Clara Wieck-Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor

Context

Clara Wieck-Schumann completed her only piano concerto in 1835, when she was aged 15. Already an accomplished touring concert pianist by age 11, Wieck was no stranger to the piano, thus making her Piano Concerto in A minor a true test of virtuosity for the soloist. The work was premiered in 1835 with Wieck as the soloist accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. 

The concerto initially started out as a one movement work entitled Konzertsatz, however Wieck expanded the work by adding two more movements to create a more conventional concerto structure. The original Konzertsatz was used as the finale movement. Wieck’s future husband, Robert Schumann, revised Wieck’s orchestrations in 1834, allowing Wieck to feature as the soloist. The concerto was described by a critic as “a truly remarkable piece for a 14 year old. It is a work with memorable themes and a sunny vision throughout.”

 

The Music

Set into three movements, the duration of Wieck’s concerto i c.20 minutes. 

Movement I – Allegro maestoso 

Opening in the home key of A minor, the first movement begins with a dramatic tutti sequence from the orchestra. The main theme for this movement is stated straight away, and when the piano enters it shadows this theme. The virtuosic flair of the piano part throughout the whole of the concerto sits at the heart of this piece, with this dramatic opening setting the tone for the rest of the concerto. 

Wieck scatters piano only interludes throughout this first movement, creating cadenza-like sections. The slow integration of the strings creates exciting textures and timbres. After a short reprise of the main theme of the movement, the first movement comes to an unusually quiet end.

 

Movement II – Romanze

The second movement, now sitting in Ab major, has been segued from the first movement. The lullaby style of the piano part is warm and gentle in character. What is highly unconventional about this movement is that it is just composed for piano and cello, with no orchestra. After the extended piano opening, the cello emerges and the two intertwine in melody. This movement ends with a timpani roll that signals the shift into the final movement.

 

Movement III – Finale

The heaviest and most complex of the three movements, the characteristic finale movement shows off Wieck’s flair for writing for the piano. Set in triple metre, the finale bounces through exciting melodies, themes and characters. The heart of this movement is the piano and the technical ferocity that the soloist takes on. As the woodwind initiates some counterpoint with the soloist near the end of the movement, the intensity of the music begins to rise. The piano and the orchestra unite for the final syncopated hurrah of the movement before the final resolution chord.

 

Final Thoughts

Although Clara Wieck-Schumann only composed one full-scale piano concerto, the one she did compose is full of thrilling themes, orchestral interplay and colourful harmony. Composed when she was just 14, the Piano Concerto in A minor is a true gem in the repertory.

 

Happy Reading!

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