Symphony No.2

Robert Schumann

Symphony No.2 in C major

Op. 61

About this work

In the autumn of 1844 Clara moved the Schumann household to Dresden, where Robert recovered enough from a terrifying attack of nerves to complete the A minor Piano Concerto for her in July 1845. Soon thereafter he began thinking about a new symphony, which eventually became the third of his four, although published as No. 2. To fight the symptoms of syphilis, he steeped himself in Bach, out of which came several contrapuntal works for organ, pedal-piano, and conventional clavier. At last, on December 12, a sudden wave of inspiration lifted him so high that he sketched the first movement of a new C major Symphony in three days, had proceeded to the finale by Christmas Day, and on December 28 completed preliminary sketches. His tinnitus worsened, however, interfering with long-term concentration until February 12, 1846, when he began to orchestrate the blueprint. Schumann completed the scoring of Symphony No. 2 only 17 days before its Leipzig premiere in November, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn, and immediately after that added three trombones to existing parts for double winds, horns, and trumpets, string choir, and timpani.

As in the "Spring" First and D minor symphonies of 1841, he created a unifying motif, and gave this new motto theme to the brass in a deeply sonorous introduction (Sostenuto assai) to the sonata-structured opening movement. A masterful segue ushers in the craggy, edgy, Allegro ma non troppo -- "moody, capricious, refractory" music in Schumann's own words -- this, too, derived from the motto.

The motto also underlies all three song sections of the ensuing Scherzo: Allegro vivace, which has two trio sections (as the "Spring" Symphony did): the first one charmingly bucolic, in G major; the other one lyrical, with an embedded theme based on Bach's name (B flat, A, C and B natural, which the Germans call H).

This is followed by a tragically expressive Adagio in C minor, whose principal subject resembles the first trio sonata of Bach's Musical Offering. This is the only Adagio movement in Schumann's symphonic canon, verily a cri de coeur; he began a fugue midway but did not complete, much less develop it. The floodtide of melody swept everything before it.

Unable to work for several weeks after completing the Adagio, a "cured" Schumann took up the finale. The principal subject of his aptly marked Allegro molto vivace quits the sickroom in order to exercise out of doors. While he borrowed its second theme from the heartsick Adagio, he expurgated all traces of melancholy. The subsequent development of both themes ends quietly in C minor, whereupon the solo oboe quotes a melodic phrase from the last song of Beethoven's To a Distant Beloved cycle (whose text begins, "Then accept these songs"). This and the original motto combine in the celebratory coda of what is surely Schumann's symphonic Mount Rainier.