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Like many of his professional engagements, Robert Schumann’s appointment as municipal music director in Düsseldorf ultimately brought him as much frustration and tribulation as it did opportunity and accomplishment. By the start of his second season, in the fall of 1851, he was forming the best of his singers and instrumentalists into select chamber ensembles, partly as a relief from the squabbles and rehearsal attendance issues with the larger orchestra and chorus.

Not surprising then, his compositions from that time emphasize chamber music, including two violin sonatas and the Piano Trio in G minor. He wrote the A-minor Sonata in a few days, and although he said that he didn’t like the way it turned out, it has a remarkable freshness and relative concision. Structurally the piece could have been a model for Grieg, but the first movement has the sort of surging 6/8 fervor that became a hallmark of Brahms, and the syncopation and play of two beats against three is also Brahmsian. The middle movement is basically an A-B-A song form, but with quicksilver fluctuations of mood, key, and tempo. The main theme of the finale is a driving perpetual motion machine, but the movement also sums up the lyrical and harmonic impulses of the work, including a ghostly recollection of the opening tune.