Spring – Not Quite Sprung

[‘Tis been a strange advent of spring this year of our Lord 2017. Today, just three days after the official arrival of spring, when out for a brisk early morning walk, I had to brace myself on East Hill, Englewood, when facing chilly headwinds with temperatures in the 20-25 F. range. But I was thankful for the abundance of sunshine that helped to make the outing less onerous and called to mind one of my favorites among large orchestral works that form the inspiration for this post.]

The first of four symphonies, it was written during one of the happiest periods of Robert Schumann’s life: his first year of marriage with Clara.

Subtitled by him Spring, his Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38 (1841) is effervescent music reflecting the vernal season; but it also speaks of the springtime in the composer’s heart when he wrote it. So effortlessly, so spontaneously did Schumann’s ideas flow that he sketched the entire symphony in four days and completed it a month later. It was introduced in Leipzig on March 31, 1841, with Mendelssohn conducting.

The first movement, Andante un poco maestoso;  Allegro molto vivace,  opens with a slow horn and trumpet call to be sounded, according to the composer, “as if it came from on high, like a summons to awakening.” This call, in accelerated tempo, becomes the first theme of the ensuing Allegro, suggesting to the composer “how gradually everything that belongs to Spring bursts forth.” Four bars of horn octaves lead to the second main theme, in clarinets and bassoons. A third subject consists of an ascending staccato passage. The performance on YouTube is by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen, Wikipedia; My Lecture Notes of March 23, 2010 at my monthly Music Appreciation Class delivered at SESCIL, Englewood, NJ.

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