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Schumann’s only piano concerto was a very long time in the making.
Its success was undoubtedly down to his passionate relationship with Clara Wieck, who was to become his wife. In 1837, some three years before they would marry, Schumann penned a letter to Clara in which he outlined his thoughts for a grand work for piano. It would, he said, be ‘a compromise between a symphony, a concerto and a huge sonata’. The ambition of the young composer was evident – but little did he know that it would take a further eight years before the concerto was ready to be premiered. The work first existed as a single-movement fantasia for piano and orchestra – and both the Schumanns, who were married by the time this fantasia was written in 1841, were pleased with the result. Robert’s publishers, however, were not. And, try as they might, neither he nor Clara could convince anyone to champion the work. It lay rejected for a further four years until, in 1845, he started adding to the original fantasia. The work became what we now know as the Piano Concerto, which is brimming with joy and melody from start to finish. it was premiered on 1 January 1846, with Clara at the keyboard.
Howard Shelley (piano); Orchestra of Opera North. Chandos: CHAN 10509.