Symphony No. 1, in B-flat major, Op. 38, “Spring”
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: March 9, 1923, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
It is frequently the case that nicknames attached to musical compositions are the fanciful creations of enthusiastic publishers rather than the original intentions of composers, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata being the most famous example. In the case of Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony, we have an authoritative source. In the composer’s own hand we see on the preserved manuscript’s first page, “Frühlings Symphonie.”
Where Mendelssohn stood between the Classical and the Romantic worlds, Schumann has his feet planted firmly in the latter – we shouldn’t underestimate his newness, even while emerging from the imposing shadow that Beethoven was to cast over all 19th-century symphonists. Schumann’s orchestral palette is rich, heavy with brass, and he willingly embarks on freer chromatic adventures than Mendelssohn, along the lines of his immediate predecessor, Schubert.
The Symphony, sketched in a four day burst and completed within a month, originally bore movement titles: “The Beginning of Spring,” “Evening,” “Merry Playmates,” and “Spring in Full Bloom.” The titles were deleted before publication, but are still perfect epigrammatic invitations to this music.
A brass fanfare announces “The Beginning of Spring,” but the brief musical crisis which follows reminds us that Schumann composed this symphony in January and February, the dead of winter. We have to anticipate spring before it fully arrives. The tenderness of the second movement, “Evening,” leads directly into the seemingly angry Scherzo of “Merry Playmates,” but the mood changes quickly. In a letter to a friend, Schumann wrote that while the last movement was “Spring in Full Bloom” it was also a farewell to spring, as much marking a departure as a celebration of the present.
The “Spring” Symphony was premiered in Leipzig on March 31, 1841. The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.
Annotator Grant Hiroshima is the executive director of a private foundation and the former Director of Information Technology for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.