Piano Concerto (Schumann)
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The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (completed in the year 1845), is the only piano concerto written by Romantic composer Robert Schumann. The work premiered in Leipzig on 1 January 1846 with Clara Schumann playing the solo part. Ferdinand Hiller, the work's dedicatee, conducted.
Schumann had earlier worked on several piano concerti: he began one in E-flat major in 1828, from 1829–31 he worked on one in F major, and in 1839, he wrote one movement of a concerto in D minor. None of these works were completed.
In 1841, Schumann wrote a fantasy for piano and orchestra, his Phantasie. His pianist wife Clara urged him to expand this piece into a full piano concerto. In 1845 he added the intermezzo and finale to complete the work. It was the only piano concerto that Schumann completed.
The work may have been used as a model by Edvard Grieg in composing his own Piano Concerto, also in A minor. Grieg's concerto, like Schumann's, employs a single powerful orchestral chord at its introduction before the piano's entrance with a similar descending flourish. Sergei Rachmaninoff in turn used Grieg's concerto as a model for his first Piano Concerto.
After this concerto, Schumann wrote two other pieces for piano and orchestra: the Introduction and Allegro Appassionato in G major (Op. 92), and the Introduction and Allegro Concertante in D minor (Op. 134).
The piece, as marked in the score, is in three movements:
- Allegro affettuoso (A minor)
- Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso (F major)
- Allegro vivace (A major)
There is no break between these last two movements (attacca subito).
Schumann preferred that the movements be listed in concert programs as only two movements:
- Allegro affettuoso
- Andantino and Rondo
The three movement listing is the more common form used.
The piece starts with an energetic strike by strings and timpani, followed by a fierce, descending attack by the piano. The first theme is introduced by the oboe along with wind instruments. The theme is then given to the soloist. Schumann provides great variety with this theme. He first offers it in the A minor key of the piece, then we hear it again in major, and we can also hear small snatches of the tune in a very slow, A flat section. The clarinet is often used against the piano in this movement. Toward the end of the movement, the piano plays a cadenza before the orchestra joins in with one more melody and builds for the exciting finish.
This movement is keyed in F major. The piano and strings open up the piece with a small, delicate tune, which is heard throughout the movement before the cellos and later the other strings finally take the main theme, with the piano mainly used as accompaniment. The movement closes with small glimpses of the first movement's theme before moving straight into the third movement.
The movement opens with a huge run up the strings while the piano takes the main A major theme. Schumann shows great color and variety in this movement. Though it is in 3/4 time, Schumann manipulates it so that the time signature is often ambiguous. (See hemiola.) The piece finishes with a restating of the previous material before finally launching into an exciting finale, and ending with a long timpani roll and a huge chord from the orchestra.
- Donald Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis: Concertos (London, 1936)
- Alfred Nieman, "The Concertos," in Robert Schumann: The Man and his Music, edited by Alan Walker (London, 1972)
- Michael Steinberg, "The Concerto: A Listener's Guide", (Oxford, 1998)