Sunday, March 23, 2014

Romantic Masterpieces

Schubert   and   Schumann

Last night I attended a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that included two great romantic works, Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in a minor and Franz Schubert's Great Symphony in C Major.  Sometimes considered his greatest work, the Great C Major, his  9th Symphony,  was never heard by the composer, because the Viennese musicians considered it unplayable; rather, it was premiered in a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert in 1839 under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn.

Schubert's Symphony No. 9 begins with a noble, reflective theme that reappears throughout the first movement. Well after Schubert's death, the theme's grandeur and sense of space, together with the sheer length of the Symphony, helped to earn it the nickname the "Great C Major".  Robert Schumann, who brought it to the attention of Mendelssohn, referred to its length as "heavenly" in the critical music revue which he edited.  In fact, the nickname was first applied by a music publisher to distinguish the work from Schubert's shorter and less ambitious 6th Symphony, the "Little C Major." But the name aptly describes both Schubert's evident intent in writing the work, and the stature of the final composition.

Schubert profoundly revered Beethoven. He may have paid the older composer a single visit, but generally he kept a humble distance, content with attending Beethoven's concerts including most probably the premiere of Beethoven's Ninth "Choral" Symphony in 1824. He served as one of Beethoven's pallbearers at the great man's funeral. Perhaps his greatest tribute to Beethoven was his resolve to write a grand symphony with the breadth and profundity of his predecessor's; and his Symphony No. 9 was the result.

It was a perfect vehicle to show off the strengths of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Music Director Riccardo Muti, and their success was rewarded by the enthusiastic response of the audience.  Earlier in the evening the reknowned pianist Mitsuko Uchida played the Schumann concerto with sublime style.  Her experience in this repetoire, she first played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra almost thirty years ago, provided her with the ability to share deep insights into this familiar concerto.  The concert was another triumph for one of the great orchestras of the world.

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