Schumann Symphony no. 4 in Dm (1851 version)

This article has been marked as in need of a revisit. That’s where I feel like I didn’t do the piece justice or have more to say (usually because I didn’t know it nearly well enough or didn’t have the right perspective). I’ll keep the original article for posterity, but publish a new version that will eventually be linked here for my new take on it.

performed by the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell


I really liked this! I don’t know why that surprises me. I listened to his no. 3 last week and it was very nice, but no.s 1 and 2 didn’t leave much of an impression. I don’t remember them.

This one is very short, and it’s played without pause, all movements attaca. I believe the whole thing is only about 25 minutes. It doesn’t drag on, and keeps the listener engaged.

The first movement begins with a big chord from strings and timpani (if this continued, it would sound a lot like the beginning of Brahms 1 to me). This movement is warm and just… Symphonic. Good clean music. Aside from some dramatics, it feels stylistically classical in some areas, especially toward the end. Trumpets and horns join in for a fanfare-ish climax before strings call back to end the piece, but the coda feels like it’s going to continue for a few more good beats, but then we are slapped right into the second movement with a chord in clarinets and a solo oboe and a string. This not only marks a stark change in momentum, but a change in key from D minor to A minor. This also feels classical-ish to me, with a happy helping of what would have been modern romanticism. It sounds almost mournful coming from the energy of the first movement, but is pleasant and pretty.

We go attaca into mvt three.

The scherzo is fantastic, with low strings powerfully holding the rhythm. (What I assume to be) the trio is also nice. The main theme returns, but then back to the trio bit again… Is there such a thing as ABAB? Would that be a round?

Anywho, it leads sneakily into the fourth movement.

We have a fanfare-y heroic bit with strings in the background. Then it gets fun. Some very nice question and answer bits, and it gets super exciting and fantastically busy at the close. It’s absolutely thrillingly satisfying.

This whole symphony sounds very German to me. Probably because I hear a classical sound to the whole piece, with a happy helping of good romanticism, which reminds me of Brahms’ 1st symphony. I know this one was written earlier, but I listened to it again just yesterday. The sketches for Brahms’ first began in 1854.

There are two versions of this: the 1841 version, which was later heavily revised and finally published and premiered in 1851. Mrs. Clara Schumann claimed that it was written in ‘41 but only orchestrated in 1851, but this seemed to be an attempt to hide the earlier version. Brahms loved the 1842 version, and had it published a few decades later, to The Mrs. Schumann’s great displeasure. Wikipedia tells me Peter Oswald says that the earlier version is “lighter and more transparent in texture,” and that Clara “always insisted that the later, heavier, and more stately version was the better one.” I tend to agree with his description of ‘heavy and stately’, which I feel were fantastic things for this work. I would be interested to hear the earlier version, but it wasn’t like I listened to this recording and thought “this is really heavy; I wish it were lighter and less intense.” Hardly. Good job with the revision, Bob.

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