Schumann – Symphony No. 4 in D-minor, Op.120

by Max Derrickson

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

Symphony No. 4 in D-minor, Op.120
1. Zeimlich langsam – Lebhaft
2. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam
3. Scherzo: Lebhaft
4. Finale: Langsam – Lebhaft

[. . .]

His second full symphony was his D-minor.  Schumann withheld it from publication for another ten years, however, and in the meantime seriously revised it.  When it at last came to be published, it was given the later opus number and the No. 4 in sequence – this is the version performed on this program.

Schumann was a Romantic composer who possessed a keen appreciation of those who came before him.  Two of his greatest musical heroes were Bach and Beethoven.  Symphony No. 4 bears hallmarks from each – from Bach comes a hefty concern for counterpoint and from Beethoven, its psychological weight.  But Schumann’s creative genius bears its own mark thoroughly in this extraordinary symphony.

The slow introduction to the first movement is indeed a weighty and dark affair.  A slow, brooding motive appears in the strings, a restless and somewhat tortured theme – something that easily precursors Bram Stoker’s Dracula by about 50 years.
[. . .]

The second movement is a work of astounding originality.  The first chord (which is also the first chord of the first movement) reminds us of Beethoven’s opening to the Allegretto movement in his Symphony No. 7.  Then, a theme is introduced that is entirely reminiscent of Renaissance carols – a burnished and lovely antiquity is evoked.
[. . .]

It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that one of the revisions that Schumann made to this Symphony was to remove a part for guitar in the second movement, but another, larger change, was to have all movements be played without break.  This certainly added to the wonderful surprises that occur with the beginning of the next movement, the scherzo, and its magical flow into the finale.