Selby and Richard McRae Foundation STRING SENSATION

7:30 PM, Saturday, February 16, 2019
Thalia Mara Hall


Violinist Tai Murray warms to Brahms’ dreamy violin concerto and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 completes an evening of melody and soul – true musical sustenance with some of the finest music the world has created, from composers who were also best friends. 

Cash bar in the lobby prior to the concert and at intermission.

Pre-concert lecture by Dr. Timothy Coker on the Mezzanine, 6:45-7:15p


Concert generously sponsored by



Tai Murray's appearance made possible by


Robert Schumann, Symphony No. 4, in D minor, Op. 120

Johannes Brahms, Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
          Tai Murray, violin 

ROBERT SCHUMANN:  Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120

Robert Schumann is one of the most intriguing figures of the musical nineteenth century. Astoundingly creative as a child, he started composing at age seven. A biographical note in the Universal Journal of Music in 1850 claimed that Schumann, “as a child, possessed rare taste and talent for portraying feelings and characteristic traits in melody — ay, he could sketch the different dispositions of his intimate friends by certain figures and passages on the piano so exactly and comically that everyone burst into loud laughter at the similitude of the portrait.” Fascinated by literature, he also attempted several novels, influenced by his father -- a bookseller, publisher, and author himself. His father encouraged his music, but died when Robert was sixteen. At the urging of his mother, and following the terms of his inheritance, Robert entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but spent most of his time improvising at the piano and composing art songs. As he wrote to his mother, “My whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law.” Finally, music won out. Deciding to commit to a solo performing career, he began serious piano study with Friedrich Wieck, a well-known pedagogue whose daughter Clara was a child prodigy. By age eleven, Clara was giving important public performances in several European cities. (The story of Robert and Clara and their eventual marriage over the many objections of Friedrich Wieck is one of legend, and one of the great love stories of the century.) While studying with Wieck, Schumann suffered from a crippling hand injury, dashing his hopes for a concert career. But this tragic event forced Schumann to focus on composition, eventually producing the rich body of work we gratefully experience in our concert halls today.

Schumann’s creative habit was to focus for as long as a year on a single genre, then move to another. Henceforth, 1840 was his “year of the song,” during which he produced at least 138 lieder. That year Clara wrote in her diary that she believed “it would be best if he composed for orchestra; his imagination cannot find sufficient scope in the piano… His compositions are all orchestral in feeling. My highest wish is that he compose for orchestra—that is his field! May I succeed in bringing him to it.” Then, 1841 was indeed to become Schumann’s year of the symphony. Later that year Symphony in D minor was premiered as “Symphony No. 2”, but Schumann would revise it ten years later, entirely re-orchestrating and publishing it as his fourth. The dedication is to Joseph Joachim, for whom Brahms composed the other work in tonight’s program. It reads, “When the first sounds of this symphony emerged, Joseph Joachim was a little boy. Since then the symphony and even more the youth have grown, and so I dedicate it to him, even if only silently.”

The other part of Schumann’s story involves a lifelong struggle with mental illness. In 1833, depressed over the death of his sister-in-law, Schumann came close to committing suicide by throwing himself from a fourth-floor window. After his brother died just four weeks later, he wrote in his diary that he was having premonitions of insanity. (His father had suffered from a “nervous disorder” near the end of his life). Schumann came close to suicide several other times in his life after “fits of melancholy,” and in 1852 his speech was hesitant and he was moving slower. In 1854 he was experiencing “very strong and painful aural symptoms.” He began to have visions, first of angels, then devils in the form of hyenas and tigers. After Clara talked him out of his request to be taken to a lunatic asylum, he threw himself into the Rhine River, only to be rescued by fishermen. A few days later he was committed, and died in the asylum two years later.

JOHANNES BRAHMS:  Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77

In 1853, not long after the shy twenty-two-year-old Brahms showed up on his doorstep in Düsseldorf with a bundle of his works, Schumann wrote the following in the new music journal he had launched the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik: “[H]e is come, a young blood by whose cradle graces and heroes kept watch. He is called Johannes Brahms, from Hamburg, where he has worked in obscure tranquillity, trained in the most difficult laws of art by an excellent and enthusiastic teacher and was lately introduced to me by an honored, well-known master. He bore all the outward signs that proclaim to us, ‘This is one of the elect.’” The Schumanns and Brahms were to form a lifelong friendship, one so close that after Robert was committed to the institution, Johannes moved in with Clara to help with the couple’s seven children.

Brahms, like practically all composers after him with any serious artistic ambitions, could not ignore the shadow of Ludwig van Beethoven. “You can't have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!” he wrote to a friend. One of Brahms’ closest friends was the violinist Joseph Joachim. In his lifetime, Joachim was considered the greatest interpreter of Beethoven’s D Major Violin Concerto. It is no coincidence Brahms’ violin concerto is in the same key. If he was intimidated by Beethoven’s greatness, he also drew inspiration from him. We can point to several obvious parallels, from the subtle use of timpani during the first entrance of the violin soloist, to the use of the oboe in deeply felt moments. And then, there is the “gypsy” character in both finales. Brahms began the concerto in 1878, while at his favorite resort in the Carinthian Alps. Discovering Lake Wörth in 1877, he wrote to Eduard Hanslick of its inspiring surroundings, where“the air is so full of melodies that one must be careful not to step on one.”

Brahms engaged Joachim’s help in the writing of the violin part, feeling inadequate as a pianist with little experience on the violin. In the first movement, we almost feel as if the violin is part of the orchestra, not a competing solo instrument. Brahms achieves a perfect balance between drama and soulfulness; between the “expansive warmth of the main theme and its counterpart; a yearning, searching melody,” as one writer put it. The second movement is notable for the beauty of the oboe’s opening theme, answered and elaborated upon by the solo violin. The last movement demonstrates Joachim’s impressive technical abilities, especially in the tricky double stops. The concerto received its premiere on New Year’s Day in 1879, with Joachim as soloist.

Concert Calendar

August 2019
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