Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Spring

Notes by TŌN violinist Aubrey Holmes

A Deeply Personal Style
Schumann’s life and work are representative of a deeply personal and introspective style under the umbrella of Romanticism. His First Symphony, commonly referred to as the Spring Symphony for its apparent description and depiction of the spring season, is a compact work that highlights many of the wonderful qualities of Schumann’s compositions. Written mostly over the span of four days in January of 1841, this symphony follows what is commonly referred to as his “Year of Song” (1840), which is the year of his greatest output and compositional legacy, comprising mostly works for piano and/or voice, such as his famed song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love). With a familiarity to works such as these, it comes as no surprise that Schumann’s First Symphony does not feel like an epic symphonic journey. Although it’s only his first symphony, it is all his own, and feels unconstrained by the anxieties of important symphonic works of the previous generation. 

Happy and Joyful
In a life full of so many difficulties and hardships, this is perhaps the happiest time of his life. Having just married his wife Clara, coupled with the artistic outpouring of the previous year, he does not have to prove anything. This symphony is not only joyful, but overall fun and a bit funky in character and direction. Moments of darkness are colored by shifting harmonies that return time and again to a lighter nature. His work displays an incredible depth of self-awareness and overall perception of his own legacy in conjunction with the human experience of this time in history.