Monday, November 26
On today’s date in 1937, a gala concert in Berlin presented the premiere performance of Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D-minor, a work composed in the fall of 1853, shortly before Schumann’s tragic mental collapse.
The Concerto was never given a public performance during Schumann’s lifetime, although the great 19th century violinist Joseph Joachim read through the score during an orchestral rehearsal early in 1854, and played the work privately in 1855, with piano accompaniment provided by Schumann’s wife, Clara. Schumann died in 1856, and for the next 80 years, the Concerto was forgotten. Clara, Joachim and their mutual friend Johannes Brahms all judged it sub-par and perhaps embarrassing evidence of Schumann’s declining mental state.
Oddly enough, the 1937 premiere in Berlin, attended by none other than Adolf Hitler, was presented as part of the Nazi’s “Strength Through Joy” cultural program. German commentators touted Schumann’s ties to the German “folk,” while American critics bemoaned that most of the great German violinists of the day were unavailable for this important premiere, having all left Germany for racial or political reasons.
That honor fell to the acceptably Aryan, if hardly world-class violinist Georg Kullenkampf, supported by the Berlin Philharmonic under the Austrian conductor Karl Bőhm. The premiere was broadcast on short-wave, so American audiences could compare Kullenkampf’s reading with that of Yehudi Menuhin, who gave the American premiere of Schumann’s long-neglected Concerto on December 6th, first with piano accompaniment at Carnegie Hall, then later that month with the St. Louis Symphony.
Music Played in Today's Program
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) Violin Concerto in D Minor Gidon Kremer, violin; Philharmonia Orchestra; Riccardo Muti, cond. EMI 69334