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Konzertstück in F major for Four Horns and Orchestra, Op. 86

About the Work

Robert Schumann
Quick Look Composer: Robert Schumann
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Jun Märkl, conductor/Garrick Ohlsson, piano, plays Mozart May 14 - 16, 2009
© Richard Freed
This seldom heard work was composed in 1849 and introduced in Leipzig on February 25 of the following year. It is so utterly characteristic of its composer—at once fiery, impetuous, and filled with charm—that we might expect it to appear in our concert halls more frequently, particularly since the horn repertory is not exactly overburdened with interesting concerted works. One of the factors working against it is that it requires not one, but four virtuosi of this difficult and temperamental instrument—but this makes it a fine showpiece for an orchestra's horn section.

In that respect the work is not without precedent, one of its most attractive antecedents being the Suite for Four Horns, in the same key of F major, by the prolific Georg Philipp Telemann. More than a hundred years before Schumann, of course, Telemann was still writing for the valveless corno da caccia (hunting horn), while one of Schumann's motivations for this composition was the appearance of the modern valved instrument. As he originally scored the Konzertstück, in fact, the soloists were to play one pair of the old-style instruments and one pair of modern horns; nowadays it is performed on four valved horns.

Schumann loved the horn and understood it well. He was one of the several composers to write solo pieces and chamber music for the horn. His Andante and Variations for two pianos, Op. 46, was originally composed, in the same year as the present work, with a horn and two cellos added to the instrumentation; also in 1849, he composed the Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, with optional violin or cello, that was published as his Op. 70. (The latter work was orchestrated some seventy years ago by the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet.) The writing for the four soloists in the Konzertstück is thoroughly idiomatic, but also exceptionally demanding, and the structure is more elaborate than the title might suggest. Instead of the single extended movement usually described by the title Konzertstück (literally, Concert Piece), there are three separate and distinct movements, the last two of which are linked together, and here the "cyclic" procedure so noticeable in so many of Schumann's works (e.g., the Piano Concerto, the Fourth Symphony) is evident only in the most subtle details.

A festive character is established at the outset, with more than an undercurrent of feverish giddiness as the excitement expands. The slow movement, however (a Romanze), is no less characteristic of Schumann in its expansive tenderness, underscored by the mellow chording of the four solo instruments. It might be noted, if only in passing, that one of the secondary themes in the effervescent finale is reminiscent of the mischievous principal one in the Overture to Weber's Abu Hassan. At the end all the various elements are brought together in an effusion of sheer jubilation.