The Kennedy Center

Adagio and Allegro for Horn and Piano in A-flat Major, Op. 70

About the Work

Robert Schumann Composer: Robert Schumann
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

During Schumann's residence in Dresden as the city's director of music, from 1844 to 1850, he was perforce in frequent contact with the local musicians. Richard Wagner, filled with revolutionary political and musical ideas, was then conductor at the Royal Opera House, which boasted one of the finest orchestras on the Continent. A chief adornment of that ensemble was a player named Lewy, a virtuoso who headed the orchestra's horn section and who was also one of the earliest exponents of the recently developed valved instrument, the so-called "ventilhorn," which allowed the production of the complete chromatic scale. Schumann was so impressed with the possibilities of the improved horn, and with the expressive avenues for it that Wagner had opened in his operas (Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser had all been staged by 1845), that he undertook both a grand, concerted piece for not just a single horn but for an entire quartet of the instruments, as well as a two-movement chamber piece for horn and piano. The Konzertstück for Four Horns and the Adagio and Allegro that he devised were both showpieces for the valved horn, and were hard enough to be proclaimed by some as virtually unplayable — Schumann's biographer Robert Schauffler decided that in the Konzertstück "the difficulties are so horrendous that it needs almost the trump of an archangel to cope with them."

The Adagio and Allegro dates from 1849, when Schumann was in good health and spirits, and producing music with greater ease and speed than at almost any other time in his life — some thirty works date from what he referred to as "my most fruitful year." It is a work of optimism and good cheer whose two contrasting movements (Schumann originally considered titling the piece "Romance and Allegro") achieve a particularly satisfying formal balance. When the score was published in 1849, Schumann allowed that the solo part could also be performed on violin, viola or cello.