I first heard this piece on a train, halfway between Germany and Poland. It was the summer before my third year at university, and my father and I were going to be spending two weeks InterRailing around central and eastern Europe. We had freshened our CD collections at a record store (remember those?) near Leipziger Straße the day we were to leave for Warsaw; we had to have plenty of train music for our discmans (discmen? Remember those?). I picked out some dippy movie soundtrack that heavily featured Badly Drawn Boy; my father picked up some Schumann or whatever. (Pff. Old people.) We swapped CDs halfway to Warsaw – I forked over said soundtrack, along with some Louis Prima, and I got this Schumann disc in return. To this day, I can’t think of that specific train trip without hearing this piece. Trying to figure out how to order a sandwich in German from the food cart? Schumann. Regarding the loveliness of pastoral Germany? Schumann. I must’ve listened to it a dozen times over the course of the trip – in Prague, Budapest, on the night train through Slovakia, Dresden – but it’s still lodged in that one particular compartment, as plush and beautiful as the train compartment we sat in.
The beginning of the piece is fantastic – the electric shock of the orchestra’s first chord, followed by the piano almost flinging the melody away before descending down the keyboard to meet back up with the orchestra again. The rest of the piece builds to the last two minutes, starting around 12:22. The melody opens up on the piano until 12:43, when it slowly, slowly, starts getting pushed back into its harness, to ultimately be refocused and unleashed at full gallop at 13:24. The fire is just barely contained, flaring up once or twice before exploding. It’s just exhilarating – an absolutely brilliant use of tempo and dynamics. It is worth noting the specific recording I am using here. I’m not usually this anal but as far as I’m concerned, the only recording of this worth listening to is this one, by Sviatoslav Richter, done in 1958.
This piano concerto was finished in 1845. Here is a short list of what was happening around the world at the same time, to give the piece some context:
- Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven
- Texas was granted statehood, becoming the 28th state in the union
- James K. Polk became the 11th President of the United States
- The war between the U.S. and Mexico began
- Blight struck the potato crop in Ireland, thus beginning the Great Famine
- The British Parliament passed the Aberdeen Act, which allowed British naval vessels to search Brazilian ships as part of the abolition of the African slave trade.
Since I will be heading back to work for real tomorrow, nose to grindstone and all that, I needed something to help me focus on the myriad tasks at hand. I’m pretty certain it will do the trick, and I hope it does so for you, too.