Orchestra's Choice: Robert Schumann

LSO Players share some of their favourite music by Robert Schumann ahead of the final instalments of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann cycle in February.

Writing around 1900 for New York monthly The Century Magazine, composer Edvard Grieg told a story about an encounter over Robert Schumann's music: 

Some years ago, a young lady was sitting at the piano, singing, on board a steamer on the coast of Norway. When she paused, a stranger stepped up to her, introducing himself as a lover of music. They fell into conversation, and had not talked long when the stranger exclaimed: ‘You love Schumann? Then we are friends!’ and reached her his hand.

This is characteristic as illustrating the intimate quality of Schumann’s art. To meet in quiet comprehension of the master during a mysterious tête-à-tête at a piano, that is genuinely Schumannesque; to swear by his banner in associations and debating clubs, or amid the glare of festal splendour – that is decidedly non-Schumannesque. Schumann has never ostentatiously summoned any body of adherents. He has been a comet without a tail, but for all that, one of the most remarkable comets in the night sky. Lovers of Schumann have always been ‘the single ones’.

We asked members of the Orchestra to tell us about a piece by Schumann they love and how they discovered it.


 Jennie Brown cello

The Schumann piece I love best by far is his Konzertstück for four solo horns and orchestra, Op 86. My Dad was a horn player with the LSO and had an extensive LP collection. I remember him playing a recording of it at home prior to performing it for real somewhere. This is in the 1960s so I don’t remember any details!

No other composer had written anything like it, technically very challenging for the four horns but also full of gorgeous lyrical phrases. Horn and cello (my instrument) have a similar range and character; I wonder if anyone has transcribed the Konzertstück for four cellos and orchestra, or would that be too awful?

Steve Doman viola

One of my favourite pieces by Schumann is the Piano Quartet. It certainly deserves more recognition as I feel there is more depth of emotion in my opinion than in the more familiar Piano Quintet. The quartet certainly isn't as immediate as the quintet, and on first hearing might not be as pleasing to listen to. Maybe this is a reason why it has been overshadowed in the past.

I first discovered this piece when I was studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I was invited to play in a concert which was a collaboration between students and staff, and this was one of the pieces on the programme, alongside the Ravel Piano Trio. I was lucky enough to play with Charles Owen on piano and Pierre Doumenge on cello who were and still are teachers at Guildhall, as well as Tetsumi Nagata on violin, a fellow student at the time.

This was one of my first experiences of playing chamber music at a high level, an experience and a piece that I will never forget.

Maxine Kwok-Adams violin

Schumann had never really been on my radar as a young violinist, probably because I only associated him with piano works such as Traumerei and the popular Concerto. 

My first encounter with his symphonic repertoire was when I received the Scherzo from Schumann's Second Symphony as an audition excerpt. Two pages of dastardly semiquavers that pretty much any orchestral violinist can play from memory. This was an entirely different Schumann to the one I had made assumptions about and dismissed. The Second Symphony had always been something I was somewhat detached from – formerly only knowing it as this horror show of an audition excerpt.

So working through two of the Schumann Symphonies with Sir John Eliot Gardiner last year was a revelation. Suddenly taking the piece as a whole and the excitement of a section of players flying through the semiquavers like the devil was on our heels elevated Schumann for me to a completely different level. 

Olivier Stankiewicz oboe

I can't name a single piece, there's just too much to choose from; his lieder, chamber music, piano works, symphonic music – he's a major composer. My mother is a pianist, so I've always heard his piano music growing up. Also I've played the Romances Op 94 for oboe from a young age. 

I can at least say why I like his music: the complexity and variety of the emotions, their very accurate rendition, and his extreme sensitivity are simply overwhelmingly touching. They have often been linked with biographical elements, yet they stretch far beyond, to the universal. His writing is also of absolute elegance.

 


Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts Schumann's Third and First Symphonies with the LSO on Thursday 7 and Sunday 10 February. These performances will also be captured for release on our recording label LSO Live.

Also on our blog: Investigating Schumann's Four Symphonies