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"Schumann 41/51. Florestan & Eusebius". Bucharest Symphony Orchestra, John Axelrod - CD Review, November 13th, 2023

Wednesday, 29 November 2023 , ora 16.15

"Schumann 41/51. Florestan & Eusebius". Bucharest Symphony Orchestra, John Axelrod - CD Review, November 13th, 2023

Robert Schumann - Fourth Symphony, revised version 1851

On September 22nd, the album Schumann 41/51 was released on the Orchid Classics record label. Florestan & Eusebius, as part of a project dedicated by the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra and its principal conductor, John Axelrod, to Schumann's Fourth Symphony. The creation of the German composer was influenced by his bipolar disorder, and the Symphony op. 120 in D minor is an example of this. Both versions of the Symphony are included on the album recorded in March 2023 at the Gloria Hall in Bucharest: the original one, composed and performed for the first time in 1841, and the revised version in 1851.

The American conductor John Axelrod tells us about the context in which the two versions of this score were created:

"I'd like to tell you something about the psychology behind the two versions of Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 4. Many artists, poets, and composers touch the border between genius and madness, but few of them are committed to a sanitarium. Among these composers included Robert Schumann. After a suicide attempt in 1854, he was hospitalized at his own request, diagnosed with psychotic melancholia, the term then used for bipolar disorder. Schumann never recovered and eventually died, in 1856. It must be said that other members of his family also suffered from mental illness: his sister, for example, committed suicide. So it was most likely hereditary conditions. But can Schumann's music tell us something about his mental illness? The composer gives us clues. He calls his extroverted phase Florestan the Mad, and his depressed and introverted personality Eusebius the Gentle. When he composed the Fourth Symphony he was in a very productive year, 1841. The year before he had married Clara Schumann. By the time he revised the score in 1851, he was already experiencing prolonged bouts of depression. And his outlook was bleak. Dr. Richard Kogan believes that Schumann's music was influenced by his bipolar condition. It was a fascinating musicological discovery for me to perform and record together with the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra the two versions of the Symphony op. 120 in D minor by Robert Schumann and to realize that the structural, harmonic and compositional changes between the two were influenced not only by German romanticism, with orchestrations and dark timbral sonorities, but were also affected by the composer's psychological phases. The original version is full of light and imagination, an expression of late classicism and early romanticism, in the style of Felix Mendelssohn. When Johannes Brahms received this initial version from Clara Schumann in 1841, he preferred it to the revised one and insisted on publishing it 50 years after it was completed, despite Clara Schumann's objections. She said the revised symphony has different, deeper music, slower tempos with German cues and is the composer's final version, while the first one with Italian tempo cues was unfinished. With our recordings, it is the first time in discography history that both versions of the same symphony can be heard on a single album. Why? Because under the psychological microscope, it is finally possible to discover both sides of the composer who managed to create what can be considered an inspired, divine composition that reminds us of all human vulnerabilities."

Larisa Clempuș
Translated by Cosmin-Ionuț Petriea,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu