Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 200th Anniversary of Robert Schumann’s Birth with All-Schumann Program, May 12 & 15

Program to include Mahler’s arrangements of Schumann’s First Symphony and Manfred Overture

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) Music Director Marin Alsop will lead the BSO in an all-Schumann concert to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth on Thursday, May 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 15 at 3 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The works to be performed include Mahler’s arrangements of Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, “Spring” and Manfred Overture. Also on the program will be Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

Schumann composed his first symphony in 1841, following his recent blissful and long-awaited marriage to the talented piano virtuoso Clara Wieck. His bride reported that it was the poetry of Schumann’s friend Adolph Böttger, about a lover longing for spring, which inspired the work’s opening fanfare, earning it the nickname “Spring.” The BSO will perform Gustav Mahler’s arrangement of Schumann’s First Symphony. A genius at composing lieder, Schumann’s ability as an orchestrator was not as finely developed. Mahler’s efforts to lighten the work’s texture to create greater clarity and numerous adjustments to the dynamic markings throughout help the work’s melodies soar.

Unlike his optimistic ‘Spring Symphony,’ Schumann’s Second Symphony in C major was composed in his darkest days after his worst mental breakdown, which limited his creative capacity as a composer. After recovering from his mental illness temporarily, he went into one of his most manic creative periods, composing his piano concerto in A minor and his Second Symphony. It is remarkable that, in the face of adversity, Schumann was able to complete this work successfully. The symphony is a psychological journey from dark to light, reflecting Schumann’s struggle with his mental illness to recovery, from the slow and somber opening to the fanfare and triumphant finale expressing his recovery.

Tormented throughout his life by his insanity and struggle as an artist, Schumann found much in common with the character of Manfred, the protagonist in Lord Byron’s epic poem Manfred, who inspired his final orchestral work. The poem tells the tale of a tormented antihero who flees to the peaks of the Alps to seek solace from a mysterious crime, but finds no peace and is instead tortured by the spirits and demons. He eventually finds peace only in death. The story of Manfred is a true embodiment of the Romantic ideals that Schumann subscribed to and drew parallels with his own life.

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