Schumann 41/51 - Florestan & Eusebius. © 2023 Orchid Music Limited


The Wild and the Mild

GERALD FENECH finds the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Axelrod's new recording of contrasting versions of Robert Schumann's Symphony No 4 in D minor preciously invaluable

'Performances, sound quality and presentation are a credit to the Orchid Classics label.'


This enthralling issue, Schumann 41/51 - Florestan & Eusebius, is not just another Robert Schumann release. It is an event of great importance, as it gives us the opportunity to discover the composer's music and his madness. As the esteemed pianist and psychiatrist Richard Kogan has confirmed in his presentations and lectures:

Schumann's music illustrates the complex relationship between creative genius and psychiatric illness.

Kogan believes that Schumann's music is a

... dramatic example of the capacity of bipolar disorder to influence the creative process.

At this stage I feel it is pertinent to touch on the compositional history of Schumann's Symphony No 4 in D minor, Op 120. This piece was first completed in 1841. The composer heavily revised the symphony in 1851, and it was this version that reached publication. Clara Schumann, Robert's widow, later claimed on the first page of the score to the symphony – as published in 1882 as part of her husband's complete works – that the work had merely been sketched in 1841 but was only fully orchestrated in 1851. However, this was untrue and Johannes Brahms, who greatly preferred the earlier version, published that score in 1891, despite Clara's heated objections.

Back to Kogan's assumptions. He believes that the original version, which was also premiered in 1841 and published nearly fifty years later with the help, as already cited, of Brahms, and the revised 1851 version completed three years before Schumann's untimely death, differ considerably. Even from the start, the 1841 version sounds very Italianate in the late classical style and is marked Andante con moto.

Listen — Schumann: Andante con moto (Symphony No 4 - 1841 version)
(ORC100257 track 1, 0:00-0:51) ℗ 2023 Orchid Music Limited :

The 1851 revision, with a tempo indication of Ziemlich Langsam, paints a different portrait in the German romantic tradition.

Listen — Schumann: Ziemlich Langsam (Symphony No 4 - 1851 version)
(ORC100257 track 5, 0:00-0:54) ℗ 2023 Orchid Music Limited :

Both versions offer insights into the history of two people who truly loved Robert Schumann more than anyone else, and show how the two versions, dubbed by Schumann himself as 'Florestan' and 'Eusebius' respectively, reflect the composer's bipolar dual nature.

Listen — Schumann: Romanza: Andante (Symphony No 4 - 1841 version)
(ORC100257 track 2, 0:00-0:48) ℗ 2023 Orchid Music Limited :

Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by frequent mood swings that range from periods of euphoria to periods of depression. This disorder can severely impact a person's life, affecting relationships, daily activities and the ability to work and learn. Robert Schumann's music was sadly influenced by this illness, and this symphony, like much of his music, can be seen as an expression of it.

Listen — Schumann: Ziemlich Langsam (Symphony No 4 - 1851 version)
(ORC100257 track 7, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2023 Orchid Music Limited :

This ground-breaking recording brings both versions side by side to show the different facets of Schumann's character, as he put it himself: 'Florestan the wild' and 'Eusebius the mild'. Conductor John Axelrod explains that the focus of this project is to:

... delve deeply into Schumann's life, his love and his long struggle with mental health. These two publications, one written during a manic creative year and the other in the depths of his emotional despair, provide for me the most telling representation of this radical romantic. I hope to share this musical discovery with my fellow musicians, our audience and listeners. Ultimately we may learn something new about this extraordinary man.

This is, if my memory serves, the first time that both versions of this work have been included in one issue, so one should consider this disc as a preciously invaluable addition to the Schumann discography.

Listen — Schumann: Finale. Allegro vivace (Symphony No 4 - 1841 version)
(ORC100257 track 4, 5:00-5:25) ℗ 2023 Orchid Music Limited :

Listen — Schumann: Lebhaft (Symphony No 4 - 1851 version)
(ORC100257 track 8, 5:59-6:28) ℗ 2023 Orchid Music Limited :

Do not let history pass you by. You will not regret it. Performances, sound quality and presentation are a credit to the Orchid Classics label.

Copyright © 25 September 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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