Piano Quartet in C minor, WoO 32
The German composer, pianist, music critic and conductor Robert Schumann came from a family of a bookseller and publisher in Zwickau. From his youth he showed interest not only in music, but also in literature. At the request of his widowed mother, he studied law in Leipzig, from where he moved to Heidelberg. Here he was inspired by the law professor Anton Friedrich Justus Thibaut, a promoter of medievalism and polyphonic vocal music, which, however, he presented to his surroundings in an inauthentic Romantic manner. Here Schumann finally decided on a musical career. He returned to Leipzig and began studying piano performance with Friedrich Wieck and music theory with Heinrich Dorn. Because of excessive piano practice, combined with inappropriate experimentation, he had to give up the idea of becoming a virtuoso pianist and instead concentrate on composition. In 1834 he became one of the founders of the music journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which, in addition to the classics, promoted some of his contemporaries, such as Chopin and Brahms. Schumann married Clara Wieck, the daughter of his piano teacher and his long-time love, after several years of resistance from her father. In addition to being Schumann’s wife (their marital bliss was reflected in several chamber works, song cycles and an opera about a faithful wife, Genoveva), Clara also became a performer of his compositions. In 1843 Schumann accepted a professorship at the Leipzig Conservatory, served as a choirmaster in Dresden, and also became the municipal director of music in Düsseldorf. In 1844 he showed the first signs of mental illness, due to which he unsuccessfully tried to commit a suicide, and subsequently spent the rest of his life in a mental institution. Schumann was the type of delicate and emotional Romantic artist who was able to give form to his impressions aroused by nature. His extensive output consists of nearly two hundred Lieder, song and choral cycles and instrumental concertos. His works of a larger form which deserve special mention include four symphonies, the oratorio Paradise and the Peri and the programmatic pieces (Carnaval, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, etc.); his outstanding chamber pieces are Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44, piano trios and also string quartets.
Schumann wrote his first Piano Quartet in C minor, WoO 32 on the threshold of adulthood, and although he never remade it into a symphony, he still had it on his mind some 20 years later: “I vividly recollect a passage in one of my works, which I thought was romantic, with a spirit different to that of old music that appeared to me as though opening up a new poetic life.” This quartet was not published until many years after the composer’s death; its score in usable form has been available since 2010. It is therefore only in the last few years that the work has enjoyed its deserved popularity.
Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47 was composed in 1842 and published three years later. It was a year in which Schumann devoted himself intensely to the composition of chamber works. This quartet is one of his mature works, growing out of the music of Bach and Beethoven, but also representing the composer’s own original style. The piece is in four movements and alternates a variety of moods, being thematically closely intertwined. The dreamy atmosphere of the slow opening of the first movement changes into the rhythmic impetus of the main theme beginning on the second beat, which Schumann deliberately and thoughtfully exploits further on. The five-part Scherzo in a minor key features a staccato figure predominantly played by piano with two contrasting trios of a quieter character. The highlight of this quartet is the third movement Andante with one of the most beautiful cello themes of the Romantic period, reminiscent of some of Schumann’s songs. The concluding Finale is a sonata rondo in which the dramatic energy of the sixteenth-note runs brings the whole composition to an energetic conclusion.