Ludwig
van Beethoven
'Coriolanus'  Overture

The Coriolanus Overture opens with an intense unison C followed by dramatic chords which rise dramatically with each further response, giving a dark and foreboding feeling. The subsequent, agitated rhythm reflects the unsettled nature of the proud and haughty Coriolan. The second theme then emerges, lyrical and more stable, a move into the major which is said to represent Coriolan’s mother and wife – pleading and appealing to Coriolan to desist with war and his rage against the Romans. The contrasts continue: nervous energy followed by melodic pleas until Coriolan’s final dejected suicide, depicted by three quiet pizzicato Cs. 
W. A. Mozart
Clarinet Concerto in A

In the late 18th century, the clarinet was still emerging as a modern orchestral instrument. Mozart was immediately drawn to the instrument, aware of the range of expression the clarinet offered and able to exploit the unique timbre and character offered by the different sonorities. This concerto was written for his friend and fellow mason, clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler. Mozart’s love of the clarinet undeniably shines through as he skilfully blends the solo instrument with the orchestra - a lively discourse ensues with a delicate interplay –the clarinet showcases its full timbral capabilities without the need for big cadenzas partly enabled by the lighter orchestra (noticeably no oboes and clarinets) leaving the middle register free for the soloist to explore.  The first movement, an allegro, sets the stage offering virtuosic passages and leaps between registers – whilst the second Adagio movement is beautiful and profound – a touching solo melody with deep elements of melancholy. A fast and almost humorous finale dispels any sadness. This was Mozart’s final composition before his death two months later.
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Robert Schumann
Symphony Nº4  in d op.120 (1841)
 

It is said that Robert Schumann was originally encouraged to write orchestral works by his talented pianist wife, Clara, and so it may not be surprising that his first writing of this symphony in D minor was composed for her birthday in September 1845. Dismayed by the tepid reception of the work, however, Schumann left the symphony (during which time his 2nd and 3rd symphonies were written) and it was over a decade later that he returned to the piece and it was eventually performed in 1853. This time it was received more favourably – sadly, the resurrected symphony would be his last, his deteriorating health leading to his death in 1856. 

 

The 4th Symphony is therefore interesting in its unique combination of youthful optimism (the original work) combined with mature reflection (the later additions) and the perceived heaviness incurred by the addition of doubling the wind and strings perhaps reflects something grander and more serious that comes with time and age. 

 

Schumann’s most striking innovation is the way in which he so thoroughly integrates the four movements. Earlier, symphonies were comprised of separate movements. This ‘one continuous symphony’ sees Schumann unify the work, encouraging the piece to be played without pause and, most significantly, includes an unusual ‘bridge passage’ joining the third and fourth movement. 

 

The unification of the work goes far deeper; the motif introduced by the bassoon and second violins inspires the second "Romanze" movement, the inversion of which then becomes the theme of the third-movement Scherzo and a fragment accompanies the main theme of the finale. In fact, nearly every theme and accompanying figure throughout the entire work can be traced to elements of the opening. However with the final flourish Schumann playfully introduces a totally new – and for once unrelated – theme, which is just as suddenly dropped, never to be heard again.

© 2019 AmSO.