Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: 30–35 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1841–1845
World Premiere: 04 December 1845 (Dresden)
Table of Contents
Schumann's Piano Concerto in 5 Sentences
Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto was written in a laborious way over a long period of time: already between 1828 and 1831, the very young composer worked on two piano concertos, but did not manage to complete them. Ten years later, he wrote a “Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra” in just four days, but no music publisher would accept it. Schumann then revised the Fantasy several times and finally added two more movements in 1845 – the Piano Concerto was finally finished. The premiere was very well received, with Schumann’s orchestral treatment in particular being praised in newspaper reviews.
4 Highlights from Schumann's Piano Concerto
Highlight 1: Wild beginning
Schumann’s Piano Concerto begins as if someone were thrown into cold water (for the poor pianists, it probably does feel that way 😊): The orchestra plays exactly one beat, and then it’s off with a straight downward crashing gesture in the piano:
Highlight 2: Elegiac main theme
Then follows – as a counterbalance, so to speak, to the stormy beginning – the wonderfully tender, elegiac main theme that will dominate the entire first movement. After the first presentation in the orchestra, it is immediately taken up in the piano:
Highlight 3: Transition between second and third movement
Schumann allows the second and third movements in his Piano Concerto to flow smoothly into one another – a so-called “attaca” transition that I find extremely successful dramaturgically.
Just notice how the “skeleton” of the “wild beginning” (Highlight 1) is “woven” into this transition: a dialogue develops between the winds and the piano, with the piano repeatedly imitating the downward gesture from the beginning – less wild this time, but still recognizable. And then the third movement begins with an upward sweeping motion that is all the more convincing:
Highlight 4: Conclusion
Schumann then brings his Piano Concerto to a close with fiery verve, dance-like character, and definitely high technical challenges in the piano part:
3 Questions and Answers about Schumann's Piano Concerto
Question 1: Who played the premiere of Schumann's Piano Concerto?
The first performance was given by the pianist Clara Schumann (Robert Schumann’s wife) and the conductor Ferdinand Hiller, to whom Schumann had dedicated his Piano Concerto.
Question 2: Are there connections between the individual movements in Schumann's Piano Concerto?
Yes, especially the main theme of the first movement runs through the entire work: it is taken up again and again in the last movement, for example.
Question 3: What is the relationship between piano and orchestra in Schumann's Piano Concerto?
The relationship between piano and orchestra is very balanced: Both “parties” have enough space to develop independently. This was also praised by contemporary critics in particular.
2 Recommended Recordings of Schumann's piano concerto
Recording 1: Hélène Grimaud, Thomas Hengelbrock, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (live, 2013)
This is one of my personal favorite recordings of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Just the way star pianist Hélène Grimaud imitates the orchestra’s first phrase (starting at 0:26), differentiating each sound, is remarkable:
Recording 2: Alexander Melnikov, Pablo Heras-Casado, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
In this performance with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the warm sound of historic original instruments can be experienced. Pianist Alexander Melnikov also plays on an instrument from 1837: