“Oh turn, turn your course, In the valley spring is coming to bloom!” Robert Schumann begins his symphony with the trumpets blowing away the clouds to make room for spring, borrowing the rythm of the opening stanza of the german poet Adolph Böttger’s poem. Clara Schumann heard in the symphony “the little buds, the scent of the violets, the fresh green leaves, the birds in the air”. The essence of the Mozart Piano Concerto is the breathtakingly beautiful slow movement which, in the words of musicologist Alfred Einstein, is like ”a perfect opera aria, free of all limitations of the human voice”.
Igor Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments
In 1920, the French journal La Revue musical commissioned Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) to write one page of music for a special edition dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy. This page first appeared in a piano reduction, but the following year it was performed in a complete version in London. Ernest Ansermet the conductor made yet another orchestration, but the definitive one nowadays performed is that made by Stravinsky himself in 1947. The piece is a combination of Russian Orthodox Church music with Neoclassical tones. It is not a symphony in the classical sense. Rather, the plural form Symphonies alludes to the original Greek meaning ‘sounding together’. Stravinsky described it as “an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogeneous instruments”.
W.A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C
Winter 1785 was a busy time for the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). He had just arrived in Vienna and was hard put to satisfy the demand for his compositions. Piano concertos soon became his main source of income. One of the dozen or so he wrote between 1784 and 1786 was that in C major. His father was staying with him in Vienna at the time, but the two fell out; Leopold departed and never saw his son again. This left Wolfgang feeling very bitter, and some reckon he poured it out in the opera Don Giovanni (1787) performed only five months after his father’s death. Here, the young libertine murders the irritable old man, who returns at the end to seek his revenge. This background possibly explains why tonight’s soloist, Anika Vavic, asked Finnish composer Kalevi Aho to write new solo cadenzas for the concerto on themes from Don Giovanni.
The slow Andante movement would become widely known after being used by Bo Widerberg for his film Elvira Madigan (1967). The Bond madman Karl Stromberg also plays it in his underwater stronghold in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and it has been used in Sweden as a natural tranquiliser during birth!
Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 1 “Spring”
Robert Schumann (1810–1856) tended to concentrate on one genre at a time. Having composed only piano music for a decade or so, he then turned to Lieder, producing no fewer than 138 in 1840 alone. The following year it was the turn of orchestral music and his first symphony. He spent only three days sketching it and a further three weeks on its orchestration. Felix Mendelssohn conducted the premiere in Leipzig, and it was a great success. The title is thought to have been inspired by the season of its birth, and Schumann originally gave – but later deleted – each movement a descriptive heading. In a letter to Wilhelm Taubert the conductor he wrote, “Could you breathe a little of the longing for spring into your orchestra as they play? I should like the very first trumpet entrance to sound as if it came from on high, like a summons to awakening. Further on in the introduction, I would like the music to suggest the world’s turning green, perhaps with a butterfly hovering in the air, and then, in the Allegro, to show how everything to do with spring is coming alive...”