Schumann – Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, in A minor, Op. 129

by Max Derrickson

Robert Schumann     (b Zwickau, Germany, June 8, 1810; Endenich,Germany, July 29, 1856)

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, in A minor, Op. 129
1. Nicht ziu schnell (not too fast)
2. Langsam (slowly)
3. Sehr lebhaft (very lively)

Piano was Schumann’s great love.  Being obsessive in nature, he practiced at the keyboard endlessly, even inventing a contraption to strengthen his fingers, but which, instead, permanently ruined his right hand.  He then turned to the cello, the richness of that instrument so appealing to his Romantic sensibilities, and to composition.  Soon after, then in his 20’s, a torrent of wonderfully unique masterpieces was composed for piano solo, and in these there is an endless wealth of beauty, invention and intimacy.  His Cello Concerto, written nearly 20 years later in 1850, seems to reminisce about those first two loves of Schumann’s; the extraordinary writing for the solo cello is deeply personal and idiomatic, and the orchestral accompaniment, with its delightful chamber music feel, glows with the intimacy and beauty of his early solo piano works.

The Concerto is not shy on inventiveness.  Against tradition, the cello jumps right in after a brief orchestral introduction with the main theme, where normally there would have first been a rather lengthy orchestral exposition.
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And instead of a solo cadenza in the first movement, Schumann gives that honor to the orchestra and saves the cadenza for the last movement.  Even then, Schumann adds little touches and accompaniments

One of the most wonderful of these intertwinings is in the second movement, where Schumann has the principal cello in the orchestra play a long duet with the soloist.  The idea itself is wonderfully ingenious and the result is some of the lushest music in the Concerto.  And when the soloist is given its cadenza near the end of the third movement, the interlacing of the flutes above the churning soloist is a beautiful surprise.
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