A Sumptuous Slow Movement with a Mysterious Past Now Soars Solo

Jun 12, 2017

Symphonies and concertos are composed to be performed in their entirety, but sometimes individual movements take on lives of their own. WRTI’s Susan Lewis considers the slow movement of Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto with violinist Joshua Bell.

Radio script:

[Music: Schumann, Violin Concerto]

Nobody ever argues that the slow movement is not one of the most beautiful things ever written.

Susan Lewis: In 1853, just months before he was hospitalized with mental illness, Robert Schumann composed his only violin concerto. It was for violinist Joseph Joachim,  who felt it was not Schumann's best work, and decided not to perform the piece. The manuscript ended up in the Prussian State Library. In 1933, Joachim’s grand-niece, also a violinist, claimed that she learned of this unpublished Schumann concerto during a séance. The work was eventually premiered in 1937. 

Joshua Bell: I love the concerto. It's hardly ever played, which is a shame.

SL: Violinist Joshua Bell says despite mixed reaction to the concerto itself...

JB: Nobody ever argues that the slow movement is not one of the most beautiful things ever written.

SL: The second movement was written to flow into the third without a pause. But Bell’s frequent collaborator, cellist Steven Isserlis, found a sketch of the movement with a coda added by Benjamin Britten for a memorial service. With that ending, says Bell, the slow movement can stand alone. 

JB: The piece is just heavenly, and it plunges the depth of emotion.

SL: Bell has recorded this Schumann slow movement on his CD For the Love of Brahms, which explores music written and performed by Brahms, and his close friends, Joachim and the Schumanns.