Schumann – Symphony No. 1 – Music | History
The Symphony No. 1 in B♭ major, Op. 38, also known as the Spring Symphony, is the first symphonic work composed by Robert Schumann.
Although he had made some “symphonic attempts” in the autumn of 1840 soon after he married Clara Wieck, he did not compose his first symphony until early 1841. Until then, Schumann was largely known for his works for the piano and for voice. Clara encouraged him to write symphonic music, noting in her diary, “it would be best if he composed for orchestra; his imagination cannot find sufficient scope on the piano… His compositions are all orchestral in feeling… My highest wish is that he should compose for orchestra—that is his field! May I succeed in bringing him to it!”
Schumann sketched the symphony in four days from 23 to 26 January and completed the orchestration by 20 February. The premiere took place under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn on 31 March 1841 in Leipzig, where the symphony was warmly received. According to Clara’s diary, the title “Spring Symphony” was bestowed upon it due to Adolf Böttger’s poem Frühlingsgedicht. The symphony’s opening has traditionally been associated with the closing lines of Böttger’s poem, “O wende, wende deinen Lauf/Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf!” (“O, turn, O turn and change your course/In the valley, Spring blooms forth!”). This view has been challenged, and the call of a Leipzig nightwatchman has been mentioned as an alternative source.
In a letter to Wilhelm Taubert, Schumann wrote:
Could you breathe a little of the longing for spring into your orchestra as they play? That was what was most in my mind when I wrote [the symphony] in January 1841. I should like the very first trumpet entrance to sound as if it came from on high, like a summons to awakening. Further on in the introduction, I would like the music to suggest the world’s turning green, perhaps with a butterfly hovering in the air, and then, in the Allegro, to show how everything to do with spring is coming alive… These, however, are ideas that came into my mind only after I had completed the piece.