Schumann composed it only a few months before he was committed to a sanatorium — and that’s just for starters.
The renowned Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer appears Oct. 12 and 14 with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra to perform Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto, a piece of music haunted by a bizarre history of insanity, secrets, communication with the dead and Nazis.
A part of that story is also Kremer’s longtime role in championing the piece, which was hidden and unknown for more than 80 years after it was written. The work means so much to him that he has recorded it twice, with significant differences between the two versions in the speed of the third movement, a subject of much debate.
“I’ve lived with this piece now for almost 40 years, and must admit that I do like it more and more,” says Kremer in an email. “This concerto is a wonderful bridge between the ‘concerto of all concertos’ — the Beethoven Violin Concerto — and other monuments of the repertoire, be it Brahms or Tchaikovsky.”
Seattle Symphony: Schumann’s Violin Concerto featuring Gidon Kremer, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 and 14 at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $22-$122 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Schumann, delusional and often depressed, wrote the concerto in late 1853, a few months before his attempted suicide and commitment to a sanatorium, where he died at 46. The composition was written for but never publicly performed by violinist Joseph Joachim.
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After Schumann’s death, his widow, Clara Schumann, her friend Johannes Brahms and Joachim decided the concerto was weak and too indicative of Schumann’s deteriorating faculties toward the end. They suppressed it, and the manuscript was quietly given to a Berlin museum with the stipulation it not be published or played until 1956, a century after Schumann’s passing.
But in 1933, Joachim’s grandniece and celebrated Hungarian violinist Jelly D’Aranyi claimed that Schumann spoke to her during a séance and told her to find the concerto manuscript. She did, but didn’t get to perform the world premiere. Nazi Germany claimed copyright, and in 1937, the Berlin Philharmonic and soloist Georg Kulenkampff debuted it — after an address by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
But the concerto retained its reputation as inferior and was ignored for many more decades. Gradually, in part due to Kremer’s focus on it, the piece has found salvation. It reflects Schumann’s late-period classical style, but has elements of his more familiar poetic, romantic side.
“It is a most personal statement,” says Kremer. “Its second movement is one of the most beautiful ever written.”
The finale, a polonaise (dance music), was given a slow metronome mark by Schumann, sparking questions about the best way for a virtuoso to serve the score and audiences: Play it fast anyway or explore Schumann’s intent.
“The strangeness of the finale remains a puzzle for those who consider a last movement has to be mainly ‘virtuoso,’ ” Kremer says. “But maybe one should rather appreciate Schumann’s approach as being inventive and stay away from criticisms given by Clara Schumann, who felt protective [of her husband].”
Born in Riga, Latvia, Kremer was first given instruction in violin by his father and grandfather. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory and began winning international prizes in the 1960s. On his website, he says he has toured 11 months out of every year during his career, to the detriment of family and friends.
But he has also made time to establish and direct music festivals for years on end, and in 1997, he created the exciting chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica to work with gifted young musicians. The ensemble celebrates its 20th anniversary this season.
“I am proud of this group because they share my own sense of adventure, and together we search for ways to serve the best scores and audiences.”
Kremer turned 70 this year, an anniversary being celebrated in the music world.
“I should be grateful to my fate for never losing the sense of adventure, the wish to discover, the energy to follow my dreams.”