to have the work played to me at a rehearsal.” In spite of these unquestionably legitimate reservations, Brahms in 1891 commissioned his friend the conductor and composer Franz Wüllner to prepare the score of the first version for publication by Breitkopf & Härtel. This led to a serious disagreement between Brahms and Clara Schumann, who was caught completely unawares by the announcement of the forthcoming publication. Clara let nothing of this transpire in her letter of 6 November 1891 to the English conductor August Manns. Unfortunately, her astute and pragmatic judgment of the situation also later found little acknowledgement: “The symphony which my husband worked on twice is the Fourth in D minor. My husband was not satisfied with the first version and revised it ten years later, producing a second version which was printed. I never gave any thought to the publication of the first version. This had long been one of Brahms’s special projects and it is justified to the extent that it is very interesting for a professional musician to compare the two versions next to each other. I did not want to oppose him too forcefully, and thus I let him do as he pleased; he had owned the manuscript for a long time already. As a consequence of this publication, however, the symphony will be performed in its first version here and there. I do not feel right about this with respect to my husband, who, after all, had not intended it to this end.”
At Wüllner’s instigation, Brahms allowed a considerable amount of details from the second version to be incorporated into the edition of the first, details that were considered more felicitous. This resulted in an editorially practically worthless hybrid version. The uncritical evaluation of the first version as superior to the second – which is encountered increasingly of late – has little to legitimate it and does not do justice to Schumann’s striving for perfection. Indeed, Schumann strove for a constant improvement and clarification of his works and certainly did not want versions which he considered as unfinished to be thrown into the scale against his completed works. To the extent that this can be discerned from the printed score, the first version contains many charming details which cast a revealing light on Schumann’s compositional process; however, while the differences in the musical substance are rather marginal, there are some conspicuously clumsy and awkward traits in the orchestration and notation. The second version was rid of these deficiencies and did not – as has been claimed – attenuate any of the audacities of the first version. It is the work of a now experienced orchestral composer and not that of a conservative old hand who had become weary and wanted to do away with the “sins of his youth.” In this symphony, Schumann’s second orchestration needs no improvement whatsoever, particularly when keeping in mind that his ideal sound was not that of Wagner and Liszt, but that of Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. Furthermore, one should also follow his meticulously detailed instructions regarding tempo, dynamics and articulation with imagination and not pedantry. The use of a solo cello in the Romance, for example, is nothing more than a questionable tradition which is supported in no way by the autograph and first edition of the second version, and was initially prescribed only in the manuscript of the first version – inasmuch as this can be ascertained – but was changed by the composer himself into a division of the celli into violoncello primo and secondo.
This new edition of Robert Schumann’s Fourth Symphony in D minor op. 120 is based on the first edition of the second version, which was overseen by Schumann and is practically free of errors. The “Revisionsbericht” of the full score PB 5264 provides an account of specific editorial matters. It also contents the detailed version of the preface with further information. I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to Hellmut Döhnert (Leipzig) for his critical collaboration on this edition, and to Dr. Bernhard R. Appel (Düsseldorf) for supplying the reviews.
Karlsruhe, Fall 1998
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.