Concert Notes

Schumann’s Symphony No. 4

Notes by TŌN cellist Jihyun Hwang

Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 is one of the most significant works in the Romantic symphonic repertoire. Composed in 1841 and revised in 1851, this symphony reflects an intense emotional and creative period in the composer’s life. He was trying to find his own symphonic voice while struggling with his ongoing battles with depression and mental health issues. Three years later, he attempted suicide and admitted himself to a mental hospital in Bonn, Germany.

All four movements are played without a break, creating a sense of musical storytelling that transcends individual movements. The first movement starts with a melancholic and mysterious introduction that leads into a lively allegro. Schumann masterfully blends contrasting themes and moods throughout this movement. 

The second movement is a lyrical, introspective interlude. A solo cello and oboe play a sweet melody that vaguely resembles material heard in the introduction of the first movement. This duet returns with the opening theme of the movement, which ends with a quiet segue to the third movement.

The third movement is playful and spirited, changing the mood immediately. It is characterized by its lively rhythmic energy and charming melodies. After the scherzo, the trio contains music for the violins that is similar to the middle section of the second movement. The music slows down into a mysterious segue to the last movement that contains a reference to the primary theme of the first movement.

Finally, the fourth movement is a triumphant and exhilarating conclusion to the symphony, with a lively tempo and intricate orchestration. This movement features memorable melodies, driving rhythms, and a robust orchestration that showcases the full power of the orchestra, perfectly encapsulating the symphony’s emotional journey. 

Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 is a powerful and emotionally charged work that reflects the composer’s personal struggles and creative genius. Its innovative orchestration and structural elements make it a significant contribution to the Romantic symphonic tradition, and it remains a beloved and frequently performed piece in the classical music repertoire.