Musical Fortitude: Schumann's Second Symphony

Program Listing

Saturday, January 27, 2024, 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, January 28, 2024, 2 PM
MONDAY, January 29, 2024, 7:30 PM

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Markus Stenz, Conductor
Tamara Stefanovich, Piano

Louise Farrenc

Concert Overture No. 1 in E Minor

Hans Abrahamsen

Left, Alone
Tamara Stefanovich
Part I – 1. Very Fast
Part I – 2. Slowly Walking
Part I – 3. Presto fluente (Like a Gentle Rain, Light and Bubbly)
Part II – 4. Slowly
Part II – 5. Prestissimo tempestuoso
Part II – 6. In a Tempo from Another Time – In a Time of Slow Motion – Suddenly in Flying Time, Fairy Tale Time
Robert Schumann
Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61
I. Sostenuto assai – Allegro ma non troppo
II. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
III. Adagio expressivo
IV. Allegro molto vivace


Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature Conductor Markus Stenz and Brandi Parisi, host of All Classical Radio.


Program Notes

Concert Overture No. 1 in E Minor
Left, Alone
Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61

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Louise Farrenc

Concert Overture No. 1 in E minor

Work composed: 1834; it premiered the following year, in Paris
First Oregon Symphony performance Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings
Estimated duration: 9 minutes

During her lifetime, Louise Farrenc was well-known as both a composer and outstanding pianist. Throughout the 19th century, she was also the first and only female professor of music who taught at the Paris Conservatory.

Farrenc grew up in a family of artists who encouraged their daughter’s creative explorations. Young Louise displayed extraordinary talent at the piano in early childhood and soon began composing her own music. When she was 15, her parents enrolled her at the Paris Conservatory to continue her composition studies, although she was tutored privately by its faculty because women were not admitted to the Conservatory’s composition program at the time.

At 18, Louise married a flutist, Aristide Farrenc, who later founded a music publishing house. By the 1830s, Farrenc was balancing a busy, multifaceted career as a teacher, composer, and pianist who concertized all over France. As a composer, Farrenc also began expanding her portfolio from solo piano music to larger forms such as symphonies, concert overtures, and a number chamber of works, including piano quintets and trios. Farrenc, unlike many female composers whose music was discovered only long after their deaths, was able to hear the public performance of all three of her symphonies – which were well-reviewed – during her lifetime.

Farrenc’s Concert Overture No. 1 in E minor was composed in 1834 and premiered in Paris the following year. It opens with a grand majestic introduction, which gives way to an animated primary theme first heard in the strings. A solo clarinet presents with a more relaxed countertheme. Farrenc goes on to weave elements of both melodies into a tightly framed, skillfully executed development section before returning to the opening material.


Hans Abrahamsen
b. 1952

Left, Alone
Concerto for Left Hand

Work composed: 2015. Written for pianist Alexandre Tharaud.
First Oregon Symphony performance
solo piano, 2 flutes (both doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (1 doubling contrabassoon, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 18 minutes

Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s career has followed an unconventional path. His early works focused on deliberately simple, straightforward musical concepts, and later explored neo-romantic tropes. In the 1990s, Abrahamsen stopped composing for almost a decade; when he returned to writing his own music, he emerged with a new compositional voice, one that fuses minimalist and modernist influences with a pared-down approach to the development of musical ideas. As a native Dane, Abrahamsen’s music is also suffused with resonances of snow, cold, and winter’s crystalline starkness that transforms landscapes into quasi-magical realms.

Abrahamson was born with an impairment to his right hand that left him with only two fully functional fingers. “Though it never prevented me from loving playing the piano as well as I could with this physical limitation, it has obviously given me an alternative focus on the whole piano literature and has given me a close relationship with the works written for the left hand by Ravel and others,” Abrahamsen writes. “This repertoire has been with me since my youth.

“My very first public performance of one of my own works was in autumn 1969. The piece was called October and I played the piano with my left hand and the horn, my principal instrument (the only instrument that can be played with only the left hand). Part of the piece requires the performer to play the natural harmonics of the horn directly into the open strings of the grand piano to create resonance. The pedal was kept down by an assistant lying on the floor.

“Through decades the idea of writing a larger work for piano left hand has been in my mind. This new work is not written for a pianist with only one hand, but rather by a composer who can only play with the left hand. The title Left, alone contains all kinds of references, not only to the obvious fact that the left hand is playing alone. Left, alone is divided into two large parts, each consisting of three smaller movements – in effect, six in total.”

At Left, alone’s 2016 premiere, The Times (UK) described the music as “weightless and otherworldly, as stark, soft, radiant and magical as fresh snow. Each movement seems to hang in the air,” while noted, “Transfixingly beautiful and charged with unspoken emotion, Left, alone doesn’t so much end as cease to be audible.”


Robert Schumann

Symphony No.2 in C major, Op.61

Work composed: Schumann sketched out his Symphony No. 2 in the two weeks between December 14 and December 28, 1845 and completed the orchestration in October 1846. It is dedicated to King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Pinchas Zukerman led the Oregon Symphony on April 3–5, 2011, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Instrumentation:2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings
Estimated duration: 38 minutes

Robert Schumann composed his second symphony in the last two weeks of 1845 and orchestrated it over the next ten months. Its completion marked Schumann’s recovery from a crippling two-year depression that left him barely able to function.

“The symphony was written in December 1845 while I was still half sick,” Schumann wrote. “I feel as though one must hear that in it. Not until the last movement did I begin to feel well again; really, after the whole work was completed, I became better again … I might say that it was the resistance of my spirit that was at work here … But otherwise, as said before, it reminds me of a dark time.”

Critics praised Op. 61 as worthy of Beethoven; one critic even claimed Schumann outshone Beethoven, in that while both the finales of Schumann’s Second and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphonies are “artistic representations of universal love,” Schumann’s finale is superior because it does not resort to the use of voices. Overall, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 came to be regarded, in the words of biographer John Daverio, as his “symphony of symphonies.”

“Drums and trumpets in C have been sounding in my mind for quite a while now,” Schumann wrote to Felix Mendelssohn in the autumn of 1845. “I have no idea what will come of it.” The resulting fanfare became the opening of the Sostenuto assai and represents Schumann’s “resistance of spirit,” which resurfaces periodically throughout the symphony.

Instead of a slow second movement, the Scherzo bursts forth, full of irrepressible energy and unexpected musical ideas. Schumann included two contrasting trios: a graceful country dance and a mock-formal chorale theme, heard both right side up and upside down. This is a direct nod to the contrapuntal gymnastics of J. S. Bach, in whose music Schumann had immersed himself prior to writing Symphony No. 2.

Schumann continues his homage to Bach with the stately string melody of the Adagio espressivo, which echoes a theme from Bach’s Musical Offering. The exquisitely painful simplicity of the opening notes suggests a man in anguish, trapped within the spiraling prison of his own dark thoughts.

“Musical excitement in the last movement,” Schumann noted in his diary. The whole Allegro molto vivace pulses with glowing triumph, bracketed by jubilant opening and closing fanfares. With this movement, Schumann announces, unequivocally, “I’m back.” The trumpet fanfare from the first movement, reiterating Schumann’s declaration of health and well-being, closes a watershed symphonic achievement.


© Elizabeth Schwartz